Why I Believe In a Pretribulation Rapture

By Ron Jones ©Titus Institute 2009

There are several positions regarding when Jesus will rapture the church in relation to the seven-year tribulation period. These positions only apply to premillenialists (those who believe in a literal 1000 year millennium).

Pre-tribulation position: Jesus will rapture the church before the seven-year tribulation period. After the tribulation Jesus will return to the earth.

Post-tribulation position: Jesus will rapture the church after the seven-year tribulation period as he is descending to the earth.

Mid-tribulation position: Jesus will rapture the church at the 3 ½ year midpoint of the tribulation. Jesus will return after the tribulation.

Pre-wrath position: Jesus will rapture the church just before God pours out his wrath upon the earth near the end of the tribulation.

Sincere and intelligent Christians disagree on which of the above positions best represents the Biblical evidence. The outline below reflects my belief.

Why I believe in the pre-tribulation position that the church will not go through the tribulation:

I. The Evidence From the Book of Revelation

A. In Rev.3:10 Jesus gives a direct statement that the church of Philadelphia will be kept from the time period of the tribulation.

If you study the rewards of the other churches of Revelation and compare them with other Scriptures you will see that they apply to all saved churches.

In Rev.3:10 Jesus says, “…I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live upon the earth.”

The church of Philadelphia was a church that was patiently enduring persecution as all churches of Jesus Christ should and Jesus says that they will (v.10) be kept from the hour of testing that is about to come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth.

The Greek words “keep from” mean “protection from.” It can mean protection from by either taking one out of a particular situation (pre-trib.) or protecting one through it (post-trib.)

But Jesus says here that He will keep them from the “hour of trial,” a period of time of testing that is about to come upon the earth. The only way someone can be “kept from” or protected from a time period rather than a condition or circumstance is to be kept from going through that time period. This fits a pre-tribulation rapture position that holds that the church will be kept from the whole time period of the tribulation by being raptured just before it. A post-tribulational position would propose the church would be protected from the condition or circumstance of the tribulation, but not the time period itself.

B. The 24 elders who are in the throne room of God during the tribulation must be identified with the church and shows the church believers are raptured and in heaven during the tribulation.

The 24 elders are not specifically identified, but there are three key descriptions given of them. Using the process of elimination we can narrow their identity down to one group, which represents the church of Jesus Christ.

1. They are elders.

This is a term that is used often in the Bible and always refers to a group of older individuals that represent a larger group of people.

In the OT, it is used of the elders of Israel, the elders of a specific tribe in Israel, the elders of a city, and the like. Most of the time “elders” is used of the elders of Israel, older men who were leaders of the various tribes of Israel. (Exod.3:16; 19:7, Num.11:16)

In the NT it is used three ways. It is used either of the Jewish elders in Jerusalem, or of OT elders in the past, and most prominently to the elders of local churches. (Mat.16: 21, Heb.11: 2, Acts 14: 23, 15: 22)

Nowhere in Scripture is the term elder used of angels. This means that these elders are human beings representing a larger group of human beings. By the way, the four living creatures in Revelation are easy to identify because they are mentioned in Ezekiel and are identified as cherubim – angels.

2. They are dressed in white.

This means that they are righteous and pure either because they are angels, or saved and forgiven human beings. Angels are also dressed in white, but we have already eliminated angels, so they must be saved human beings.

Note: Rev.19:8 says that the bridal garment of the bride is white

3. They are on thrones surrounding the Father’s thrones.

Sitting on thrones means that they are reigning or prepared to reign with God. In other NT writings, it is the apostles (Mat.19:28) or the church (2 Tim.2: 12) that will reign.

Later, in Revelation, it says the tribulation saints will reign with Christ, but these can’t be the tribulation saints, for they have not entered heaven when ch.4 and 5 occur.

4. They are wearing crowns

The “crown” each is wearing is “stephanos” in the Greek, which was actually a wreath a victor wore after winning an event. They are wearing victory crowns. In many places in the NT outside of Revelation, the church is said to wear victory crowns 1 Cor.9:25, Phil.4:1, 1 Thess.2:19, 2 Tim.4:8, Jas.1:12, 1 Pet.5:4) No other saints in the NT (OT, tribulation, or millennial saints) are shown to wear victory crowns except the church. In Revelation “stephanos/crown” is used twice of church believers (Rev.2:10 and Rev.3:11).

It is used twice of the 24 elders in Rev.4:4 and 4:10.

Who are these individuals? Most likely they are either

a. the 12 apostles (representing church believers who are Jews from the 12 tribes of Israel) and 12 representatives of the church at large (representing Gentile church believers)
b. Or they are 24 representing the whole church (12 for Jewish believers and 12 for Gentile believers) all united as one body.

Could they be OT believers? They could not be the OT believers because they are not resurrected until after the tribulation (Dan. 12:1-2, 9-13)

C. The complete absence of any mention of the term “church” and the identity of the believers on the earth during the tribulation in Rev.6-18 is consistent with a pretribulational rapture of the church.

1. In Rev.1-3 the church is prominent on the earth. When the tribulation begins in Rev.6 the term “church” is not used again of any inhabitants on the earth (or of anyone else) until the end of the book. Although this is an argument from silence, this is exactly what one would expect if the rapture was pre-tribulational.

2. The primacy of 144,000 Jewish (from the twelve tribes of Israel) believers in spreading the gospel in Rev. 7:4 shows that God has reintroduced the role of Israelites into his plan. During the tribulation, the Jewish believers take the primary place in evangelizing the world.

Rev.7:3 shows them sealed as servants. That means they are being sealed for a special service to God during the tribulation. In Rev.14:1-5, they are specific individuals who have set aside the normal human activities of marriage and the like to serve the Lord during the tribulation. They have been set aside as first fruits of the rest of the harvest.

These individuals are most likely real Jewish believers sealed for God to serve Him representing the harvest God is going to bring in the nation of Israel as he opens up the heart of many Jews to accept Christ as messiah and many Gentiles as well. Although, it does not say how they actually serve the Lord, I think that on earth during the tribulation there is only one way to serve the Lord - preach the gospel.

This shows two things in regard to a pretribulational and premillenial view. The first is that during the tribulation, God has brought Israel back into prominence in doing what she was originally called to do as a nation – preach the truth about God to the whole world. When God shows the twelve tribes of Israel here he makes it clear that He is dealing with the literal nation of Israel. It is a clue that the church is gone – their ministry of being the primary fulfillers of the Great Commission has been taken over by these Jewish Christians.

3. The believers who are clearly identified as being on earth during the tribulation in Rev.6-18 are killed for their faith. They are mentioned in 6:9 and 7:14.

These believers are identified as those who have died for Christ and thus come out of the Great tribulation by death. Thus these saints are not the church. They are not those who accepted Christ before the tribulation began, but after. Notice, they are wearing palm branches (triumphal entry – celebration and joy), but not crowns, victory wreaths. The 24 elders who represent the church have those. Rev.3:10 says that the church will be kept from the hour of tribulation.

If the rapture occurs after the Great Tribulation, and the church goes through the tribulation and are protected from it, they will be watching on earth while brothers and sisters in Christ die over and over again. What is the point of making the church watch all that and then be raptured? What is the point of preserving the church in the tribulation and not rapturing them?

II. The Evidence From The Thessalonian Epistles

A. 1 Thess. 5:4 and 9 support a pre-tribulation rapture.

Paul says that the day of the Lord will not surprise believers like a thief because they are not in darkness spiritually asleep (symbolizing sin and spiritual blindness).

The Greek word for “surprise” means “overtake, strongly seize, or come upon.”

The day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly upon the unbeliever who is totally unprepared because he is spiritually blind and thus asleep. It will strongly seize him for destruction - as a thief suddenly and unexpectedly seizes the owner of a house when he is sleeping.

Christians are “in the day.” We are awake and alert spiritually so that the thief cannot overtake us at all.

The comparison here is not between the thief coming and seizing the owner of the house by surprise in one instance and in the other instance, the owner of the house is seized but not by surprise. The comparison is between the owner being seized by a thief who comes in the night when the owner is asleep and one who is not seized at all by a thief because he is in the day and is therefore awake. The only way an owner could be seized at all is if the thief comes and surprises him when he is asleep.

This is the key – the only way the owner could be seized is suddenly by surprise in the night when he is asleep. Otherwise he would not be seized by the thief at all because he is in the day and is awake.

This means that believers will not be overtaken by the day of the Lord at all! It will not happen to us.

Then v. 9 says “For God has not destined us for wrath.” The wrath here is the wrath of the day of the Lord, the tribulation. The idea Paul is bringing across here is that the Thessalonian believers will not face the fate of the unbeliever. They will not be violently seized by destruction suddenly and unexpectedly, as the unbeliever will be in the tribulation period.

B. The fear of the Thessalonian believers whom Paul exhorts in 2 Thess.2: 1-4 shows that they believed in a pre-tribulation rapture.

The Thessalonians thought that the tribulation had come and were fearful and worried. In v.2 Paul says “not to become easily unsettled or alarmed…that the day of the Lord [i.e. tribulation and second coming judgments ] has already come.”

If they had been post-tribulational, they would have expected the day of the Lord and not been alarmed. They would have asked Paul what to do and Paul would have told them to persevere. If the tribulation were to begin right now, the post-tribulationalists would be saying I told you so and the pre-tribulationalists would be panicking. This is what you find in the Thessalonian church because they were pre-tribulational.

III. There are stark differences between the rapture passages and the second coming passages.

A. In the rapture passages of Jn.14:1-3, 1 Thess.4:13-18, and 1 Cor.15:51-55, there is an emphasis on looking forward to the hope and blessing of the rapture.

B. In the primary second coming passages Matt.24, Zech.14:3-4, 2 Thess.1, and Rev.19 there is an emphasis on judgment.

C. The day of Christ and the day of the Lord are not the same.

1.The day of Christ refers to the rapture and the bema seat reward

Day of Jesus Christ, the day of the Lord Jesus, and the day of the Lord Jesus Christ bring salvation, blessing, and rejoicing

1 Cor.1: 8, 5:5, 2 Cor.1:14, Phil.1:6, 10: 2:16

2. The day of the Lord refers to the tribulation and second coming of Christ in judgment

1 Thess.5: 1-4 and 2 Thess.2: 2-4 brings judgment.