The Case for a Post-tribulation Rapture

The Second Coming of Christ is the culmination of salvation history and will mark the beginning of the completion of the plan of God and the end of this present age. That Jesus Christ will come again is certain. “This same Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven“ (Acts 1:10-11).  According to this passage, His second coming will be personal (“This Jesus”), physical (the same way he departed), and visible (the disciples watched as Jesus ascended).  See also the following scriptures:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31). 

“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18). 

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). 

At his first coming, Jesus conquered death and won the “decisive battle“ over Satan. At his second coming Jesus will destroy “those who destroy the earth“ (Revelation 11:18) and force the enemy to lay down his arms (20:1-3).  Thus Christ will begin his kingly reign (11:17;  20:6).

The scripture does not teach that everyone on Earth will be destroyed at the battle of Armageddon. Those who are left alive at this point are not Christians, and they will enter the millennial kingdom of Christ to be ruled by and judged by him and his elect.  Particularly relevant to this transition between the tribulation, Armageddon, the Second Coming of Christ and his millennial kingdom can be found in Zechariah chapters 12-14.  

“For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. And the Lord will be king over all the earth. … On that day the Lord will be one and his name one. … Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. … And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘Holy to the Lord.’  And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar” (Zechariah 14:2-5,9,16-17,20).

It has become clear to me that God intends for his people to go through the tribulation, but he will protect Christians through the very midst of this great time of trouble, just as he protected the children of Israel during the plagues of Egypt and Noah during the great flood.  Believers will receive the “seal of God on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3) to protect them from God’s wrath upon the earth. Indeed, believers are not “destined for wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).  While we will not experience the wrath of God, we have never been promised protection from persecution or the wrath of man which is a major factor during the tribulation. In Revelation 13  the beast (antichrist) is given power and authority and the throne of the dragon (Satan) for 42 months, so that everyone who would not worship the beast will be slain.  He will even be allowed to martyr the saints.  “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (v. 7-10).  

In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, the Apostle Paul clarifies the timing of the rapture and Christ’s return:

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”  

From this passage we see that “the coming of Jesus and our being gathered together to him” will not come until after “the man of lawlessness” (antichrist) is revealed; and from Revelation 13 we see that the antichrist will be given authority for 3-1/2 years to demand worship of himself and to persecute and kill the saints after he is revealed.  Therefore, a post-tribulation gathering of the saints appears to be in view. 

Additionally, before the antichrist can be revealed, a restraining power must be removed.  In 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 it says, “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed….”  Some would suggest that the restraining power is the Church. However, the power is referred to as “he” and is masculine in the Greek.  A reference to the Church would need to be feminine. 

So, who is this “he”?  In verse six, Paul says, “you know what is restraining him now.”  The Thessalonians knew who this restrainer was.  A look in the prophetic book of Daniel gives us a clue:  “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (Daniel 12:1).  The great prince, Michael, is an archangel charged with protecting Israel.  If he is the restrainer, this would resolve the perceived need for the Church to be removed before the tribulation.

Revelation 10:7 says, “… in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”  Could this be the “last trumpet” referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 (quoted above)?  And the “mystery of God” that would “be fulfilled”—could that be the Church?  If so, these would be a definite indication of the Church’s presence throughout the tribulation. In Ephesians 3:8-12 Paul writes:

“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.” 

Why is the pre-tribulation rapture so foundational to the evangelical community? Perhaps the Left Behind and Rapture movies and novels have done believers a great disservice by altering Christendom’s expectations of the future.  Accepting Jesus and escaping the tribulation has almost become a gospel cry unto itself. All around the world Christians are being persecuted and martyred for their faith in Christ.  For them, their tribulation is now.  Only God knows if and when we may be called upon to suffer because of our Savior, but trials and suffering are the biblical expectation for believers.  “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).  Jesus was so concerned for his followers that he alerted them in advance:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. … I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me” (John 15:18-20,16:1-3).

In 1 Peter 1:3-7, the Apostle Peter gives us the big picture for the purpose of suffering: 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 

The Apostle Paul gives us the greater view, as well, in 2 Corinthians 4:6-10,16-18:

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

To believers today Jesus Christ still says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness… For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  Should we be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus will provide us with abundant grace to endure to the end.  That is his promise. Maranatha! 

©️1994, 2021 by C. A. Harris, MA Theological Studies

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