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The Church, Tribulation and the Rapture

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The Church, Tribulation and the Rapture
- by Rhett Totten - (c) 2009, 2020

Events and trends around the world now seem to ever more clearly indicate the nearing end of this present age --which will include Christ's Second Coming, as well as the "Rapture" ...(the catching up of believers to meet Christ in the sky, in 1Thess.4:15-1 .

According to the Bible, this present age will end with a period of "Great Tribulation," which includes the terrible global reign of a Satan-possessed man called the Antichrist (1 Jn. 2:1 . This tribulational period is climaxed and ended by the glorious Second Coming of Christ in person, who will physically descend from heaven to earth in power and judgment (Mat.24). As Christ returns, dead believers are physically resurrected and --together with believers who have not died-- the whole Church is "caught up" (raptured) to meet the Lord in the sky (as described in 1 Thess. 4:13-1 . -- (Note: The "Church" is defined as: all truly born-again believers in Christ, worldwide, throughout all history, who together make up the spiritual "body" of Christ. It is capitalized when used in this universal sense.)

Concerning the "rapture," intelligent and sincere Bible students disagree whether it will occur before (pre-), in the middle (mid-), or after (post-) the tribulation period --but regardless, it is not such a crucial teaching that it is worth disrupting fellowship between Christians over it. The chief task given to the Church, is to evangelize the lost world (who couldn't care less about the placement or timing of the rapture in relation to the tribulation). -- In fact, after working out my position on the rapture, I spend relatively little time thinking about it or teaching it. Evangelism and worship of the one true God are much more central and enduring concerns for Christians. --But this issue is still fairly important, so that believers will know what to expect and what to hope for, as we draw near to Christ's return.

For about 40 years, among North American evangelicals, the Pre-tribulational rapture teaching has been the most popularly publicized position on the timing of the rapture (as per the "Left Behind" novels) --however, when one considers Bible's basic teaching as well as what the earliest as well as the greatest Christian theologians have taught down through the centuries, the Post-tribulational view is actually the majority position. -- Why is this the case?

--Fundamentally, the following facts should be realized:

No passage(s) anywhere in the entire Bible explicitly (directly and clearly) puts right before (or at the start of) the tribulation a single one of the characteristic parts (events) that make up the rapture --namely:

a "coming" of Christ,
heavenly portents (great signs) in the sun, moon and stars
major angel activity
a great "trumpet call" of God (from heaven)
a resurrection of the saints (...or church, or believers resurrected)
a translation of the saints ("translation" means: bodies are changed & glorified)
a "gathering" of believers (gathered, in particular, by angels)
a catching-up (or rapture) of the saints
or, a reception of the raptured saints by the Lord (...especially in heaven)
None of the above are said by Scripture to occur just before (or at the beginning) of the Tribulation.

As exemplified in the above list, the teaching of a pre-tribulational rapture is built entirely on assumptions of a doctrinal theory (namely: old-style dispensationalism), but not on direct and explicit teaching from the Bible.

---On the other hand, the New Testament does tell us explicitly and directly that immediately after the tribulation:

Christ will come again in "power and great glory" just after the tribulation ( Mat.24:29-30),
there will be heavenly portents (great signs) in the sun, moon and stars (Mat. 24:29)
Christ will send forth angels to gather up the elect (Christians) (Mat. 24:29)
there will be a "great trumpet call" sounded at Christ's glorious coming (Mat. 24:30,31),
saints will be raised from the dead right after the time of the "beast" (Antichrist), (Rev. 20:4)
and, the elect will be "gathered up from all over the earth" (rapture) right after the tribulation. (...see Mat.24:29-31)
The above direct scriptural teaching is the essential and basic foundation for not only the second coming itself, but also the post-tribulational rapture doctrine. It originates from the plain, straight-forward statements made by scripture. Thus, the hermeneutics are fundamental, clear, and sound.

Every position agrees that the rapture occurs at the Lord's "coming," (1Thes.4:15-17) --but the question is: When is the Lord's coming in relation to the tribulation? Is it both before and after? ...The New Testament only explicitly states that the Lord will "come" back to earth right after the tribulation (Mat.24:29-31), but never explicitly and directly says that he will come before it. Scripture doesn't even clearly imply a coming (e.g. with Christians resurrected) before the tribulation.

It has long been my experience that those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture do so mostly because they have been told it is true --but not because they understand it as the result of a clear teaching of scripture.
--In addition, many of the same people who are shown how solidly scriptural the post-tribulation rapture is, reject it because because of emotional reaction ...not because their own position is actually more scriptural.

The post-tribulational position taken in this article is not at all new, in fact, the Church has believed this way for 20 centuries (as I will show next): The early Church, the Reformation leaders, and most great theologians have believed the Church would be persecuted by the Antichrist (the evil world-dictator during the Great Tribulation), and then Christ's glorious Second Coming would follow that time.


Those whom the apostles personally instructed --and those taught in turn by them-- were most likely to know and adhere to the original apostolic teachings.

Justin Martyr (100 to 167 A.D.) lived right after the time of the apostle John (who died in 100 A.D.). Justin taught that the resurrection and rapture of believers would occur at the beginning of the millennium (Christ's 1000-year reign on earth, which starts just after his glorious Second Coming). This is the post-trib position. (And pre-millennial.) Justin also wrote: "the man of apostasy [Antichrist] ...shall venture to do unlawful deeds on earth against us the Christians" (ref: Trypho cx). -- A specific statement that Antichrist will persecute us "Christians" (the Church).

Irenaeus (130 to 200 A.D.) who directly said he held the apostles' actual teaching, wrote, "they [the ten kings of Rev. 17:1-13] shall ...give their kingdom to the beast [Antichrist], and put the Church to flight" (Against Heresies V, 26, 1). Irenaeus also said : "but he [John] indicates the number of the name [666 of Antichrist] now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is" (ref: Against Heresies V, 30, 4). -- So, Irenaeus asserts that being "aware" of the Antichrist's identity (by his number, 666) gives a way to possibly avoid his persecutions. --He doesn't say it may be avoided by the rapture.

Tertullian (150 to 220 A.D.) attached the rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4, to the start of Christ's millennial kingdom on earth. Tertullian said the tribulation situation will be such "that the beast Antichrist with his false prophet may wage war on the Church of God" (ref: On the Resurrection of the Flesh xxv).

Cyprian (200 to 260 A.D.) writes, "Nor let any of you, beloved brethren, be terrified by the fear of future persecution by the coming of the threatening Antichrist" (ref: Epistle 55,7). And we do well to take Cyprian's advice, since the Lord's grace is sufficient for true believers to be victorious in any situation.

Pseudo-Ephraem (between 400 to 600 A.D.) --was a man who "borrowed" ideas from the real Ephraem of Syria, ---and from this Pseudo-Ephraem some pre-tribulationists have taken several sentences out of context in an attempt to say that there was an early date for the pre-tribulation rapture teaching. The two sentences of Pseudo-Ephraem which are often quoted, state: "Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare oursleves for the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that He may draw us from the confusion which overwhelms all the world? ... For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they ever see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins."

--Observe, that these quoted sentences do not mention a "coming" of the Lord, or a resurrection of the dead, or a glorification (translation), or a rapture (a catching up), or a heavenly destination (or arrival) of believers. --- Further and deeper study of Pseudo-Ephraem's writing, actually shows that his terms "gathered" and "taken to the Lord" did not indicate the rapture, but actually meant "evangelized," "saved" or "brought to Christ" through regeneration.

Furthermore, in a solid and thorough analysis of the writings of both Pseudo and real Ephraem, Dr. Robert Gundry (in his book, "First the Antichrist", '97, Baker, p.161-18 explains that in reality,
"Pseudo-Ephraem urges Christians to forsake worldliness in preparation for meeting Christ when he returns after the great tribulation. Meanwhile, Christian evangelism is taking people to the Lord and gathering them into the Church. ... This interpretation takes account of Pseudo-Ephraem's leaving the corpses of Christians unburied during the tribulation, putting the resurrection of Christians and their meeting Christ at his coming after the tribulation to destroy the Antichrist, making imminent the advent of Antichrist rather than that of Christ, and utilizing the plainly and heavily post-trib tradition of true Ephraem, who repeatedly portrayed present-day evangelism as a gathering" (my emphases).
--This exposes the pre-tribulationist's out-of-context statements from Pseudo-Ephraem's writings.


Not only did the early Church teach that the Church would face Antichrist, and that Christ would return at the beginning of the Millennium, but in all of Church history, there never has been a pre-tribulation rapture teaching, until Edward Irving writes of it in the 1830s A.D. ---The pre-trib rapture teaching is a British-American invention which is only about 200 years old (and the mid-trib teaching is even more recent). Some of our grandparents could have heard the pre-trib teaching for the very first time. -- This is a brand new teaching compared to the age of Christianity. (Not a good sign as doctrines are concerned.)

Outstanding Bible Teachers in subsequent generations of Church history, who taught that the Church would encounter the persecution of the Antichrist here on earth before Christ's glorious Second Coming, include : John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Knox, John Bunyan, Isaac Newton, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, Henry Alford, J.Sidlow Baxter, F.F. Bruce, Thomas Chalmers, Adam Clarke, Jonathan Edwards, Jim Elliott, W.J. Erdman, Carl F. Henry, Matthew Henry, John Huss, Orson Jones, C.S. Lovett, J.Gresham Machen, Peter Marshall, Walter Martin, Gary Matsdorf, G.Campbell Morgan, Leon Morris, George Mueller, Ian Murray, B.W. Newton, John Newton, H.J. Ockenga, Bernard Ramm, Alexander Reese, A. Saphir, Demos Shakarian, A.B. Simpson, Oswald J. Smith, Jim Spillman, R.C. Sproul, Charles Spurgeon, Corrie TenBoom, S.P. Tragelles, William Tyndale, B.B. Warfield, Charles Wesley, R.F. Youngblood,
---and premillennial posttribulationists also include : Bengel, Brooks, Cameron, Delitzsch, Derstine, DeWette, Ellicott, Ewald, Frost, Godet, Godwin, Wayne Grudem, Robert Gundry, Joyner, Kellogg, Moorehead, Orelli, John Piper, Robertson, Rothe, Ryle, Spener, Stier, Trench, Volck, Van Ostersee, West, Whiston, Zahn, and many more.
-- None of these above-noted Bible scholars who lived before the 1830s (& Edward Irving) even heard of a pre-tribulation rapture.

Currently --despite temporary widespread popular support in the USA during the 1970s through 90s for the Pre-tribulational Rapture position-- we now find that the tables have turned, as Dr. S. Lewis Johnson Jr. said (in about 1985): "posttribulationism is winning the battle against pretribulationism on the academic level." This means that most Evangelical scholars and Bible professors are coming to the post-tribulaional position. - (Dr. Johnson was a professor of New Testament and Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary for 28 years, and for 4 years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.)
-- These are not liberals, but solid Evangelical/Fundamental Bible scholars.

-- And furthermore, Kermit Zarley (an understudy of Dr. Johnson, and now an Evangelical Christian author) added in 2006 that among Evangelical Bible-believing scholars the "academic battle is pretty much over with, and posttribulationists have decisively won it."
(Ref: Zarley's website: http://stillherebooks.com/stillhere_explained.html).
-- However, it still remains for many Evangelical pastors and average churchgoers to catch up with the historic (and correct) Biblical teaching in this area.

As two examples of this latter group of academics, please see Chapter 54 and 55 in Dr. Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology --(arguably the best systematic theology written in the 20th century), where he espouses the post-tribulational position.
--And then take note of an article by Dr. John Piper.

---In looking at the whole history of the Christian Church, the overwhelming majority of great Bible-teachers have believed that the Church would encounter Antichrist, and that the glorious Second Coming (with the rapture) would happen at the end of that time ...just after the tribulation.

---But still, any teaching should stand or fall, not because of its antiquity, or a majority believing it (though the above numbers are weighty), but because it lines up with the truth of the Scriptures.

So, consider the following key New Testament word in this discussion:


The New Testament was originally written in the ancient Greek language. The New Testament Greek word "Parousia" (pronounced pah-roo-SEE'-ah) is used concerning four people: Paul, Titus, Antichrist, and Jesus; and in each case it means that person's "coming" and "arrival." ---However, when Parousia is used concerning Christ, it is a specialized or "technical term," since it speaks "nearly ALWAYS of his Messianic advent in glory to judge the world at the end of the age" (Greek-English Lexicon by Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, p.635 - my emph.); in fact, 16 of the 17 usages are exactly this. A "technical" term has a more focused meaning (in the Bible) than the word might usually have in other contexts/writings.

This word, "Parousia," was used by people in NT times to indicate the coming of a ruler who was just arriving at a city in order to be present with the people there. In English translations of the Bible, Christ's "Parousia" is almost always translated as his "coming," but (as a technical term) it emphasizes and focuses on the idea of Christ's "glorious arrival" to earth in order to be physically "present" with mankind on earth as the divine judge. --Thus, considering the verses which speak of Christ's Parousia, is highly informative on his Second Coming and the rapture.

Please locate the following verses in your own Bible, and note where this important word "Parousia" occurs in them ...usually translated as "coming."

In 1 Cor. 15:23, Paul brings out that the resurrection of believers in Christ will happen "at his Parousia" (at his glorious "coming" or arrival upon the earth). -- Then in 1 Thes. 4:14-17, where Paul describes the Parousia ("coming") of the Lord (v.15), we read that the Parousia is the time of the saint's resurrection and rapture (v.16,17). - Please write where this word occurs in your Bible, and review the meaning of the word in the context of those verses.
--From both of the above verses, it is very clear that the resurrection and the rapture of the saints (born again believers) is part of the Parousia event, as Christ arrives ("comes") in glory and power on the earth in order to be "present" on earth as the great Judge. That is the significance of the word "Parousia."

Adding to this concept, historically, we read: "When a dignitary paid an official visit or parousia to a city in Hellenistic times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escorting him on the final stage of his journey was called the apentesis..." (F.F.Bruce, in New Bible Commentary, 1970, p.1159)(my emphasis).

In harmony with this arrival-picture, Paul states in 1Thess.4 that the resurrected and transformed saints will be caught up (raptured) to "meet (apentesis) the Lord in the air" (v.17), in order to escort Christ on the last little portion of his arrival to earth at the Parousia, which is the glorious Second Coming. When some people suggest that Jesus will snatch these people away from the earth and then immediately leave and return to heaven, this does not fit with the arrival-picture portrayed by these two Greek words (parousia & apentesis), and the movement of an arriving dignitary these words portray.

"Parousia" is used in 1 Thess. 3:13 ---and it is because of Christ's catching up of believers into the air at the time of the Parousia ("coming"), followed by their meeting and escorting (apentesis) him as he finishes his arrival to earth, that Paul says the Parousia (coming & arrival) of our Lord Jesus is "with all his holy ones," as he descends to the earth. The saints are "with" him because they have just met (apentesis) him in the air as a result of the resurrection and rapture.

In 2 Thess. 2:8, Paul looks ahead to the end of the Great Tribulation as he mentions the destruction of the Antichrist "whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his Parousia (coming)." ...This verse clearly tells us that the Parousia (which includes the saint's resurrection and rapture) will be the powerful event of splendor and glory which will destroy the Antichrist at the end of the Great Tribulation. Jesus also depicts his Parousia as glorious and powerful: "For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the Parousia of the Son of Man" (Mat. 24:27). The Parousia will be gloriously visible to the whole world. It will not be quiet and secret. ---So, it is clear from all of this, that the reign and authority of Antichrist will extend right up to the end of the Great Tribulation, and his life will be ended by Christ's Parousia -- his glorious arrival on earth. --So, we must remember, that the Parousia is Christ's powerful and glorious Second Coming ---during which the rapture of believers will also occur.

One further note: We are told in James 5:7,8 to be patient and to stand firm as we wait "until the Lord's Parousia." James knew things would get tough for Christians before the Parousia, but it will be at the Parousia (Christ's coming and arrival upon the earth as Judge) that our relief (from persecution) will come. ---And so, as a result, John exhorts perseverance among believers who will be alive at the end: "dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his Parousia" (1 Jn. 2:28).


The "Day of the Lord" in Scripture is that marvelous day to which all true believers should look forward, ...and even work to hasten its coming (2 Pet. 3:11-12). We look forward to it, because the "Day of the Lord" will be the day of our salvation (1 Thess. 5:2-9) and physical redemption of our bodies, when the Lord Jesus will be "revealed from heaven ...in flaming fire" (2Thess.5:7). ---The Day of the Lord will begin with the descent of the Lord at his Second Coming, and the Rapture (catching up) of all true blievers (read 2Thess.2:1-8 & 1Thess. 4:15- 5:2), and it will extend right on through the 1000-year millennium (Joel 2:32- 3:1 & 3:16-21 ; and Zech.14). It is "the day" believers should look forward to in holy self-control and spiritual alertness (1 Thess. 5:2-8). ---So, why must we be so spiritually alert up until that "day"? Because we won't yet be glorified, but we'll still be struggling here on earth against our sinful flesh until that Day finally comes. But, we can be confident that the Lord will keep us strong "to the end" (1 Cor. 1:8), and blameless (in our spiritual "position") until "the Day" arrives, when all spiritual maturity will be completed in us (Phlp. 1:6,10).

So, when will the "Day of the Lord" begin? The major key to pinpointing its start, is to look at the great heavenly portents (signs) that Jesus and Joel spoke of. These heavenly signs are : the darkening of the sun and moon, along with the "falling" of stars, and the "shaking" of other heavenly bodies. Jesus specifically said that these signs would follow "immediately after" the Great Tribulation (read Mat. 24:29), and Joel said that these same heavenly signs would occur just before the Day of the Lord (see Joel 2:30-31 & 3:14-16).

---Placed in order, then, the Great Tribulation must be completed before these heavenly signs appear, and these same signs appear just before the Day of the Lord begins. Thus, the Great Tribulation comes before the Day of the Lord, with the heavenly portents inbetween. And as was demonstrated earlier, the Day of the Lord begins with the glorious Second Coming of Christ, along with the rapture; --and in fact, Jesus quite nicely describes the rapture (a catching up of the saints) as following those heavenly portents after the great tribulation (Mat.24:30-31). Therefore, Christ's Second Coming, along with the rapture, cannot be imminent until these post-tribulational heavenly portents (signs) are occurring. Therefore, Paul says, "you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief" (v.4). Why not? ...Because the Scriptures give us the signs to look for just before "the Day" begins.

We also know the Parousia (with rapture) comes as part of the Day of the Lord, because in 2 Thess. 2:1-2 the normal flow of Paul's sentence moves smoothly and naturally from speaking of the Lord's Parousia (coming) and rapture ("being gathered") in verse 1, right on to "the Day of the Lord" in verse 2, without a transition in thought. This shows us that in Paul's mind, the Parousia and the beginning of the Day of the Lord are linked right together as happening at the same time. Clearly, the Day of the Lord is "the" hopeful "day" of all believers' glorification and rapture (1 Cor. 15:50-52).


When we consider all the NT passages which speak of a trumpet sounding in relation to the glorious Second Coming of Christ, there is excellent agreement among them, indicating that the same last trumpet is spoken of. In Matthew ch.24, when Jesus speaks of this time, he says that immediately after the Great Tribulation, there will be awesome heavenly portents (v.29), and he will then be "coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory, and he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds" (v.30, 31). This trumpet heralds the Lord's Parousia ("coming" in v.27), including the rapture (gathering of the elect), and we see that his angels are part of the catching up of the saints.

This is very similar to 1 Thess. 4, where Paul says that at the Parousia ("coming" in v.15), "the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first" (v.16), and then the rapture occurs (v.17). It is easy to note several parallels between this and Matth