Study By: Sid Litke
The Key Passages
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 teaches that Christ will return in the air to resurrect Christians who have died and then “rapture” (Latin for “caught up”) living believers together with dead so that all will from then on be “with the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 15:51-53 teaches that at the rapture (compare “trumpet”, “dead raised” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16) resurrected Christians and living Christians will all receive “glorified” bodies (compare Jesus’ glorified body – John 20:19; 21:1,13).
Pretribulationists believe that Christ will return in the rapture, prior to the tribulation, to take believers to heaven. They understand the second coming of Christ in judgment to be after the tribulation (as in diagram).
Posttribulationists believe that the rapture of Christians and the second coming occur together after the tribulation.
Other less popular views are that the rapture will occur in the middle of the tribulation (midtribulationalism) or that the rapture will occur before the tribulation but only spiritually mature Christians will go (partial rapture theory) or that the rapture will occur during the last half of the tribulation but before the final judgments (pre-wrath rapture view).
Selected Arguments For a Pretribulational Rapture
No tribulation passage mentions the church.
Revelation 4-18 , which describes the Great Tribulation includes no reference to the church. Phrases such as, “those in Christ,” “the body of Christ,” or “the church” are not found. Tribulation believers are called “saints” or the “elect” – general terms that can apply to believers in any age. Actually no Old or New Testament passage on the tribulation mentions the church (Deuteronomy 4:20; Jeremiah 30:4-11: Daniel 9:27; 12:1,2; Matthew 24:15-31; 1 Thessalonians 9:10; 5:4-9).
Several passages explicitly state that Christians won’t go through the tribulation.
Revelation 3:10 teaches clearly that believers will be kept “from the hour of testing” (Revelation 4-18 – the Great Tribulation). Posttribulationalists must either change the meaning of these words or push all the catastrophes of the tribulation to the end of the tribulation or suggest that believers somehow are protected from the tribulation judgment on the earth. None of these explanations fit the facts. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 similarly states that Christians are to “wait for His Son from heaven…Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
1 Thessalonians 5:9,10 teaches the same truth.
The imminence of Christ’s return demands a pretribulational rapture.
According to the pretribulational view Christ could return at any time (imminence). Many passages suggest this (1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Timothy 6:14; Titus 2:13; Revelation 22:20; etc.). According to other rapture views there is no imminence. Christ’s return for believers would be a predictable moment (middle of tribulation, end, etc.).
There is nobody to live in the millennium in the posttribulational views.
When the tribulation ends, there must be some people left in their natural bodies to live in and populate the millennial earth (Isaiah 65:7-25, etc.). If, as posttribulation-alists believe, the rapture of believers and the Second Coming of Christ in judgment are both at the end of the tribulation, there is no one left to populate the millennial earth. All believers are in heaven – raptured or resurrected. All unbelievers are destroyed and in hell. But in the pretribulational view, there is no problem. Many people will be saved during the tribulation (Revelation 7:4,9,14). Of those, many will be martyred (Revelation 6:11; 7:14; 13:15) but some will survive to the end of the tribulation (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:13). These will enter the millennium in natural bodies (Matthew 25:34; the ones “left” enter millennium – Matthew 24:40,41 and Luke 17:34-37).
The Rapture and Second Coming are separate events.
The events of the rapture of the church and the Second Coming of Christ in judgment are distinctly different making it impossible to combine them into one event (as posttribulationalism does).
The Rapture of the Church
The Second Coming of Christ
Christ returns in the air
Christ returns to the earth
The Rapture brings comfort
The Second Coming brings judgment
The Rapture concerns the church – “In Christ” (1 Thessalonians 4:14,16).
The Second Coming concerns Israel and the nations (Zechariah 12:2-9).
The Rapture changes the bodies of believers (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
The Second Coming changes the hearts of Jews (Zechariah 12:10).