Is There Biblical Evidence for a Pre-Tribulation Rapture?

By Stephanie Ismer

I recently heard a lecture by Dr. Richard Mayhue who affirms a pre-tribulation rapture. There are many convincing arguments against the rapture doctrine, including the fact that, from what we can tell from historical theological documents, the rapture was not even discussed among Christians until the 17th century. A few earlier theologians, most notably the Jesuit priest Francisco Ribera, make mention of the rapture, but always in the context of things that will happen in the far future.

That said, the subject is undeniably fascinating, and you may be surprised to learn that there are actually some very reasonable arguments for the existence of a pre-tribulation rapture. I gathered the following points from Dr. Mayhue's lecture.

Pro-Rapture Argument #1: Where is the Church?

The word ecclesia, the word used throughout the New Testament for the church, does not appear after Revelation chapter 5. Between chapters 6 and 18 (the chapters in which the tribulation is described) the church is not mentioned at all. In chapter 5, we see ecclesia worshiping in front of God's throne. In Revelation 19, the church is described again in heaven. But between those chapters, the church is absent from earth. That seems to imply that the church is not present during the tribulation, and if that is the case, where did they go? Furthermore, during the tribulation chapters we do see the 12 tribes of Israel represented in the 144,000 who follow the Lamb. But all the language associated with this group indicates that they are the nation of Israel, not the church. Also, it is interesting to note that post-tribulationists say that the rapture occurs in Revelation 19, after the tribulation is over. But we can see from the text that the church is already present in heaven when the tribulation ends. How did the church get to heaven if they were not previously taken there?

Pro-Rapture Argument #2: The Rapture is Inconsequential if it Happens at The End

If the church is on earth during the tribulation, AND on earth during the millennium, what would be the point of taking them up (as post-tribulationists say) and bringing them right back again? Even more convincingly, if all believers (the survivors who were saved before and during the tribulation) are raptured at the end of the tribulation, their bodies would be glorified to enter heaven. So, all unbelievers will be dead and all believers glorified. There will be nobody left to populate the earth during the millennium. That means that if you get rid of the pre-trib rapture, you have to get rid of the millennial kingdom as well. And unless you are willing to accept an entirely metaphorical reading of Revelation, it's hard to dismiss the millennial kingdom.

Pro-Rapture Argument #3: The Epistles do Not Contain Warnings of the Tribulation for the Church

The epistles do not contain warnings of a tribulation for church-age believers. The New Testament is full of warnings about sufferings and persecution. We should expect something as dramatic as what we read in Revelation 6-18 to have some kind of preparatory warning from the epistles. This is especially evident in this passage from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
If Paul taught post-tribulationism, we would expect content in this passage that is not there. If the Thessalonians were anticipating a tribulation, shouldn't they be happy that their loved ones are dead and don't have to endure it? But instead, they are unhappy because they are afraid that their loved ones will be left out. Left out of what? Well, the rapture of course! Caught up together with them in the clouds? What else could that possibly be talking about? It is clear from the last verse that Paul intends them to be comforted thinking of their imminent future with Christ. But if there was a tribulation to go through first, we would expect something more bracing and fortifying rather than this joyful description of victorious rescue.

Pro-Rapture Argument #4: The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia

Revelation 3:10 contains a promise from the Holy Spirit to the Church in Philadelphia. The Spirit says, "Because you've kept the Word of my perseverance, I will keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come upon those who dwell on the earth." What is that, if not the rapture? It is worth pointing out that the Greek word translated "keep you from" is tereo ek, which means "keeping out of" or "keeping separated from" or "keeping safe from" something. Also, we know that this passage is speaking directly to the Philadelphian church, but also to the church at large. Each of the warnings to the churches follow this pattern: addressing each church locally as well as the church globally. The phrase "those who dwell on the earth" implies a global, in addition to a local, period of testing. Therefore, the faithful church will be preserved from a global hour of testing.

These are all pretty good arguments, I think, for the rapture. I could be accused of wishful thinking. I'll admit I want the rapture to happen. I want to be with Jesus sooner rather than later. But whether there is a rapture or not I trust that he will protect his children and lead us home.

Image Credit: Michael; "Lonely Sundog"; Creative Commons

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Published 4-4-12; Revised on 8-27-15