Eschatology, the Study of Last Things
by James T. Bartsch
The Nature of the Rapture
16 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. 17 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. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
by James T. Bartsch, WordExplain
Perhaps nowhere in the discussion of eschatology, the study of last things, is there more controversy than in the nature and timing of Christ’s return. Clearly in Scripture, there are passages that teach that Jesus will return for His bride, the Church. Clearly there are passages that teach that Jesus will return to this earth to triumph over His enemies and set up His kingdom upon earth. But the timing of these events is the crux of the controversy. There are those who think that both of these events happen at the same time. Those who believe this are identifiable as believing in a Post-Tribulation Rapture. To me that presents some problems. Why, for example, would Christ resurrect church saints, and have them meet Him in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18), only to turn around and immediately come back down to the earth (Matt. 24:29-31; 25:31-32; Rev. 19:11-21)?
Post-Tribulationists counter by saying that the Church goes out to meet the returning King / Bridegroom to welcome Him and escort Him back to earth. But that interpretation encounters considerable difficulties, as we shall see in a moment. Not the least of these is that when Christ returns to earth, He immediately engages in an all-out war. Is it not more reasonable to understand that He is meeting them in the air to take them back to His Father’s house, just as a Jewish bridegroom would do for his bride (John 14:1-3)? Furthermore, why are there passages which teach Christ’s return but include no intervening events that must occur before He returns (1 Thess. 4:13-18), while other passages which teach His return incorporate event after event that must be fulfilled before He can return (Matt. 24:4-31)?
The best explanation of these anomalies, it seems to me, is to understand that Christ will return in two stages: (1) Second Coming Stage 1: Christ will return for His bride the Church and take her back up to heaven with Him (John 14:1-6; 1 Cor. 15:51-53; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; and Titus 2:13). (2) There will be a period of at least seven years upon earth that will include the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14). (3) Meanwhile up in heaven, the Church, the Bride of Christ, will be purified at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). The actual marriage apparently takes place in heaven. (4) Second Coming Stage 2: His bride having been purified and made fit for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9), Christ will return with His bride to wreak vengeance on His enemies, purify the world of unbelievers through a series of judgments, then establish His kingdom upon earth (Matt. 24:29-31; Matt. 25:1-13; 31-32; Rev. 19:7-21; 20:1-6). The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is evidently an extended feast that takes place at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom.
The purpose of this essay is to state and briefly discuss nine reasons why belief in a Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible. A Pre-Tribulation Rapture best fits the evidence found in Scripture. In the course of this essay I will quote from men who hold a different position than I hold. Well aware of the caution of James (James 4:11-12), I do not wish to speak evil of these men. I do not question their love for Jesus, nor do I question their scholarship or their intelligence. I simply disagree with their conclusions, and, in many cases, their hermeneutics.
Reason 1. Hermeneutics.
Reason 2. Imminence.
Reason 3. Program.
Reason 4. Vocabulary.
Reason 5. Details.
Reason 6. Wrath.
Reason 7. Terminology.
Reason 8. Background.
Reason 9. Incongruities.
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)