The Rapture

The Most Controversial Topic

When it comes to end times theology, the topic that seems to generate the most disagreement is the doctrine of the “rapture”. This term does not itself appear in scripture, but it is commonly used to put a label on a specific end-times event that is described by scripture. When this event takes place, the believers alive on earth will (in some way) be removed from the earth and taken into heaven by Christ, leaving only unbelievers remaining on earth.

Besides disagreement over whether or not there will even be a rapture event, there is much controversy related to the timing of the rapture. The different opinions on this question has divided theologians into a number of different “camps”, among which are the following:

  • Pre-tribulation – The rapture takes place at the start of the seven-year end times period.
  • Post-tribulation – The rapture takes place at the end of the seven-year end times period, coinciding with the visible return of Christ.
  • Pre-wrath – The rapture takes place sometime within the seven-year end times period, after the great tribulation starts, but before the trumpet and bowl events strike the earth.
  • Mid-tribulation – The rapture takes place right at the midpoint of the seven-year end times period.
  • No rapture – There will be a general resurrection of the dead, but there will not be an event where believers are removed from the earth with unbelievers remaining on earth.

To explore this matter, we should first determine the best way to arrive at an opinion, and then determine which opinion is most defensible.

Will There Be a Rapture?

When I read the passages that are commonly considered to be references to the rapture event (these passages are discussed below), I find it very difficult to justify a figurative interpretation. That is, the context does not lend itself to the idea that the author is speaking figuratively, and if he is speaking figuratively, there is no clear indication of what the figurative meaning might be. In addition, there is no clear reason to discard the literal interpretation of these passages.

Based on this, I believe it’s best to take the rapture passages at face value and assume that there really will be a rapture event, just as it is described by the scripture writers.

How to Determine the Timing of the Rapture

If we want to know the timing of things associated with the end times, the first book to read should be Revelation, because it is by far the book with the most contextual information regarding the end times. Unfortunately, when it comes to the rapture, it seems that many commentators do it backwards: First they decide when the rapture will be, and then they let that decision influence how they interpret Revelation. This is the tail wagging the dog.

We should read Revelation with no preconceived notions about when the rapture would occur, and understand it as best we can. Afterwards, we can examine the rapture passages (which mostly occur outside of Revelation) and determine where the rapture best fits within the context of what we learned from Revelation.

Here are some things we can say with some confidence about the rapture and Revelation:

  • There is no verse in Revelation that says anything like “and then the living saints were taken up into heaven”, which would settle the question immediately.
  • If the rapture were to be indicated in Revelation, that indication should occur within chapters 6 through 19, because these chapters encompass the entire end times period on earth, up through the return of Christ.

Timing the Rapture from Revelation

Let’s start with what we know:

  1. The rapture involves the saints being translated from earth to heaven.
  2. We observe that there are some passages where saints are clearly on earth.
  3. We observe that there are other passages where saints are clearly in heaven.

Therefore, a comparison of the saints-on-earth passages with the saints-in-heaven passages may give us an idea of when the rapture would occur. These passages are discussed below. (The timing associated with these passages is based on the Overlapping Model described in Revelation Overview).

The “Saints on Earth” Passages:

Rev 6:11 – there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

This is the fifth seal, and it tells us that there must be a little while in which more fellow servants (saints) are killed before God avenges the blood of the martyrs in heaven.

Timing on earth: This fifth seal event describes the great tribulation period, which is when the martyrdom of the end times Christians occurs.

Rev 12:17 – the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

Here, the “rest of her children” who “hold to the testimony of Jesus” (i.e. the saints apart from the protected remnant of Israel) are Christians. It says that the dragon (Satan) will make war with them.

Timing on earth: This indicates that Christians are on earth during the great tribulation period which starts at the midpoint of the seven-year end times period, after Satan’s failed effort to destroy the remnant of Israel (as described in the preceding verses, Rev 12:13-16).

Rev 14:12 – Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

The saints will need to persevere only while they are on earth. This verse follows a warning to the people on earth not to receive the mark of the beast (Rev 14:9-11), and it is followed by a description of God’s wrath, using the “grapes of wrath” metaphor which is also associated with the bowl judgments (Rev 14:14-20). We conclude that this verse (and its placement) indicates that saints are persevering on earth after people start receiving the mark of the beast, yet before the bowl judgments take place.

Timing on earth: Once again, this points to the full duration of the great tribulation period.

The “Saints in Heaven” Passages:

Rev 7:9,14,17 – 9After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; … 14And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 

These saints are clearly in heaven with Christ (based on verse 9) and they are described (in verse 14) as those who come out of the great tribulation.

Timing in heaven: This points to a time near the end of the great tribulation. Since this multitude of people from every nation has grown so large (per verse 9) and that they are coming out of the great tribulation (per verse 14), it’s reasonable to assume that this scene occurs at or near the conclusion of the great tribulation.

Again, this indicates that saints will be on earth during the great tribulation. This is all happening before Christ’s visible return to earth (since Christ is with them in heaven). While this multitude standing before the thone in heaven would surely include martyred saints, it doesn’t exclusively identify them all as martyrs. Many will have come to heaven by martyrdom, but there may also be others coming out of the great tribulation via the rapture.

Rev 15:2 – And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.

The context for this scene in heaven is immediately before the bowls judgments strike the earth. Those in heaven clearly endured the things that took place during the great tribulation, because they are said to have been victorious over the beast (Antichrist), whose reign extends through the 3 1/2 years (42 months) of the great tribulation (Rev 13:5)

Timing in heaven: After (or near the end of) the great tribulation and shortly before the bowl judgments begin.

Rev 19:7-8 – 7“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Here, the Church (represented by the bride) is in heaven. She represents the entire church, including faithful people from all generations (not just end times saints). The context of these verses in chapter 19 is near the conclusion of the bowl events. A few verses after this one (in verse 11), the visible return of Christ is described.

Timing in heaven: During the bowl judgments, but before the visible return of Christ.

Conclusion:

Our comparison of the saints-on-earth passages to saints-in-heaven passages reveals a consistent pattern related to the location of the saints at different times. This pattern suggests one specific transition point where the saints have all been moved from earth to heaven:

  • There are living saints are on earth throughout the seven-year end times period, including the great tribulation.
  • The saints are in heaven immediately before the bowl judgments strike the earth. Chapter 19 indicates that all saints from all generations (represented by the Bride) are in heaven during the time that the bowl judgments are striking the earth.

Therefore, if there is a rapture event, it almost certainly occurs at the beginning of the bowl events. Using the end times chart used earlier (in Revelation Overview), the rapture would thus be placed as follows:

The timing of the rapture, based on evidence found in Revelation

Proposed timing of the Rapture within the end times

Of course, this conclusion must be tested against other scripture related to the rapture. In the sections that follow, we’ll see that this timing does in fact harmonize very well with every rapture passage and with other scriptures related to the end times, within Revelation and elsewhere.

Review of the Rapture Passages

Now, we’ll look at the passages outside of Revelation that refer to the rapture event, and see if they are consistent with the theory that the rapture takes place at the beginning of the bowl events.

But first, let me remind you about the timing of the bowl events (as explained in Revelation Overview, and as shown in the chart above):

  1. The beginning of the bowls coincides with the beginning of the seventh trumpet event, because the seventh trumpet is essentially a summary of the bowls.
  2. The beginning of the bowls also coincides with the beginning sixth seal event, because the sixth seal is also a summary of the bowls.
  3. Another summary of the bowls is seen in Rev 14:14-20, which is part of the Introduction to the Bowls section.
  4. Collectively, the bowls correspond to the period that the Old Testament prophets called the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord starts when the bowls start.

The bowl events begin at the end of the 42-month great tribulation period. Antichrist has been given this period of time to reign on earth (Rev 13:5). The bowl events which follow those 42 months constitute the beginning of a new period where Christ begins to reign as king on earth (Rev 11:17).

Now, on to the “rapture passages“:

1 Cor 15:51-53 – 51Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52in 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 will be changed. 53For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.

This is saying that “we” (referring to believers) will all be changed, and this change involves receiving an imperishable body. However, verse 51 informs us that we will not all sleep, which means some will be changed without first dying (“sleep” refers to death). Those who receive their imperishable body without dying are believed to be the people who are raptured.

Timing information: In verse 52, Paul says this special moment will take place when the last trumpet sounds. The word “last” implies that there will be a series of trumpet blasts, and the rapture will occur at the final one. As we know, Revelation describes a series of trumpet blasts, and the last one is the seventh trumpet, which coincides with the start of the bowl events. This agrees exactly with the rapture at the start of the bowls.

Some may argue that Paul’s last trumpet cannot be the same as John’s last trumpet because John had not written Revelation yet. However, this strikes me as a non-argument for anyone who believes that Paul and John both received their knowledge from the same source. Actually, if Paul and John both speak about a figurative series of trumpets related to the end times, it is much more difficult to defend the idea that that they must be referring to different things.

1 Thes 4:13-17 – 13But 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. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15For 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.
  16For 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. 17Then 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.

Here Paul describes a “trumpet call” (in verse 16) where the dead in Christ rise first and those alive will meet them and Christ in the air. He is unquestionably speaking about the same things we read in 1 Corinthians 15, and here he is even more specific about what happens.

Timing information: Verse 15 makes it clear that this event takes place in the end times, since it refers to the “coming of the Lord”. Verse 16 says this event begins with the “shout of archangel” and “the trumpet of God”. One must assume that the trumpet Paul mentions here refers to the same “last trumpet” that he mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15. Note that the rapture takes place at the coming of the Lord, following the resurrection of the dead. Similarly, 1 Cor 15:23 also said that the resurrection of the righteous will also occur at His coming. This implies that the resurrection and rapture occur in immediate succession at the beginning of the Day of the Lord. This places the rapture at the beginning of the bowls.

What about the voice of the archangel? It’s interesting to note that there are multiple verses in Revelation that associate the beginning of the bowls with a “loud angelic voice”.

  • Rev 10:3-7 — A mighty angel announces the seventh trumpet (which begins the bowls).
  • Rev 14:18 — An angel gives the command to reap the grapes of wrath (which are the bowls).
  • Rev 18:2 — An angel shouts that Babylon is fallen (at the beginning of the bowl interlude).

Any of these angelic voices could be the voice of the archangel associated with the rapture. All of this is in perfect harmony with the rapture occurring at the beginning of the bowl events.

2 Thes 2:1-5 – 1Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 5Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?

There is a passing reference to the rapture in verse 1 where it mentions “our being gathered to” our Lord Jesus Christ, with regard to His “coming“. Evidently, the church at Thessalonica was alarmed because they heard some report (allegedly from Paul) that the Day of the Lord (verse 2) had already come. Paul corrects them and assures them that this report was false (in verse 3-5).

Side note: Some commentators believe that the phrase “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him” in verse 1 is not speaking about the rapture. Rather, they believe it refers to the visible return of Christ (at the end of the bowls), and “our gathering together to him” refers to the gathering of the saints from heaven to accompany Christ at his visible return.

The problem with this view is that it supposes that these people really thought that the glorious visible return of Christ (at the end of the Day of the Lord) had already occurred, but they failed to notice it! This is not credible because they surely knew that Christ’s glorious return could not possibly pass without notice, especially considering Paul’s earlier descriptions to them of that event (1 Thes 4:16-17, 1 Thes 5:3).

Timing Information: Paul instructs them that they should have known that the Day of the Lord could not yet have begun, because (according to verse 5) he had already taught them that the Day of the Lord would not come until after the “apostasy” and after the “man of lawlessness” (Antichrist) is revealed. Antichrist will not be revealed until we see the him “taking his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God”. This event is the abomination of desolation foretold by Daniel (Dan 9:27, Dan 12:11) and again by Jesus (Matt 24:15). We know that the abomination of desolation takes place at the midpoint of the seven-year end times period (Dan 9:27).

Summarizing, Paul taught them that the end times will feature the following sequence of two events:

  1. The abomination of desolation (which verse 3 says must come before the Day of the Lord).
  2. The Day of the Lord, which (per verses 1-2) corresponds to our gathering to the Lord.

Paul thus explains that they should have known that the second event could not have happened, because the first event had not happened yet.

Once again, this agrees precisely with the proposed timing of the rapture (i.e. our gathering) at the beginning of the Day of the Lord — which is the beginning of the bowls.

Matt 24:37-41 – 37“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40“Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41“Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.

I realize that theologians debate whether or not this passage refers to the rapture. I believe it does (see side note below). We have two men in a field or two women working, and in each case one is taken and the other is left. This sounds like a way that the rapture event might be described, and I know of no other event in scripture that could explain it better.

Jesus is using Noah’s flood as an analogy for the “coming of the Son of Man”, which is another name for the Day of the Lord, which itself is another name for the bowls. Effectively, Jesus is saying, “Just as the flood hit the earth swiftly and surprisingly, so shall it be when the bowl events strike the earth”. But then Jesus adds that the coming of the Son of man (i.e. the bowls) will be marked by this “taking” of some people and not others, which may easily be the rapture occurring at the start of the bowls.

This fits well with the rapture taking place as the bowl events begin.

Side note: Regarding verses 40-41 of Matthew 24, it’s best to understand that the one “being taken” is the one being raptured. Some commentators disagree, arguing instead that the one “being taken” is taken in judgment. To support their view, they say that the word “taken” in verses 40 and 41 carries the same meaning as the word “took” in verse 39, where Noah’s flood took people away in judgment. However, I have three points to make against that reasoning:

Point 1: When the flood of Noah’s day came, it certainly didn’t come in such a way that two people were standing near each other, and one was taken and the other was not. We may conclude that the analogy of Noah is given only to (1) emphasize that Christ’s coming will be a time of wrath, and (2) to describe the suddenness of the coming wrath. The analogy clearly is not applicable to the issue of which people are taken, or how they are taken.

Point 2: The Greek source text reveals that different words were translated as took or taken, and the two words convey different meanings. The word translated as “took” in verse 39 (in the context of Noah’s flood) uses the Greek word “ēren”, which can mean “remove” or “take away” (as in Matt 13:12, John 19:38, Mark 2:21). In contrast, the word translated as “taken” in verses 40 and 41 (in the context of the end times) is the Greek word “paralambanetai”, meaning “to receive” or “acknowledge” (as in Matt 1:24, John 14:3). Note how remove makes sense in the negative context of being taken away in judgment (as in the flood), but receive makes sense in the positive context of being taken up to Christ (as in the rapture).

Point 3: Luke’s gospel also gives an account of this same discussion in Luke 17:26-29. However, in Luke’s account, we don’t even see the word “took” with regard to Noah’s flood; we see the word “destroyed”. Also, Jesus used the additional example of the destruction of Sodom. In both examples, he is clearly stressing that the coming wrath will be sudden and unexpected. A few verse later (Luke 17:34-36), Jesus gives more examples of two people where one is taken and the other is left, but there is no indication that “being taken” has anything to do with being taken in judgment.

There is another reason for why some people think the one “being taken” is taken in judgment: The parallel account in Luke 17 ends as follows: “36 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left. 37 And answering they said to Him, ‘Where, Lord?‘. And He said to them, ‘Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered“. They interpret this to mean that (1) the “Where Lord?” question asked by the disciples referred to where the the taken ones will go, and (2) that Jesus’ answer about vultures implied that they will be taken away to be killed in judgement. However, I have two points against this interpretation:

Point 1: In the broader context, we see that Jesus begins to speak in Luke 17:22 with  “And He [Jesus] said to the disciples…“, and he continued in Luke 12:23-36 with a lengthy statement concerning the coming judgment. When the disciples finally asked “Where Lord?“, it was in response to all of what Jesus had said. They were asking where this coming judgment would take place, and Jesus answered with a proverbial statement, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered” (compare to Job 39:30), which effectively means just as a carcass attracts vultures, judgment will come upon people who attract judgment. This understanding is confirmed by Matthew’s account (Matt 24:28) where Jesus says “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather“, but there it clearly has nothing to do with the “one taken and another left” verses (in Matt 24:40-41). Instead, Jesus connected it with his appearance in judgment (Matt 24:27).

Point 2: The idea that the unrighteous will be taken somewhere in judgment to be killed, while leaving the righteous ones behind, disagrees with Revelation. Revelation describes judgment coming upon those who remain on earth. Some people try to support this taken in judgement idea using the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matt 13:24-30), because it speaks about wheat (righteous) and tares (unrighteous) sharing the same field (the earth) until the harvest (the end of the age). At the harvest, the tares will be gathered first and burned in the fire (eternal death) and then the wheat will be gathered into the barn (eternal life). However, this parable is about righteous and unrighteous people of all generations, and not just people alive in the end times. The two harvests are about the two general resurrections of the dead (described in Revelation 20). At that time, we see all unrighteous people (tares) gathered first and cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15), and then the righteous (wheat) enjoy eternal life in the kingdom of God (Rev 21:1-2). This agrees perfectly with Jesus’ parable.

A Possible Rapture Passage

Now, I’ll address a verse that is often assumed to be a reference to the rapture, but it has some difficulties that leave it open to debate. The passage is Matt 24:31, but for context, I’ll give the previous two verses as well:

Matt 24:29-31 – 29“But 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 the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.

31“And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

This gathering of the elect in verse 31 certainly sounds like a reference to the rapture, and yet there are two main difficulties with that interpretation:

  1. It appears to be associated with the visible return of Christ (depicted in verse 30), and we know that the visible return of Christ happens at the end of the bowl judgments. Therefore, if verse 31 is describing the rapture, and if the description is chronological, that would mean that the saints on earth must have endured the seven bowls of God’s wrath (Rev 16:1). However, this runs contrary to the teaching that the elect will not face God’s wrath (1 Thes 5:9).
  2. This verse says that the elect are being being gathered from heaven. The NASB uses the word “sky“, but “heaven” is correct (it’s the same word Jesus used when discussing the kingdom of heaven, and most translations, e.g. KJV, ESV, NIV, ISV, YLT, actually do use “heaven” in this verse). The parallel passage in Mark 13:27 mentions both earth and heaven: “And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven“. This seems to be describing a universal gathering of the elect from both heaven and earth, whereas a description of the rapture event should only mention people being gathered from the earth.

I believe that verse 31 is best understood as Jesus giving a summary of the previous two verses. Those two verses (29-30) encompass the period of time following the great tribulation (as he says in verse 29, “immediately after the tribulation of those days“), and concluding with His visible return in glory (as described in verse 30).

In this view, verse 31 then describes the universal gathering of the elect from both heaven and earth, for the purpose of accompanying Christ at is visible return to earth, which is described as follows: : “And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses” (Rev 19:14). We know that this army clothed in clean white linen are His saints because they were introduced just a few verses earlier, in Rev 19:7-8 – “7Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.“. Therefore, this army of saints following Christ must have been gathered from heaven.

What then is the gathering from the earth, according to Mark 13:27, and when did it happen? In this context, that gathering actually could be a reference to the rapture, but only if the rapture occurs after the tribulation of those days (as I propose it does). This gathering could also include people who came to faith on earth after the rapture and during the bowl judgments (there are indications that this will happen, e.g. Joel 2:32, Rev 14:13, Rev 16:15), or even children born during the time of the bowls. If this is correct, then people may be gathered up to Christ from the earth to take part in His army of saints at any time between the great tribulation and the visible return of Christ (in the seventh bowl judgment).

If we can understand verse 31 this way, then we can also understand the “GREAT TRUMPET” of verse 31 to be the same trumpet mentioned in the previously discussed rapture verses (1 Cor 15:52 and 1 Thes 4:16). That is, it would be the seventh and final trumpet of Revelation, which occurs at the end of the great tribulation and marks the beginning of Christ’s reign on earth (Rev 11:17) and the beginning of the Day of the Lord.

Therefore, when Christ visibly returns, he shall be accompanied by his bride, who represents all the saints of all time. These saints will be gathered first from earth following the tribulation, and ultimately from heaven, which is where they all shall be just prior to Christ’s visible return (Rev 19:1,7,8). This army of saints shall reign with Christ (Rev 20:4, Rev 22:5).

Side note: Some commentators claim that Matt 24:31 refers to the gathering of Israel, and they refer to Old Testament prophecies that speak about that. However, those Old Testament prophecies speak about Israel being gathered from all over the earth. Again, verse 31 speaks about gathering people from heaven and earth.

Possible References to the Rapture in Revelation

As mentioned earlier, there is no verse in Revelation that unambiguously speaks about the rapture event. However, when considering the view (presented above) that the rapture occurs immediately prior to the bowl judgments, I believe there are actually three passages in Revelation that may be reasonably viewed as references to the rapture, as discussed below.

(1) Come out of her, my people

Rev 18:4 – I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues.

This occurs near the beginning of the account within the bowl interlude (see Revelation Overview), where the destruction of Babylon is being announced. The context places this call to “Come out of her” shortly before the beginning of the bowl judgments, because it comes before Babylon receives her plagues (and the bowls are the plagues). The timing of this call thus agrees perfectly with the proposed timing of the rapture.

It is important to understand that this verse is “borrowed” from Old Testament prophecies concerning the kingdom of Babylon that had taken Israel into captivity (e.g. Jer 51:45, Jer 51:6). That is, Old Testament Babylon is used as a metaphor for Antichrist’s kingdom (see The Great Harlot and Babylon). In the Old Testament, “Come out of her” meant that God’s people Israel should leave Babylon because Babylon was about to fall as a judgment of God.

What then could the words “Come out of her” mean in the parallel context of the end times?

To use the Babylon metaphor, we would need to take the meaning of these words from its Old Testament context and apply it to the end times context. Thus, “Come out of her” in Revelation would be a call for God’s people (his Church) to leave the kingdom that will soon fall as a judgment of God (Antichrist’s kingdom). This makes sense metaphorically because the fall of Antichrist’s kingdom is exactly what happens in the upcoming bowl judgments.

But in the context of the end times, how can his Church leave the kingdom of Antichrist which has been given authority over the entire world (Rev 13:3, Rev 13:7-8, Rev 17:13)?

The only way this can happen is for his Church to leave the world. That is exactly what happens at the rapture event. And just as Israel joined themselves with the Lord when they left Babylon (Jer 50:5), the Church will be joined with the Lord when they leave Antichrist’s kingdom at the rapture (1 Thes 4:17).

(2) The First Reaping

In chapter 14, we see two reapings of the earth described:

The First Reaping – Rev 14:14-16 – 14Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. 15And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

The Second Reaping – Rev 14:17-19 – 17And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. 18Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.” 19So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God.

As explained in chapter 14, the second reaping is unquestionably describing the wrath of God. However, the first reaping is not God’s wrath, but rather an event that precedes God’s wrath and is carried out by Christ Himself at this time in preparation for the wrath in the second reaping.

This best explanation for this first reaping may be that it’s describing how Christ will gather His saints from the earth in the rapture, exactly as described in 1 Thes 4:16-17 and 2 Thes 2:1. Meanwhile, since the second reaping is God’s wrath, it must be describing the bowl judgments. These two reapings correspond perfectly with the view that the rapture (the first reaping) immediately precedes the bowls (the second reaping).

(3) Come up here – The Resurrection of the Two Witnesses

Rev 11:11-12 – 11But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. 12And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them.

This describes the resurrection of God’s two witnesses. A few days earlier, these two had been killed by Antichrist, much to the joy of the unbelieving world. When they are resurrected, they will have completed their 1260-day service on earth (Rev 11:3), which means that their resurrection takes place at the end of the great tribulation — which is immediately before the start of the bowl events.

Now, compare this passage to the resurrection and rapture described in 1 Thes 4:16-17a: 16For 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. 17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air – It is possible that this “shout” that precedes the rapture is the words “Come up here” in Rev 11:12. It is also possible that the “dead in Christ rising first” is an event that is visibly represented by the resurrection of the two witnesses from the dead.

That is, the resurrection of the two witnesses may signify the dead rising first. If so, it must be followed shortly by the rapture event, in which the living are caught up together with them, in accordance with 1 Thes 4:17. In other words, the command to “Come up here” might not be limited only to the two witnesses, but also to all saints of all generations, both dead and alive.

Side note: This resurrection of the dead mentioned in 1 Thes 4:16 is likely a spiritual event that will not visible to people on earth. However, God may give a visible sign that this spiritual event is taking place, and if so, the resurrection of the two dead witnesses would certainly qualify as that sign.

I believe that this visible sign is possible (even probable) because God has given such signs before. For example, at Christ’s death, the temple veil was torn in two as a visible sign of the invisible reality that people had gained access to God through Christ’s crucifixion (Mark 15:37-38). Also, the promised coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost would have been invisible, except that God gave visible and audible signs that it was happening (Acts 2:1-3). Even the physical healings performed by Christ were given as a visible sign of his invisible authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:24). Thus, we do see a pattern whereby God uses visible signs to mark the fulfillment of invisible spiritual promises.

The resurrection of the two witnesses at the end of the 1260 days of great tribulation (immediately prior to the first bowl event) corresponds perfectly with the rapture happening at that point.

Summary of the Pre-Bowl Rapture View

Technically, the rapture timing I’ve presented here has some similarities with the post-tribulation and pre-wrath views, but there are also important differences. So, for the sake of discussion, I’ll refer to this view as the Pre-Bowl Rapture View.

I believe the best timing of the rapture is right at the very beginning of the bowl judgments, before the first bowl event strikes the earth. The beginning of the bowls marks the conclusion of the time called the great tribulation, in which Antichrist is given his 42 months of authority to make war against the saints (Rev 13:5,7). During that same time, the two witnesses in Jerusalem are prophesying and striking the earth with plagues (Rev 11:3,6).

Putting this view into chronological context, we have the following:

  • During the 1,260 days of the great tribulation, Christians will be widely persecuted and martyred. It is during this time that we always see the living saints depicted as being on earth (Rev 6:11, Rev 12:17, Rev 13:7, Rev 14:12). Also during this time, the two Jewish witnesses will be at work in Jerusalem (Rev 11:3-4), and a remnant of Israel will be protected by God (Rev 12:6).
  • In the final days of the great tribulation period, the two witnesses will be killed, and they will lay dead for 3 1/2 days as the world rejoices over their deaths (Rev 11:7,8,9,10).
  • The number of martyrs will be completed, as prescribed by Rev 6:11. These martyrs who come from the great tribulation are depicted in heaven, as described in Rev 7:14-15.
  • The 3 1/2 days end, which also mark the end of the 42 months of Antichrist’s reign during the great tribulation (Rev 13:5,7). At this time, the Day of the Lord begins, which is the Old Testament name for the bowl judgments. It represents the coming of Christ (as mentioned in 1 Cor 15:23 and 1 Thes 4:15), and the beginning of His reign on earth (Rev 11:17).
  • The first thing Christ will do during His reign is descend invisibly to collect his people. First he collects the dead saints with the resurrection (1 Cor 15:23), which will include the visible resurrection of the two witnesses (Rev 11:11,12). Second, he will collect the remaining living saints with the rapture event (we know some saints will survive from Matt 24:21,22). They all meet the Lord in the air. This collecting of the saints with the resurrection and rapture is explained 1 Thes 4:15,16,17. However, the protected remnant of Israel will remain on earth for the upcoming Battle of Armageddon.
  • Once the collecting of the saints is complete, the events of bowl judgments described in Revelation chapters 16 through 19 will occur. During this time that we always see the saints depicted as being in heaven (Rev 7:9-17, Rev 15:2, Rev 19:1-10). This makes sense because (1) the saints have all been taken there either by resurrection or rapture, and (2) the saints don’t belong on the earth to face the wrath of God (1 Thes 1:10, 1 Thes 5:9).
  • The bowl judgments shall conclude with the visible return of Christ appearing in glory and wrath, to fight for His people Israel (Zech 14:3). This is the Battle of Armageddon. As explained in Revelation Overview, this appearance is described in the seals (Rev 6:15-17), in the trumpets (Rev 11:18), in the Introduction to the Bowls (Rev 14:17-20), and of course at the end of the bowls themselves (Rev 19:11-21). He will destroy all unrighteousness upon the earth, which includes all unredeemed people who managed to survive the bowl events.
  • Afterwards, Christ shall set up the millennial kingdom on earth (Rev 20:6), which will include the redeemed people remaining on earth, which will mainly be the surviving remnant of Israel. (See The Millennial Kingdom.)

Problems with the Pre-Tribulation Rapture View

The rapture view that I am most concerned about is the widely accepted pre-tribulation view which claims that the rapture happens at the very beginning of the seven-year period. It concerns me because the consequences of depending on that view are troubling, if indeed it is wrong.

Christians who depend on a pre-tribulation rapture tend to discount the importance of even trying to understand Revelation. They believe that it isn’t applicable to them because they won’t be here when all these things described in Revelation take place. But if wrong, these Christians would be susceptible to being unprepared for the signs and the persecution of the end times — things for which scripture demands that we be prepared.

So, in this section, I’ll specifically address the problems that I have with the pre-tribulation view, sincerely hoping not to offend any brothers or sisters who do hold to that view. On a personal note, when I first began studying Revelation, I considered myself to be a pre-tribulationist, but mostly because that was the view taught in the church I was attending. During my studies of Revelation, the pre-tribulation rapture became increasingly difficult to justify. Below are some reasons:

  • The Bible plainly teaches that Christians will be on earth during the end times to endure persecution — Christians will be hated (Matt 24:9), they are called to endure to the end (Matt 24:13), the great tribulation will be cut short for the sake of the elect (Matt 24:22), Christians will be martyred (Rev 6:11), and Antichrist will conquer the saints for 3 1/2 years (Dan 7:25, Rev 13:5-7). There is no scriptural support for the idea that Christians shall avoid this or any other persecution. On the contrary, we are promised that it is coming (Matt 5:11, Luke 21:12, John 15:20, 2 Tim 3:12).
  • It defeats the purpose of Christ’s admonitions to be watchful and alert for the signs of the end times — Jesus gave us several signs to watch for (Matt 24:3-6, Matt 24:15, Matt 24:23-25, Matt 24:29-30). Then, he was adamant that his followers should be watchful and alert concerning these signs (Matt 24:32-33, Matt 24:42-44, Matt 24:46). Jesus gave parables regarding the need to be prepared (e.g. the “Ten Virgins” in Matt 25:1-13, the “Servants” in Luke 12:41-48). Why would Jesus give us these signs to look for and instructions for dealing with them if (according to the pre-tribulation view) Christians won’t even be around when these signs appear?
  • It creates a glaring omission in the signs of his return — Pre-tribulationists may claim that the signs of the end times (mentioned in the point above) are intended for unbelievers who become Christians after the rapture. However, if they are right, then it seems that Jesus failed to mention the most obvious sign of all: The rapture itself!  If the rapture occurs at the beginning, why wouldn’t Jesus say simply something like “When you see the sudden disappearance of many saints…”. The fact that Jesus didn’t mention the rapture as a sign strongly suggests that it isn’t a sign. The rapture can’t be a sign because it doesn’t happen at the beginning of the seven-year end times period, it happens at the end.
  • It ignores the Babylon metaphor — Considering that the Bible uses the Old Testament attack on Israel by Babylon as a metaphor for the End Times attack on the Church by Antichrist, it is very difficult to justify the idea that the Church will be removed before the great tribulation. When Israel was attacked by Babylon, both the faithful and the unfaithful Jews suffered. By extension of the Babylon metaphor, we should therefore expect it to be likewise for the Church. The attack from Babylon came at God’s direction to chastise Israel for failing to serve as His representatives on earth. We should therefore expect it to be likewise for the churches who are increasingly failing to represent Christ. The persecution of the end times will be the church’s Babylon.
  • Paul’s teaching on the rapture — In 2 Thes 2:1-5, Paul makes it clear that our gathering to be with the Lord won’t happen until after the apostasy and the abomination of desolation, which occurs in the middle of the seven-year end times period. This alone makes the pre-tribulation rapture impossible.
  • No scriptural support or logic for separating pre-rapture and post-rapture Christians — According to the pre-tribulation view, there is some future “cut-off day” (which will otherwise be like any other day) in which all the people who had already become Christians will be raptured from the earth, and all those who had not yet become Christians will remain on earth and experience the great tribulation and the wrath of God (e.g. Rev 16:1). This idea that Christians shall be divided into separate groups for no reason other than some arbitrary “rapture cut-off day” defies reason, and it is unsupportable with scripture.

Arguments Commonly Used to Support the Pre-tribulation Rapture

I visited some pre-tribulation websites to find arguments that are given to support the pre-tribulation view. Below are some of the common arguments I found (colored in brown), and my responses (rebuttals) to them:

Pre-Trib Argument #1 — Christians must not suffer God’s wrath – According to 1 Thes 5:9, God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Also, the examples of Noah being delivered out of the flood, Lot being delivered out of Sodom, and Rahab being delivered out of Jericho inform us that God saves His people from His wrath.

Therefore, because Christians will not suffer God’s wrath, we will be taken out of the earth prior to the seven-year end times period.

Rebuttal: First of all, I agree that Christians will not face God’s wrath. However, it is incorrect to just assume that the whole seven-year end times period constitutes God’s wrath. On the contrary, if you search for the word “wrath” in the book of Revelation, you will find that all references to God’s wrath are exclusively associated with the bowl judgments (see the God’s Wrath Encompassed by the Bowls section of the chapter 19 commentary). This indicates that God’s wrath on earth doesn’t begin until the bowl judgments. The bowls, of course, occur at the end of the seven-year end times period. Therefore, “escaping God’s wrath” is not a reason for expecting the rapture at the beginning of the end times. However, it is a good reason to expect the rapture just before the bowls!

Some may think that the great tribulation constitutes God’s wrath. It will be a very difficult time, but primarily it will be difficult for Christians. Difficult times for Christians is not God’s wrath, it’s persecution, and the Bible tells Christians expect persecution (e.g. 1 Pet 4:12, Phil 1:29, 2 Tim 3:12, 1 John 3:13, John 15:20, Matt 5:11). Persecution may be a test of our faith or it may be chastisement from which we are to learn discipline. Both of these ideas are Biblically supported purposes for the persecution of the great tribulation, but persecution of believers is not evidence of God’s wrath.

Ironically, it is the pre-tribulation view that does have Christians facing God’s wrath, because if the rapture occurs at the beginning of the seven years, then any of the post-rapture saints who survived the great tribulation must also face the seven bowls of the wrath of God, as described in Rev 16:1. It makes more sense for the rapture to occur immediately before the wrath.

Pre-Trib Argument #2 — “Come up here” at the beginning of Revelation 4 – The words “come up here” in chapter 4 is Revelation’s reference to the rapture, and because this is given before any end times events are described, the rapture must take place at the very beginning of the end times.

Rebuttal: I believe this is just a good example of poor interpretation. Look at the context: Jesus had just finished stating his seven messages to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, and the stating of those messages all took place while John still perceived himself to on the island of Patmos in the first century (Rev 1:9-11). Then, chapter 4 begins with this text:

Rev 4:1-2 1After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” 2Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.

Using a straightforward interpretation of these verses, with no preconceived notions, it’s rather obvious that the words “come up here” mark a transition only within the context of John’s own experience. The voice is speaking only to John, its only stated purpose is to show John some things about the future, and the only stated consequence of these words was to affect how John perceived his location.

To propose that this simple phrase “come up here” given to John is also somehow prophetically speaking to all end times saints, for the unstated purpose of actually putting the rapture into effect, with the added consequence that these words will cause all Christians on earth to be physically and permanently moved to heaven on some future day is really straining the text beyond reason. But this is what happens when people try to force their view into scripture.

Upon hearing these words, John goes from perceiving himself on Patmos in the first century to perceiving himself in heaven before the throne about to be shown a vision of the future. This transition is given for the benefit of the reader so we understand the break in continuity between “the things that are” (the messages to the churches) and “the things which will take place after these things” (the vision of the future) as mentioned in Rev 1:19. This command to “come up here” was made and fulfilled many centuries ago during the lifetime of John.

In another irony, we see the words “come up here” appear again in Revelation 11:12, and as discussed above, there is justification for thinking that this second appearance of those words may be connected to the rapture. After all, it clearly happens in the end times, and it does involve people rising from the dead and ascending into the cloud in response to a call from heaven, which is consistent with how the scriptures describe the rapture in 1 Thes 4:16-17. Unfortunately for the pre-trib view, the command to “come up here” seen in Revelation 11 doesn’t occur at the beginning of the great tribulation, but at the end, just before the bowl judgments.

Pre-Trib Argument #3 — Absence of the word “church” – The word “church” appears several times in chapters 1-3 of Revelation, but there’s no mention of the word “church” in chapters 4-19.

The absence of the word “church” indicates that the church isn’t on the earth during the times described chapters 4-19, and those chapters cover the entire seven-year end times period. Therefore, the rapture must have occurred at the beginning of the end times period.

Rebuttal: Like the previous argument, this is simply an unsound way to interpret scripture.

For one thing, this argument fails to notice that the church is clearly present on earth in the end times, even if the text doesn’t happen to use the word “church”. For example, who are the “fellow servants and their brethren” to be killed in Rev 6:11? Who are the “great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” who had “come out of the great tribulation” in Rev 7:14? Who are the “brethren” who were victorious over Satan “because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony” in Rev 12:10-11? Who are the “children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” in Rev 12:17? Who are the “saints” on whom the beast (Antichrist) wages war in Rev 13:7? Who are the “saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” who persevere in Rev 14:12? These are all obviously true Christians, and thus they are the Church on earth during the end times.

Some pre-tribulationists will argue that there is a distinction between “the church” and “the saints” in order to explain how the saints can still be on earth after the church has been raptured to heaven. But this purely fabricated distinction offends all other references to saints in scripture (e.g. Rom 1:7, Rom 8:27, Rom 15:26, 1 Cor 1:2, 1 Cor 14:33).

This argument also fails to recognize the different contextual sections in Revelation. The only reason we see the word “church” appear so frequently in chapters 1-3 is because in those chapters, John is given instruction to write letters to the seven specific first-century churches in chapter 1, and then the content of those letters are given in chapters 2 and 3. These messages represent the things that are (Rev 1:19). Chapter 4 begins a completely new section concerning John’s vision of the things to come (Rev 4:1). So, chapters 1-3 are not even part of the narrative concerning the end times! Clearly, it’s wrong to use chapters 1-3 to draw any conclusions about the timing of end times events.

Rather than simplistically counting occurrences of the word “church”, it’s far more sensible to mindfully pay attention to the context and follow the narrative of Revelation to see when Christians appear on earth, and when they appear in heaven, because after all, this transition is what the rapture is all about. As shown earlier in this article, Revelation strongly indicates that this transition occurs at the end of the great tribulation, immediately prior to the bowl judgments.

Pre-Trib Argument #4 — The end times only involve Israel, not the Church – The seven-year end times period is also known as the “70th week of Daniel”. This term comes from the prophecy given to Daniel in Dan 9:24-27. This prophecy begins with these words: Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city”.

This means that the prophecy (which includes the 70th week) is applicable only for the nation Israel (your people) and Jerusalem (your holy city). From this, we should understand that the end times prophecy only concerns Israel, and not the church. 

Furthermore, Jer 30:7 identifies the end times as “the time of Jacob’s trouble“, which also indicates that only Israel is involved.

Since only Israel is involved, this calls for the removal (rapture) of the church prior to the end times period.

Rebuttal: Yes, the “70 weeks prophecy” is for Israel, and anyone who reads the full prophecy can see that everything it says really does involve Israel. Also, the “time of Jacob’s trouble” mentioned in Jeremiah 30 speaks about what will happen to Israel in the end times.

However, it is completely incorrect to conclude that Israel’s involvement somehow implies the non-involvement of the church, let alone the removal of the church.

If we look at the details of that prophecy in Daniel 9, we see that it mentions making an end of sin, atonement for iniquity, bringing everlasting righteousness in Dan 9:24, then we see the timing of the coming of the Messiah in Dan 9:25, and even the death of the Messiah in Dan 9:26. No Christian would say that these parts of the prophecy only involve Israel but don’t involve the Church, so how can we reason that the rest of the prophecy (including the 70th week) must exclude the church? 

For that matter, virtually all of the great fulfilled prophecies of scripture were originally decreed with regard to Israel and they all directly involved Israel (e.g. Isa 7:13,14, Isa 9:6). But those prophecies also involve the church because (for one thing) the church is simply the promised outgrowth of the faithful remnant of Israel. Remember, the church was borne out of Israel by Jews, and then it spread among the nations. The fact that God’s blessings would flow from Israel to the nations was itself was a prophecy that was made to Israel (e.g. Isa 49:6, Isa 55:5-6, Hos 2:23).

Another problem with this argument is that it ignores the fact that scripture describes two groups of God’s people in the end times, and they can’t be the same group because they have very different experiences during the great tribulation:

  1. One group is Israel, and they will come under attack, and yet a remnant will receive protection from God for 1260 days (Rev 12:6, Jer 23:5,6, Ezek 28:26, Zech 14:2,3).
  2. The other group is called “saints”, and they will suffer persecution and martyrdom during that same 1260 days (Dan 7:25, Rev 6:11, Rev 13:7).

Who are these persecuted “saints” in the second group? We see them in Rev 12:17 “the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus”. The woman represents a faithful remnant of Israel, who Satan (the dragon) was unable to harm, but her children who hold to the testimony of Jesus are clearly the church. Since the church was indeed borne out of Israel, it is appropriate to refer to them as the children of Israel (Rom 9:6,7,8).

The first group above is the nation Israel, and they also come under attack in the end times. This is the attack that Jer 30:7 calls “time of Jacob’s trouble“. In this passage, Jeremiah is simply describing things that pertain uniquely to Israel, including their being scattered for their sin (Jer 30:11), their ultimate restoration to their land (Jer 30:3) and to God (Jer 30:18,22), and the destruction of Israel’s enemies (Jer 30:23,24). So yes, the time of Jacob’s trouble does refer to a severe attack that Israel will experience in the end times, but this doesn’t even remotely suggest that the Church must be removed from the earth! Scripture makes it clear that the saints who hold the testimony of Jesus (i.e. the church) will be present, and that they will face deadly, Satanic persecution.

Pre-Trib Argument #5 — The “hour of testing” – In the message to the church at Philadelphia, Rev 3:10 says “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

The “hour of testing” which is about to “come upon the whole world” is the great tribulation, and when Jesus says he “will keep you from the hour of testing”, he is talking about removing Christians from the world, i.e. the rapture. Therefore, the rapture happens before the tribulation.

Rebuttal: I won’t dispute the idea that the “hour of testing about to come upon the world” refers to the great tribulation, although I disagree with the claim that this verse refers to the rapture of the church.

This is a case where Greek words can lose some of their original meaning when translated to English. In this verse, there are two key words we need to look at closely.

The first Greek key word to consider is the one translated as “testing“, which is peirasmós.

[Strong’s 3986] defined as “temptation or test – both senses can apply simultaneously (depending on the context). The positive sense (“test”) and negative sense (“temptation”) are functions of the context (not merely the words themselves).” – HELPS Word-studies, The Discovery Bible New Testament, Gary Hill.

This word can mean temptation or test, and both cases can be found in scripture, e.g. Matt 6:13 “do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil“, and James 1:2 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials“.

Thus, depending on the context, it’s possible that “hour of testing” should be understood to mean “hour of temptation“, and some translations do use the word temptation instead (KJV, DRB, WBT). We will discuss the context shortly, to see whether test or temptation is the better fit.

The second Greek key word to consider is the word translated as “keep“, which is tēréō.

[Strong’s 5083] defined as “properly, maintain (preserve); (figuratively) spiritually guard (watch), keep intact.” – HELPS Word-studies, The Discovery Bible New Testament, Gary Hill.

This word mainly conveys the idea of guarding or observing. For example, we see this same Greek word in Matt 27:36 where it’s is used to describe the soldiers keeping watch over Jesus’ body during the crucifixion, and in Matt 28:20 where Jesus speaks about teaching others to observe the commandments.

Importantly, this same key word is used twice in the same sentence:

  1. you have kept the word of My perseverance
  2. I also will keep you from the hour of testing”.

Note that the structure of this sentence is a reciprocal form, which implies that we should expect the common verb “keep” to have the same meaning in both cases (e.g. as in Luke 6:37-38 and John 10:14). In the first case, the verb clearly means heeded or guarded, and so that’s the best meaning for the second case as well.

Therefore, given the accurate understanding of the key words in this verse, it is potentially valid (depending on the context) to understand this verse to convey the following meaning: “because you have guarded my command to endure faithfully, I will also guard you from temptation during the great tribulation”.

So at this point we must ask: “Does the broader context support this meaning?

Yes it does! The idea that Jesus will guard the church from temptation is supported by the immediate context. The very next verses say “I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. ‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God…”. The command to hold fast what you have so no one takes your crown is something that would be said to people who are about to face temptations. Also, this promise applies to those who overcome, which means that he is talking to people who are about to endure persecution. Neither of these things make sense if verse 10 was telling these people that they would be completely removed from the coming time of temptation and persecution.

Let’s look at the context even more broadly. We see that all of these messages to churches stress overcoming. Rev 2:10 adds “be faithful unto death”. Rev 2:25 says “what you have, hold fast until I come.” Rev 3:19 says “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline”. Given that these messages are full of instruction to endure persecution and accept discipline, it would seem very peculiar to suppose that this one verse in the midst of these messages is promising us that we will be removed from the earth when the time of persecution and discipline comes.

So, the promise given in Rev 3:10 is essentially the same promise Jesus gave in Matt 10:32 –“Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven“. This faithful church in Philadelphia kept God’s word and did not deny Christ before men (Rev 3:8), and so Christ will also faithfully keep His word to preserve their righteous standing before God, despite persecution. But Matt 10:32 is certainly not referring to the rapture, and neither is Rev 3:10.

On a final note, the claim that Rev 3:10 refers to the rapture is awkward because it would then constitute a broken promise to all Christians who faithfully endure persecution of the great tribulation (e.g. those in Rev 12:11). This promise is made to those who “have kept the word of my perseverance“, not to those who “happen to be Christians on the (supposed) ‘rapture cut-off’ day“.

Pre-Trib Argument #6 — The timing of Christ’s return must remain unknowable – In Matt 24:36, Jesus said this about his return, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” We know that the event called the abomination of desolation will take place at the midpoint of the end times.

If Christians were on earth when that happens, they would be able to calculate the timing of Christ’s return (3 1/2 years later). But if they had this knowledge about the timing of Christ’s return, it would contradict what Jesus said about the timing being unknown. Therefore, Christians cannot be on earth at the midpoint, and this means that they must be removed from the earth (in the rapture) earlier.

Rebuttal: This argument is faulty for a number of reasons. For one, pre-tribulationists believe that there are both pre-rapture Christians (who will be raptured) and post-rapture Christians (who become Christians after the rapture so that they can be persecuted). By what reasoning should we believe that only the pre-rapture Christians are capable of calculating the return date?

Side Note: I’ll add here that I don’t believe this date calculation (adding 1260 days to the midpoint date) would give us the exact date of Christ’s visible return anyway. Instead, I believe it would give us the date that the Day of the Lord begins. This Old Testament term corresponds to the bowl judgments. So perhaps the first bowl judgment would strike that day (the terrible sores of Rev 16:2), but the visible return of Christ is an event that takes place at a later time as part of the seventh bowl judgment.

More to the point, even though Jesus said 2,000 years ago that “no one knows” when his return will take place, that doesn’t mean that no one can ever know. On the contrary, the broader context of what Jesus said indicates otherwise. Jesus gave us signs to look for by which we will know that we have reached the great tribulation (e.g. the abomination of desolation, Matt 24:15). He said that the great tribulation will be immediately followed by God’s wrath (outlined in Matt 24:29), which concludes with his visible return (Matt 24:30).

Furthermore, in Matt 24:32-33 he gave us this parable of the fig tree: “32“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door”. The point of this parable is that we are expected to know something about the timing of Christ’s return when we see the signs. In Matt 24:42-44 he instructs us to be watchful for the signs so that we will be ready for his coming.

All of this indicates that Christians shall be on the earth when the signs start appearing. These signs are God’s way of revealing to his watchful servants that the second coming of Christ is about to take place. There is no problem with people recognizing the signs of the end times and calculating the timing of Christ’s return. The real problem is that many professing Christians will fail to recognize the signs.

Pre-Trib Argument #7 — Nobody left to populate the Millennial kingdom – If the rapture takes place at the end of the seven-year end times period, then there would be no Christians on the earth when Christ returns to set up his Millennial kingdom. It is absurd to think Christ would have nobody to reign over, and so the rapture cannot happen at the end of the seven years.

Rebuttal: This isn’t really an argument in favor of pre-tribulationism — it’s an argument against the post-tribulation view, which isn’t quite the view I am defending. Post-tribulationism says that the rapture and Christ’s return are essentially the same event, but I believe that the rapture marks the beginning of the bowls, and Christ’s visible return is sometime later (I believe 30 days later, as explained in Revelation Overview). Still, I think a rebuttal is worth offering since a somewhat weaker version of this argument might be used against the view I hold.

As explained in The Millennial Kingdom, I believe the primary subjects within the millennial kingdom will be the surviving remnant of the nation Israel. Remember, Israel will be protected on earth during the end times. I believe Israel remains on earth even during the bowl judgments because the sixth bowl event (Rev 16:13-16) is the assembly of armies at Armageddon (in Israel) and the Lord will once again fight for Israel (Zech 12:8-10). At that time, Paul’s prophecy will be fulfilled that “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26-27), as well as a number of Old Testament prophecies (e.g. Isa 59:19-20, Joel 2:32). What else is there to do with Israel after Christ’s return except assume that they will joyously enter the millennial kingdom as Jesus Christ their king rules from Zion?

In any case, populating the millennial kingdom is not a problem.

Pre-Trib Argument #8 — No “sheep” at the Sheep and Goats Judgment – Jesus said in Matt 25:31-33, “31But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32“All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.”. He went on to say that the “sheep on the right” who served Jesus will inherit the kingdom of God, but the “goats on the left” who failed to serve Jesus will go to eternal punishment.

However, if the rapture takes place at the end of the seven-year end times period, then there would be no “sheep” on earth when Christ returns. This doesn’t make sense, and so the rapture cannot happen at the end of the seven years.

Rebuttal: Again, this is really an argument against the post-tribulation view, but I think it’s still worth addressing.

This argument is based on the assumption that this Sheep and Goats Judgment takes place immediately upon Christ’s visible return (all of it preceding the millennial kingdom) and that it therefore applies only to people alive on earth at the time of his return. As explained in The Resurrections of the Dead, I don’t believe this assumption is necessary, or even preferable. Rather, I believe the Sheep and Goats judgment is applicable to everyone, and it is the same separation of the righteous and unrighteous that we read about in Revelation 20 and elsewhere.

With this interpretation (which I deem to be more reasonable and supportable), there clearly is no lack of sheep (or goats).

Pre-Trib Argument #9 — Early Historical Belief that Christ’s return was imminent – In John 21:22-23, we read this: 22Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” 23Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?

We see that there was a rumor among the disciples that Christ might return during John’s lifetime. This shows that the disciples thought Christ’s return was imminent, and imminence is a key tenet of pre-tribulationism.

Rebuttal: This argument is so vague that it’s hardly an argument at all. However, I’ve seen it presented in several places, so it should be answered. One point I would like to make up front is that the idea of imminence is not limited to the pre-tribulationist view. I myself believe that the end times are imminent (if imminence is properly understood – see What Does “Soon” Mean?).

This passage merely says that some of the disciples had some misconceptions at that point in time: (1) They thought Jesus was hinting about when he would return, and (2) they concluded that Christ would return during John’s lifetime. The clarification in verse 23 and the long-ago death of John shows that they were wrong on both accounts. This passage obviously does not provide a solid basis for any eschatological position!

But let’s put that objection aside, and simply accept the fact that some disciples thought Christ might return in John’s lifetime (i.e. sometime in the first century). To that I have to ask, “so what?”. They were not wrong to think that Christ could return in their lifetimes, just as today we are not wrong to think that Christ could return in our lifetimes. The end times events are just as imminent today as they were then.

Imminence is really not even the issue. The real issue concerns what events are imminent. This pre-trib argument presumes that the imminent event is the rapture, but please observe that the given passage above says nothing about the rapture! It simply refers broadly to Christ’s return. The idea that the rapture itself is the imminent event receives no support at all from this passage.

But this does raise a valid question: What exactly do we mean when we say that the return of Christ is imminent? Does it mean that one day Christ will suddenly, unexpectedly, and visibly appear in glory and wrath? No, because that disagrees with the teachings that certain signs must appear before the glorious appearance of Christ (e.g. Matt 24:15,33, 2 Thes 2:1,2,3). The things that are truly imminent are those signs themselves. This explains why Jesus was so adamant that his followers be watchful and alert (e.g. Matt 24:42, Mark 13:37, Luke 21:34-36).

Those signs will inform Christ’s observant followers that the end times period (the 70th week of Daniel) has begun. That period encompasses the entire seven-year process by which Christ will begin His reign on earth, and it concludes with the visible return of Christ. The signs associated with this period are discussed in The Signs of the End Times.

Pre-Trib Argument #10 — The 24 Elders prove a pre-tribulation rapture – In Rev 4:4, we read this: “Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads”.

Later, in verse 10, the elders say (if we use the King James Version) “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”

In Revelation, we always see saints in heaven wearing white garments, so we should assume that these twenty-four elders are also redeemed saints. Furthermore, the number 24, and the fact that they say “God made us into kings and priests” connects the 24 elders to 1 Chronicles 24 where king David selected 24 priests to serve in shifts of temple service. From all this, we may conclude that the 24 elders represent all of the the redeemed saints who will reign with Christ as priests (Rev 20:6).

The fact that all redeemed saints are in heaven at the beginning of John’s vision strongly indicates that the church will have already been taken in the rapture before any of the events of the end times (which are described later) occur. This proves the pre-tribulation view.

Rebuttal: This argument as an excellent example of interpreting Revelation with the pre-tribulation rapture already assumed as a preconceived notion. Consequently, the natural interpretation is discarded and replaced by this other interpretation which has been stretched and made much more complicated in order to suit this preconceived notion.

Those who read Revelation 5 without bias will interpret naturally, as follows:

  • They understand that “24” means 24 — which is not a vast multitude.
  • They understand “elders” means elders (indicating a special status) — not saints in general.
  • They will see no motivation to connect the “priests” portion of “kings and priests” with the 24 priestly shifts described in 1 Chron 24 (where David selected 24 priests based on 16 sons of one priest, and 8 sons of another).
  • They would not infer that the KJV English translation gives a fundamentally different meaning than most modern translations (which use “they” and “them” instead of “we” and “us“).

If the author had really meant a vast multitude of saints, then he could have just called them a vast multitude of saints. In fact, the author proves this point himself, because later in Rev 7:9 he does describe such a vast multitude of saints in heaven! However, in that context, the vast multitude is not at the beginning of John’s vision, but toward the end. We know this because the multitude is described as those who have come out of the tribulation (Rev 7:14).

Another reason that the 24 elders cannot represent all redeemed saints is seen in chapter 19. There, we again see the great multitude of saints (Rev 19:1), but in that scene they are shown together with the 24 elders (Rev 19:4)! How can the 24 elders represent all redeemed saints in Rev 5, and yet be a distinct group apart from the redeemed saints in Rev 19?

This is a relatively minor point, but this pre-tribulationist argument requires that we use translations (such as the KJV) which interpret Rev 5:10 with the words “us” and “we“, which are needed to support their interpretation. However, most English translations use “them” and “they“, which allow the elders to be referring to other saints besides themselves. There are reasons to prefer the latter translation. For one thing, the phrase “kingdom and priests” do refer to all saints (Rev 1:6) and not just 24 elders themselves. Also, it appears that the ones speaking in Rev 5:10 include both the 24 elders and the four living creatures (see Rev 5:8-9).

I don’t dispute the idea that the 24 elders are redeemed saints (see Who Are the 24 Elders?). However, some variants of this pre-trib argument assume that there can be no redeemed saints in heaven prior to the rapture. Does this assumption have theological support? No! On the contrary, there are actually a number of verses that argue against it. For example, what did Jesus mean when he told the thief being crucified next to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43)? Or what did Paul mean when he said “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil 1:23)? And where did Elijah go when we left the earth, as described: “a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.“?

These passages (among others) indicate that saints actually do have some sort of presence in heaven prior to the end times. However, If indeed the 24 elders are redeemed saints, then Revelation clearly distinguishes them from all other saints by calling them “elders“. We may conclude that these saints have be given special status in heaven that is different from all other saints. In any case, the presence of some special saints in heaven before the throne is not evidence that the rapture must have already occurred.

Finally, this pre-trib argument suffers from a lack of any contextual support. The argument supposes that these 24 elders (presumed to represent all redeemed saints) have just arrived in heaven as part of a pre-tribulation rapture event. And yet, the text simply describes the 24 elders as being already present in heaven when the vision begins — in the same manner that the “four living creatures” are already present there. There is nothing in the context to suggest that any of them have just arrived in heaven or that the rapture has just occurred.

Rather than depending on weak assumptions and stretchy interpretations that lack theological and contextual support, we should take the text at face value that these 24 elders already have a special presence in the throne room of heaven. John simply does not describe a great multitude of saints at the throne when the vision of the end times begins.

However, as I mentioned above, John does twice describe a great multitude of saints in heaven, and both cases occur toward the conclusion of the end times, immediately preceding the glorious visible return of Christ (Rev 7:9 and Rev 19:1). This argues in favor of a later rapture event.

Pre-Trib Argument #11 — The Removal of the Restrainer is the Rapture – In 2 Thes 2:6-8, we read this: 6And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;

The “lawless one” (verse 8) who is being restrained (in verses 6 and 7) is the Antichrist. There are at least two pre-trib views about the identity of the “restrainer”:

  • View 1: The “restrainer” is the church, and so the “removal of the restrainer” refers to the removal of the church from the earth, which is the rapture event.
  • View 2: The “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit. However, since the Holy Spirit exists on earth within the hearts of Christians (i.e. the church), the “removal of the restrainer” still constitutes the removal of the church, which is the rapture.

In either case, the removal of the restrainer constitutes the rapture, and so Antichrist cannot appear until the rapture occurs. Since Antichrist will be revealed in the end times, we may conclude the rapture must occur at the start of the end times period. This proves the pre-tribulation rapture.

Rebuttal: I agree that the “lawless one” refers to Antichrist. However, I disagree with the idea that the removal of the restrainer corresponds to the rapture of the church from the earth. Of course, this pre-trib argument rests entirely on that idea. Since there are two different pre-trib views regarding the identity of the restrainer, I have to deal with each view separately.

Problems specific to view #1 above – The restrainer is the church:

In this view, the one who restrains the coming of the Antichrist is the church. The thinking behind this view is that the church serves to restrain evil in general on the earth. So, if the church were to disappear, the unrestrained evil of unbelievers on earth would quickly lead to the coming of Antichrist.

However, this idea that he church restrains evil on earth is contrived. This is simply not a scripturally supported role of the church. The presence of the church certainly didn’t stop the Holocaust or other abominations of wickedness on the earth, and it’s not stopping the coming Antichrist either.

When it comes to restraining evil, we Christians are called to prevent evil only within the church (Matt 18:15-17, 1 Cor 5:2, Titus 3:8,10, Rev 2:20). We have no authority to judge those outside the church (1 Cor 5:9-10, 11, 12-13). But even in our calling to keep the church pure, we tend to fail, because the Bible tells us that churches will become corrupt as we approach the last days, and the messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are full of rebukes. If we are unable to restrain evil within the church where we have both the authority and command to do so, how can we suppose that the church restrains evil outside the church where we have neither authority nor command?

We Christians have to keep in mind that we are just sinners who are saved by God’s grace. We are not better than the sinners outside the church! Let us not be like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9,10,11,12,13,14).

For our God-given purposes, unbelievers are the mission field. We are called only to patiently and lovingly present Christ to them by sharing the light of the gospel, in hopes that some of them may be persuaded to escape the snare of the devil (2 Tim 2:24, 25, 26). We are called to do this even if (and especially if) they mock us and persecute us (Rom 12:14-15, 16, 17-18, 19, 20-21). In our role as Christ’s representatives on earth, we should love sinners just a Jesus did at his first coming (Matt 5:44, Matt 9:12-13, John 3:17).

Besides, even if we could somehow restrain unbelievers from doing evil (and we can’t), what good have we really accomplished if they still remain unbelievers?

Problems specific to View #2 above – The restrainer is the Holy Spirit.

I agree that the restrainer is the Holy Spirit, but I disagree with the notion that the Holy Spirit is only manifest on earth within the hearts of Christians. The Holy Spirit can and does work through Christians, but He cannot be confined to them. The Holy Spirit was clearly at work on earth before the church began (Psalm 51:11, Luke 1:35), and even before there were any people at all (Gen 1:2).

Furthermore, it is an unnecessary extreme to suppose that the the “removal of the restrainer” requires the total removal of the Holy Spirit’s presence from the earth. Let’s look at what the text actually says:

  • The only thing being restrained is “him“, referring to the coming of Antichrist (2 Thes 2:6), who was earlier introduced as the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thes 2:3).
  • The removal of the restrainer is described simply as being “taken out of the way” (2 Thes 2:7).
  • The only consequence stated is that the “lawless one will be revealed” (2 Thes 2:8).

All that Paul is saying is that the revealing of Antichrist is being blocked by the restrainer (i.e. the Holy Spirit) until some appointed time. When that time comes, the restrainer will be taken out of the way, allowing Antichrist to be revealed.

Nothing in this passage requires the Holy Spirit to vacate the earth. Indeed, the gospel will spread and many will come to faith even during the great tribulation (Matt 24:14), which is evidence that the Holy Spirit will still be at work on earth.

So, the removal of the restrainer will allow the coming of Antichrist, but it doesn’t necessitate the removal of the Holy Spirit’s presence from the earth, and it absolutely doesn’t necessitate the removal of the church from the earth.

What does it mean for the restrainer to be removed?

In the section called The Antichrist and the Restrainer (within the article The Antichrist), I have given my understanding of the restrainer, including when and why the restrainer will be removed.

The key points from that section, as it pertains to this pre-trib argument, are that:

  • I believe that the restrainer will be removed, and the Antichrist revealed with the abomination of desolation at the midpoint of the end times period (Matt 24:15, 2 Thes 2:3-4).
  • This will almost immediately result in persecutions against both Israel and the church.
  • The reason for removing the restraint, and allowing the consequent persecution, will be to punish the churches. This will happen because of God’s displeasure with the corruption and lack of love among those who profess to be His representatives on earth.
  • This punishment of the churches is clearly likened to when God punished Israel by allowing Babylon to sack Jerusalem and destroy the temple. The horrors of this punishment fell upon all Jews — both righteous and unrighteous, and so shall it be with the churches.

Given this understanding, the churches must still be on earth when the restrainer is removed. More to the point, the restrainer will be removed specifically with the intent of punishing the churches, with whom God is displeased. Obviously then, the removal of the restrainer is not the rapture.

How Important is the Timing of the Rapture?

You might say that the most important thing is simply being a true Christian, and you would be right. However, I have a hard time saying the timing of the rapture is an unimportant issue, particularly if it becomes a question of being prepared for the end times or not.

I am reminded that 2,000 years ago, Israel was is a similar situation. They were God’s chosen representative’s on earth, and through the prophets, their Lord had promised to visit them (as the Messiah). He told them what the signs of His coming would be, and what sort of things He would do.

When He arrived, there were some in Israel who were looking for His coming (Matt 16:15-16, Mark 15:43, Luke 1:67-70, Luke 2:25, Luke 2:38, Acts 2:37), and they did recognize that their promised Messiah was Jesus. These Jews became the church, and the church later spread mostly among the Gentile nations, and it continues to serve as God’s representatives on earth.

However, we know that most of Israel was unprepared for his arrival. They missed the signs of his visitation (Luke 19:44), they didn’t understand his purpose in coming (Matt 27:42), and they ultimately rejected him and they sided with the religious leaders who called for his death (Matt 21:42, Matt 27:22). To this day, most of Israel continues to deny Jesus.

Now, in a sense, history is repeating itself. The Lord has again promised his representatives (this time the church) that he will visit some day (as the King). Again, we have been told what the signs of His coming will be and what He will do.

Unfortunately, I tend to think that things will be much the same for the churches at Christ’s second visit as it was with Israel at Christ’s first visit. Some Christians will be looking for the signs and they will be ready for his arrival. But many other professing Christians — perhaps even the majority — will unprepared. Jesus himself asked in Luke 18:8, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”.

Being a Christian is, in itself, no guarantee that we’re always going to honor Christ in the way we conduct ourselves. Christians can be caught by surprise in a time of stress, and in such situations we may succumb to temptation and compromise our testimony. In the context of the end times, Jesus said “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33). This calls for a faith and a perspective that runs counter to our natural tendencies. But the end times will be our final opportunity to honor our Savior and take part in His victory before we meet Him face to face. If a proper understanding of the rapture helps us to live victoriously in the end times, then it is important.

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