“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
There can be little doubt that the “Pre-trib” rapture is the cornerstone of the modern “Left Behind” Theology. After all, without the Pre-trib Rapture, no one gets left behind. The event has sparked all kinds of success in books and movies, such as “A Thief in the Night” and the Left Behind Series. It is the event that most modern Christians believe to be just on the next horizon. But is this taught in the Bible?
1 Thessalonians 4: Rapture or Resurrection?
The above Scripture from First Thessalonians is the main scripture used to defend the idea of a “pre-trib” rapture. In reality, it does no such thing. There is no mention of a tribulation period in 1 Thessalonians. No mention of a third Jewish temple or an antichrist. There is no reason whatsoever to place the events in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 before the tribulation.
However, the above is merely an argument from silence. The biggest problem for the pre-trib defender is what the verse does contain, namely a resurrection. 1 Thessalonians. 4:16 clearly tells us that “the dead in Christ will rise first.” This is before the “rapture” event of verse 17. What does the Bible teach about the resurrection?
1.) The resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous takes place at the same time. (John 5:28-29).
2.) The resurrection takes place “on the last day”, not before some tribulation period. (Daniel 12:13; John 6:39-44; John 11:24).
Therefore, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is a scripture about the Second Advent of Christ1, complete with the last day’s resurrection and the consummation of His Kingdom. It does not speak of a “pre-trib rapture”. The same goes for 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. While it is often espoused as a defense of the pre-trib rapture, the entire chapter is devoted to the Doctrine of the resurrection.
All of this brings to mind the “first resurrection” of Rev. 20.
“Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4-6)
While the pre-trib rapture proponent will use this scripture to defend the idea of two resurrections, this passage is a huge obstacle to the rapture doctrine. Remember that 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 clearly teaches that the resurrection of the “dead in Christ” takes place before the “rapture”. Yet in Rev. 20, the “first resurrection” includes the tribulation saints, “the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.” How could the first resurrection include the tribulation saints if, according to 1 Thessalonians 4, the first resurrection takes place before the tribulation? Now adopting a “post-trib” view will solve that problem, but still leaves us with at least two resurrections over 1,000 years apart, a view which flies contrary to Jesus’ statement concerning the resurrection of both in John 5:28-29. (I didn’t bother to ask if the millennium saints have a resurrection). The post-trib view also defeats the purpose of the rapture to begin with. Why would Christ come and rapture His church into the air only to turn right around and bring them back to earth to set up His millennial reign?
We’ll deal more with the “first resurrection” in later posts, but for now, we can see that it presents a huge problem for the “rapture” doctrine.
Other Alleged Rapture Verses
Two other arguments often used to defend the rapture must be addressed. The first is Matthew 24:37-42. As I established in the last post, Matthew 24 is not about the end of the world, but about the end of the Old Covenant, completed with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. I’ll post a verse by verse commentary on Matthew 24 later in this series, but for now, it should be noted that Matthew 24 says absolutely nothing about a rapture. In the Days of Noah, it was the wicked who were swept away by the flood (Matthew 24:39), not the righteous who were raptured away. So it was in 70 AD. Some were taken (captured), and some were left (killed).
The last argument that we’ll address here is that idea that the church gets “raptured” in Revelation 4:1 when the voice in heaven says “Come up here”. The argument here is that since the word “church” doesn’t appear in the Bible after this, the phrase “Come up here” must refer to the rapture. Obviously, this argument is ridiculous, but since it is so popular, it must be addressed.
First, John was the only one “raptured” in this passage, and this was only in His vision. In reality, he never left the island of Patmos and died a normal death here on earth. Second, it must be noted that the word “church” never appears during the passages concerning heaven either. One could just as easily make the argument that Revelation teaches that the church will be annihilated. I would also note that the word “antichrist” doesn’t appear in Revelation at all, yet the rapturist is convinced that antichrist is the main character of the Book.
The History of the Rapture Doctrine
Most Christians today are surprised to discover that the Rapture Doctrine was not taught in the Church before the 1830’s. J. Preston Eby writes, “It wasn't until the early or mid 1800's that there was any significant group of believers around the world that looked for a "rapture" of the Church prior to a seven-year tribulation period. It may come as a shock to some who read these lines, but it is a fact, nonetheless, that the "rapture" teaching was not taught by the early Church, it was not taught by Church of the first centuries, it was not taught by the Reformers, it was not taught by anyone (except a couple of Roman Catholic theologians) until about the year 1830.” Historian Dave MacPherson has traced the doctrine back to a Scottish physic named Margaret McDonald. “A young Scottish lass named Margaret MacDonald had a revelation of the coming of the Lord before the great tribulation. Several noted Bible teachers of that day picked up on this thought, but it was Edward Irving and John Darby who were responsible for it being popularized in Scotland and England. It is said of Darby that he borrowed from Margaret MacDonald's revelation, modified her views, and then taught them under his own name without giving her credit. He visited the U.S. at least five times, and his dispensationalism became part of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909). It was the notes in Scofield's Bible that caused this new teaching to find favor in this country.”
In modern times, desperate attempts to give the rapture doctrine historical significance have resulted in institutes such as Thomas Ice’s “Pre-Trib Research Center”. However, the more historical “evidence” that Ice uncovers for the doctrine2, the more obvious it becomes that the rapture doctrine has no history before the early 1800’s. In addition, it cannot be supported with Scripture. The “Rapture” doctrine is a false doctrine that has harmed many individuals and rendered the modern church impotent. The message of the Bible, from beginning to end, is one of victory, not escape from some future tribulation period.
For More Information, I would suggest:
The Rapture Plot by Dave MacPherson
The Three R’s: Rapture, Robbery, Revisionism by Dave MacPherson
1 The Bible teaches a Second Advent, not a third.
2 We'll address some of Ice's rapture "evidence" in the next post.