Does the Church Still Believe in the Rapture? – Program 4

By: Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Earl Radmacher, Dr. John Feinberg; ©1995
God’s judgment will fall on the earth during a seven year time of unprecedented trouble. But do Christians have any hope of escaping that terrible time?

Will Christians Have to Endure the Tribulation Period?

Introduction

John Ankerberg: In a recent U.S. News & World Report, sixty-one percent of Americans said they believed Jesus Christ will return to earth, and sixty percent said they thought the world will end sometime in the future. Today on the John Ankerberg Show, does the church still teach that Jesus Christ will someday suddenly return to earth and thus set in motion terrifying end-time events?

[Movie clip—Future Tense]

Narrator: According to the Bible, there will be a day when Jesus Christ comes again to gather from the earth all the people who truly believe in him. Now, there are different opinions among Christians on the exact order of the events surrounding his return. But one thing is certain: he is coming back. There are over 300 passages in the Bible that deal with the return of Jesus Christ. Many of these passages indicate that he could come at any moment.
Radio Announcer—“Steve”: At approximately 5:37 a.m., Central Standard Time, an event of catastrophic proportions occurred as millions of people have apparently disappeared from the face of the earth. I repeat, the Federal Government has declared a state of national emergency. We go now to Bob Lawson, live from our eyewitness helicopter.
“Bob”: Steve, I have never seen anything like this! It looks like a war zone from up here! We are currently approaching the downtown area….
Ankerberg: In this series you will hear from nine prominent theologians and biblical prophecy scholars. From our conference in Dallas, Texas, we’ll hear Dr. David Breese, Dr. Zola Levitt, Peter LaLonde and Dr. Randall Price. From our own studios you will hear theologians Dr. John Walvoord, Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Earl Radmacher, and Dr. John Feinberg. Join us and discover what the Bible teaches about the return of Jesus Christ to this earth.

Program 4 [Dallas, Texas]

Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re here in warm and wonderful Dallas, Texas, and we have four of the premier teachers on biblical prophecy today with us, and we are talking about the exciting events of Christ’s second coming. We’re talking about the rapture of the Church and we’re going to define those terms in a moment. Maybe you’re not familiar with those terms, but we’re going to talk about them.
And then, you need to realize that the Bible says that planet earth is headed toward some very serious events; that which Jesus says is a tribulation time, a time of trouble. In fact, Jesus Christ said that time of tribulation will be the worst that the world has ever seen, has ever experienced. Nothing will even come close to it. What did Jesus say would happen? Well, we’re going to find out today.
But before we do, Randall, a lot of people think, then, that are teaching today that Christians actually will go through part of the tribulation or all of it. We don’t believe that. Why?
Price: Well, the tribulation period, as it’s described first by the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 4:30, is particularly designed to bring the nation of Israel to a time of repentance and deliverance so that they will see their Messiah and trust him. And there is says, “when these things have come upon you in the latter days.” And so the specific reference is to the Jewish nation. Now, also, that time is a time of God’s wrath being outpoured upon the Gentile nations who have persecuted the people of God throughout the ages.
When we come to the New Testament, we see some very distinctive things concerning the church and the message to the church concerning that time of trouble. For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 4 we have that statement we’ve already considered about the church not grieving as it has no hope, but rather comforting one another with these words. When we come to 1 Thessalonians 5:9, just after that passage, the same word of comfort or hope is issued and there it says, “God has not destined us for wrath but for the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And this is not a type of physical deliverance but it’s talking about the spiritual deliverance, the ultimate salvation that will come when we see him face to face and are conformed to his image. And this idea of being rescued or taken from a coming wrath is quite clear here and for that reason it says, “Encourage one another in your faith.”
We have a similar passage in Revelation 3:10, for there it says that believers are going to be removed before an hour of trial or testing is to come upon all the earth. And there we see a very distinctive term, the term “those who dwell on the earth.” The Greek term translated “those who are on the earth,” really it’s “earth-dwellers”—those who are characterized as belonging to this world system and not to those who trust the Lord. And so we have a situation in which wrath is poured out specifically to judge unbelievers, not believers, and it is before that hour which is going to come upon the entire inhabited earth, believers will be assured that they are removed from that time.
Ankerberg: Now, what Dr. Randall Price was talking about is important. Does the Bible teach that every Christian will be delivered by the rapture from the wrath of God that will be poured out upon the earth during the tribulation? We believe the Bible does teach this. To present the evidence, I’d like you to listen first to Dr. Paul Feinberg, professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and then to Dr. Renald Showers, who is a professor and author of the excellent new book on the rapture that we are offering entitled, Maranatha, Our Lord Come! Open your Bible and follow along with these men.
Dr. Paul Feinberg: When people ask me on what I base my belief in a pre-tribulation rapture, I think the place that I would start is to point out that the Bible makes a distinction between affliction or trial and the wrath of God. No Christians have been promised that God will carry them to heaven on flowery beds of ease or that they will never experience the kinds of trials and tribulations that we face as human beings and a part of the fallen human condition. But what I do think the New Testament teaches is that the church is going to be granted exemption from the wrath of God.
And I think the place to begin to see that this is, in fact, that teaching is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. There Paul writes to this exemplary church that they “turn to God from idols to serve the living and the true God and to wait for his Son from heaven whom he raised from the dead.” Then notice these words: “Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” Now, the wrath spoken of here, I do not think is even primarily the wrath of eternal damnation. The primary discussion of wrath in the Thessalonian epistles is about the wrath of the Day of the Lord so that Paul is talking about a rescue from wrath, wrath that is the wrath of the Day of the Lord.
And then if you turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9 you find that Paul contrasts the relationship of two groups to the Day of the Lord: there are those who are going to be unprepared, upon whom the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night, and, Paul says, “for them there is no escape. They will not escape.” But for those of us who are of the day, those of us who are God’s children, he writes that God has not appointed us unto wrath but to deliverance, to being saved to salvation.
Now, it is my judgment that the salvation spoken of here is not what we get when we believe on Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. A secondary meaning of this Greek word is physical deliverance and I think what is contrasted in these verses is falling into the day of the Lord for the wicked and from that there is no escape and those who are members of the church who will escape because they have been appointed to physical deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Showers: The issue that’s involved here is this: What will be the relationship of Christians to this future period of God’s wrath? It seems to me there are significant passages in the Bible which shed some light on that. One of those significant passages is in 1 Thessalonians 1:10. Now, if you saw one of our earlier telecasts, we were looking at that passage because it clearly teaches the imminence of the Lord’s return to take the church saints out of the world. But Paul went on to teach some other interesting concepts in that verse. This is what he said to the Thessalonians Christians: that they were waiting for his Son, for God’s Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, “which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
Now interestingly, the verb translated “delivered” there is a fascinating verb. For one thing, it’s in the present tense. Some of our English translations translate it as past, but it’s in the present tense. And normally the Greek present tense, unless the context indicates otherwise, is referring to continuous action. And that appears to be what it is here. And it’s indicated that Christ has already given to us, as a continuous thing, deliverance from this future time of wrath. It’s already a present reality for us because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the Cross of Calvary and through his resurrection. So that’s a guarantee, in essence, to us that church saints will be delivered from the wrath to come.
Now, the verb translated “delivered” here also carries with it the idea of deliverance from something that’s threatening you or deliverance from an enemy. And the idea is God’s wrath is certainly a threat to a human being. No human being who has any degree of sanity would ever want to come under the full weight of God’s wrath. That would be a horrible, horrible thing to experience. And so human beings would regard the wrath of God as an enemy or a threat to them. And so Paul is saying that Jesus has already provided for those who have trusted him as Savior deliverance from that wrath, deliverance from that thing that would threaten the well-being of a human being. But there’s another fascinating idea that’s associated with the verb that Paul used here translated “delivered” and that is, it refers to deliverance by a mighty act of power. That’s very significant in light of what he said earlier in this verse that the Thessalonians were waiting for God’s Son to come from heaven, as we saw earlier, to come to rapture them out of the world.
The rapture will certainly be a mighty act of divine power when Jesus Christ will catch up from the earth the whole body of born again Christians for all the centuries that the church has ever existed. As we saw in our earlier telecast, he’ll bring with him the souls of those church saints that have already died; he’ll bring those souls with him from heaven, he’ll resurrect their bodies from the grave, reunite the returning souls with their bodies, so they’ll be here on the earth by resurrection. And then the Christians who are alive when he comes to rapture the church, he’ll instantaneously transform their bodies into an immortal body. But then he’s going to catch up all the millions of Christians who have trusted Christ as Savior and lived throughout all the centuries, the church that existed here on planet earth. In one mighty act of power, he will snatch them up from the earth to meet him in the air and then return with them back to his Father’s house in heaven to live in the mansions or dwelling places he’s prepared for them there. A mighty act of power. It seems to me that since Paul is inferring the rapture earlier in this verse, that that’s the mighty act of power through which he will actually carry out this deliverance that he’s already provided for us from the wrath to come.
But what does he mean by “the wrath to come”? I wished again I could show you what the Greek language says here. Let me give you a very literal translation. “The wrath, the coming; the wrath, the coming.” Paul uses the definite article “the” twice in there. And many Greek scholars pointed out that the reason he does that is because he’s referring to a very specific, unique, period of intense wrath that is so unique because of the intensity of God’s wrath being poured out that it’s in a class all of its own, totally distinct from any past outpourings of God’s wrath in previous history. It’s going to be—and again, scholars recognize this—an incredibly unparalleled intensity of God’s wrath being poured out upon the earth for a particular period of time. And most scholars that I’ve researched are of the conviction that he’s referring to that beginning seven year phase of the future day of the Lord that we saw in an earlier telecast will be the unparalleled time of an outpouring of God’s wrath through seal judgments, trumpet judgments, and bowl judgments.
Paul is saying here that Jesus, through a mighty act of power—I take it, through the rapture—will carry out the deliverance that he’s already granted to us and provided for us as Christians from that future day of the Lord wrath here on planet earth. I take it the implication is that the way he will deliver us from that is by removing us from the earth by rapture before that seven-year phase of God’s wrath of the future day of the Lord will begin. To me that implies a pre-tribulation rapture, that the church will be removed before this period of time of unparalleled wrath of God is poured out upon the face of the earth.
Ankerberg: How does the Bible teach that God will deliver Christians from the wrath to come? To explain, I’d like you to hear Dr. Paul Feinberg; and then Dr. John Walvoord, chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary; then Dr. Earl Radmacher, chancellor of Western Theological Seminary; and finally, Dr. Renald Showers. Please listen:
Paul Feinberg: Now, someone says, “How is God going to deliver us from the wrath that is to come?” And I think it is expressed in a verse that there’s a great deal of controversy about, but which I think is extremely important to a pre-tribulational rapture, Revelation 3:10. That verse reads, “Since you have kept my commandment to endure patiently,” and here are the critical words: “I will keep you from the hour that is to come.” And I think that the protection taught in this verse is outside the time of trial, not inside the time of trial, so that this is a promise not simply of exemption from the wrath of God but a promise for exemption from even the time of the wrath of God. And I base that upon not simply the word “kept,” but on three words: “kept,” the preposition that’s translated “from” and the word “hour” so that the promise is not simply that we’ll be kept from the trial in which case we could be protected within the hour, but it is a promise of protection from even the time of trial. And the only way I see that that is possible is that the protection would be outside of time and space.
Walvoord: Now to cap this study we want to turn once again to the book of Revelation, which, as you know, deals with the subject of the second coming of Christ, not the rapture of the Church preeminently. But there are mentions of the rapture, particularly in connection with the revelation to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. And one of these is very significant because it’s found in Revelation 3:10 where he is addressing the Philadelphia church. This is the church that he commends. And in verse 10 he says, “It’s because you have kept my commandment to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which should come upon the whole earth to test them who dwell on the earth.” In other words, what has he promised? He has promised to keep them from the time of trial that’s going to come, referring to the great tribulation.
Now, how could he have made that promise if he was a post-tribulationist? See, by the nature of the case he had to be a pre-tribulationist. Now, notice also the expression here “to keep you from.” Now, this is both a verb which means “to keep” but it also has the Greek preposition ek which means “from.” How, the post-tribulationists don’t have any strength here at all but they try to refute it by saying, “keeps them through” the great tribulation. Well, if he was going to say “through” he should have used the Greek dia with the accusative which means to keep through. He had an alternative if that’s what he wanted to say, but he said instead, “keep from this.”
Now, if we go back to John 17 in connection with Christ’s prayer, we find a verse there that I think is also parallel to this because it describes how God is going to keep the disciples from the evil one. In John 17:15 we read this, “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world” in other words, ek, “but that you should keep them from the evil one.” Now, the point is, in the case of the church at Philadelphia, he was going to take them out of the world before the time of tribulation would come. Here he tells his disciples he’s not going to keep them out of the world but he’s going to keep them from the evil one, in other words while they’re still in the world.
He would not take them out of the world, but he would keep them from the evil one while they were still in the world. In other words, he uses exactly the opposite expression that we have in Revelation 3:10. And so the preposition ek plus the verb make it very clear that they’re going to be taken out of the world. And the only way it could be done for the Philadelphia church and for the rapture to occur. Now, the point is this, while the church at Philadelphia obviously was not the whole church, it seems to represent the true church, the evangelical church, and it’s very clear that this has to be taken out in order to avoid the time of trouble.
Radmacher: Now, I am often asked, “What is your greatest argument for the pre-tribulation rapture?” and when I give a theological argument, I give the imminence of the Lord’s return. There are no signs preceding his return for his church. But when I give a textual argument, what single text? I think that there is no text that is clearer in Scripture than Revelation 3:10. Listen to these words: “Because you have kept my command to persevere, I also will keep you out of the hour of the trial, the coming one.” The text has three specific, definite articles, so it’s not talking about just keeping them out of trial or out of tribulation, it’s talking about keeping them out of a period of trial. “I will keep you out of the hour of the tribulation, the coming one.” The writer couldn’t have said it more specifically than he said it in those verses. Now, someone could say, “Well, didn’t he say that simply to the church at Philadelphia?” Well, I want you to notice something about these seven little epistles in Revelation 2 and 3. Every one of them concludes with an eschatological statement. By eschatology we mean “the last things,” and so every one of these little epistles goes down to the end time and every one of them is different.
If you will look at the end of the epistle to Ephesus in 2:1-7, you will see that it talks about the end times, “To him who overcomes, I will give to eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Now, each one of those epistles will take you down to a prophetic event of the very end. So, you can conclude that the seven exhortations at the end of those epistles are for the totality of the church. How do I know that? Well, if you’ll look at the beginning of that verse, it says, “he who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” not just to the church at Ephesus, but to the churches. So he takes the prophetic statement that he has given and makes that applicable to the totality of the churches, something that all of us will participate in. Therefore, I believe that it is legitimate in Revelation 3 when he’s speaking to the church at Philadelphia and he gives this end-time statement about the tribulation, we may all see our place in the fulfillment ultimately of that passage. So it’s a specific time period; it’s a specific nature; and it is a specific promise with regard to exemption from that period of time.
Showers: Now, a third passage which is very significant in regard to this is Revelation 3:10 where Jesus is making a promise to Christians and he says, verse 10, “Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation.” Literally, the hour of testing “which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Literally, “to try the earth-dwellers.” Notice, he’s saying here that he will keep his saints, his true believers, out of the hour of testing. Now, many scholars agree that the testing here is referring to a future period of wrath upon the face of the earth. It’s obviously referring to a time period because he talks about the “hour” of testing. So many agree that he’s promising here to believers to keep them out of that hour of testing, but some say, “Well, it’s just the testing that he’s preserving them from. That they’ll be here during the time of the testing but God somehow will shelter them or protect them from the testing.”
But notice John doesn’t say here, quoting the Lord’s promise, that he will deliver them or keep them out of the testing, he says he will keep them out of “the hour of testing.” In other words, he will keep them out of the very time period when the testing is taking place. And then he says here the purpose of that time period of testing, the purpose is not to do something with regard to church saints, but the purpose of that hour of testing is to test or to try the earth-dwellers. And we stated in one of our earlier telecasts that when you go through the Book of Revelation, the earth-dwellers consistently is referring to rebellious unsaved people who refuse to repent and who are so hardened against God that they will never repent. They will never get saved.
And by the way, it’s interesting to note the very next expression after verse 10 of Revelation 3, Jesus says, “Behold, I come quickly. Hold that fast which you have that no man take your crown.” Very interesting the Lord Jesus throws that in. “Behold, I come quickly,” after his promise, “I will keep you from the hour of testing.” The implication seems to be the way he will keep the believers out of that hour of testing is by his coming quickly to remove them from the face of the earth by rapture before that hour of testing begins.
So, I personally am convinced in light of 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Revelation 3:10, that the church saints will have no relationship at all to this future period of God’s wrath upon the face of the earth and the reason we shall not is because Jesus will come to the air above the earth before that future period of divine wrath begins and he will remove his bride, the church, all of his church saints, from the earth by rapture and take them back to the Father’s house in heaven and then after we’re there, sometime after, then this future period of God’s wrath will be poured out upon the unbelievers here on planet earth.

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