Does the Church Still Believe in the Rapture? – Program 8

By: Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Earl Radmacher, Dr. John Feinberg; ©1995
According to our scholars, the rapture is when Christ comes for his saints, and the Second Coming is when he comes with his saints. What should Christians do to prepare for these two events?

The Rapture and the Second Coming


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 8 [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.
Dr. Breese, I need a quick review of what is the rapture and then, will Christians who are alive now, does the Bible say they’re going to have to experience some of that tribulation time period or will we be raptured before it takes place? So, Dr. Breese, start us off. What is the rapture?
Breese: The rapture is the coming of Christ for his saints—when he comes to catch us up to be in his presence. After that comes the tribulation and then comes the glorious return of Christ when he comes as King of kings and Lord of lords. So the rapture is that event whereby all believers will be taken from this world into the presence of God from the whole earth, by the way. There will not be a single Christian left in the world after the rapture. Believers will be taken home to be with him.
Ankerberg: Now, what Dr. Breese just succinctly stated is the main issue of these programs: Does the Bible actually teach that the rapture is a separate event from Christ’s second advent, and that in between is the tribulation time period? I believe this is what the Bible teaches. And to demonstrate that this is true, I’d like you to listen to Dr. John Feinberg, professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The evidence that he will present to you now is very, very important. So please listen carefully to what he has to say:
John Feinberg: A lot of times when you get into a discussion about the rapture of the Church with someone, they say, you know, “This is an interesting topic, but I don’t know that there’s an awful lot of value in discussing it because everybody seems to have some good arguments for it.” And it seems that sometimes you read something by a pre-tribulationist and you say, “Man, that really sounds convincing. I’m going to be a pre-tribulationist.” Then you pick up something by someone who’s a mid-tribulationist and you say, “That sounds good too. I think he knows what he’s talking about.” And then maybe you hear someone who’s a post-tribulationist give a sermon that involves that view of the rapture and you say, “You know, he really sounds like he’s on target, too.”
How do you make up your mind as to which position is right and which position is wrong? Well, it seems to me that the fundamental way that you have to do this is, first of all, figure out what someone would have to prove in order to demonstrate that their position was the correct one. And as I’ve thought through the arguments that typically are used to support one position or another for the rapture and looked at the basic biblical data, it seems to me that there are several things that you’d have to go about doing.
For one thing, it is oftentimes said by post-tribulationists that the rapture must occur at the end of the tribulation because the passages that clearly talk about the rapture are so similar to the passages that talk about the second advent, and we know that the second advent occurs at the end of the tribulation. Well, that tells me the place to begin. That tells me that each side, pre, mid, and post-tribulationists, needs to go to those passages that speak about the second advent and speak about the rapture of the Church and see if the similarities between the rapture passages and the second advent passages are so close as to suggest that all the passages are really talking about the identical event and the identical time.
If you’re a pre-tribulationist, what you need to show is that there are enough differences between these passages so that there could be a time gap between the rapture and the second advent and there could be a difference between the one event and the other.
If you’re a mid-tribulationist, you need to show the same thing. For a mid-tribulationist there needs to be at least three and a half years between those two events.
If you’re a post-tribulationist, though, what you want to try to prove is that the passages that speak about the rapture and the passages that speak about the second advent are so close in what they say that they’re really talking about the exact same time and the exact same event. If the post-tribulationist can do that, then the post-tribulationist has proved that the rapture must occur at the second advent.
Now, I believe that a careful study of these passages shows that there are some significant differences between the clear rapture passages and the clear second advent passages, and that they are differences that make a difference. They’re not just something that’s tangential, something that’s unimportant, they really get at the heart of what these two events are all about. Well, that’s not the end of the story, though, because we know that a basic principle in dealing with biblical doctrine, biblical truth, is that if an idea is true, it will fit with other biblical things that are also taught as true. So, we need to test out whether our initial idea after we’ve done the interpretive work on the clear rapture and clear second advent passages, we need to test out whether our initial conclusions are correct. So we need to see if our view on the rapture is going to fit with these other biblical truths.
Well, what biblical truths in particular? I’d like to mention four that relate to the rapture, the second advent, the tribulation set of issues and point out what each side needs to show in regard to them.
The first issue that needs to be addressed is the need for human beings to go into the millennial kingdom in non-glorified bodies. Now, that may sound like a mouthful, so let me explain what I mean. In Revelation 20:1-10, we see a description of the 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ on earth. We are told in verses 7-10 of that passage that at the end of that millennial kingdom, Satan is going to be released. He’s been bound for the 1,000 years, but he will be released. He’ll go out and he will deceive a number of people and he will lead them in one last rebellion against God.
Now, the question is, where did Satan get anybody to follow him? If everybody who enters into the millennial kingdom goes into that kingdom in a glorified body—they’ve been resurrected; they’ve been translated while they’re living; and they’ve been given a glorified body. Well, there’s a real problem with what we see in Revelation 20:7-10. The reason is that people in glorified bodies don’t have children; people in glorified bodies don’t sin. But there are going to be some sinners at the end of the millennial kingdom. Where did they come from? They have to come from human parents who entered the kingdom in natural physical bodies just like yours and mine are right now.
Well, where would you get such people? If you hold a pre-tribulation rapture, the Church is raptured before Daniel’s 70th week, before the tribulation; the gospel still is proclaimed throughout the seven years of the tribulation and Scripture shows us that there will be some people, in fact, many people who will respond to Christ. Some of them are going to lose their life during that seven-year period, but others will not lose their life. They will make it all the way through the tribulation period.
There’s also evidence from passages such as Zechariah 12:10 that when the Lord returns at the second advent there will be large number of people, in the case of Zechariah 12:10, Jewish people, who will turn to Jesus Christ as personal Savior. Now, those people who have been saved during the tribulation period live all the way through it, can be available to go into the Kingdom in natural bodies; they have children who will then have other children who may not accept Christ as personal Savior and may be available to follow Satan at the end of the millennial kingdom.
Now, the mid-tribulation rapture position also has a way to handle this issue. They believe that the Church is raptured three and a half years into the tribulation period, but then that leaves another three and a half years for other people in the tribulation to get saved, not to die, go into the kingdom in a natural body.
The position that has the most trouble with this issue is the post-tribulation rapture view, because it says that everyone who is saved in the tribulation, who lives through the tribulation, is part of the Church, and it’s only at the very end of the tribulation that the Church is raptured. But if everyone who gets saved in the tribulation is part of the Church and the Church doesn’t get raptured until the very end of the tribulation, then everybody who is going into the kingdom appears to be someone who’s got a glorified body but people in glorified bodies don’t have children. They don’t sin. So there seems to be a problem with fitting the need for people in non-glorified bodies to go into the kingdom, a problem especially for post-tribulational position. Well, that’s one of those biblical truths I was talking about.
There’s another one that I’d like to point to, namely, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Revelation 19:7-9, shows us that we’re in heaven and that we have the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and right after that, Revelation 19:11ff, the Lord rides out of heaven with his armies at the end of the tribulation to destroy his enemies. Now, I think you can see what the difficulty is going to be for someone who keeps the Church in the tribulation through most of it or even all of it. If the Church is in heaven before the end of the tribulation, how did it get there? Well, it must have been raptured. But if the Church is on earth throughout the whole of the tribulation period, then when is there going to be time for the Church to get up into heaven, attend the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and then go back at the second advent? If you’re a mid-tribulationist, you have three and a half years for the Church to be in heaven attending the Marriage feast and then return at the second advent. If you’re a pre-tribulationist, you have seven years for those events to occur. Each side has to deal with that scriptural truth and each side has to show that its answer to when the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will occur and where it will occur is better than the other side’s position.
Ankerberg: Can it be shown that the Bible teaches that the rapture is a separate event from the second coming of Christ to earth? And also, can it be shown from the Bible that the seven-year tribulation time period must be in between the rapture and Christ’s coming back to earth? Well, Dr. John Feinberg believes that this can be shown to be true when one considers two other biblical truths, namely, the judgment seat of Christ and God’s promise to all Christians that they will not experience his judgmental wrath. Dr. Feinberg explains:
John Feinberg: Another biblical truth that all sides have to deal with is what’s known as the Judgment Seat of Christ. Now, this is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 3 and it’s also spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5. And the question here is, “When does this event occur and where does it occur?” Does it occur during the tribulation period? Does it occur during the millennial kingdom? Just when and where does this occur? Now, if, in fact, it occurs in heaven and if it occurs during the tribulation period, well, you can see that a pre-tribulationist will have seven years between the rapture and the second advent for the Church to be in heaven and show up at that Judgment Seat of Christ.
If you hold a mid-tribulational rapture position, that view has three and a half years for the Church to be in heaven, show up at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and then return with the Lord after the Marriage Supper at the end of the tribulation period.
The position that seems to have the most trouble with this issue is, again, the post-tribulation rapture viewpoint, because they are saying that the Church stays in the tribulation for seven years, gets raptured at the very end, but the rapture occurs in that the Church goes up to meet the Lord and after they meet him, they turn around and they come back to the earth at the second advent.
Now, if one believes that the Bema Seat Judgment, as Scripture refers to it—the Judgment Seat of Christ—occurs in the kingdom period, then you have to be able to prove that. If you believe it occurs in heaven and during the seven years of the tribulation, you need to be able to demonstrate that as well.
Well, there’s one other biblical truth that has to be fit together with the different rapture positions and it’s the issue of the wrath of God. Scripture promises the Church that it will not undergo God’s judgmental wrath. We may have problems, we may have afflictions, we may have persecutions from nonbelievers, but the Church is promised that it will not have to experience the judgmental wrath of God. And as you look at the book of Revelation, as you look at a variety of passages such as this in Scripture, you get the clear teaching that the wrath of God is going poured out during the tribulation period.
Now, if the Church cannot experience God’s judgmental wrath, but the wrath of God is poured out during the tribulation, then somehow or other the Church has to be protected from that wrath. Pre-tribulationists say that the protection comes because the Church isn’t even there. It’s been raptured before the tribulation begins. Mid-tribulationists and post-tribulationists have to wrestle with this question as well, and they do. They do have their answers. They need to show that their answers are the best biblically and theologically speaking.
And typically what these people have said is that the way the Church is protected from God’s wrath, even though it’s in the tribulation, is in one of two different ways: either God protects the Church all the way through the tribulational wrath until he raptures it, or God makes a distinction between human wrath and satanic wrath on the one hand, and divine wrath on the other.
Well, that may sound like those two solutions work but I’d like to suggest that there are problems with them. If, in fact, the Church is protected by God through the tribulation period, just as God protected Israel in Egypt of old, then it appears that there better not be any believer who loses his life or her life during the tribulation. But when you look at the judgments that are spoken of as falling during the tribulation period, they seem to fall indiscriminately on all people who are on earth and they are rather catastrophic judgments. It is possible that no believer gets caught in any of those judgments, but it surely seems improbable.
In addition to that, if God is going to protect believers, either through three and a half years and then rapture them, or seven years and then rapture them at the end, then why does Jesus, in Matthew 24:21-22, say that he is going to shorten the days of the great tribulation because if he didn’t, no flesh could make it through that period. And Jesus says “for the sake of the elect, those days will be shortened.” He doesn’t say how much it will be shortened and it really isn’t worth speculating on how many days it will be shortened, but he says it’s going to be shortened for the sake of the elect.
Now, think of this very carefully: if, in fact, the elect—those who are believers in Christ, those who are members of the Church—are being protected through any portion of the tribulation, even up to and including all seven years, then why does the Lord have to shorten the days of the tribulation for the sake of those believers? If they are protected through all of this that’s going on, it shouldn’t matter how long they’re there.
As to the other view that handles or attempts to handle this matter of divine wrath, the view that says you have to distinguish between God’s wrath on the one hand and human and satanic wrath on the other hand, and what we have to see is that the first three and a half years are not God’s wrath, that’s only the last three and a half—that’s what a mid-tribulationist says; or that most of the seven years are not God’s wrath, it’s only the very end that’s God’s wrath—that’s what a post-tribulationist says. The problem with that is that when you look at the book of Revelation and you go back to Revelation 4 and Revelation 5 and you see the scroll with the seals and the breaking of those seals begins the sequence of judgments that span the whole scope of the tribulation, and what you find is that no one is found worthy to break the seals on that scroll except the Lamb—that’s Jesus Christ.
Now, indeed, that is symbolic, but the symbolism can’t mean everything and it does have to mean something. And it seems clearly that the most likely thing that it means is that the Lord himself is the one who instigates, who begins all of these judgments, which means that the whole of the tribulation involves the pouring out of God’s judgmental wrath. But Scripture says the Church is exempt from God’s judgmental wrath, and that means that you’ve got to get the Church out of that time of wrath. It seems that the only way that’s really going to work is to have the Church raptured before that period even begins.
Well, that gives you an idea in general of what each side has to prove in order to establish its position on the rapture as correct. You, first of all, have to do something with those biblical passages that talk about the rapture and the second advent. You either have to show that there are enough similarities between them that they’re the same event—that’s what a post-tribulationist has to show; or that there are enough differences between them so that they could be two separate events happening at two separate times—that’s what a pre and a mid-trib has to show. But then, after you go to those passages, then you deal with these other biblical truths that we’ve been talking about, these four areas of teaching, and each side has to answer how it can fit those biblical truths with its view of the rapture of the Church. And not only do they have to show what their answer is but they’ve got to explain why their answer is better than any of their opponents’ answers.
And I believe when you look at the evidence, both in terms of the rapture, second advent passages, and these other biblical truths, you come to the conclusion that the position that does the best job of handling all the issues is the pre-tribulation position.

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