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The Pre-Trib Rapture: A Devastating Doctrine

In the world you have tribulation, but take courage.
            (John 15:19; 16:33)
Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.
            (Acts 14:22)


by Paul Sumner

After studying Scripture and modern Christian history, I concluded:

The doctrine of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture ("catching away") of Christians before the appearance of the Antichrist and his reign of evil opposition to Jesus and his people is not biblical.

What's more, the doctrine not only offers false hope it can be a devastating teaching to countless people. Let me explain.

        [A PDF version of this study is available for downloading. Click here.]

Historically, this is not an ancient apostolic doctrine. There is evidence that it emerged in Scotland in 1830, when a woman named Mary MacDonald received a "revelation" that the Church would not go through the end-time Tribulation.

Others attribute the Rapture doctrine to Edward Irving, the leading figure in forming the Catholic Apostolic Church in England in the 1830s (MacDonald's time frame). Just who heard this "truth" from whom or Whom may not be clear, but its fire was ignited and spread in the early 19th century.

The Anglo-Irish Bible teacher John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) reportedly believed that this new truth given to Mary MacDonald was from God, and during the Powerscourt Conference in 1831-33, he publicly declared his supporting convictions. He then spread the idea among the Plymouth Brethren, among whom he was an influential leader.

Later, in America, the doctrine was widely promoted through C. I. Scofield's Study Bible (1909, 1917), and it became a central pillar of the Dispensational Movement. It is still taught in many Protestant evangelical Bible schools, seminaries and churches as part of their doctrinal portfolio. It is by far the dominant prophetic view in Christian media.

Some Messianic Jewish organizations and congregations also teach it as part of their pro-Israel, prophetic Last Days scenario.

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In my early days of Bible study, the Rapture idea that Christ could come at any moment was stunning. But after studying the Greek vocabulary central to the subject and all the future-focused passages in the New Testament (such as Matthew 24; 1 & 2 Thessalonians; Revelation), my interest cooled.

Greek Notes
The word "rapture" is derived from Latin (rapio meaning to seize or carry away, and raptura ecstasy). "Rapture" occurs in the Latin Vulgate, but does not occur in English Bibles. The idea of seizing and removing faithful Christians is based on the Greek verb harpazo in 1 Thessalonians 4:17:

"We who are alive and remain [to the end] shall be caught up [harpagesometha] together with them [the righteous dead who were first raised to life] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."

The verb harpazo is used elsewhere by Paul to describe a "man" (himself) who "was caught up to the third heaven" (2 Cor 12:2). In other verses, the verb is used for being snatched or taken by force, an act which God forbids to happen to his children (Matt 13:19; John 6:15; 10:12,28,29).

There is nothing inherent in harpazo that describes a secret seizing of human bodies off the earth.

What many Bible students overlook by focusing on a few "rapture" texts is what else Paul says to his Thessalonian hearers.

He makes it clear that "those who remain alive" will witness "apostasy," a "man of lawlessness" [anomias],"the son of destruction" [apoleias], who performs deceptive signs and miracles by Satan's power and proclaims himself "as being God."

But the true Messiah, Jesus, will slay this faux divine person "with the breath [pneuma] of his mouth" (2 Thess 2:3-10).

In addition to studying the biblical texts and the Greek data, I found three older books that provided balanced biblical analysis and historical perspectives on the Rapture teaching. (They're listed at the end of this article.)

Besides the Rapture doctrine's lack of unambiguous, indisputable support from the Bible, four points deeply concern me.

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First Concern

I'm shocked at how some Christian teachers who promote the Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine openly condemn other Christians who don't accept it as biblical.

On a popular pro-Israel, prophecy-oriented radio and web ministry, I watched a Youtube video during which the host and her guests openly said that dissent from the Rapture idea is a result of "demonic" activity. They said if you don't believe in it, you are under the spell of satan, not under the authority of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

They said those who don't accept their pro-Rapture views are denigrating Bible prophecy and inadvertently promoting "Replacement Theology" [the church succeeds Israel], and even undermining the hopes of true believers about the imminent return of Christ.

https://olivetreeviews.org/

But in fact, dissent from their viewpoint is an issue of Timing. That is, it's not if Jesus will return to earth, but when.

Numerous No-Pre-Tribs (my term) know the Bible says the Messiah will return. They don't believe he will come before the Tribulation to rescue the elect.

"Messiah…will appear a second time, for salvation…to those who eagerly await him." (Hebrews 9:28)

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Yet many Pre-Trib Rapturists cloud this distinction [timing versus if] in their effort to portray fellow believers as people who outright reject the biblical doctrine of the Second Coming. This is simply untrue. Their dogmatic intolerance reveals their self-doubts and insecurity about their convictions. They rail against dissenters, perhaps because they know they might just be right.

Keen observers of the Christian mass media culture know there are other, more pragmatic reasons why dissenters from the Pre-Trib position are disparaged.

The Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine is very popular among Evangelical Christians and Messianics. As such, to be frank, it is a multi-million-shekel cash cow.

Anyone who questions this doctrine — based on specific Scripture texts — undermines the authority and reputation of those who teach and preach it. That leads to reduced church and prophecy conference attendance, fewer TV viewers, radio and podcast listeners — not to mention loss of Facebook likes — and falling sales of books and DVDs, guest speaker honoraria, and tithes to the ministries.

Put bluntly: negative publicity about the Rapture stirs up a defensive reaction we might call "Demetrius Rage" (note his story in Acts 19:23-41).

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What If I'm Wrong?
Why is my dissent from this debatably ambiguous doctrine a threat to anyone? What difference does it make what I personally believe about any issue involving the future?

Will God punish me for not believing in a pre-Tribulation Rapture Escape? Will He leave me behind on earth to observe millions of "true believers" ascend into the clouds to meet Christ in the air, then spitefully abandon me to suffer persecution by the forces of antichrist?

Most importantly: Where in the Bible is the Rapture Doctrine the determining factor about a person's future destiny? Will someone's faith in Messiah Jesus's atoning sacrifice be counted irrelevant (contra John 3:16 et al.) because of a squabble over a human-created doctrine?

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Second Concern

I also object to the Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine because of its embedded interpretations regarding Israel and the Jewish people.

According to Pre-Trib manuals, after Christians are secretly taken out of this world, the Jews are left on earth to face the oppression of Antichrist.

Then while raptured Christians are in heaven dining at the "wedding supper of Christ" (Rev 19:9), Jewish families and their children will endure demonic persecution in anti-Semitic campaigns far worse than anything in human history (Rapture teachers assure us).

This, for me, is a black message in the Pre-Trib doctrine.

It teaches future glory for redeemed Christians, but terrible sufferings for the Jews during the so-called time of "Jacob's Trouble" (Jer 30:7), which they say will fall upon them after the Rapture.

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Yet, almost apologetically, we are told there is hope for "the Jews."

Paradoxically, the doctrine says Christians will inherit the Kingdom of God — in heaven — while Jews who repent and convert to Christianity during the Tribulation period will eventually inherit the Kingdom of Heaven — on earth.

In other words, Jews who become "Christian" during the Tribulation are not in the same class as Non-Jews who become "Christian" before then. To me, this smacks of Gentile arrogance, echoing all forms of Marcionic, anti-Semitic, Successionist theology.

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In contrast to this two-tiered universe [Christians in heaven, Jews on earth], Jesus creates a theological dilemma for Rapturists. He says the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Hebrew prophets will one day occupy both the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.

"Many shall come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, in the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matt 8:11)

"There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God." (Luke 13:28)

From Jesus we learn there is only one Kingdom for God's people. As he said, "The righteous will shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father" (Matt 13:43).

Christians often warn Jews that they're open to God's judgment for their willful unbelief. True. The Hebrew prophets said this. But Paul says that they too, arrogant Gentile Christians, are accountable for their willful contempt toward Jews.

"Do not be arrogant toward the [natural olive] branches [the Jewish people]… Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you… If you [do not] continue in his kindness…you also will be cut off." (Romans 11:18, 20-21)

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Third Concern

The Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine grieves me because some Protestant groups support rebuilding a Third Temple in Jerusalem. The motive — of some, not all — seems to be self-serving.

They believe erecting the Temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem signals a dramatic nexus of End Time events. These include Four Chronological Events:

  1. The secret Return of Jesus Christ for his Church and her removal from earth via the Rapture.
  2. The appearance of the Antichrist who will take up residence in the Third Temple in Jerusalem as "God."
  3. The Antichrist's purge of Jews and others who resist his faux-messianic rule during the so-called Tribulation.
  4. Finally, the Second public Return of Christ to destroy Antichrist and his minions and set up His millennium-long kingdom centered in Jerusalem.

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In other words, rebuilding the Temple (as a seat for the demonic false messiah) is an imminent sign that Christians will soon be evacuated. People naively pour money into the Orthodox Jewish "Temple Institute" in Jerusalem to help fund its effort to prepare for its rebuilding.

Those Christians who believe this project will eventually open the door to that future, despicable occupant, the false messiah, should ask themselves whether their motives reek of self-interest, not the salvation purposes of God. Are they not supporting the antichrist's efforts against Jesus and the Kingdom of God?

[See my study against this idea: "Why Pray for Yerushalayim?"]

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Fourth Concern

The final reason I don't accept the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory is that it sets people up for a catastrophic collapse of their faith. And I don't believe God does that to His people.

This, in fact, has happened countless times over the last two centuries since this Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine has been disseminated around the world by missionaries, Christian literature, and satellite evangelists. Christians in several oppressive countries were taught that Jesus was coming soon to take them out of trouble. Believing so, they did not flee or choose to fight their oppressors.

Many perished, needlessly, clutching to misplaced hope that God loved and would rescue them. But their faith was decimated. They believed God had failed them, lied to them.

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To be blunt: What value is the Rapture Message to true believers who are perishing daily in Communist and Islamic countries? Or how does it help believers in Western Democracies who are seeing their nations being taken over by anti-Christian anti-Semitc racist nihilist progressive Leftists?

If some people today are banking on a last second Rescue from tribulation in the future, they are not preparing themselves for the hardships of persecution from human antagonists and willing agents of satan.

Whether the troubles are initiated by local anti-Christian, anti-Messianic, anti-Jewish entities — or by the ultimate Enemy of God's people: the faux-Messiah, anti-christos — it doesn't matter. Believers are told to be "sober," not naively ignorant (1 Thess 5:1-11; 2 Thess 2:1-13).

Sadly, many Christians in history have bowed to the tyranny of Muslim, Nazi, and Marxist-Communist powers and denied their faith in Jesus and the God of Scripture. They chose to save their lives and avoid tribulation. Their loss is incalculable.

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Tribulations and the Great Tribulation

Jesus said, "If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you… A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (Matt 24:18, 20).

Paul said: "All who desire to live godly in Messiah Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). He said "All" — everyone, everywhere, any time in history.

These universal hardships for Jesus's people preface the great Hardship. But for the sake of the Elect — not humanity at large — he will limit its duration (Mark 13:20). God will end the Great (satanic) Tribulation, then initiate his own tribulation of judgment — on evil beings, by the Messiah's hand. It will sweep over the evil spirits and their human co-conspirators with all-consuming fire. [Read Isaiah chapter 4.]

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In contrast to satan's wrath on believers, Messiah's retribution on evil people and nations is called "the Wrath of the Lamb" (Rev 6:16). It will be central to the ultimate "Armageddon: God's Final War with Evil Men."

Recall: "God has not destined us [believers] for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord, Jesus Messiah" (1 Thess 5:9). Jesus "rescues us from [his] wrath to come" (1 Thess 1:10). Emphatically, His wrath will not fall on his own people. Contrary to many Pre-Trib Rapturists, this is not the tribulation wrath of the satan-antichrist.

Jesus's prayer to God reminds us all of What and Whom we actually struggle with every day: "Father…I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the Evil One" (John 17:11, 15).

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If you and I lose our physical life at the hands of the Evil One and his human slaves, we will not lose our Life.

The Messiah himself — the "oppressed" and "affilicted" One; the One "despised" and "abhorred" [Isa 53:7; 49:7] — by his people:

"Let not your heart be troubled. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage. My sheep hear my voice. They shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 14:1; 16:33; 10:28, 9)

Paul Sumner

[A PDF version of this study is available for downloading. Click here.]

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These authors focus on the whole content of Scripture and review the history of the doctrine among Protestant denominations.

• George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope (1956)

• Dave MacPherson, The Incredible Cover-Up (The True Story of the Pre-Trib Rapture) (1975)
     J. Barton Payne said this "in-depth study on the origins of pretribulationism…has become a must" [Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Winter 1974-1975].

• William Sanford LaSor, The Truth About Armageddon (What the Bible Says About the End Times) (1982)

On this website, do consider select thoughts by the late OT scholar William Sanford LaSor on the Rapture and his Armageddon book.

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Directory | Site Map | Explanation
Armageddon: God's Final War
Are We in the Last Days?
Our Lady of Fatima, UFOs & September 1994 [PDF]