This is the final part of this exploratory series on the rapture of the Church. It’s main purpose has been to show that none of the competing positions on the “taking out” of the saints merits more than an “inference to the best explanation.” Within the Rules of Affinity this would be a C3. I have looked at posttribulationism and midtribulationism in the last post; here I shall look at the prewrath and pretribulational views.
This view is of very recent vintage, but for all that it has articulated its position well and has won many advocates. In my opinion this position mounts some serious challenges for the other approaches. It deserves to be taken seriously.
The arguments in favor of prewrath rapturism are quite impressive taken as a whole. Examined individually less so. PreWrathers, as Postmils, have the psychological advantage of having the rapture and the Second Coming coincide. But the edge might seem to be lost by having the Lord zip back off to glory for the wrath to get meted out on the Earth. Although they explain the logic of the wrath (from the first trumpet, through the bowls of wrath and the Battle of Armageddon) coming on the earth-dwellers after the Second Coming/Rapture, the posttribulational option looks less complicated.
I do think they have an argument for claiming that the wrath of God is restricted to the end of the seven year period. Many pre-trib replies to this are not always satisfying. But it suffices me at least to read that the “horsemen” released in the first four seals come forth only after Christ opens each one. In Revelation 6:1-8 (the first four seals), the sequence is, the Lamb breaks the seal, then a living creature invites John to witness the result. We also see what appears to be Divine empowerment and permission in, for example, Revelation 6:2 (“a crown was given to him”), 6:4 (“it was granted to [him] to take peace from the earth,…and there was given to him a great sword”), and 6:6 where a voice (from the throne?) issues directions to the rider on the black horse. Even though the word “wrath” isn’t used until the end of the chapter (the sixth seal), certainly all this calamity wrought by the riders stems directly, not from the Antichrist, but from God Himself. Is that not God’s wrath? Yes, I know the wrath of 6:16-17 is connected with Christ specifically, but 14:19 with 19:15 with Isaiah 63:1-6 persuade me that the sixth seal is about the Second Advent.
Another attraction of PreWrath is the use of Matthew 24 (Mark 13), and Luke 21 alongside of 1 Thessalonians 4. Hart’s pretrib exegesis manages this, but the PreWrath view is more natural. Still, I can’t get over the fact that the Olivet Discourse is so Israel-directed (Pt.8). And if that is so then I think it is hard not to have both the Church and Israel raptured at the same time. PreWrath advocates may be just fine with that, but this underlines even more the conflation of Israel and the Church within the Tribulation. (Are they two distinct entities, or one – the Church?) I see Israel there clearly enough (Pt.9), but not the Church (Pt.10). Plus, as I pointed out, if Christians are in the Tribulation under Antichrist, then they will be tempted to take the mark and even worship the beast to save their lives (as Christian’s compromised during Diocletian’s persecution). That raises the specter of Christians losing their salvation according to Revelation 14:9-11.
It would be wrong to accuse the PreWrath position of merging Israel with the Church, since many would stop short of doing this. But mixing the two programs of God together in the Tribulation makes it hard to avoid making the two into one body of believers.
Their interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 seems plausible (Pt.7). But this demands a more static and technical sense be given to the “Day of the Lord”; values which I have shown to run contrary to the biblical data on the varied usage of the phrase (Pts 6 & 7). In Part 6 we also saw that Armageddon and the final days of the Seventieth Week just prior to Christ’s return appear to be what is indicated by the “Day of the Lord” as used in Joel 3:14-16 (cf. Rev. 19:15).
Further, Daniel 12:1 with 12:6-7 measures the “Great Tribulation” coming upon Israel as “a time, times, and half a time”, or three and a half years. Since this period starts at the mid-point in the Seventieth Week (Pt. 5), and is terminated by the Second Coming (see Dan. 7:20-25), there is just no room for the PreWrath teaching.
For these and other reasons I think the PreWrath view is finally implausible, although it deserves a C3 as a solid attempt at the rapture question. (more…)