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Views of the End Times: Pretribulationism

Various Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 6, 2019.

Over the last 2 weeks, we have talked about different views regarding when the Rapture of the Church will take place.  Posttribulationism says that the Church is raptured at the end of the Tribulation during the Second Coming of Jesus.  Midtribulationism says that the Rapture of the Church is an event that is separate from the Second Coming of Jesus.  In the middle of the seven-year period called the Tribulation, Christ will resurrect believers who are dead, rapture the living believers, and take them to heaven to await the Second Coming.

Our view today is the only, main view left.  Thus, we will not have a new filtering question today, but will recognize that this view is the only one that answers, “Yes,” to our last question.

Is there a rapture of the Church before the Tribulation?

Pretribulationism, or the Pretribulation Rapture view, believes that the Rapture of the Church will happen before the Tribulation begins.  Some see this as the event that starts the Tribulation and others give a gap between the Rapture and the Tribulation.  We will not get that precise as we look at this view.

Another thing to point out, before we look at this view, is that the previous challenges to the Posttribulation and Midtribulation views have strengthened the position of this view.

Here is the view of Pretribulation Premillennialism regarding the end times.  As we have stated, Christ will rapture his Church before the Tribulation begins.  Some people will come to faith in Christ after the Rapture and during the Tribulation.  These will face martyrdom and must refuse the mark of the beast to the end in order to be saved (this assumes a true, living faith in Jesus).  These are called Tribulation Saints.  In heaven, resurrected believers will be rewarded for their service, and a marriage supper of the Lamb will occur.  Then the glorified Church will return with Christ and his angels in order to remove the usurping powers, and to take control of the kingdoms of the earth.  Those who were faithful in the Tribulation will be allowed to enter Christ’s kingdom.  The Tribulation Saints who were killed will be resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ.  The rest of the view is basic Premillennialism and has been covered in our previous sermons.  Now, let’s look at the arguments used to support this view and any problems with it.

Argument 1.  The removal of the Restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7 is in reference to the Holy Spirit working through believers, and He cannot be taken away from believers.  Thus, the Rapture must occur at the same time the Restrainer is removed.  If we look at the passage in question, it is clear that the Apostle Paul is trying to calm down the Thessalonian believers who had been led by some teachers to believe that the Day of Christ had already started.

To be clear, the Day of Christ is synonymous with the Day of the Lord mentioned by practically every prophet of the Old Testament.  The Day of the Lord referred to a time when the Lord would rise up in terrible power to judge the nations of the earth.  It would be a time full of judgments and is basically the Tribulation period that we have been mentioning.  They are afraid that the Tribulation has already begun. 

Yet, Paul is telling them that they are not in the foretold Tribulation, or judgment of the nations, because certain things haven’t happened yet.  The two things that must happen before the Tribulation can begin are: the falling away and the revealing of the man of sin.  It seems clear in the argument that these two things had not happened yet, and so the believers could stop worrying that they were in the Day of Judgment. 

For our purposes, we need to deal with two aspects of the Pretribulation argument.  First, in verse 5, believers are reminded that Paul had taught them these things when he was with them.  How I wish Paul had filled us in on all that he had taught them because he mentions several things without further explanation that would be extremely helpful to our understanding.  He emphasizes that something or someone is restraining the work of lawlessness on the earth.  If it was not restrained then the man of sin, or the Antichrist, would have come forward long ago.  Verse 6 refers to a thing that restrains, but verse 7 changes the grammar and refers to a being who restrains.  The Holy Spirit is uniquely qualified to fit both of these expressions.  He has the power to do so, the word “Spirit” is neuter in Greek and thus can take a neuter participle “the (neuter thing) that is restraining,” and He is a being and thus can be referenced with the personal form “the (being) that is restraining.  I know that this is a language mechanics issue that can easily cause our eyes to gloss over, but it is important.  The main point is that the most likely candidate for being a thing and yet a being who restrains the Antichrist from being revealed is the Holy Spirit.

Now that we have identified the Restrainer, the argument moves to verse 7 where we are told that the Restrainer is taken out of the way.  The Holy Spirit must be removed, and yet cannot be taken from believers.  Ergo, both will be taken together (the Rapture).  There is one problem with this logic.  It doesn’t actually say that the Holy Spirit is “taken” out of the way, or that He is removed from the earth as some say.  It literally says that He will restrain until “He becomes out of the middle of the way.”  Of course, this is not good English and requires some translation polish.  The Holy Spirit is not “taken.”  Rather, He comes to be out of the middle of the way.  He isn’t taken from the earth.  Rather, He is not standing in the middle of the way of Satan’s final plan.  This does beg the question.  If Christians are left on the earth full of the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t they still be a restraint to this guy coming forward?  The response would be that God gives him authority to have power over Christians for a short season.

The second issue with this passage has to do with verse three.  Some in the Pretribulation view have taken the word “falling away” and challenged its meaning.  The Greek word is apostasia.  All other uses of this word in the Bible refer to a defection from faith in God.  However, its main meaning is “to move away from an established place.”  Some have tried to make this about Christians moving away from the earth (the place that we have been established).  This argument has a technical genius to it that smacks of creativity more than it smacks of truth.  Either Paul used this expression as a kind of tongue-in-cheek statement, or he is simply saying that there will be a falling away from the true faith of God in the end times.  Both interpretations would fit the passage well.  However, the most natural understanding of the phrase is a defection from the faith.

So, where does this leave us?  I still think the Pretribulation view gives the best understanding of this passage, but it is not without its questions.  Are we missing something in Paul’s shorthand account that would could critically change how we view the passage?  It seems likely, but it is just as possible that that information would tilt this passage towards the Pretribulation view.  Paul didn’t want them freaking out that they were in the day of judgment.  The Holy Spirit being “out of the way” doesn’t require the Rapture, but it doesn’t preclude it either.  In this age, the work of the Holy Spirit is hand and glove with true believers, and it is possible that the Rapture would be an event in which the restraint of this world’s wickedness would be removed.  The main problem is that Paul didn’t give us all the answers that he could have due to the fact that he had already told the Thessalonians these things.

Argument 2.  The Philadelphian Church in Revelation 3:10 symbolically represents the faithful Church in the end times.  Christ promises to keep them out of the hour of trial that will come upon the whole earth.

Here, Jesus gives the Philadelphians of Asia Minor (Turkey today) the promise that they will be kept out of the hour of trial that will come upon the whole world.  He doesn’t explain how they will be kept out of it.  Will it happen during their time, but not touch them?  Or, will Christ remove them before the hour of trial begins?  Last week we mentioned two critical points about this passage.  One, the word “from” is better translated as “out of the trial.”  Second, there is a definite article with trial “the trial.”  This means that this is a very specific trial that they know is coming.  A particular trial that would come upon all the world is something that believers have known about throughout the Old and New Testament periods.  Some people try to limit this trial to the 2nd century AD by saying it refers to the whole Roman world, but this is an artificial limiting.  The word refers to the inhabited areas of the earth, which went far beyond the Roman boundaries.  So, is it more likely that Jesus is referencing the Great Tribulation?  It is very possible since we are at a loss to find a time of trial that came upon the whole inhabited earth.

It is common among this view to see the Seven Churches of Revelation chapters two and three as being typical or symbolic of 7 Stages of the Church Age.  We don’t have time to look into the arguments of this view.  It has a certain charm because the descriptions do follow a similar path as the history of the Church.  Also, there are a few clues in the text that hint at something more going on here than just a message to seven first century churches.  The word “mystery” is used of these churches, and they represent the “things that are,” which can be extended to mean the whole Church Age. 

This view would see the sixth Philadelphian Church as the sixth phase of Christianity.  There would be a rise of faithfulness to the truth of Christ.  However, at some point the Laodicean type Church would take the ascendency within Christianity.  The last phase involves both Philadelphian believers holding on to the truth and a large group of Laodicean "believers" who are useless to Christ.  This can also give rise to the idea that only strong Christians will be raptured and the carnal Christians will be left behind.  Regardless, contextually it is not completely clear that the Seven Churches are seven phases of the history of the Church.  However, it is possible.  Also, the Great Tribulation is the best fit for interpreting “the hour of trial,” mentioned here.

Argument 3.  Christians are promised to be delivered from the wrath to come and thus must be removed before the Tribulation.  This is the same argument that we saw last week with the Midtribulation view.  It is a powerful argument that can be seen in 1 Thessalonians.  1 Thessalonians 1:10 mentions that Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come, and 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says that God did not appoint believers to wrath, but to obtain salvation.

The main objection to this argument is that these are referring to the wrath of the Lake of Fire, not the wrath of God during the Tribulation.  This is possible and the passages can be read either way.  Yet, most references to the wrath of God refer to events here on earth, and the wrath of the Tribulation is what believers would have directly in front of them more than the Lake of Fire.  Sure, we can die any day and thus the Lake of Fire is closer to us than the Tribulation.  However, in regards to God delivering the Church from the Wrath that He is going to pour out, the Tribulation is the more natural reference than the future judgment at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20).  So, I rate this as a fairly strong argument.

Argument 4.  The promise of Jesus in John 14 parallels the Bride and Bridegroom imagery.  In John 14:1-4, we have Jesus telling his disciples that he is going away to his Father in order to prepare a place for them.  He then says that, if he goes away to prepare a place for them, he will doubtless come again to receive them to himself (literally to receive alongside oneself).  It pictures him coming to be reunited with them.  From that point, his disciples will no longer be separated from him.  Where he is, they will be.  The natural emphasis of this passage is that Jesus prepares a place in heaven, then comes back for his disciples, and then takes them to the place he prepared.

This is most likely an allusion to the Hebrew wedding practices of the day.  A bride would be betrothed to a husband.  He would then go and make a place for them within his father’s estate.  When he is finished, he would come to pick up his bride and take her to the place that he has prepared.  There would be a marriage supper, or feast, to celebrate the couple’s union. 

This gives better light to Revelation 19.  In that chapter, we are told that the wife of the Lamb has made herself ready, and then a blessing is declared.  “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”  The next scene is Christ coming with his saints and angels to destroy the beast, false prophet, and the kings of the earth and their armies.  Revelation doesn’t explicitly state that the marriage supper of the lamb happens in heaven before the Second Coming, but in view of John 14, this seems to be the most likely explanation.  John is writing to people who would totally understand the things being mentioned.  This is another strong argument to me.

Argument 5.  It makes the most sense of the passages that portray the coming of Christ as imminent.  I won’t go through all the verses.  However, many verses speak of Christ’s coming as being near, or at hand.  Only the Pretribulation view satisfies the idea that Christ could come at any moment.  All the other views have a number of years in which obvious prophesied events are happening. 

Typically, people who reject this argument do so by stating that the disciples and Jesus were simply wrong.  They thought it was near, but it was really quite far away.  Of course, then we would have a problem with the trustworthiness of the teachings of Jesus.  He is either the Word of God, and is therefore not wrong, or he is not trustworthy even in matters of salvation.  You can’t have it both ways.  I choose to trust Jesus, and to believe that the passages are intended to keep every generation on their toes.  Yes, God knew that the coming of Christ would be at least 1,900 years away, but that generation would need to know that he could come at any moment.  Such a promise, or warning, helps believers of every age to live a life that is ready for Christ at all times.  So, I find this to be a strong argument as well.

Argument 6.  The righteous being rescued before judgment is a common theme in Scripture.  However, the only safe place during the Tribulation will be in heaven itself.

This is a good argument because there are so many examples.  Enoch is removed before the flood.  Even Noah and his family enter into the safe place of God and are lifted up above the destruction on the ground below.  Lot is removed from Sodom and Gomorrah, and then destruction falls.  The children of Israel are taken through the Red Sea, and then destruction falls upon Pharaoh and his army.  The spies are helped out of Jericho and then the judgment falls on the city…and the list goes on.  The problem with such parallels is that they can only make the case that the Rapture of the Church before the Tribulation is in keeping with how God operates.  It can only support the other arguments; it can’t be a main argument itself.  There are too many other places where God protects believers through judgment and tribulation, e.g. the prophet Jeremiah.  That too is in keeping with how God operates.

As we bring this view to a close, I realize that I have only scratched the surface on all of these views.  Yet, I think what we have done over these weeks serves the issues well.  God has told us that his judgment is coming upon all the nations of the world.  It is our job to warn people to flee the wrath that is coming by getting into God’s ark, the Lord Jesus.  It is also our job to be humble regarding the prophecies that we have received regarding the end times.

We must daily encourage ourselves and one another to keep our eyes upon Jesus in the way that we live from day to day.  This is not the time to compromise and pursue sin, or at least redefine sinful things as moral.  This is the time to hold the line and love people enough to warn them. 

Whether I am dead or alive at Christ’s coming for his Church, I want to be among those who are lifted up to Christ in glorified, immortal bodies.  I want to be among those who rise up to inherit the kingdoms of the earth with Christ.  May the Lord help us to be faithful to the end!

Pretribulationism audio