The Rapture / Before or After the Great Tribulation?
“So encourage each other with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:18).
What are the words referred to by the Apostle Paul? Do you recognize the context of this verse?
If your answer is the resurrection of dead believers in Christ, their transformation into immortal bodies along with those Christians who are still alive; then the “catching up” (Greek word, harpazo) of both living and raised believers to meet the Lord in the air, you would be 100% correct.
This earth-shaking event is commonly referred to as, The Rapture. The following is an excerpt from the very first Eye of Prophecy article posted (July 2013), entitled, What Is The Rapture? (in italics):
Remember, the word Rapture is not a direct translation of the Greek word, although it is a very close transliteration of the Latin word; rather it is a substitute or alternative or expanded way to describe emotionally or spiritually what is taking place. One of the definitions for rapture found in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary is, “a mystical experience in which the spirit is exalted to a knowledge of divine things,” and a companion definition is, “an expression or manifestation of ecstasy or passion.”
Thus, we have a captivating combination of the original Latin and Greek words, which is accurately rendered “caught up” in most English translations of the Bible. These words convey the dynamics of the actual time/space sequence involved in this literal transfiguration of the Christian’s physical body, with the spiritual joy, emotional bliss, and mental delight in what is taking place. Those who have accepted Christ as their personal Savior (both the dead and the living), will experience the highest degree of spiritual and physical euphoria possible, as we will be instantly changed and then transported to heaven, there to be with our Lord and King forever. As the sayings go, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” And, “What a way to go!”
Messiah Jesus was the first to dramatically describe the Rapture: “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken (believer), the other left (unbeliever). Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left” (Matthew 24:40, parenthesis mine).
And, “That night two people will be asleep in one bed; one will be taken, the other left” (Luke 17:34).
Those verses clearly convey that the Rapture will be a global phenomenon. Reason: Half of the earth will be day; the other half will be night.
The Apostle Paul’s amazing account of the Rapture in I Thessalonians 4 contains the full sequence of the Rapture. Every time I read this priceless passage; I’m as thrilled as the time before. Here it is again:
Later, in I Corinthians 15, Paul explains the tremendous transfiguration of believers into imperishable bodies … equipped to live forever.
Although the extreme makeover of believer’s bodies will take place in a nanosecond, the entire episode of the Rapture will take several minutes. Please refer to Eye of Prophecy articles: The Shout Heard Around the World (posted 4-22-17); also, A Dramatic Enactment of the Rapture! (4-20-19).
Is that, then, why Paul exhorts believers to “encourage each other with these words”?
Answer: Obviously, yes; but also, no (not entirely).
Yes, because the resurrection of believers who have already died and their transfiguration and transportation to heaven along with living believers is one of the two powerful purposes of the Rapture. It is the grand finale of Biblical redemption that began when we believed and received Jesus as our personal Savior. At that moment, we were given eternal life. The Rapture will then usher us into heaven (also the new earth to come)—our home for eternity.
No (not entirely), because there is a significant second reason for the Rapture; one that some Christians have misunderstood, sometimes to the point of discouragement and disagreement.
More Encouraging Words
A few verses later, The Apostle Paul again urges 1st century believers: “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (I Thessalonians 5:11).
Although the broader perspective of that verse is still that of the Rapture, there is a narrower context which begins with Chapter 5. Paul elaborates on what Jesus had said earlier about the Rapture, both stated and implied: Such as: no one knows the precise day/hour when Jesus will snatch away both living and raised from the dead believers from the earth. And, the Rapture itself will precede the physical return of Messiah Jesus … they are different events. See Eye of Prophecy article, Messiah’s Return & The Rapture (Same or Separate Events?) Published 12-3-16.
Consequently, Scripture cautions believers to be on the highest alert and fully aware of the signs and seasons of the Omega (final) generation.
Both Jesus and Paul use the term, “return” or “the Lord’s return.” However, in their description it is explicitly evident that the Rapture phase of Messiah’s return is different than and separate from his physical return; with each stage an integral part of his Second Coming.
Unfortunately, the question that some believers have incorrectly answered is whether the Rapture will take place shortly (days, weeks, months) before Messiah descends to earth. Or whether it will occur before the seven-year Tribulation begins. These two views are identified in the terms: Pre-Tribulation Rapture or Post-Tribulation Rapture. Abbreviated as Pre-Trib or Post-Trib.
I’ve written about this subject in several articles, the most comprehensive of which is: Will Believers Go Through the Tribulation? Part I & II (posted 6-15 & 6-22-19). Later, we’ll concentrate on a couple of other passages, which were mentioned more in passing in previous articles.
But first, in a brief review of the above referenced articles, let’s return to I Thessalonians Chapter 5; one of the most convincing statements to demonstrate that the Rapture will take place before the onset of the Great Tribulation.
There, we find the second purpose for the Rapture, as well as the reason why the Apostle Paul again tells believers to reassure each other, as we just read in I Thessalonians 5:11. In fact, the cause for encouragement is stated just two verses earlier:
“For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us” (I Thessalonians 5:9).
The saving us (believers in Messiah Jesus) is NOT a direct reference to or in the context of our salvation when we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. That is found in passages such as John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 10:9-10, and a host of others. Nor does it apply to the general trials, tribulation, and suffering during a believer’s time on this earth spoken of by Jesus, Paul, and Peter—which some Christians confuse with the specific seven-year Tribulation. Thus, claiming that believers will go through the Tribulation.
Rather the clear context of God’s choosing “to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ” is still in the parameters of the Day of the Lord, in which God’s final wrath is meted out globally on those left behind at the Rapture who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and his salvation available only through the true Messiah, Jesus. Instead they will follow the false Messiah. They will be, “…on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them … Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth” (II Thessalonians 2:10 & 12).
That’s precisely what Paul is talking about in I Thessalonians Chapter 5; a direct extension of the Rapture revelation in the last three verses of Chapter 4. He’s telling us that—in addition to the resurrection of the dead in Christ and transfiguration of their bodies—living believers will be also be transfigured AND taken from the earth.
Why? Because God has chosen to save us from the Great Tribulation. God has chosen, not to pour out his anger on us (believers). Rather, that wrath will be directed to a wicked, unbelieving world who will embrace the lies foisted on them by Satan, Antichrist, and the False Prophet.
As indicated, there are several other passages (covered in detail in a few Eye of Prophecy articles) to convincingly confirm that there is absolutely no way that believers will experience the Great Tribulation. Here, I’m referring to pre-Rapture believers, not those who accept Christ after the Rapture, called Tribulation saints. Even then, many of the plagues described in Revelation will be confined to unbelievers, including most of the seven bowl judgments.
However, this one verse (I Thessalonians 5:9) is more than enough to decisively demonstrate that the Rapture will spare believers from the apocalyptic death and destruction during the inconceivable horror of the Tribulation.
For emphasis, here is the passage again, this time adding verse 10: “For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns (Paul is again referring to the Rapture phase of Christ’s return), we can live with him forever. So encourage each other…” (I Thessalonians 5:9-11a, parenthesis mine).
How could this verse be any clearer or more emphatic?
Not just the words of the verse in the context of the Tribulation, but also the common-sense application of it. Certainly, believers could and should encourage each other after Paul’s dynamic disclosure of the Rapture itself, as an enhancement of what Jesus had already said. On the other hand, how could believers possibly be encouraged (again) if they/we must go through the Tribulation?
Webster’s Definition of Encouraging: “giving hope or promise.”
Encouragement: “the act of encouraging; the state of being encouraged; something that encourages.”
Paul isn’t telling the believers to be encouraged despite the Tribulation, i.e. having to experience it.
Instead, he’s telling them to encourage each other because they wouldn’t have to undergo God’s final judgment poured out on a wicked, corrupt world whose left-behind unbelieving inhabitants will follow a man even more perverse than they are. As optimistic as Paul was during his amazing life on this earth and ministry for Messiah Jesus in which he experienced great hardship, he wouldn’t tell his brothers and sisters in Christ to “grin and bear it.” Not in the context of what would be the most terrible time on earth imaginable.
According to the Bible (directly from Jesus and the prophets and apostles) there’s a vast difference between the daily trials and heartaches of life—including varying levels of persecution brought by unbelievers against believers during our lifetime on this earth—and the greatest calamity of all time that will take place during the Tribulation in only seven-years’ time.
*Note: The “chosen ones” are God’s chosen people the Jews; time doesn’t permit in this week’s article to document that.
More Evidence of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture
In the remainder of this week’s article, we’ll focus on two primary passages in Scripture which I’ve not covered as extensively as other passages in prior articles pertaining to the Rapture and Physical Return of Christ.
“Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me like a trumpet blast. The voice said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this.’ And instantly I was in the Spirit…” (Revelation 4:1-2a).
In this remarkable scene, John—the author of Revelation—is instantly transported to heaven from the Isle of Patmos. We’ll see why this is a prototype preview and replica representation of believers taken from the earth during the Rapture. Therefore, why the Rapture must and will take place before the Great Tribulation begins.
Come up here. These are the words of Christ Jesus himself, because it was the same voice that John heard as recorded in Revelation Chapter 1. John had not only heard the voice of Jesus but had seen him in all his resurrection splendor, as well. We know that John was taken to heaven, because Messiah Jesus told him to, “come up here.” In that regard, John was a foreshadow of living believers who will be taken from the earth at the Rapture; thereby, spared from the Tribulation.
Prophetically, John was given the awesome privilege of watching the entire Tribulation unfold before his eyes. Then to record these apocalyptic scenes for all believers.
Although it’s unlikely that raptured believers will witness the seven seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments while we’re in heaven, it’s crystal clear that we will accompany Messiah Jesus upon his final return to earth (Revelation 19:11-21 & Revelation 17:14). But the fact remains that both John (as a prefigure representation) and raptured believers will sit out the Tribulation in heaven. Nowhere in the successive Tribulation scenes of Revelation (Chapters 5 through 19), do we find John personally experiencing any part of God’s solemn and sovereign judgment of the earth. Instead, he is a bystander to and recorder of these cataclysmic events.
NOR DO WE FIND any mention of the church (born-again believers) in Chapters 5 through 18. That fact is intentional, not merely coincidental.
Only the Tribulation saints are identified—those who were left behind at the Rapture but then chose Messiah Jesus over Antichrist (Nero). Not until Chapter 19, when all raptured believers (not including Tribulation saints, for they won’t be raised from being martyred until Chapter 20) will ride to victory with Messiah Jesus. The latter part of Chapter 19 is the final battle of all time, known by virtually the entire world as Armageddon. In this crushing victory Jesus will throw the Antichrist and False Prophet into the Lake of Fire. He will then destroy their entire army, whose military leaders would dare fight against the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. Shortly, thereafter, Satan (in bodily form … the dragon) will be cast into and chained in the Abyss for 1,000 years—during the magnificent Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ on earth.
Most believers are familiar, if not well versed, with Jesus’s letters to the seven churches as found in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3. The chronological sequence of these letters in juxtaposition to John’s subsequent and sudden ascent into heaven is unmistakable. They were written to seven existing churches in the 1st century but are obviously meant for all churches thereafter. Each of the congregations had its own distinct set of conditions (two of them positive and five mostly negative).
However, the main purpose for the Lord’s assessment of and advice to each church was to prepare them for his return. With rewards of eternal significance for listening and obeying; just as he warned all believers in his end-times discourse found in Matthew Chapters 24-25 to be ready for his two-phase return. First the Rapture, then his physical reappearance on earth to complete God’s final judgment (Armageddon). But nowhere in these letters do we find any shred of evidence whatsoever that these churches (even the miserable, apathetic Laodicean church) would be part of or subject to the final wrath of God poured out on a rebellious and unrepentant world.
Instead, there would be discipline (of churches and individual believers) when necessary.
Specifically, to the church at Laodicea, Jesus said: “I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference” (Revelation 3:19).
Followed by one of the most loving and compassionate offers Jesus makes to any believer—especially to those who have gone their own way: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Revelation 3:20).
That verse is often quoted as an invitation for unbelievers to open the door of their heart to Jesus. Although there’s nothing wrong with that extended application, the concise context of Jesus’s invitation is to lukewarm believers who were saying, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” With Jesus’s response: “And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
John was still on the Isle of Patmos when Jesus gave him these seven letters. But the very next scene is that of John being whisked away to heaven. The prototype parallel to all born-again believers is clear-cut. Neither the seven churches of the 1st Century—when Christ could certainly have returned—nor believers in the centuries to follow (right up to the present time) would need go through the Tribulation. Like our forerunner, John, we will be snatched away, exempt from the terror to come. In the meantime, we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18). And that sometimes includes the Lord’s discipline of believers, when we get bigheaded; or, a little too big for our britches.
In summary: The absence of any reference to individual believers or individual churches during the Tribulation Chapters (Revelation 5 – 18 + 19:11-21), preceded by John’s instant transport to heaven as an observer of (not a participant in) the Great Tribulation, is more validation of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
If there was any possibility that John (representing his brothers and sisters in Christ as stated in Revelation 19:10) would experience the Tribulation, then John would have been given his visions of the future on Patmos. Instead, he was removed to heaven in the Spirit. An electrifying experience so real that he might as well have been there bodily. And, although we don’t know for sure, he very well could have been (Paul said the same thing … II Corinthians 12:1-4).
Which, in turn, is a foretaste of the wonderful immortal spiritual bodies that every believer will be given just before being taken to heaven.
Second Passage (Sets of):
Just before the Rapture segment of I Thessalonians 4:15-18, we read: “For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died” (I Thessalonians 4:14).
This is a pivotal verse to further confirm that the Rapture will take place before the Tribulation. But we must combine it with verses in and commentary on Revelation 19 & 20 to explain this additional proof.
First, an observation of the obvious: For believers who have died to be (brought back) with Jesus upon his physical return to earth, they must be raised from the dead. Exactly what Paul proceeds to say in the ensuring verses 15 & 16. But don’t forget that this passage is referring to the Rapture, not the physical return of Christ to earth, as our Lord doesn’t descend to earth during the Rapture. Instead, believers will meet him in the air.
Please see Eye of Prophecy article: Armageddon and Messiah’s Return … An Amazing Sequence of Events (2-3-18) for an in-depth examination of Jesus’s two-part return to earth, near the end of the Tribulation. The first to fight alongside Israel (Jews) in the heroic battle for Jerusalem (Zechariah 12 & 14). The second (final) time: to crush Antichrist and his coalition, which by then will include the Kings of the East (Revelation 16).
This epic battle in the Valley of Megiddo (Armageddon) is vividly described in Revelation 19 (also a few Old Testament passages). With Christ are, “…the armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses.” (Revelation 19:14). These are clearly the raised from the dead (plus raptured living believers) identified in I Thessalonians 4. Or, in the form of a question: Who else could they be?
(Jezreel Valley in Israel; also known as Megiddo Valley, in which Har (hill) Megiddo is location, from which the term Armageddon comes)
So, the all-important question: when will they be raised from the dead? In other words, when will the Rapture take place? Before the Tribulation or afterwards?
To further verify a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, let’s look at a sequential event that happens soon after Christ’s magnificent victory at Armageddon. Chronologically, it comes in the next chapter of Revelation, just after Satan is bound for a thousand years.
“Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their forehead or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4).
Along with a few other passages in Scripture, this verse coupled with believers accompanying Messiah Jesus during his victorious descent from heaven (Revelation 19), presents a serious problem for those who endorse a Post Tribulation Rapture, as opposed to the clear Biblical evidence of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
It goes like this: Those who subscribe to the Rapture taking place after the Tribulation must then explain why believers are able to ride with Christ during the final battle of Armageddon, which is still part of the seven-year Tribulation (the final stage); if they haven’t been raised from the dead yet. Because the resurrection taking place in Revelation 20 doesn’t occur until after Armageddon.
In that same vein, to be consistent with a resurrection of the dead for all believers, a Post-Trib position cannot distinguish between Tribulation saints (which Revelation 20 is referring to) and believers both dead and alive before the Tribulation begins. To hold to a Post-Tribulation Rapture, they must concede that all living believers will “enter” the Tribulation and those killed during that time will arise from the dead along with those who died before the Tribulation began. Which further compounds the same problem: How can dead believers return with Christ at Armageddon, if they’re not raised from the dead (via the Rapture) until the Tribulation has ended—which it won’t until Armageddon?
Revelation Chapter 20 is clearly referring only to believers who were killed (beheaded) during the Tribulation … also see Revelation 7:14. Which doesn’t account for all believers throughout history who died before the Tribulation begins. There are believers who will descend with Christ to earth for the final event of the Tribulation (Armageddon). But they couldn’t be the Tribulation saints, because those believers won’t be raised from the dead until after the Tribulation is over. The only possible explanation is that the believers mentioned in Revelation 19:11-21 were already raised from the dead or were living AT THE TIME OF THE RAPTURE.
By default, then, the Rapture must take place before the Tribulation begins.
There’s another problem with a Post-Tribulation Rapture. How can believers participate in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in heaven (Revelation 19:7-9) which also takes place before Armageddon; if, in fact, they are still on the earth … either dead or alive? (Meaning they haven’t been raptured yet according to the Post-Tribulation theory).
When the opposite of that is so evident: The true Church (all believers both dead and living) must be taken (raptured) BEFORE the Tribulation begins in order to celebrate the greatest wedding feast of all time. In preparation for our victorious ride with Christ from heaven to earth as we watch up close and personal his righteous and just war against the forces of evil.
*Note: Immediately after the tribulation saints are raised from the dead, we read: “This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.)” (Revelation 20:5, parenthesis in the text).
Then, “Blessed are those who share in the first resurrection…” (Verse 6a, italics for emphasis).
In Revelation 20:11-15, we’re told of the Great White Throne Judgment which is the final judgment of all unbelievers—those who were raised after the Millennial Reign of Christ.
The “first resurrection” is labeled such in contrast to the second resurrection of the dead. The first resurrection combines the Rapture resurrection of dead believers described in I Thessalonians 4 and I Corinthians 15; PLUS, the subsequent resurrection of Tribulation saints at the end of the Tribulation. That is the sharing cited in verse 6. But they are at different times, because the evidence is clear in I Thessalonians 4 that Jesus does not descend to the earth at the actual Rapture. Then the second resurrection is only for unbelievers.
Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul clearly depict the Rapture as taking place abruptly, without warning. Like Paul’s analogy: “a thief in the night” suddenness. Whereas, all the Tribulation events are prophetically categorized in sequence with a known collective duration of seven-years. Thus, for a Post-Tribulation Rapture conjecture to be accurate, the Rapture would occur shortly after the series of known Tribulation events have run their course.
Question: How could a Rapture at that time be sudden or without warning? It would be fully expected because the Tribulation had ended.
And by that time, why would one person be taken and another close by be left? Left behind for what? Christ has already defeated the armies of the world, arrogantly aligned to wage war against him. Left behind to follow the Antichrist, who “…will use every kind of deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them” (II Thessalonians 2:10)? That’s already taken place throughout and by the end of the Tribulation. Billions have already met their destruction, but pre-Tribulation believers won’t be among them.
If you are a believer in Messiah Jesus as your Savior and Lord, then be totally encouraged that you won’t have to go through the greatest series of catastrophes ever experienced by humanity. You are not destined to experience the wrath of God. He has already promised to save you from that terrible time.
Yes, there will be believers on earth during the Tribulation, but only because they believed and received Christ after the Rapture. Included are 144,000 powerful Jewish witnesses who will lead millions to Jesus. Most of these believers will be killed for their testimony of Jesus.
If you don’t know Messiah Jesus as your personal Savior, now is the time to make that decision.
Not only will you be saved from your sins and live forever in heaven, you will be spared from the Tribulation which could begin any day now, soon after the Rapture. You don’t want to be left behind!
“…Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2).
“For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).
Things to Ponder
We are living in the last days of the end times. Please see Eye of Prophecy articles: Look Up, Redemption is Near Part I & II (7-11 & 7-18-15), in which I’ve detailed twelve prophetic flashpoints that have been or are being fulfilled in this generation. Here is an excerpt from Part II (in italics):
What is different now from then is that all twelve have synchronized with a frequency and magnitude never seen before. With intensity that really can’t get much more extreme or enhanced than it already is. Together they have formed a combustible concoction ready to spontaneously ignite. The accumulative impact of these flash point prophecies fits precisely with the Lord’s comparison to childbirth, all in a generation’s time.
Here is the list of the twelve in a handy concise format. Check each one to see if they either have been fulfilled or if they have reached or nearly reached their optimum and maximum flash point.
- Rebirth of Israel as a Sovereign Nation, 1948
- Recapture of Jerusalem in the June 1967 Six-Day War
- Jerusalem, a Heavy Burden to the Nations
- The 3rd Rebuilt Temple
- Israel’s Phenomenal Agricultural Accomplishments
- Modern-Day Alignment of Gog/Magog Nations against Israel
- National and Ethnic Wars in the 20th & 21st Centuries
- Amazing Increase of Natural Disasters
- Moral & Spiritual Decline & Intense Persecution of Christians
- False Messiahs & Prophets
- Unequaled Increase in Quantity and Speed of Transportation and Information
- Unprecedented Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the World
Listen to the Apostle Peter’s warning:
“Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, ‘What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.’
“They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.
“But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand days is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief…” (II Peter 3:3-10).
“…Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come” (Revelation 4:8).