Important Discussion of the Second Coming of Christ

An “internet” friend of mine, Dalton Lifsey, who serves as Associate Director of the Tauranga House of Prayer Missions Base in Tauranga, New Zealand has written a three part blog series on “Three Reasons to Abandon the Expectation of a Secret Rapture.” This is very well done and I encourage serious consideration of what Dalton says.

Reason #1: It’s Not Taught in the Bible

There are only four verses in the New Testament that speak explicitly about the rapture. Four. And all four are very straightforward. They’re extremely easy to understand. Here’s a brief look at the passages with this idea in view: All four teach that it occurs AFTER specific events on God’s end-time calendar. It’s important we understand the order of these events.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-3

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the falling away comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed…

There are two take-away points here: First, Paul declares the second coming and the rapture to be one synonymous event; that is, when Jesus “comes,” we are “gathered.” Second, he says that the rapture occurs AFTER a time of great apostasy and AFTER the Antichrist is revealed. In fact, he says that the Day of the Lord (which he defines as the second coming and the rapture) CANNOT come until specific events take place first. There is no secret rapture in view here.

Matthew 24:29-31

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

The take away point here is that the rapture (or the “gathering together of the elect”) occurs “AFTER” the tribulation explained in verses 15-28. There is no secret rapture in view here.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

The take away point here is that the rapture (being “changed in a twinkling of an eye”) takes place AFTER the “last trumpet.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left,will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

The take away point here is that the rapture occurs AFTER the sound of a “trumpet.”

Conclusion

If we put these passages together we learn that we are raptured: when the Lord “comes” (2 Thess. 2) “after the tribulation” (Mt. 24), after the great falling away and the revealing of the Antichrist (2 Thess 2), after the last trumpet (1 Cor. 15) and after the sound of a trumpet (1 Thess. 4); which is the same trumpet.

[For an explanation of what the “last trumpet” is, read Revelation 10:7 and 11:15-19]

These are the only verses in the Bible from which we can draw a conclusive teaching on the rapture. And all four emphatically  declare that it occursAFTER the Great Tribulation at the second coming of Jesus.

Reason #2: It’s Not Taught in Church History

There are three ways we ought to view any doctrine, and in this order:

1. Biblically – Is it taught in the Bible?

2. Historically – What does church history have to say about it?

3. Subjectively – How does it make you feel?

The error many make is by inverting this order and starting with “Does it feel good?” This should be our final method of vetting. There are many Biblical concepts that don’t “feel” good.

In our last post we dealt with the only four passages in the Bible that speak explicitly about the rapture. In this post we’re briefly going to deal with the issue of the historicity of the doctrine of a secret rapture; that is “Can we find anyone in church history teaching it?”

Second to being Biblically bankrupt, the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory has been assailed by critics for being absent from the preaching of the church through history before the 1800’s. Over the years a handful of writers who hold to the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory have attempted to address this claim to debunk it (a small few). The indictment against the theory is that no one taught it until John Darby presented in between 1827 and 1830. In 1857 Darby claims that he came to his end-time doctrine “30 years ago.” But contemporaries of Darby (such as Tregelles) claim that he began declaring it in 1830 when he adopted it from supernatural experiences of a young woman from Glascow named Margaret MacDonald.

The debate still rages as to whether or not Darby came up with the idea of a secret rapture of if he adopted after hearing it presented by another. At the end of the day, it’s inconsequential WHERE he got it from, because one thing is sure: before 1827 (or 1830 if you take the view that he adopted it from MacDonald) the idea of a secret rapture occurring before the “Great Tribulation” cannot be found on the pages of church history.

The most recent contribution to the controversy over the historicity of the Pre-Trib doctrine is the book entitled “The Truth Behind Left Behind” written by Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice who are staunchly in favor of the eschatology taught in the “Left Behind” series. The final chapter of the book is given to tackling the claim that “all attempts to find a Pre-Tribulation Rapture any earlier than around 1830 do not hold up to historical scrutiny” (a verbatim accusation rightly leveled by Gary DeMar and quoted in the book). Hitchcock and Ice give 15 pages to survey church history to ward off the critics and round out their apologetic on this issue.

In those 15 pages we find only MORE glaring problems with the Pre-Trib view. First, the chapter begins with a quote from Ryrie saying that just because a doctrine hasn’t been taught throughout church history doesn’t mean that it’s not true. The quote revealed the trajectory of their broader argument (i.e. They have nothing substantial to show from church history that points to a historical belief in a Pre-Tribulation rapture). The fact of the matter is, church history is in agreement: there is no secret rapture. The only examples that the authors could conjure up are about a dozen quotations of modern writers explaining why THEY BELIEVE certain church fathers taught a secret rapture and a single quotation from a church father about a secret rapture. The problem with these two pieces of evidence is that (1) modern subjective opinions without historical documentation don’t carry any weight and (2) the meaning of the only quotation they could muster is widely debated.

In other words, the weight of the argument rests upon a dozen biased opinions and one nebulous historical quotation. It would’ve better served the purpose of the book if they avoided the issue altogether. Instead they just exposed the weakness of their view historically.

To their credit, they rightly pointed out that church fathers through history have expected an imminent return of Jesus (i.e. Jesus can come any minute). To their shame though, they allude to the idea that Jesus coming “imminently” is equivalent with Jesus coming “secretly.” And our fathers would take great offense at that idea as the two are far from congruent as far as historical theology is concerned.

Jesus cannot and will not come “at any minute;” nor will He come secretly to relocate believers to heaven for the greatest hour of human history. Paul made it very clear:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the falling away comes FIRST, and the man of lawlessness is revealed… (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3)

Reason #3: It’s Not Taught Outside the Western World

Apart from not being taught in the Bible and not being taught throughout the majority of church history, the fact that the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory is not taught outside of the western world (by and large) is one of the more convincing reasons why it should be examined with skeptical eyes.

Between 1830 and 1833 the Irish John Darby began going public with his newly discovered doctrine. Prior to this, no one anywhere on the globe had heard a teaching on a secret rapture. After fierce opposition from many within the UK (from great men such as George Mueller and Tregelles) Darby’s ministry shifted to the US where his teaching would gain the most renown. His influence on American born C.I. Scofield resulted in the Scofield Study Bible (published in 1909) being one of the primary ways the doctrine was promoted in the last century. Darby and Scofield gained prominence and notoriety in those decades – almost entirely in the western world. But outside of the west, the church was living under the assumption that the second coming and the rapture were synonymous in the mind of the apostles; as it remains today.

Between 1909 and now, the Pre-Tribulation theory has become a pillar in American Christianity. And with the publishing of the now famous “Left Behind” novels, that pillar was strengthened. Interestingly though, the doctrine remained (by and large) an American doctrine. Even in the UK – where it was first formulated – it was seen (again, by and large) as a deviation from Biblical orthodoxy. Try as they may, proponents of this new theory can’t avoid the fact that outside of America, there is a staunch opposition to their views.

What follows, are two stories (one from history, and one that’s personal) that show how this teaching is loathed outside of America.

CORRIE TEN BOOM

In 1974 Corrie Ten Boom (the famous woman whose family hid Jews during the Holocaust and who spent time herself in a Nazi concentration camp as a consequence) wrote these words in a letter:

“There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution.

In China, the Christians were told [by American Bible teachers], “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly,

“We have failed.
We should have made the people strong for persecution,
rather than telling them Jesus would come first.
Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution,
how to stand when the tribulation comes,
– to stand and not faint.”

I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it.

We are next.

Since I have already gone through prison for Jesus’ sake, and since I met the Bishop in China, now every time I read a good Bible text I think, “Hey, I can use that in the time of tribulation.” Then I write it down and learn it by heart.”

This letter is an indictment against American Bible teachers who brought the doctrine of a secret rapture into China. Her words point to the painful reality that where ever this doctrine is taught, it undermines the saints ability so suffer well according to the teaching of the apostles.

MY ENCOUNTER WITH THE PERSECUTED CHURCH OF SOUTH-EAST ASIA

In 2005 I was in Indonesia engaging in evangelistic ministry. One Sunday I spoke at a local church service. Before it was time for me to preach the pastor approached me and said words that deeply impacted me:

“Sir, I don’t want to offend you by what I’m about to say. But it must be said. You are an American. And we welcome you in our community. However, when preaching, please do not mention the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. Your Bible teachers in America teach this. But this community is experiencing much affliction and suffering. And that doctrine will do great damage to these people.”

I won’t add to these words except to say this: All who hold the belief that we will be secretly raptured any moment must understand and recognize that this conviction is largely an American conviction. Moreover, I have met people outside of the western world who hold the doctrine – but it’s only because they have been influenced by the ministries of American ministries who teach it through their books and TV shows.

A secret, imminent rapture isn’t found in the Bible, in church history or outside the western world. These are strong reasons to abandon it and to fill our minds and hearts with what the Bible says about the generation of the Lord’s return.

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One Response

  1. It’s very refreshing to hear an American pastor be vocal and straightforward about the truth on this issue.

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