This article appears in the appendix of the book: “One New Man” by Ariel Laurence Blumenthal - details are below.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.1 Thess. 4:16–17)
These verses from 1 Thessalonians have caused much controversy over the last 150 years—the same time period that we have been studying*. Many Bible-believing, Bible-loving Christians with a premillennial view of the restoration of the kingdom of God on Earth—with its capital in Jerusalem—have also been taught that there is another great Pauline mystery being taught here concerning the so-called “rapture of the church.” Namely, that the true believers will not go through the final period of God’s judgments (wrath) on the earth called “the great tribulation,” but will instead be “raptured” to heaven until the ultimate, physical return of Jesus to the earth. Most who subscribe to this view believe, based on prophecies in the books of Daniel and Revelation, that this will happen three-and-a-half years, or seven years, before Jesus returns. This teaching has become a major pillar in the dispensational worldview, as discussed in the last few chapters of this book*—and a big part of popular Christian culture in the USA from books/movies like Left Behind.
As one can hopefully infer from reading this book*, our perspective is quite different. We see the prophetic dynamics of the one new man (Ephesians) and the fullness formula (Rom. 9–11) leading right up to the second coming. This means that the church—understood as Jew and Gentile, Israel, and the nations together in Messiah—will have a great role to play during the last days on the earth. We believe that we will be here in the midst of the great tribulation, but that Yeshua has promised to equip and strengthen us, seeing us through to our ultimate victory together with Him at His return. What’s more, it will also be a time of incredible harvest. This harvest will not happen just supernaturally; it will be the same dynamic as always—God working through His people to preach the “gospel of the kingdom” to every nation (Matt. 24:14).
Below are four major reasons why we strongly believe that the “pretrib rapture” theory/doctrine is “dead” wrong, and why it has a dangerous influence on its adherents—one which fails to prepare them for the reality of what will actually take place during the end times.
- Pretrib Rapture: A New Doctrine Not Seen in Church History before Modern Times
The idea that the believing church will be raptured to heaven in a secret, “pre-second coming,” before the actual second coming, is a very serious doctrine with very serious consequences. Both Jesus and the Apostles taught many things about the end of days, the days before His return and the establishing of His kingdom on Earth. If part of His plan were that at the start of, or in the middle of, the great tribulation at the end of the age, the believers would be caught up to heaven while end-times events continue to unfold down here on Earth, we would expect to see this taught clearly in the Scriptures; and we would expect it to have become a major pillar of the doctrine of the earliest church. Instead, we see the opposite: It is not taught by Jesus or the Apostles, and it is impossible to find any trace of the teaching in the apostolic age or in the centuries following. (Note 1)
Rather, the overwhelming testimony of both Scripture and the literature of the church fathers of the first two centuries is that apostolic eschatology a) was clearly premillennial; b) clearly believed in a literal second coming and literal kingdom on Earth; and c) clearly believed that the church would be here on Earth until the second coming.
- The Eternal Separation of Israel and the Church?
The doctrine of this mysterious “pretrib rapture” first came on the scene only about 150 years ago with the advent of Dispensationalism. The two great figures at the founding of this Dispensational “school” of theology were C. I. Scofield and John Nelson Darby. As already noted in Chapter 18, there is much that we can find in agreement and be thankful for with respect to dispensationalism; however, its view of the eschatological (and eternal!) destinies of Israel and the church is not one of them. For both Darby and Scofield, an eternal distinction exists between two groups of God’s people: the heavenly body of Christ—the church; and the earthly Israel—the Jewish people. As a result, classic dispensationalism came up with a clearly delineated, dualistic view of prophetic Scripture: Some prophecies apply to Israel and others apply to the so-called “church”; God’s plan for Israel is earthly, and His plan for the church is heavenly and spiritual. In extreme cases, this dualism goes so far as to posit that the church is the bride of Christ, while Israel is the bride of Jehovah-Father God.
A quick read of this book* should dispel any notions of such a dualistic, eternal separation between Israel and the church. (Note 2) As we have seen, the very mystery of the one new man and the fullness formula surrounds how God is bringing Jew and Gentile together as one body in Messiah in this age; or how the Gentiles become part of the commonwealth of Israel; or how the Gentiles are grafted into the essentially “Israeli” olive tree; or how the Jews will be saved, i.e., becoming part of the ecclesia, or church.
And what about the Jewish, first-century apostles? Were they part of Plan A or Plan B—Israel or the church? What about the present day Messianic Jewish remnant? (Note 3) As we saw, God is not a God of Plan A and Plan B; He is not “schizophrenic” in relation to Jew and Gentile, or Israel and the church. He does not have two different peoples or two different brides. In Christ, He has promised to bring all “things in heaven and things on the earth” together under one head (Eph. 1:10). Therefore, we must be careful of any of the theological conclusions that are based on this classic dispensational foundation—such as the pretribulation rapture of the church, leaving Israel (the Jewish people in the land) alone to endure the greatest period of wrath/tribulation in the history of the world. (Note 4)
- Historical Background for the Rise of “We Are Not Destined for Wrath,” Pretrib Rapture Doctrine
Much pretrib rapture doctrine focuses on the (wrong!) interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:9: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In fact, dispensational theology seems almost obsessed with the issue of believers not having to endure the terrible great tribulation of the last days, the likes of which Yeshua said “has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Matt. 24:21).
Dispensationalism arose at a time when it seemed like a great shaking, even “falling away,” was taking place in the church (2 Thess. 2:3). Modernism, liberalism, and the “social gospel” were overcoming many a church and denomination around the turn of the century (early 1900s), and it seemed like there was only a small remnant who still believed in the veracity of the Bible taken in a more or less literal way. This remnant felt more and more marginalized by mainstream denominations and by western society—whose morals and standards were changing very quickly. (Note 5) Marginalized, yes; but persecuted, no.
Dispensational theology arose in nations (US and England primarily) where many Christians felt a deep sense of “light vs. dark” conflict with the wider culture, but they were not in fact actually persecuted in any serious way by their increasingly free, liberal societies. Finally, dispensationalism grew during a time of the incredible flourishing of knowledge, science, and technology—and this influenced how people interpreted the Bible. In particular, dispensationalists began to force many Scriptures—especially prophecy—into hyper- rational categories of (supposedly) literal, systematic understanding. In short, the rationalistic, scientific spirit of the age dictated that biblical prophecy should fit together as its own kind of “science,” whereby timelines and detailed charts could be made in order to determine the exact times and seasons of prophetic fulfilment. (Note 6)
So these four things came together to produce this new doctrine of the pretrib rapture:
• the lack of serious persecution of Christians in Europe and America—and so by experience the conclusion: “We, the faithful remnant, are not destined for tribulation and wrath, but salvation.”(Note 7)
• the Israel (earthly Plan A) vs. church (heavenly Plan B) dualism: “We, the church, have a heavenly destiny different from earthly Israel, especially at the end of the age.”
• the increasing sense of “sons of light vs. sons of darkness” dualism: “We are so different, so separate from ‘the world,’ that it only makes sense that we have no share in its destiny of judgment and tribulation.”
• an overly rational, systematic understanding of prophecy premised on the Israel vs. church dualism: “Since the church is not destined for wrath but obtaining salvation, it must be that the focus of fulfilment of the worst end-times prophecies of judgment and cataclysms pertain to earthly Israel, not the church.”
Then where is the church? A-ha and voila—behold, the doctrine of a secret coming of Christ to rapture His church before the great tribulation!
- Biblical Evidence against the Pretrib Rapture Doctrine
The earliest church was premillennial; they believed in the imminent return of the Lord to rule and reign over the earth for one thousand years. There is much teaching in the NT about the Lord’s second coming, but nowhere is it even hinted that there would be second comings, as in the dispensational scheme—one a secret, heavenly coming to rapture the church to heaven; and then, after a significant amount of time, a final, full-blown return to the earth in glory. It is only when certain Scriptures are twisted out of context that one can begin to even imagine such a scheme.
A look at the most detailed verses teaching the rapture in the context of 1 Thessalonians makes it perfectly clear. From verse 13 of chapter 4, Paul turns to a teaching on the end times, the resurrection, and the second coming—with a focus on the very order of events, and a particular concern for those who have already died in Christ. He writes, “we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep” (v. 15). Could it be any clearer? “We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord” is in contrast to those who have already “fallen asleep,” i.e., died in Christ—not in contrast to those who have already been raptured!
Secondly, verses 15 and 16 teach that this rapture will by no means precede the resurrection of the dead in Christ. The resurrection of the dead will come first, and the resurrection takes place at the end, at His second coming, after the great tribulation. If the rapture “by no means precedes” the resurrection, then it must be after the tribulation as well. Only then will we be caught up in the air to meet the Lord (v. 17). In summary, Paul is clearly teaching the believers in Thessalonica that in the last generation before Jesus’ coming, there will be a church—made up of Jew and Gentile alike—who will be alive, i.e., here on Earth, when He comes! And the fact that he writes “we who are alive” means he includes himself in this End Times’ church, and thus cannot be speaking about another group of people that will come to faith only during the last days of the great tribulation while Paul and the rest of the “saints” of his day have been raptured to heaven.
There are six more NT passages that speak clearly about the timing of the second coming, the resurrection from the dead, and the rapture. Like 1 Thessalonians 4, they all teach of a rapture which occurs at the end of the Great Tribulation and that occurs more or less simultaneously with the second coming of Jesus in glory. (Note 8)
- Matthew 24:29–31: “But immediately after the tribulation of those days. . . .” In the Mount of Olives prophecy, Yeshua speaks clearly of His coming in glory, and of sending angels to gather His elect from the four winds—i.e., from the whole earth. This “ingathering” of His people is described as occurring after the tribulation. So whom is He gathering? (Note 9)
- Matthew 24:38: “until the day. . . .” Yeshua compares His coming to the flood of Noah. People were eating and drinking until the very day that Noah entered the ark and all was destroyed. There was no gap between the day of His coming and the destruction of all things by water. The world became increasingly wicked right up to the time of the flood—and Noah and his family were there until the very end. At Yeshua’s coming, one in a field will be taken and another left; two women grinding, one taken and one left; the believers will be taken up to heaven to immediately receive our resurrection bodies.
- Mark 13:24: “after that tribulation. . . .” Mark repeats the teaching on the Mount of Olives with all the details in Matthew describing the tribulation, the second coming, and the rapture. He also repeats that the rapture is “after” the tribulation.
- Luke 17:27, 29: “until the day. . . on the day. . . .” Luke repeats Yeshua’s teaching comparing His coming to Noah’s flood, and adds the comparison to the destruction of Sodom. As with Noah, so with Lot—total destruction came immediately. All people— both the “righteous” and “unrighteous”—were there until the end; there was no time gap. On the same day, at the same time that Lot and family were “raptured” away by the angels, the fiery judgment came upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
- 1 Corinthians 15:52: “at the last trumpet [shofar]. . . .” At the last trumpet, the dead will be raised and we will be changed. Revelation describes seven trumpets during the tribulation period. (The seven trumpets are connected with the feast of Trumpets [Lev. 23:24], the last trumpet with the Day of Atonement [Lev. 25:9].) The rapture occurs at the last trumpet, after the seven trumpets, after the tribulation, immediately after the resurrection of the dead.
“What’s all this splitting of hairs concerning end-times prophecies?” some might protest. Or, “Let’s not worry about these future things… I’m a pan-millenialist—it will all pan-out in the end!” (Note 10) Why is it all so important?
Think of it this way: What if you were training an army, which by its very definition is preparing for the eventuality of war, and in the middle of the training period you took the soldiers aside and said the following: “I have just heard from our commander in chief, and he has promised that when the worst of the actual battles come, he’s given our battalion special favor: We will dial a secret code, and super-secret-stealth helicopters will come and take us all up and out of harm’s way. He will send another army to do the fighting—we won’t be on the battleground during the worst of the war!” How do you think this would affect the spirit of the training from the following day forward? Would the men drill with the same focus and motivation? Would they be alert, looking to keenly obey every order of their superiors? Obviously not.
Or, what if you were training a sports team for the playoffs, and you similarly told them: “When we get into the final rounds of play, someone else will take your place on the court; you won’t have to play.” Talk about a “spirit-breaker”!
This is the problem with the doctrine of the pretribulation rapture: It makes for a church with a “bunker” mentality—a church that will bury its head in the sand (or the clouds?) as we get further into the end-times events, wondering if the present tribulation is truly the last one, and looking for God to “beam them up” and out of the tribulations. It leaves the church with entirely the wrong “spirit” concerning the end times, and totally unprepared for its actual role to stand with Israel— the central, earthly focus of the Antichrist’s vitriol—and not abandon her! Paul also taught that a great “apostasy” or “falling away” from the church would happen during these very last days before His coming. (2 Thess. 2:1-3) One wonders: could it be that a large number of these “apostasizing” believers will be those who were taught that they would be raptured away when times of tribulation come? Imagine such a person’s sense of confusion and disappointment with God and church when they find themselves totally unprepared to go through this most difficult time in human history!!
When Yeshua speaks of these events, it is of a different spirit entirely: “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Or, “pray that your flight will not take place in winter, or on a Sabbath. For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matt. 24:20–22).
First, Yeshua is clearly speaking to His disciples that they will be here on this earth, especially in Israel/Jerusalem during the tribulation.
Second, at least for the saints in the Jerusalem area at His return, there is a flight to avoid the worst of the tribulation, but there is no suggestion that this is a secret rapture into the heavens. Thirdly, He wants us to be prayerful, awake, and alert; His promise is to deliver us from out of the tribulation, just as He has delivered His people throughout history, by means of the miraculous intervention of God in the midst of our earthly circumstances! Of course, at the end of the great tribulation, this will be accomplished by nothing less than the second coming of Jesus in glory, along with a multitude of angels and resurrected saints in order to fight against the Antichrist and his armies. The last, great cry/prayer of God’s people (the spirit and the bride) on Earth before His return is, “Come Lord Jesus. . . . Maranatha . . . Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Rev. 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 16:22; Matt. 23:39), not, “Lord, rapture us up to heaven and out of this world so that we can avoid your wrath and the suffering that will come upon the earth!” It is “Lord, come!” not “Lord, take us out of here!”
How does this all connect to the one new man? Yeshua’s prophecy in Matthew 24:22 is tantalizing in this respect: He says that the days of this great tribulation will be cut short, for the “sake of the elect.” How short? He doesn’t say! I believe this points to two fundamental truths about the nature of God and biblical prophecy (especially apocalyptic/ end-times prophecy) that we have studied in this book*.
First, God takes no pleasure in judgment; His will is for “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). The God of the Bible is not a sadist! While the obvious purpose of God’s wrath and judgment is to punish sin, it is always His deepest desire that men would repent and turn to Him as a result. As we can learn from the book of Jonah, this is the primary reason that God issues specific prophecies of judgment—to warn sinners to turn from their ways. If there is sincere repentance, as there was in Nineveh, God is happy to “change His mind” and show mercy, even on those “dirty,” Gentile, pagan sinners (Jonah’s perspective). Yes, in the end of days, there will be great tribulation, but Yeshua instructs us that God longs to cut short the days of the great tribulation on behalf of His beloved ones, His elect. But Yeshua didn’t tell us how short, or why God might cut those days short.
Could it be that much of the answer to this mystery depends on us? On how unified and reconciled is the body of Christ? How “spotless” will His bride be? In the body, will there be unity between Jew and Gentile, Japanese and Chinese—loving, serving, and interceding for one another? Will we be standing in faith, interceding, crying out for the salvation of the world and the return of the Lord? (Note 11) Or, will we be like Jonah, with a “God, you take care of it yourself; don’t involve me, I’m getting out of here” attitude? Will we be hiding in a theological bunker (or whale’s belly!) expecting God to take us out of the world while the Jews in Israel suffer? In short, could it be that it depends on how much genuine, overcoming faith Jesus will find among us on the earth when he returns (Luke 18:8; James 1:12; Rev. 2:17, 26; 3:21)?
I believe so! God is not a sadist, and we are not masochists. Nonetheless, we are willing to endure whatever suffering, even martyrdom, that will come our way because of His name, so we are not perversely looking forward to the great tribulation. He taught us to pray that it be cut short, that our escape from Jerusalem might not fall on the Sabbath, etc. How effective will those prayers be? That depends on us!
- The two possible references in early church literature are from the Shepherd of Hermes and Victorinus. But even hardline dispensationalists admit that the references therein to avoiding wrath and persecution at the end of days are vague, and it is hard to establish a clear doctrinal witness from them.
- Not to mention that the strict use of the terminology “Israel and the church” is not exactly biblical. That is, they are not taught as dualistic opposites nor a complementary pair; rather, the overwhelming use in the OT is “Israel and the nations;” in the NT, “Jew and Gentile.”
- When dispensationalists talk about “Israel,” they almost always mean “unsaved Israel.” For them, Israel’s glory is always future; as such dispensational theology doesn’t know what to do with the Messianic Jewish remnant, who are, in the most foundational way, both “Israel” and the “church.”
- Not surprisingly, classic dispensationalism grew most at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when the church was very much on the defensive from modernism, science and moral relativism. The “pretrib rapture” theory seems to reflect this defensive, “bunker-mentality” spirit of many believers during this time.
- In many ways, the recent ruling by the US Supreme Court to legalized gay marriage is a final fruit in this long process of the “de-Christianizing” of Western, “post-Christian” society.
- This marked the beginning of the time of many false (obviously) calculations of the return of Christ; and gave birth to end-times cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- Twenty years ago, I remember the incredulous looks on the faces of house-church Chinese Christians when I told them about this pretrib rapture theory that had captured the imaginations of so many western Christians. Their reaction: “The believers don’t go through persecution/tribulation? Then what have we been through the last twenty years!?”
- Much of the following section is based on Asher Intrater, “Teaching: Rapture after Tribulation,” Revive Israel Ministries, August 16, 2009, https://restorationfromzion.com/rapture-after-tribulation/
- Once the dispensational view is embraced as “gospel” truth, then verses like this are interpreted to speak of a remnant which miraculously comes to faith during the tribulation, even though all the true Christians were raptured away and not there to preach or disciple! Further, in the parable of the wheat and tares, it is the tares who are first gathered for burning (judgment) at the great harvest of the Lord, and only then is the wheat gathered. So again, obviously, the wheat (the righteous, the saints, the church) is there until the very end (Matt. 13:24-30).
- I think I first heard this from Cindy Jacobs, or Peter Wagner, quoting Cindy’s father.
- I believe that God will pour specific end-times revelation and instruction only insofar as the body is reconciled and unified and in proper alignment with Him and with one another.
This article appears in the appendix 3-3 of the book:
One New Man – Reconciling Jew & Gentile in One Body of Christ
Ariel Laurence Blumenthal
Used by permission of the author. This book is available for purchase: