Thy Kingdom Come – The Tribulation (Part 1)
I. Article Title. The basis of the pretribulation rapture.
A. The interpretation of the question of the time of the pretribulation rapture in relation to the tribulation period holds that the church, the body of Christ, in its entirety, will, by resurrection and translation, be removed from the earth before any part of the seventieth week of Daniel begins.
B. Pretribulation rapturism rests essentially on one major premise—the literal method of interpretation of the Scriptures. As a necessary adjunct to this, the pretribulationist believes in a dispensational interpretation of the Word of God. The church and Israel are two distinct groups with whom God has a divine plan. The church is a mystery, unrevealed in the Old Testament. This present mystery age intervenes within the program of God for Israel because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah at His first advent. This mystery program must be completed before God can resume His program with Israel and bring it to completion. These considerations all arise from the literal method of interpretation.
II. The essential arguments of the of the pretribulation rapture.
A. The literal method of interpretation.
1. If the literal method of interpretation of the Scriptures be the right method
premillennialism is the correct interpretation. Thus we can see that our doctrine of the premillennial return of Christ to institute a literal kingdom is the outcome of the literal method of interpretation of the Old Testament promises and prophecies. It is only natural, therefore, that the same basic method of interpretation must be employed in our interpretation of the rapture question. It would be most illogical to build a premillennial system on a literal method and then depart from that method in consideration of the related questions. It can easily be seen that the literal method of interpretation demands a pretribulation rapture of the church.
2. The literal method of interpretation, consistently employed, can lead to no other conclusion than that the church will be raptured before the seventieth week.
B. The seventieth week fundamental characteristics.
1. There are a number of words used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe the seventieth week period, which, when considered together, give us the essential nature or character of this period: (1) wrath (Rev. 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 1 Thess, 1:9-10; 5:9; Zeph. 1:15, 18); (2) judgment (Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 16:5-7; 19:2); (3) indignation (Isa. 26:20-21; 34:1-3); (4) punishment (Isa. 24:20-21); (5) hour of trial (Rev. 3:10); (6) hour of trouble (Jer. 30:7); (7) destruction (Joel 1:15); (8) darkness (Joel 2:2; Zeph. 1:14-18; Amos 5:18). It must be noted that these references describe the period in its entirety, not just a portion of it, so that the whole period bears this characterization. As to the nature of the tribulation (although limiting it to the last half of the week).
2. Let us get clearly in mind the nature of the Tribulation, that it is divine “wrath” (Rev 6:16, 17; 11:18; 14:8, 10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19) and divine “judgment.” (14:7; 15:4; 16:7; 17:1; 18:10; 19:2). We know that our blessed Lord bore for us the wrath of God and His judgment; therefore we who are in Him “shall not come into judgment.” The antithesis of I Thess. 5:9 is conclusive evidence: “For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Wrath for others, but salvation for us at the Rapture, “whether we wake or sleep” (vs. 10).
C. The realm of the seventieth week.
1. There can be no question that this period will see the wrath of God poured out upon the whole earth. Revelation 3:10; Isaiah 34:2; 24:1, 4-5, 16-17, 18-21, and many other passages make this very clear. And yet, while the whole earth is in view, this period is particularly in relation to Israel. Jeremiah 30:7, which calls this period “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” makes this certain. The events of
the seventieth week are events of the “Day of the Lord” or “Day of Jehovah.” This use of the name of deity emphasizes God’s peculiar relationship to that nation. When this period is being anticipated in Daniel 9, God says to the prophet, “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city” (v. 24). This whole period then has special reference to Daniel’s people, Israel, and Daniel’s holy city, Jerusalem.
2. Inasmuch as many passages in the New Testament such as Ephesians 3:1-6;
Colossians 1:25-27 make it clear that the church is a mystery and its nature as a body composed of Jew and Gentile alike was unrevealed in the Old Testament, the church could not have been in view in this or any other Old Testament prophecy. Since the church did not have its existence until after the death of Christ (Eph. 5:25-26), until after the resurrection of Christ (Rom. 4:25; Col.3:1-3), until after the ascension (Eph. 1:19-20), and until after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost with the inception of all His ministries to the believer (Acts 2), the church could not have been in the first sixty-nine weeks of this prophecy. Since it had no part in the first sixty-nine weeks, which are related only to God’s program for Israel, it can have no part in the seventieth week, which is again related to God’s program for Israel after the mystery program for the church has been concluded.
3. In an extended treatment of each major passage in the Word on the subject of the tribulation, in passages such as Matthew 24, Daniel 12, Luke 21, Mark 13, Jeremiah 30, Revelation 7 (as follows) per William Kelly, “Lectures on the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (pp 186-237).”
“The view here maintained follows on a close investigation of every distinct
passage that Scripture affords upon the subject of the great tribulation. No Scripture can point out one word which supposes a Christian or the Church on the earth when the great tribulation arrives. Have we not seen that the doctrine of Old and New Testament—of Jeremiah, of Daniel, of the Lord Jesus, and of the apostle John—is this, that, just before the Lord appears in glory, will come the last and unequalled trouble of Israel, though Jacob shall be delivered from it; that there will be…“the great tribulation,” out of which a multitude of Gentiles emerge; but that both Jacob and the Gentiles are totally distinct from the Christians or the Church. As regards the Christian, the positive promise of the Lord is, that such as have kept the word of His patience He will keep out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
4. It must be concluded with the above information that since every passage dealing with the tribulation relates it to God’s program for Israel, that the scope of the tribulation prevents the church from participating in it.
D. The purpose of the seventieth week. The Scriptures indicate that there are two major purposes to be accomplished in the seventieth week.
1. The first purpose is stated in Revelation 3:10, “I also will keep thee from the
hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Apart from the question involved as to who will be in this time of testing there are several other important considerations in this verse. (1) First of all we see that this period has in view “them that dwell on the earth” and not the church. This same expression occurs in Revelation 6:10; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6 and 17:8, In its usage it is not giving us a geographical description but rather a moral classification. Thiessen writes (Joseph Henry Thayer, “Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p 498), as follows:
a. “Now the word “dwell” used here (katoikeo) is a strong word. It is used to
describe the fulness of the Godhead that dwelt in Christ (Col. 2:9); it is used of
Christ’s taking up a permanent abode in the believer’s heart (Eph. 3:17), and of
demons returning to take absolute possession of a man (Matt. 12:45; Luke 11:26). It is to be distinguished from the word oikeo, which is the general term for “dwell,” and paroikeo, which has the idea of transitoriness, “to sojourn.” Thayer remarks that the term katoikeo has the idea of permanence in it. Thus the judgment referred to in Rev. 3:10 is directed against the earth-dwellers of that day, against those who have settled down in the earth as their real home, who have identified themselves with the earth’s commerce and religion.”
b. Since this period is related to “earth dwellers,” those that have settled down to permanent occupancy, it can have no reference to the church, which would be subjected to the same experiences if it were here. (2) The 2nd consideration to be noted here is the use of the infinitive peirasai (to try) to express purpose. Thayer defines this word, when God is its subject, “to inflict evils upon one in order to prove his character and the steadfastness of his faith.” Since the Father never sees the church except in Christ, perfected in Him, this period can have no reference to the church, for the true church does not need to be tested to see if her faith is genuine.
2. The second major purpose of the seventieth week is in relation to Israel. In
Malachi 4:5-6 it is stated: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
a. The prophet states that the ministry of this Elijah was a ministry to prepare the people for the King who was shortly to come. In Luke 1:17 it is promised that the son born to Zacharias would “go before him in the spirit and power of Elias” to perform this very ministry and “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Concerning the coming of Elijah which was to have been a sign to Israel, the Lord states: “Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at naught. But I say unto you, that Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him [Mk. 9:12-13].”
b. The Lord was showing the disciples that John the Baptist had this ministry of preparing a people for Him. And to remove all doubt, the word in Matthew 11:14 is conclusive, “if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” John’s ministry was a ministry to prepare the nation Israel for the coming of the King. It can only be concluded then that Elijah, who is to come before the great and terrible day of the Lord, can have only one ministry: that of preparing a remnant in Israel for the advent of the Lord. It is evident that no such ministry is needed by the church since she by nature is without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but is holy and without blemish. “
3. These two purposes, the testing of earth dwellers, and the preparation of Israel for the King, have no relation to the church whatsoever. This is supporting evidence that the church will not be in the seventieth week.
E. The coherence of the seventieth week.
1. It should be observed from the three preceding considerations that the entire seventieth week is in view when it is described and predicted in prophecy. While all would agree, on the basis of Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15; and Revelation 13, that the week is divided into two parts of three and one-half years each, yet the nature and character of the week is one, permeating both parts in their entirety.
2. It becomes impossible to permit the existence of the church in the week as a unit, and it becomes equally impossible to adopt the position that the church,
although exempt from a portion of the seventieth week, may be in the first half of it, for its nature is the same throughout. The impossibility of including the church in the last half makes it equally impossible to include it in the first half, for while Scripture divides the time of the week, it does not make any distinction as to the nature and character of the two parts of it.
III. Article References.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Th. D. (1871-1952). J. Vernon McGee, Th. D. (1904-1988). Merrill F. Unger, Ph. D. (1909-1980). Charles L. Feinberg, Ph. D. (1909-1995). John F. Walvoord, Th. D. (1910-2002). J. Dwight Pentecost, Th. D. (1915-2014). Charles C. Ryrie, Ph. D. (1925-2016). Robert L. Thomas, Th. D. (1928-2017). Stanley D. Toussaint, Th. D. (1928-2017). Robert P. Lightner, Th. D. (1931-2018). Harold W. Hoehner, Ph. D. (1935-2009). Thomas S. McCall, Th. D. (1936-2021). Edward E. Hindson, Ph. D. (1944-2022).
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