Studying the “end times” has always been a passion of mine. It is like the most complex, giant puzzle that there is. And I have always found it fascinating. Of all the issues related to the end times, the rapture has always held the most intrigue for me. And for years, I could never be really sure that a “pre-tribulation rapture” was the most biblically accurate idea. I really wanted it to be so, but I was afraid that maybe my hope had tainted my view. But I can now say that – after going through all of it over and over again – I am now fully convinced that there is indeed a rapture that happens before the tribulation starts.
Basically, what I discovered this last time I studied this issue is a “key” that is critical to keep in mind when studying the end times. Once you grasp this, it isn’t as confusing anymore. (It’s still confusing, just not as confusing.)
Of course, I am not a scholar or theologian. And many people fall on all sides of the question. Some think pre-trib, some mid-trib, and some at the end. Some think we’re waiting for the rapture, some think we’re waiting for the Anti-christ to be revealed, some think we’re waiting for Jesus’ final coming.
But in my heart of hearts, I think there is enough biblical support to say that the rapture will happen before the tribulation starts. I talk about this in the Bible Study section (in the ISI 19: The End Times post, May 2015) where I also examine what will happen during the tribulation. But for this post – in honor of the new Left Behind movie coming out – I want to share why I think it’s pre-trib and why this is the most merciful option.
Key: There is not just one coming of Christ and there is not just one group of people that is taken out of the earth.
I believe that there are a few comings of Christ:
1. His invisible coming to rapture the Church out before the trib,
2. His visible coming to take out the new believers who went through the seals (the events at the beginning of the trib),
3. And His coming at the end to battle in the first Armageddon (Rev 19:11-21) and to set up His 1000-year earthly reign. (The second Armageddon is in Rev 20:7-10, at the end of the 1000 years.)
And there are several different groups of people taken out of the earth at different times. A different group is taken out before each new set of judgments is unleashed. One is the rapture of the Church before the seals are opened and the tribulation starts. One is the “great multitude” taken out of the great trib before the trumpets start. One is the “harvest of the earth” of those who were victorious over the beast’s number and image, before the bowl judgments start. And one is the group of dead martyrs who rise before the “thousand years” start (Rev 20, technically not taken “out” of the earth, but they rise again to reign on the earth). How merciful of our God to take out the newest believers before the next set of judgments come.
Basically, when reading Scripture, it seems to me that when it talks about Christ coming in “power and great glory” and with His angels (Matthew 24:30-31), it is referring to the visible second coming at the 6th seal, before God unleashes His wrathful judgments on the ungodly. But when it just refers to His coming, like in the twinkling of an eye, it is referring to the rapture (1 Thess 4:16).
However, keep in mind that there are verses that refer to “His coming” that do mean His visible second coming, but they don’t use words like “power and great glory.” And you can figure out which it is by reading it in context and seeing what the passage was already talking about.
And sometimes the same chapter will refer to both, flopping from one to the other without spelling it out clearly. Such as Matthew 24. This passage talks about “signs of the Lord’s coming” in verses 4-35. And this is referring to the signs that happen in the tribulation before His visible coming to gather those who became believers during the seals. Then in verses 36 and on, it switches to the rapture and how it will come like a “thief in the night.” I believe the reason it flops between the two is because it is answering the disciples’ questions of verse 3 in order. First they ask what the sign of His coming will be (and I believe they mean His visible coming), and then they ask what the signs of the end of the age will be (meaning the end of the “church age” that we are in right now, which will end when the Church is raptured out). So Christ answers them in order, when in reality the rapture comes first (end of the age) and then His visible coming. But Matthew doesn’t clearly let the reader know when it switches from one to the other.
(Besides that, I do not think verses 4-35 and 36-44 can be describing the same event because the first one lists warning of severe persecution and a bunch of signs to look for so that you can roughly discern when Jesus will come back visibly, and the other says that no one knows the day or hour and that life will be going on as normal, with no one being aware of what is about to happen. Clearly two different events.)
And this flopping also happens in 2 Peter 3 where, in verse 10, it says the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night and then it says that the heavens and earth will be destroyed with a roar, by fire, etc. I do not think this is describing one singular event (as though the “thief in the night coming” happens at the end of time when the heaven and earth are remade) but it is describing the first and last events of the “end times.” The “thief in the night” coming is the rapture which ushers in the “day of the Lord.” And it concludes with the destruction of the old heavens and earth at the end of the 1000 years.
So you have to be careful when looking at passages because they could be referring to different events in the same sentence. Anyway, it gets easier to understand if you keep the different comings of Christ in mind because you learn to identify which one the passage is talking about. (Once again, many good theologians will come to different conclusions than I have. It is the hardest topic of Scripture to study. The most important thing we can all agree on, though, is that Jesus is coming back someday. God-willing, someday soon.)
For me, it is critical to remember that Revelation calls groups of people what they are. And it goes in order. When they are introduced in Revelation is when they showed up in Heaven, when they were taken out of earth.
1. The elders (representatives of the Church, the living and dead believers who were taken up in the “eye twinkling” rapture) are there before the seals are opened at the beginning of the trib. Since I believe the elders represent the raptured church, which I will explain soon, I do not think the rapture can come mid-trib because these guys are already around the throne before the seals are opened.
2. The Great Multitude shows up in Heaven after the persecution of the great trib (the first half of the tribulation) and before the trumpet judgments start, and they are called “those taken out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14).
3. Those “victorious over the beast and his image and number” (seen in Rev 15:2 but harvested in Rev 14:14-16) are those harvested from the earth after the trumpet judgments, before the bowl judgments. They are those who became believers after the “great multitude” was taken out and they were around to experience the beast’s number and image.
Do not try to define groups as something else. Revelation tells us who they are (for the most part, but sometimes you have to look in other verses to clarify this, such as for the elders) and when they arrive in Heaven.
Why I believe it has to be pre-trib:
Right now, we are in the “church age” era. This is when God has opened the door of salvation up to the Gentiles through grace and through Jesus’ sacrifice, as opposed to the sacrificial system of the Jews that was before this. I believe that the end of the church-age will be when God takes the true believers out of this earth in the rapture. I think this is the next event on the “end of the world” schedule.
Matt 24:36-41, which I believe talks about the rapture, basically says that life will be going on as normal when people are taken away. People will be working side by side when “one will be taken and the other left.” This does not sound like life during the tribulation when believers everywhere are being persecuted and martyred. This “snatching away” happens when life is still going on as normal, before the trib.
Christ comes invisibly to rapture believers (dead and alive) before the seals (the trib) start. (1 Thess 4:16-17, Matt 24:36-41, 1 Cor 15:51-52) This is when the elders appear around the throne and the raptured church goes to the New Jerusalem while those “left behind” go into the tribulation.
I do not think Christians of the church-age will go into the tribulation or that the raptured church is part of the “great multitude.” I believe all living and dead church-age believers are taken out in 1 Thess 4:16-17, in the twinkling of an eye where the dead rise first. They are not part of the “great multitude” of Rev 7:14 because the “great multitude” is “taken out of the great tribulation.”
All the dead believers of the church age would have never seen the trib, yet they are the first to rise in 1 Thess 4:16-17. So if there was no earlier rapture of the Church and if the Thess verse is really talking about the “great multitude” being taken up, then the “great multitude” would have to include all the dead believers of all time. And if that were the case, Rev 7:14 should say something like this: “These are those who came out of the great tribulation, plus all the dead believers from the church-age that were resurrected before the survivors were taken up.” But it only calls them “those taken out of the great tribulation.” And that’s exactly who I think this multitude is.
Most likely, the dead believers from all of history before the tribulation would outnumber those taken out of the trib. So if the Church is supposed to go into the trib and be taken out with the great multitude, why aren’t the dead believers mentioned? Why only mention those “taken out of the trib”? I think this large group of dead believers from all of history is not mentioned because they were already taken out with the Church in 1 Thess 4:16-17. And those taken out of the great trib are those who went into the great trib, those who became believers after the Church was raptured. It makes much clearer sense to me when I consider that there are separate groups of people taken out before each new phase of the End Times starts.
For me, additional proof that the groups taken out of the earth are different groups can be found when you look at the way they are taken.
The raptured group (according to 1 Thess 4:16-17) is taken when Jesus comes down from heaven with a loud command and the trumpet call of God, and the dead rise first and then the living to meet the Lord in the air. (If this verse refers to when Jesus comes at the end of the trib, then we would all be rising to meet Him in the air and then we would just land right back on earth again so He can start His 1000 year reign. That doesn’t make sense.) And according to 1 Cor 15:52, this group is taken in the twinkling of an eye. If this is supposed to be the visible coming when everyone sees Him, it would be hard if it happens in a flash. The visible one (when Jesus comes back during the 6th seal) will be much more visible than just a flash. I believe this “in a flash, rise to meet the Lord in the air” coming is the rapture, Jesus’ invisible coming to gather the believers and take them to the Father’s house. And it is the one that comes like a “thief in the night” when life is still going on as normal (Matt 24:36-40). (And as I’ll explain next, I believe these raptured believers go to the New Jerusalem and are given “crowns of righteousness” and are represented around the throne by the elders.)
The multitude of Rev 7 is taken when Jesus comes back in power and great glory with His angels and every eye beholds Him. According to Matt 24:30-31, this is when the sign of the Son of Man appears in the sky and the nations mourn as they see Jesus coming on the clouds and sending His angels with a loud trumpet call to gather the elect. (Notice that for the raptured group, there is no mention of the angels gathering us, just that we rise to meet Him in the air.) This multitude is then seen in robes and holding palm branches around the throne in Rev 7.
And the group harvested in Rev 14:14-16 is harvested by Jesus when an angel gives Him the command to swing the sickle. There is no mention of Him coming down with angels or of angels gathering the believers. And then this group is seen standing beside the “sea,” holding harps and singing songs.
These are all different groups, taken at different times and in different ways, and seen in different places and with different items in Revelation.
Why I think the elders represent the raptured church:
The people who are raptured are true believers, Christ-followers who “long for the coming of the Lord” (2 Tim 4:8). In this verse, it says that those who long for the Lord’s coming will receive the “crown of righteousness.” I think this crown is the same crown that the 24 elders are wearing in Rev 4. These elders are the 12 leaders of Israel and the 12 leaders of the church (the apostles). And they represent all believers who lived before and after Christ, up until the end of the church age. The great multitude of Rev 7 and the harvested group of Rev 15 are not described as having crowns, but the elders are.
I believe these elders’ names are the 24 names that are written on the New Jerusalem in Rev 21:12-14, which explains how I identified who the 24 elders are. And it further confirms for me the idea that they represent the raptured church because I believe that New Jerusalem is where the raptured church will be taken, while the elders represent them around the throne (and once again, they are there before the seals start opening). I believe that this new home for the raptured church is the place Jesus talked about in John 14:2-3 when He said that He was going to prepare a room for us and that there are many rooms in His Father’s house.
I believe that the believers in the church at Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13) are the ones who will be the raptured church. Notice that in verse 10, they are told that they will be kept from the “hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole earth to test those who live on earth.” This “testing” is the tribulation, when those left on the earth are forced to pick a side: God’s or Satan’s. There is no need for the Philadelphia believers to go into this time of testing because they have already made their decision and remained faithful to the Lord, as seen in verse 8 and 10.
Also notice that they are told to not let anyone take their “crown” (verse 11). I believe this is the crown we saw the elders wearing, the crown of righteousness given to those who long for the coming of the Lord. (This is different than the crown of life promised to the church of Smyrna, to those who die for their faith. Rev. 2:8-11)
And lastly, notice that the Philadelphia church is told (in Rev. 3:12) that those who overcome will become a pillar in the temple of God, where they will live forever, and that the name of the New Jerusalem will be written on them. As we saw, this is the city where the elders’ names are written and where the raptured church lives, thereby linking together the Philadelphia believers, the raptured church, and the elders.
Another thing that makes me think that the elders represent the raptured believers is because we get a view of the throne of God in Ezekiel 1, but there is no mention of elders around the throne at that time. So they must come at a later date. I believe at the rapture.
Also, I think it’s interesting to note that during the tribulation, God leaves 144,000 Jewish people on earth to be witnesses, sealed with the seal of God on their forehead. But Eph 4:30 says we were sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. To me, this illustrates a different kind of “sealing” for the church age and the tribulation age. Believers during the church-age are given the Holy Spirit inside of them as a seal for the day of redemption, which I believe is the rapture. And believers in the tribulation are sealed with the name of God on the forehead (Rev 9:4). This further confirms that the church-age believers and the Holy Spirit are taken out before the trib.
After the rapture, those left on earth will then enter the great tribulation as the seals begin opening sometime after the rapture. I explain the tribulation more in the ISI 19: The End Times post. (And Revelation explains it very thoroughly.) But to put it briefly, it includes a great spiritual awakening as many people come to Jesus (most likely an effect of seeing all the believers vanish and finally realizing that the Bible is indeed true), natural disasters, supernatural disasters, and massive martyrdom as the Anti-christ begins his rule. This will be a time of Satan’s rule and a time of God’s judgment being poured out. And ultimately, it is a time for people to finally decide who they will pledge their souls and their allegiance to.
Why I think pre-trib is the most merciful option:
In the movie Left Behind, one of those left behind after the rapture looks around at all the pain and heartbreak and devastation. And she screams out the idea that the loving God her mother worshipped would never cause something as tragic as that to happen. He would never take people away and let others be left behind to face the troubles of the tribulation.
Or would He? Our God is a merciful and loving God indeed. And I think a pre-trib rapture fits very neatly with His character and His love for people, for the believers and unbelievers.
Yes, the tribulation will be a terrible time, unlike any other on earth. But it is also the best thing He can allow. To take out all believers before the tribulation shows great love and mercy for those who have chosen Him as Lord and Savior. But it also shows a great concern for those left behind because the tribulation will be a “final call” when God clearly shows Himself and proves the Bible to be true, giving people a last chance to call Him Lord and Savior. I believe the pre-trib rapture will be the greatest “wake-up call” the world receives. And it will give people time during the seals (during mankind’s and Satan’s wrath) to see the truth and to choose Him before He releases the divine judgments – His wrath – on the staunch unbelievers during the trumpets and the bowls.
If the rapture is mid-trib or post-trib (which is possible, if the theologians who believe this are correct) then the believers of the church age will face terrible persecution at the hands of man and Satan. But if this were true, what incentive would there be for the unbelievers to turn to God during this time? They would have no real reason to think that the Bible was true all along or to desire to turn to Christ in the face of such persecution.
But if the rapture is pre-trib and before the massive martyrdom starts, then the world would have the biggest wake-up call ever and the greatest proof that the Bible is true, causing many people to turn to God despite the fact that they know the persecution is coming. The proof of God would be so shockingly clear that they would know that they have no other option than to choose God or choose eternal death. If the rapture will be the greatest wake-up call and the event that forces people to choose – if it brings many people to Christ – then it is indeed the most merciful thing God can do.
If there’s one thing that I know about our God (especially as I read Jeremiah right now) is that our God is the God of many chances. He is always calling and calling people to Him. And He constantly warns them about upcoming judgment, over and over again, in the hopes that they turn to Him and repent and that He won’t have to release judgment on them. And in so many places, He shields or spares the righteous people when He releases His judgment or punishment. He pulls out Lot and his family before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. He spares Noah and his family from the flood. In Jeremiah 5:1, He says He will spare a whole city for one righteous person. To spare believers from the tribulation and to send a huge wake-up call (and warning) at the same time to unbelievers - giving more people a chance to come to Him - fits very neatly with God’s character.
There are some theologians who claim that the next event on the “end times” schedule is the final coming of Christ to rule, not the rapture. They claim that we believers are waiting for Christ to come back and to pronounce final judgment and begin His final reign. While this is fine for the believers, it would be awful for unbelievers. If Jesus came back again now – if there was no rapture and no tribulation – then there would be no second chance for unbelievers. When He returns, there is no chance to change your mind. Your decision has been made. Your final answer given.
While this sounds fine for believers, I think a rapture and tribulation are more merciful for unbelievers because it gives them another opportunity to choose God. As terrible as the tribulation will be, it would be eternally tragic if they never had this last chance, if they never had this final proof that the Bible is true and the opportunity to get their souls and their allegiance in order. The tribulation is not just meant to be a time of God’s judgment being unleashed, but it is also meant to be a time when people will clearly and knowingly decide who they will worship. There will be no “I just didn’t realize that God was real and the Bible was true.” Everything will be made crystal clear to force people to decide, to pick a side. And since the believers of the church age have already decided, there is no reason for them to go into this “deciding time.”
Are you ready?
All of these things put together – the timing of the events, the explanation of the groups of people and how they are taken out of the earth, the descriptions of the elders, and the knowledge of God’s mercy and love and how He gives many chances and always spares the righteous – point clearly to a pre-trib rapture. At least for me. That being said, I know I could be wrong. And if so, then I know what to expect during the trib. And I know that even if we have to face persecution or martyrdom (as many people around the world are currently facing), my eternal soul is secure. Satan may be able to destroy our bodies, but he can never destroy our souls.
And this is what we all need to take seriously. Someday, we will get the “end” that we chose: we will inherit eternal life in God because we chose Jesus as our Lord and Savior, or else we will get an eternal life without God because that’s what we wanted. Heaven or hell . . . it’s a choice. And it’s one that God allows us to make now before the tribulation. But if we fail to choose Him now, the rapture and tribulation will be a “last chance, wake-up call.” And if we fail to choose Him then, we have chosen hell, an eternity without Him. And we will get what we ask for. Make this decision carefully. And make it soon. Jesus is coming again. Are you ready?
Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Deuteronomy 4:29: “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Romans 10:9: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”