In this monthly blog series, Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson tackles tough theological questions that he has encountered over the years.
Q: Many in the scholarly community seem to be leaning away from a pre-tribulational view of the rapture with regard to eschatology. Why do you continue to hold this position and feel it is important?
If you take only references from the little apocalypse, Matthew 24-25, and some from Thessalonians, you can make a case for the current popular view of a post-tribulation rapture. However, if you are forced to deal with Ezekiel, Daniel, Romans 9–11, and the book of Revelation (notably the apocalyptic portions of the Bible), you can never make a case for post-tribulationism. You never hear of post-tribulationalists preaching through those books. The reason, of course, is that it simply cannot be done. One has to jettison too much material, assign figurative interpretations to passages, and otherwise treat it in a cavalier manner to embrace a post-tribulational perspective on it.
Furthermore, let me suggest some minor problems that post-tribulationalists have never answered yet.
- The biggest problem with post-tribulationism is that it makes Jesus appear to be misleading. Jesus said of the time of His return, “No man knows the day nor the hour.” Yet if the post-tribulationalist is correct and Christ’s return is at the end of the Tribulation, then from the very moment that the anti-Christ comes on the scene at the outset of the Tribulation, you can know that exactly seven years later Jesus will come. Hence, you would know exactly the time and the hour of the Lord’s coming. Or, if you say, “Well, but the anti-Christ won’t appear to be the anti-Christ right away,” then we would know to the very day when Jesus is coming based on the moment of the anti-Christ’s decision to terminate his covenant with Israel and turn on them with a vengeance, as is recorded in both Daniel 9 and Revelation 12. The Lord is going to come 1,260 days later and that fact would be established with precision. Consequently, Jesus appears to be a liar.
- If at the coming of Christ every living believer is caught up in the air to be with the Lord and glorified, then how is the world repopulated during the millennium? Since glorified bodies, according to Jesus, are not capable of maintaining sexual relations, how are people born during the millennium to repopulate the earth. Clearly that happens, and it is perfectly explicable if there are people who are saved after the rapture of the church and who, because of having come to Christ, enter into the millennium in their initial bodies when the Lord returns to the earth. They become the ones who repopulate the earth. There is no way that this is possible if the post-tribulational scheme is accurate.
- Consider the superfluous nature of the rapture itself. If the rapture takes place immediately prior to the millennium, then believers are caught up to be with the Lord in the air, only to make a quick right turn and return to the earth. What is the purpose of such a plan?
- Then there is the problem of the total absence of the church in the Apocalypse after chapter four. I do not go along with those who make Revelation 4:1 the rapture since I think that is exegetically applicable only to John himself. However, in fact, in the first three chapters, the church is prominent and is thereafter absent in the Apocalypse altogether. Pre-tribulationalism accounts for that very easily. Post-tribulationalism cannot account for it at all and is forced to all kinds of spurious eisegesis in order to do so.
- Since the imminence of Christ is not a possibility if post-tribulationalism is true (i.e., something has to happen before Christ can return–namely, the seven years of the great tribulation), why is it that the writers of the New Testament seem almost to the last man to anticipate an imminent return of Christ.
For these reasons and others, I believe that the pre-tribulation rapture is necessitated by the evidence, although I would like to endorse a post-tribulation, pre-millennial view simply because of its popularity among scholars today.
If you want to examine this matter more carefully on your own, I suggest these resources:
- J. Dwight Pentecost’s The Things to Come. This book, though a bit dated now, presents the whole argument so effectively that it has proven to be virtually irrefutable.
- Robert Thomas’s commentary on Revelation is a two-volume work that is quite good in handling the issue.
- My own volume on the Book of Revelation in the New American Commentary Series expresses my own position.
Until He Comes,