I had the joy of attending the Pre-Trib Study Center National Conference in Dallas a few weeks ago. This is a theological think tank for the study of the pre-tribulation view of the rapture. It was started by Dr. Tim LaHaye 24 years ago. I got to see and hear the talks given by Drs. Tim LaHaye, Joel Rosenberg, Tom Ice, Andy Woods, Wayne House, as well as many others, on the topic of eschatology and the issue of the rapture. I also got to sell some books for Grace Theology Press and see some old friends.
If I had a dollar for every time a person asked me if I believed the church would be raptured before the tribulation, I would be a rich man. I do believe Christians will not be “left behind.” I have taught seminary classes on the subject of eschatology for over 20 years, but I must admit this doctrine is not the most obvious in the Bible. On some doctrines, I can be dogmatic, and on others I can be even “bulldog-matic.” I believe that we, the church, will be raptured before the great and terrible day of the Lord. But that does not make me sit around and do nothing, using the reasoning that says, “Why polish the chairs on the Titanic since it is going down?” The realization that the time is near causes me to invest each day with the purpose of glorifying God and making Him known to a lost and dying world.
There are many biblical references that are used as evidence for a “pre-trib” rapture view. My sense is that some of them are not as convincing as others. But I think that the Apostle Paul gives us some clear biblical evidence for this view. In I Thessalonians 4 he states:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:13-18 NAS)
The word for “caught up” in Greek is “harpazo,” and in Latin it is “rapture.” This tells us what the event is, but it does not tell us when it will happen – either pre or post tribulation. But Paul clarifies the answer to this question both in the beginning and at the end of his letter, as he repeats a key phrase. Listen to what Paul says;
“For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1:9-10)
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.” (1 Thess. 5:9-10)
The key question is: “What does “wrath” refer to?” It is clear that we are not destined for wrath, ‘Orge,’ but will be delivered from it. But what is the ‘Orge’ Paul has in mind? Many believe this to be hell. But ‘Orge’ is almost never used to refer to eternal damnation and is frequently used to describe a temporal negative experience. The only other place we find the word in the book is in I Thess. 2:15:
“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost. 1Thess. 2:14-16
The wrath seems to be a physical and temporal event, and in this case, it is that which will come upon the Jews. It may be that Paul is telling his readers that the Jews who are persecuting the church will enter into a time of tribulational wrath, but that the Church will NOT. The church is not destined for wrath, whereas Israel is destined for it. But the church will be delivered from it.
No one used these verses to promote the pre-trib rapture view at the conference. There were many good theological arguments from both the Old and New Testament. But in I Thessalonians we have a definitive exegetically derived piece of evidence that we are not destined for the tribulation. I hope that is good news, and I hope it moves you to pray more and share more about the glorious grace of God to others in this Christmas season.
Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,
Fred Chay PhD
Grace Theology Press