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  • Pastor Steve Conley

The Great Tribulation, The Day of the Lord and the Rapture of the Church Part 6

No more hermeneutical gymnastics

When I quit trying to squeeze every Scripture into the pre-trib model the whole picture became very clear; no more hermeneutical gymnastics around contradicting texts. What the prophets foretold, Jesus taught. What Jesus taught, Paul taught, Peter taught, and John taught. They all say the same thing.

The elect in the context of Matthew 24 are believing Jews and Gentiles who make up the body of Christ, the church. It is they who are persecuted by the Beast before the Lord cuts the great tribulation short. It is cut short with the sign of a great earthquake and the sun, moon, and stars going dark and the rapture of the Church. The rapture involves the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the change and catching up by the angels of believers who remain alive. (see part 1 of this study)

There are at least four things that must happen before the Day of the LORD can come

As we have already seen there are no scriptures that, when rightly examined, support imminence or an “any moment” rapture and there are many which speak against it. In fact, no event can be said to be imminent if there are other events which must come first. There are at least four specific things that must take place before the rapture can happen according to the scriptures.

Paul says that there must first be 1) a falling away and 2) the revelation of the Antichrist.

2Th 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

The prophet Malachi tells us that 3) Elijah must first come.

Mal 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:

Kenneth W. Eckerty in “The Case For the Pre-Wrath Rapture” says concerning this:

“It is very clear that Elijah must come before the Day of the Lord begins. In fact, even today, when Jews celebrate passover, there is an empty cup set for the prophet Elijah, and an empty chair set at every Jewish boy’s circumcision. Most pre-tribbers believe that the Day of the Lord starts at the beginning of the 70th week. If Elijah must come before the Day of the Lord, and the rapture occurs simultaneously with the Day of the Lord, then imminence is destroyed because there would then be a prophesied event which needed to occur before Christ could return.

Dwight Pentecost, understanding this problem, tries to resolve it by suggesting that the Day of the Lord is a series of mini-days, and somehow Elijah gets sandwiched in between a couple of them--thus allowing it to be said that Elijah appears before the Day of the Lord but inside the 70th week of Daniel. Not only does this have no biblical merit, but it is contrary to the biblical teaching that the Day of the Lord is a comprehensive, singular period.”

Joel the prophet declares that there will first come 4) the cosmic sign of the sun, moon, and stars going dark.

Joe 2:31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

Before the Day of the LORD, which includes: the revelation of Christ, the catching up of the saints, and the outpouring of God’s wrath upon the earth dwellers, the scriptures explicitly say these four things must take place. Only when these have come to pass will the rapture be imminent.

No man knows the day or the hour

Throughout the years that I taught the pre-trib position there were a handful of inconsistencies in the use of various texts to support the pre-trib position that were common. One of these was the use of our Lord’s statement that no man knoweth the day nor the hour when the son of man cometh (Matt. 24:36; 25:13).

Mat 24:36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Mat 25:13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

Both of these texts are considered by most Pre-tribbers to contextually belong to the “second coming” which, according to them, takes place at the end of the “Tribulation Period”. Yet they will not hesitate to use these verses to teach that no man knows the day or hour of the rapture. Many use the scriptures as a grab bag to take a verse here or a verse there if it sounds as though it might provide support for the pre-trib model.

Dispensationalism and the timing of the rapture

When considering what held me in the Pre-trib camp for thirty years other than the miss-identification of Daniel’s seventieth week as the “Tribulation Period” and the false doctrine of imminency (the any moment rapture) I would say it had to be the marriage of the Pre-trib position to dispensationalism. I identified myself as a dispensationalist and still do because I believe in the literal interpretation of Scripture and that the Scriptures distinguish between Israel and the Church. However, I have come to understand the parameters of the Church age to be different from that which has been asserted by traditional dispensational teachers.

Classic dispensational teaching has the Church removed from the earth prior to the commencement of Daniel’s seventieth week. In standard dispensational thinking the last seven years of this age is exclusively for the nation of Israel with the Church being raptured before it begins. That teaching makes for a tidy system but it fails the test of being Biblically supportable. Let’s look at what the Scriptures have to say concerning the period of time we have come to call the church age.

The beginning of the Church age

We should first answer the question: when did the “Church Age” begin? To answer this, it is helpful to ascertain the distinguishing feature of the church as opposed to believers before the cross. The church is said to be the body of Christ. How does one become a part of this body? The believer is placed in the body of Christ through the baptism of Christ. Notice what John the Baptist says concerning Jesus.

Mat 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

Mat 3:12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

He says that there are two baptisms that our Lord will initiate: a baptism with the Holy Spirit and a baptism with fire. The baptism of fire involves the final judgement of the unbelieving as verse 12 indicates. The baptism of the Holy Spirit on the other hand refers to the process by which the believer is placed into (immersed or baptized into) the body of Christ.

1Co 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

The baptism of Christ involves the Holy Spirit being the instrument by which the believer is placed into Christ. This work of the Spirit does not begin until He, the Holy Spirit, is given by the Father upon the day of Pentecost in 32 AD. This is the beginning of the church and hence the Church Age.

Before His death, Jesus told his disciples concerning the Holy Spirit that He that was with them would be in them. He also told them after His resurrection and right before He ascended up into Heaven that they should wait for the promise of the Father. This promise was the giving of the Holy Spirit to indwell every believer.

The giving of the Holy Spirit and His instrumentality in placing the believer in Christ began the Church and the period of time in which God is calling out for Himself a people from among the Gentiles.

The end of the Church age

Having seen when the church age began we now ask: when does it end? You might find it helpful to know that the Prophets and the Apostles have something to say about this.

On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given the manifestation of such caused much commotion and many wondered what was happening. To those who wondered Peter explained what was being put in place by referencing the prophet Joel.

Act 2:14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:

Act 2:15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.

Act 2:16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;

Act 2:17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

Act 2:18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:

Act 2:19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:

Act 2:20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:

Act 2:21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Notice that Peter says to his audience that what they were witnessing was that which was spoken of by Joel the prophet. He says that this unusual happening is the beginning of a period of time that begins with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and continues until the Day of the LORD.

It is important to observe that Peter didn’t include all that Joel had prophesied. Notice that he left out the end of Joel 2:32.

Joe 2:28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

Joe 2:29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

Joe 2:30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.

Joe 2:31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

Joe 2:32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

The deliverance that is spoken of at the end of verse 32 takes place at the end of the seventieth week and is therefore not part of the Church Age. Peter says that the Church Age will end when the Day of the LORD arrives. It is at this point that Jesus said that He would send His angels to gather His own unto Himself (Matt 24:31).

Just as the beginning of the Church Age focused upon Jewish believers not Gentiles, the first Gentile converts being Cornelius and his household which were converted many years into the period. So also, the end of the Church Age extends into a time determined upon Israel and Jerusalem that we know as Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan. 9:24).

It is important to allow the Scriptures to define the parameters of the Church Age and not follow a Biblically unsupportable system even though it may have an appealing order. The Biblical parameters of the Church Age only lend support to the pre-wrath model of the rapture of the church.

The Pre-wrath model is not new

Many have charged those who today hold the pre-wrath position with adopting a new (and therefore untrue) doctrine.

First of all what is new to you or even much of the modern evangelical movement isn't necessarily so of the church as a whole throughout the last 2000 years. I can say with absolute certainty that nearly all the historical church records (up to 1800 AD) of eschatological teaching that we have available to us today includes an expectation that the church will see the antichrist and experience the great tribulation. This, every honest pre-trib scholar knows well. That fact is common knowledge. This I was well aware of when I taught the pre-trib position. The reason it had little if any influence upon my understanding was threefold.

First, I understood that many unbiblical doctrines appeared among the churches in a relatively short time following the passing of the Apostles. So I had supposed that this teaching also had become corrupted.

Second, As with most evangelicals, the eschatological framework given me was the lens through which I sought to understand the things which shall be hereafter. So the pre-trib model that I used was not organically derived from my personal study of the Scriptures but was an artificial and flawed construct of fallen man that I can now say without hesitation cannot be supported by Scripture.

Third, Of the popular models of the timing of the rapture in relation to the last seven years of this age the pre-trib model was the only one I could stand behind based upon the limited Scriptures that I had understanding of. I never so much as heard of, what is called today, the pre-wrath position from the pastors, teachers, and evangelists that I sat under, listened to, and read. This was true until probably 10 years ago when I was made aware that there was another position. However, I dismissed it without any due investigation, relying upon rebuttals by Pre-trib “experts” for my understanding of the pre-wrath model. Was that ever a mistake. To this day I have yet to find one pre-trib adherent that can rightly explain the pre-wrath position.

These are three of the reasons I was not fazed by the utter lack of historical evidence for the teaching of the pre-trib rapture model.

My change in position from pre-trib to, what is called today, pre-wrath came before I ever read the works of modern pre-wrath rapture teachers. I wouldn't even give them a hearing. The position I now hold is one that I can support from the Scriptures with complete confidence. I can believe no other.

The Historical Position on the Rapture

Previously I mentioned at the beginning of Part 2 of this study that what is now called the pre-wrath model of the rapture is actually the historical position of the church. I want at this time to show some of the documentation for such a statement.

Unlike the pre-trib and post-trib positions the pre-wrath position has 1) the church seeing the Antichrist, 2) the church going through great tribulation, and 3) the imminent expectation of the church being removed from the earth before the wrath of God is poured out.

All three of these positions can be seen time and time again in the teachings of the early church.

Shawn White in his excellent paper on the Pre-wrath Rapture says:

“It was never taught that the rapture could come before the antichrist until the 1800s. Larry Crutchfield, a professor at Columbia seminary, and a pre-tribulationist, is an expert on the early church fathers. He wrote a paper called “Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Anti-Nicean Period”. He was looking for pretribulationalism in the early church fathers. But, he has this to say, “While there are in the writings of the early church fathers seeds from which the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture could be developed. It is difficult to find in them an unequivocal statement of the type of immanency usually believed by pre-tribulationists.”

Thomas Ice of the Pre-trib Research Center quotes Crutchfield in his article, “The History of the Doctrine of the Rapture” as his evidence of a belief in an imminent return of Christ in the early church. And he said patristic scholar, Larry Crutchfield, argues that the early church fathers believed in what he calls imminent intra-tribulationalism. That is, they believed that they were in the great tribulation but not the Day of the Lord. He summarizes the views of the pre-tribulation scholars on the issue as follows. With few exceptions the pre-millennial fathers of the early church believed that they were living in the last times. Thus they looked daily for the Lord’s imminent return. Disbelief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ within the context of ongoing persecution has prompted us to broadly label the views of the earliest fathers imminent intra-tribulationalism.”

Accordingly, we see that references to the imminent return of Christ by the early church were predicated upon their believing that the Antichrist was present and that they were experiencing the great tribulation.

Eckerty in “The Case For the Pre-Wrath Rapture” gives some examples of the early eschatological beliefs of the church:

Tertullian: “That the beast Antichrist with his false prophet may wage war on the Church of God....Since, then, the Scriptures both indicate the stages of the last times, and concentrate the harvest of the Christian hope in the very end of the world.”

Justin Martyr: “The man of apostasy...shall venture to do unlawful things on the earth against us, the Christians.”

The Pastor of Hermas: “Happy ye who endure the Great Tribulation that is coming.”

Irenaeus: “And the ten kings...shall give their kingdom to the beast, and put the Church to flight.”

Barnabas: “Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are called of God, we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the Kingdom of the Lord.”

Hippolytus: “Now concerning the tribulation of the persecution which is to fall upon the Church from the adversary. That refers to the 1260 days during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church.”

Each of these historic saints associate the church with the “great tribulation” persecution of the Antichrist. Not a single one exempts the church from his reign of terror. There is no mention of a great escape of the church from great tribulation.

Spurgeon on the Rapture

Arguably the most published Christian in history, outside of the writers of the Bible, is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The prince of preachers, as he has been called, preached the Word so often and effected so many people that his sermons and his Bible teaching were recorded for posterity and have been read and studied for over a hundred and fifty years. We have the good fortune to examine the understanding of Charles Spurgeon on most every text of the Holy Scriptures.

In 1988 a man by the name of Tom Carter compiled a book that he titled “Spurgeon at His Best” in which he presents 2200 quotes from Charles Haddon Spurgeon. These quotations were categorized and labeled so that one might get an idea about what Spurgeon believed and taught about nearly any biblical subject. In his book Carter identifies the eschatological understanding and teaching of Spurgeon as that of a post-tribulation premillennialist. The reason for this identification is that, in spite of all the deception of Dr. Peter Masters who in his writings about Spurgeon makes the claim that Spurgeon was amillennial in an attempt to support an utterly false and confused eschatological system with the powerful work the Holy Spirit effected through the preaching of Spurgeon, there are many unambiguous statements that Spurgeon made concerning Christ’s pre-millennial return. It was also true that his exposition of various texts concerning the “Parousia” included an expectation that the church would see the Antichrist and experience great tribulation first.

Kenneth W. Eckerty in “The Case For the Pre-Wrath Rapture” provides us with more of Spurgeon’s teaching on the timing of the rapture in relation to the events of the seventieth week:

“Charles Haddon Spurgeon, of the nineteenth century believed in these signs prior to Jesus coming back for here is a quote that confirms it: "I must leave this first point, concerning the terrible time [a time of fearful national trouble] when this precept is to be carried out, by just reminding you that, when the Lord Jesus shall come, the heavens shall tell us. There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars. ...Now I come to THE REMARKABLE PRECEPT ITSELF. Then look up, and lift your heads. ...let there be no looking down because the earth is quaking and shaking, but let there be a looking up because you are going to rise from it."

In his sermon entitled “The Joyful Anticipation of the second Advent” he says, "The great tribulation by Antichrist, first, then, there is a terrible time...a time of fearful national trouble, then the signs appear in the heavens, when the Lord shall come, the heavens shall tell us, there shall be signs in the sun, moon and stars. Then the rapture and the resurrection of the saints, our own eyes shall tell us, for they shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory...look up lift up your heads...because the graves are opening... you will quit the grave never more to die." April 23, 1885.

Everywhere throughout the Scriptures there is this double message of our Lord—“Watch, for I may come at any moment. Expect Me to come, and to come soon; yet never be terrified as though the time were immediately at hand, for there are certain events which must occur before My Advent.” How to reconcile these two thoughts, I do not know and I do not care to know. I would like to be found in that condition which consists in part of watching and in the other part of patiently waiting and working till Christ appears.”

We see that the teaching of Charles Spurgeon concerning Christ’s coming and our gathering unto Him was consistent with what today is called the pre-wrath rapture model. It’s no wonder, he was known for having the Bible flowing through his veins.

Walvoord on the historical church’s expectation of experiencing the great tribulation

Dr. John Walvoord, Christian theologian, pastor, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, pre-tribulationist, and a highly recognized eschatological scholar, writes concerning the fact that early Christian writers considered that they were in the great tribulation:

“Generally speaking, the early church fathers, as well as the Protestant Reformers, tended to identify contemporary events with the events of the Great Tribulation and because of this could look for the imminent return of Christ.” (John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, rev. and enl. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1979), p. 51.)

Among the early church writers, any statement of the expectation that Christ could come at any moment was facilitated by the fact that at that time they believed that the Antichrist had been revealed and that they believed they were presently in the “great tribulation”.

The belief in imminency among the historic church was due to the belief that they were in the “great tribulation”

As was mentioned earlier, Larry Crutchfield, a pre-tribulationist, concluded through exhaustive research that the earliest church fathers were imminent intra-tribulationists; that is, they were looking for the Lord’s return at any moment because they thought the Antichrist had been revealed and that the persecution they were experiencing was the “great tribulation”. When this is taken into consideration the supposed historic proofs of the early church believing in an any moment rapture (imminency) offered by pre-tribbers are exposed and found, on the contrary, to support the pre-wrath model of the church’s gathering to Christ.

Again, from the writings of Justin Martyr, a second century Christian apologist who was martyred in 165AD, we read:

“Christ shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy . . . shall venture to do unlawful deeds on earth against us Christians.”

The church’s expectation of seeing the Antichrist and experiencing “great tribulation”, as supported by sound biblical exegesis, has continued throughout the history of the church from the days of the apostles to today.

The Reformation saints believed that they had identified the Antichrist

The belief that the conditions for Christ’s return had been met was the very same reason the reformers expected Christ at any moment.

Hugh Latimer, who was burned at the stake by Queen Mary in 1555, set forth his understanding of the timing of Christ’s Parousia in a sermon on the Lord’s prayer saying:

“St. Paul says, “The Lord will not come till the swerving from the faith cometh” (2 Thess. 2:3), which thing is already done and past. Antichrist is already known throughout all the world: wherefore the day is not far off.”

He clearly believed that the church would see the Antichrist and suffer at his hand in what Jesus calls “great tribulation”.

These are just a few examples of the pre-wrath belief of the historical church. However, we must recognize that it is not the fact that the pre-wrath model is ancient which makes it true, but that it is supportable by the Holy Scriptures. It is the testimony of Christ, the Apostles, and the Prophets as recorded in the Bible which makes the post “great tribulation” pre-wrath return of Christ for His saints certain.

Wake up, we are close to the end

I want to finish part 2 by saying I believe that we each are given the freedom to act and believe according to the dictates of our conscience. It is one of the distinctives of Baptists, which is called individual soul liberty. It is the idea that we each have a singular master that we must one day give account to. Understanding that, I twist no arms when I teach but only appeal to the heart and mind with the Word of God.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ my prayer is that this booklet has awakened you to the fact that there is coming a great deception and a thousand-fold escalation of the persecution of Christians by the soon to be revealed Antichrist and the False Prophet. This I do, so that you can prepare yourself for tribulation: spiritually, mentally, and physically. Also, that you would be more fervent in witnessing to those who are without Christ.

There will be no “great escape” from “great tribulation” for the church; the “great tribulation” is the wrath of Satan upon the Jew and the Christian. The real “great escape” is the believers escape from the wrath of God poured out upon the unbelieving world in The Day of the LORD.

If you are an unbeliever, I write this so that you would flee the wrath to come. Paul quotes the prophet Joel in the context of the Day of the LORD: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord [Jesus] shall be saved.” It is my great desire that you heed this warning, repent, and trust Jesus as your Saviour today!

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