One of the most commonly held misconceptions regarding the end times is the idea of a “Pretribulation Rapture” – the notion that the Christian church will be “raptured” (snatched away from earth) before the Great Tribulation of the end times begins. The word “rapture” comes from the Latin word used in I Thess. 4:17: “rapiemur cum illis” – “we shall be snatched away with them.” The text, however, does not say that this rapture will take place before the Tribulation. In fact, it implies that it will take place after. Many conservative, Bible-believing Christians will be startled to discover that the idea of a pretribulation rapture isn’t taught anywhere in Scripture. There is no passage of Scripture that says any such thing. The theory rests on the weakest of exegetical inferences.
So what does the Bible really say on the subject? Let us return to our Lord’s description of the end times, the Olivet Discourse, recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25. As we have seen, Jesus’ disciples asked Him two questions: when will the temple be destroyed, and “what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3; NKJV). When the disciples asked the latter question they were undoubtedly thinking back to something that Jesus had told them previously. In the Parable of the Wheat and Tares recorded in Matt. 13:24-30 and explained in 13:36-43, Jesus had said that the “harvest” would come at “the end of this age” (te sunteleia tou aionos toutou – 13:40). The disciples properly understood this to coincide with the Lord’s Second Coming (tes ses parousias – 24:3). The question is, when would this event take place?
Jesus proceeds to tell them that several things must take place first, including the Great Tribulation – “a great tribulation, such as not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21). He then foes on to say, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days . . . all of the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (vv. 29,30).
Up until this point our Dispensationalist brethren would have no problems with what we have said. They would agree wholeheartedly that the Second Coming of Christ “with power and great glory” will occur after the Tribulation. They insist, however, that the church will have been raptured seven years previous to the Second Coming.
When we look at the broader context, however, there are serious problems with this scenario. Jesus has been addressing His disciples and warning them all along that when they see certain things they should not be deceived by false Messiahs and prophets. Then, in describing the Tribulation itself He says, “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, bur for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (v. 22). One would naturally expect that the “elect” would be Christian believers who will be alive at the time.
Jesus then goes on to say that at His Second Coming “they will gather together (episunazousin) His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (v. 31). Jesus goes on to explain that His Coming will be very sudden and unexpected, that no one knows the exact day or the hour. He then cites the examples of the two men in the field, and the two women grinding at the mill, and says of each, “one will be taken and the other left” (vv. 40,41). One would certainly think that this refers to the rapture, which Christ says will occur at “the coming (he parousia) of the Son of Man” (v. 39).
And then Jesus makes the main point of the entire discourse: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming . . . Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (vv. 42-44).
In other words, the “Pre-Trib” position misses the whole point of the passage. The Olivet Discourse was given to us specifically to warn us to be ready when the Lord returns “after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29, emphasis mine). We can expect to meet our Lord in the skies at the end of the Great Tribulation.
Jesus then goes on to reinforce the point with three parables: The Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant (24:45-51), The Wise and the Foolish Virgins (25:1-13), and the Talents (25:14-30), all of which stress the importance of being faithful and ready until Christ returns. The focus of the entire discourse, then, is on the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation, and the clear implication is that the saints will be here on earth until the very end. There is no ground whatsoever for the belief that Christians will be spared form the Tribulation.
Some Dispensationalists have tried to evade the difficulty by asserting that since the Gospel of Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience, in the Olivet Discourse Jesus was addressing His disciples as representatives of the Jewish nation, and therefore the discourse does not apply to the Gentile church. The flaw in this argument is that most of Matthew 24 is repeated in Mark 13, and even though Mark was writing for a broader audience, he made no attempt to explain to his Gentile readers that the Olivet Discourse was intended only for Jews. The discourse really has to be regarded as intended for the Christian church as a whole.
We are headed for the Great Tribulation!