Rapture and the Great Tribulation
By Stephen M. Golden
Copyright © March 15, 2023
This work is to document my understanding of the Rapture and the Great Tribulation. It was in response to statements made by someone on Twitter. At first, I was going to request we have a private discussion, but that person’s posts on the following day on other subjects indicated a rudimentary understanding of the Bible while believing to be an authority. The person takes a thought, a misapplication of a scripture, and invents an unjustified conclusion, then claimed that if you disagreed, you were disagreeing with God. There was no point in discussing anything with this person. In any case, the position, as stated on Twitter (2023-03-13) led me to further consider and refine my understanding on the topics.
Previously, I documented my understanding of the Rapture and the Great Tribulation in the work Resurrection, Rapture, Millennium, Tribulation. However, this document approaches the Rapture and the Great Tribulation a little differently, so it might be worth your time as well.
Note: The person’s comments on the Rapture are in “Courier New” font. My statements are in “Arial” font.
Here are the scriptures on rapture. Pretrib rapture is a doctrine of demons and seducing spirits. It’s not backed by scripture. It’s done by inference. Why infer when they are several scriptures that describe the rapture clearly. Even in the book of Revelation.
(On Twitter, in response to the above, I simply said, “You missed a few.”)
On a subject as the Great Tribulation, it’s prudent to not be too dogmatic because there is VERY little on the subject in God’s Word, and ultimately, it doesn’t bear on one’s salvation. Certainly, your position shouldn’t rise to the level of claiming those who disagree with you are presenting a “doctrine of demons.” That’s also not a good approach when you’re attempting to persuade someone who might disagree with you. Are they not still your brethren, or is this a “test of fellowship” for you?
Is there some specific reason you claim “pretrib rapture is a doctrine of demons and seducing spirits”? Is there some dire consequence you perceive because of this belief?
Up to this point, I had never encountered a believer who was so adamant that pre-tribulation rapture was an issue. I’ve met several who believe the rapture will happen mid-tribulation (a-trib) and I’ve discussed the topic with some who believe the rapture will occur after the tribulation (post-trib). I’ve had many lively discussions with believers who say the Great Tribulation already occurred in 70 AD, or that it happened at various other points in history.
I’ve also discussed these topics with believers who say there will be no rapture, or that the “catching up” mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 happens just moments before the coming of Christ to Judge the world on “Judgment Day” where Christians rise up to meet Him, and we immediately descend to Earth with Him. So “defending” pre-tribulation pre-millennialism from this direction is new to me.
It doesn’t appear this person is saying the Great Tribulation has already occurred. If so, on that, we agree. For my part, I’m comfortable with pre- a- and post-tribulation premillennialism. There was a time when I thought premillennialism also meant pre-tribulation. I just thought it was all in the same package. I had no idea people made tribulation distinctions.
I see pre-tribulation when I read God’s Word, but can I see how the other positions might be supported.
In any exegesis of Scripture, you need to consider:
· who is speaking,
· to whom he is speaking,
· during what time,
· and for what purpose.
1Tess [sic] 4:13-18 Rapture
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
The passage doesn’t say anything about the Great Tribulation, or about tribulation at all, so this passage is not relevant to the discussion of pre- a- or post-trib, unless it is to demonstrate no tribulation is indicated to come before the rapture… because it’s not mentioned.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 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; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
Ah, the King James Version (KJV). The King James Version is perhaps the greatest single source of misunderstandings of the Bible. It’s useful for comparison, and necessary because so many people swear by it… literally. However, one probably ought to not cling too tightly to the KJV. It might be obscuring your understanding of God’s word. You probably don’t speak King James’ English, I know I don’t, and the meaning and usage of many words have changed since 1789.
For example, in this verse, the KJV says “shewing himself that he is God.” In 21st century English, the translation should be something like “proclaiming himself to be God.” To the 1789 audience, that was the meaning conveyed. To us, the KJV seems to say the “man of sin” is God. The KJV has other issues as well.
(See To KJV or not to KJV )
Either way, this passage says the rapture will not occur until the man of lawlessness (man of sin) is revealed. There is nothing here about the Great Tribulation except that it might indicate no tribulation comes before the rapture… because it’s not mentioned.
The purpose of this passage was to correct some misinformation because word was going around among the brethren that the “day of the LORD” (NASB, ESV, NIV), or “the rapture,” had already come and they missed it. Unfortunately, that perspective is distorted by the KJV by saying “is at hand.” I can see no reason from the Greek why “is at hand” was used in the KJV. Even the New King James Version gets this one right.
Clearly, they did not believe the Great Tribulation, or any tribulation, was going to occur before the rapture, because these brethren thought the rapture had taken place. There had been no tribulation. That means it wasn’t being taught. Furthermore, Paul didn’t say the rapture wouldn’t come until after the tribulation, he said it would not come until after the man of lawlessness is revealed.
Based on this passage, once the man of lawlessness (man of sin, son of perdition, son of destruction) is revealed, the rapture can occur. This is certainly not talking about the Return of Christ (Zechariah 14:4) because there is NO WAY the brethren could have thought they had missed that. No mention of tribulation is ever indicated in this sequence.
Also, in 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8, we read that the man of lawlessness will not be revealed until the one who is holding him back is taken out of the way.
(See Resurrection, Rapture, Millennium, Tribulation > “Removal of the Holy Spirit”)
Since the Holy Spirit is promised to all believers, the Church will be removed (raptured) before, or at the time, the Holy Spirit is “taken out of the way.”
So, that’s a strong Scriptural indication of a pre-tribulation rapture. In this document, I won’t go so far as to say it’s conclusive, but it raises the credibility of the idea very high.
Matt 24:29-31 Rapture
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
This passage does not discuss the rapture. Jesus is not speaking to Christians here. He is speaking to Jews. Jesus had not yet established His Church. There was no context for a discussion of the rapture. The Jews aren’t going to be raptured. However what Jesus said is consistent with what the Jews knew from the writings of the prophets. Keep in mind that the prophecies in Daniel, Micah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Joel are all prophecies relating to Israel.
Neither the Father, nor the Son, whether directly, or through the prophets, say everything there is to be said on a topic when the subject is mentioned. That’s why the more prophecies spoken on a topic, the clearer it becomes.
Jews are not part of the rapture unless they believe in Jesus, (John 11:25-26) in which case, they are a part of the Church.
Although this passage is likely referring to the Great Tribulation, the role of the Church and the rapture are not being discussed here. This is the Return of Christ, where His feet will rest on the top of Mount Olives and it will divide asunder (Zechariah 14:4), not the taking out of his Church. By the time of the Return of Christ, He has already called His Church and we shall forever be with Him.
The Jews would have understood this passage to be in reference to the LORD’s coming to be “king over the whole earth.” (Zechariah 14:9 and others)
The meaning of “his elect” is unclear. Some say “his elect” is the Church. Some say “his elect” is Israel. Some might say “his elect” are His angels. In any case, He is calling “his elect” from one end of heaven to the other. Whoever “his elect” is, He is calling them from heaven. If “his elect” is the Church, He is calling them from heaven. That makes sense to me. The Church will already have been raptured.
Some translations say “sky” or “the heavens” instead of “heaven.” If this is the case, “his elect” would appear to be Israel. But the primary meaning of the Greek word is “heaven.”
Again, Jesus is not speaking to Christians here. He is speaking to Jews. Yes, those Jews who are not part of the Church will face serious tribulation and judgment until they seek the face of the LORD (Hosea 5:15).
But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
This passage does not discuss the rapture. Jesus is speaking to Jews. Remember, Jesus’ ministry was focused on “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:6 and Matthew 15:24)
This is likely the Great Tribulation mentioned in Revelation. In any case I don’t see how anyone can say it has already happened.
Daniel 11:35 tells us there will be believers (“the Wise”) who will stumble so that they may be purified. Some believe this indicates Christians will go through the Great Tribulation. However, the prophecy was given to Israelites, and is just as likely speaking of Jews rather than Christians, or even possibly Gentiles who have come to faith after the Church is taken out.
Very few of prophetic statements made by Jesus relate to gentiles, or even His Church. I have only found two passages where Jesus alludes to the rapture:
John 11:25-26 “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. ‘And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (NASB)
Jesus makes a profound statement here, and I’m pretty sure Martha didn’t understand. He is saying that the “dead in Christ” will live again, but that the believers who are alive at the time of the rapture will never die. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
Matthew 24:40-41 “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.” (NASB)
Luke 17:34-35 “’I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left.’” (NASB)
Jesus is talking in a big-picture framework due to His audience’s lack of context.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
This passage does not discuss the rapture. Luke 12:33 indicates that through prayer these “may be able to escape all that is about to happen …”. But again, Jesus is talking to the Jews. Jesus is describing His coming. I believe His coming occurs at some point after the rapture.
Luke 21:35-36 indicates this as well.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 indicates Jesus “rescues us from the coming wrath.” But that does not necessarily mean the Great Tribulation.
Revelation 3:10 says, “I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” (NASB) —At least those of “the church in Philadelphia”—whomever that reference includes. Is that the Great Tribulation or does another test for those who live on the earth come after the Great Tribulation? I don’t know.
The word in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, usually translated as “caught up,” that describes the “rapture” in the Greek is “harpazo”: which means “to seize, carry off by force, to claim for oneself, to rescue from danger, to transfer from one place to another marvelously and swiftly.” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon Electronic Data Base Copyright © 2000 by Biblesoft)
The Greek word “harpazo” (caught up) would not have been chosen if Christians were not to be saved from at least part, if not all, of the "great time of testing.”
Where the Greek word “harpazo” appears in the New Testament:
· Matthew 11:12, taking by force;
· John 6:15, People coming to take Jesus by force;
· John 10:12, 28, 29 the wolf taking the sheep and scatters them;
· Acts 8:39, Philip was snatched away after his encounter with the eunuch;
· Acts 23:10, Commander rescuing Paul, taking him from the Pharisees by force;
· 2 Corinthians 12:2, 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul to the “third heaven”;
· 1 Thessalonians 4:17, The above reference;
· Jude 20, saving by snatching them out of the fire;
· Revelation 12:5 the analogous reference to the ascension of Christ to heaven.
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
It should be noted that when John wrote this, he did not know who these in white robes were. Even so, the elder’s answer is cloaked in mystery. It doesn’t offer a clear indication of who they are.
I notice the passage quoted is missing the definite article. Ah! The KJV again.
I try to view passages I’m studying through multiple translations or versions at the same time.
On the translation of any language, there’s the possibility of ambiguity and loss of information.
Words typically have more than one meaning, and often, idioms do not consistently carry forward from one language to another. In addition, sometimes our translators don’t translate, as in Acts 9:36, Luke said “…there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated is Dorcas) …” It’s unfortunate that our translator didn’t translate it into English. “Dorcas” is “gazelle.” So, for translation to English, the verse should have said “…there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated is gazelle) …” because our translator was translating into English, not into Greek.
Revelation 14:14-16 Rapture
And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped. End times
This does not refer to the rapture at all. This describes judgment:
The valley of Jehoshephat or Arema Gei Don. This is part of the recurring “harvest motif” throughout the prophets concerning Israel and the nations. The reaping with the sickle is not a rapture. It is a cutting, a gleaning, and a purifying. The threshing floor is not a place of safety.
As I said related to the Matthew passage above, Jesus is not speaking to Christians here. He is speaking to Jews. The prophecies in Daniel, Micah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Joel are all prophecies relating to Israel. This passage is again, a direct reference to the harvest “motif” that is expressed through those prophets. Yes, those Israelites who are not part of the Church will face serious tribulation and judgment until they seek the face of the LORD (Hosea 5:15).
I could find no reason in the Scriptures quoted by this person to believe a pre-tribulation position is a “doctrine of demons.” At the very least, she is being hyperbolic, and at worst, she is delusional.
In addition to considering the passages this person uses to try to say pre-trib rapture is a demonic doctrine, I have more clearly shown that the Great Tribulation will not occur before the rapture, (See here.) or at the very least, “tribulation before the rapture” was not something early believers were taught by Paul.