The Pre-Trib Rapture, Fact or Fiction?

 

The Pretribulation Rapture:

Fact or Fiction, Truth or Hoax?

By

Jesse Acuff, Bs. Ed., M.A. Rel.

 

The Rapture

Pretribulation Rapture Theory History

When did it all begin? If you accept Walvoord's writings, Jn. 14:1-3 is the first mention of the Pre-Trib Rapture in the Bible. Much later, according to Walvoord, Paul was converted and God revealed the Pre-Trib rapture doctrine to him. It was after this that Paul began to incorporate the details of the new doctrine into his teachings. When he visited Thessalonica, he apparently introduced the Pre-Trib rapture doctrine for, Walvoord explains, "they posed theological questions about it." Consequently, Paul explained the Pre-Trib rapture at length in the letters to the Thessalonians.

However, the evidence indicates otherwise. Believers were never "Rapture Separaters" (sic) during the first 18 centuries, i.e., they never separated the minor Rapture aspect of the Second Coming of Christ from the Second Coming itself. Rather, they tied the Second Coming and the Rapture together. Why? They knew that the Scriptures mentioned the catching up (Rapture) specifically in only one passage in the New Testament (1 Thess. 4:13-18). They also knew that these verses are a resurrection passage, not a Rapture passage because it speaks of the dead in Christ in each verse. The catching up is only mentioned once (v. 17). There are hundreds of verses that touch on the Second Coming, but few that explain how we get together with the Lord on that occasion. Whenever we do find a brief statement about it, it is always of secondary importance.

Early Christians were Posttribulationists. Among the most prominent were Hermas, Justyn Martyr, Irenaeus, Hyppolytus, Augustine, Adam Clarke, Finney, Nathanie, Thayer, Vincent, Erdman, Cameron, Brunner, Norman MacPherson, Earle, Ockenga, G. R. Beasley-Murray and Robert Gundry. Before the 1800's, Christians never used labels such as Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, Post-Trib, or partial rapture. There was good reason for this; the Post-Trib was the only rapture view for 18 centuries. Therefore, it did not have to be distinguished from any other view.

The Scottish Connection

We have seen that John Walvoord maintains that his Pre-Trib view goes back much further than 1830. Evidence to the contrary indicates that Margaret Macdonald hatched the Pre-Trib Rapture Theory in Port Glasgow, Scotland in 1830. Her story appeared in a book by Dr. Robert Norton. His impressions of her revelation were that,

 "Marvelous light was shed upon Scripture, and especially on the doctrine of the Second Advent, by the revived spirit of prophecy. In the following account by Miss M. Macdonald, of an evening during which the power of the Holy ghost rested upon her for several successive hours, in mingled prophecy and vision, we have an instance; for here we see the distinction between that final stage of the Lord's coming, when every eye shall see Him, and His prior appearing in glory to them that look for Him" (MacPherson, p, 48).   Margaret Macdonald taught a secret coming that will be visible only to Spirit-filled Christians—clearly not that of Rev. 1:7. Her unique revelation of a two-stage coming triggered a century-and-a-half development today recognized as the Pretribulation Rapture view. However, John Walvoord states in his book The Rapture Question (revised), that Margaret Macdonald's earliest revelation contains no clear evidence of a Pretribulation doctrine. Although the centuries-old historical view was still in vogue in her day, a revival of futurism was making an appearance. Her revelation contained elements of both. There is some controversy as to whether she was the first to espouse the two-stage theory. Purportedly, there were two others who came up with the doctrine first, John N. Darby and Edward Irving.

Darby

John Darby was the famous organizer and promoter of the Plymouth Brethren movement. He never claimed that he originated the Pretribulation Theory. However, in commenting on 2 Thess. 2:1-2, he did write in 1850 that

"It is this passage which, twenty years ago, made me understand the rapture of the saints before —perhaps a considerable time before—the day of the Lord (that is, before the judgment of the living)."   Therefore it was in 1830 that he came to this conclusion. Thus, he states that his Pretribulation journey began in 1830. But where is the proof? MacPherson points out that Darby wrote an article published in December of 1830 in which he said he held to the historicist view (the year-day theory) and believed that the Church was already in the Tribulation.

The year 1830 was significant in that it produced the Pretribulation Theory in its embryonic form, witnessed the originator write down the details, and a Christian magazine began teaching the new outlook in September of that year. However, all of this occurred long before Darby wrote anything about it that faintly resembled the two-stage view. By 1834, the earliest that Pretribulationists can produce any kind of documentation, Darby began teaching a two-stage interpretation. But something else happened that year on July 24th. It was in Dublin Ireland that he admitted, "the thoughts are new." It was a candid admission that the early Church embraced the Second Coming for 1800 years—a Posttribulation without stages. More than once, Darby expressed the Pretribulation teaching as a new teaching. For example,

"The rapture of the saints to meet the Lord in the air, before His manifestation to the earth. . .is happily attracting the attention of Christians. It has made sufficient way to be the occasion of a renewed opposition."   He also mentioned on the same page,

"the rapture of the saints before the appearing of Christ, strange as it may appear to some" (MacPherson, p. 55).   Five years before he died in 1877, Darby wrote a letter in which he said,

"The Presbyterians, The Methodists, the Baptists, are minded to oppose. The first are unanimous, the ministers, as everywhere, opposing our work, and some write about it; the remainder study what this (to them) new movement means. The godly ones are disconcerted with the sermons . . . The truth is spreading. . .for some time the coming of the Lord has wrought in souls far and wide, and the doctrine is spreading wonderfully" (MacPherson, p. 56).   Despite all that has gone before, the question still remains—was Darby the first to espouse the doctrine? Was he the first Plymouth Brethren member to teach the Pretribulation Rapture Theory? Did any other member of the group teach a secret rapture before Darby developed the secrecy doctrine in 1839? Harold H. Rowdon, a long-time faculty member of the London Bible College wrote that a naval captain named Percy Hall preached a sermon promoting a two-stage coming, the first stage of which was a secret rapture. This occurred in 1831. Thus, the secret Rapture theory originated on British soil. Zealous Plymouth Brethren in Great Britain planted British Pretribulationism around the world during the last century.

Thus far we have seen that Darby taught a two-stage coming of Christ as early as 1834, that he admitted "the thoughts are new" and a secret rapture by 1839, and that another Plymouth Brethren member preached a sermon on these ideas as early as 1831. But were they the first? There is evidence that says no.

Irving

Edward Irving was Darby's contemporary, and a famous London, England preacher during the 1820's. He was a charismatic, and like Darby, originally adhered to the historicist view, but later began to change to futurism. How early, then, did Irving or any Irvingite publicly teach a two-stage coming? The Morning Watch, the official Irvingite journal of prophecy contains an article published in September of 1830, which was authored by an man known only as T.W.C. The article declares that we should distinctly separate our Lord's epiphany from His advent or Second Coming. When he brings up the Rapture he says,

"the most important event (so accurately timed in the Bible as to leave no doubt that it takes place during the epiphany) is the resurrection of the dead in Christ, and the change both of them and the then living saints, in the act of their. . .rapture unto the Lord in the air" (MacPherson, pp. 61-62).   Everywhere else in the publication, the two-stage theory taught that the Philadelphia Church would be raptured prior to the tribulation. Thus, we see that Irving and the Irvingites taught the two-stage, secret rapture doctrine as early as 1830.

Just what is the Pretribulation Theory?

Now that we have dispensed with the historical background we need to ask, "Just how do we define the Pretribulation Rapture Theory?" In simple terms it states,

"the Church, the body of Christ, in its entirety will, by resurrection and translation, be removed from the earth before any part of the seventieth week of Daniel begins" (Pentecost, p. 193).   The Pretribulation Rapturists base their premise on one major point—the Literal Method of Interpretation of the Scriptures. This method of interpretation states that each word has the same exact basic meaning it would have in normal, ordinary, and customary usage regardless if used for writing, speaking, or thinking. In other words, According to Cooper,

"when the plain sense of the Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise" (Pentecost, p. 42).   When we relate the literal method of interpretation to prophecy we must keep in mind that if, as in the case of the Davidic Covenant, there was a past literal fulfillment, there must also be a future, literal fulfillment, the literal method being the true method of Scriptural interpretation.

However, when it comes to correctly interpreting the Rapture question, the Pretribulationists seem prone to ignore even the fundamental rules of literal interpretation. Instead, they opt for the allegorical method concocting fanciful ideas and straying from the clear, usual, normal, ordinary, and customary usage of the words of Scripture, thereby spiritualizing away the true meaning of the Scriptures.

It has been my experience when reading about end-time events, that the would-be experts in prophecy have, almost to a man, one outstanding problem. They seem never to be able to distinguish between the nation Israel (Jacob), the House of Israel, and the House of Judah in prophecy. Inevitably, they lump them all together, including designating the 144,000 who are sealed as "Jews", when Rev. 7:5-8 plainly names all of the twelve tribes of Israel including the tribe of Judah who only are Jews. They seem not to be able to understand that all Jews are Israelites but not all Israelites are Jews.

Daniel's Seventieth Week

The entire Pretribulation Rapture theory revolves around Daniel's seventieth week and its nature. We find the prophecy dealing with Daniel's seventieth week in Daniel 9:24-27.

"Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. {25} Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. {26} And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. {27} And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate."   Pentecost says that Jeremiah 30:7 calls this period "the time of Jacob's trouble" and describes it as a period of wrath, judgment, indignation, punishment, an hour of trial, an hour of trouble, destruction, and dsrkness. He notes also that the entire period, consisting of seven prophetic years, takes on this nature, not just a portion of it. However, Pentecost is mistaken. Harrison rightly limits the tribulation that Pentecost describes above to just the last half of the week. It is not the entire seventieth week that is designated "Jacob's trouble" but only the last half, the Great Tribulation. Jacob's trouble includes the whole of the twelve tribes, the House of Israel (the ten northern tribes) and the House of Judah (the three southern tribes consisting of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi). However, Pentecost seems not to be aware of the difference because he continues with the statement,

"This whole period then has special reference to Daniel's people, Israel, and Daniel's holy city, Jerusalem."   The Timing of the Rapture

"The Rapture can happen at any moment. It'll be fast-in the twinkling of an eye. According to 1 Thess. 4:13-18, the Rapture will positively happen before the Tribulation. As soon as the Rapture happens, the 'Day of the Lord' will begin. We won't be on the earth during the Tribulation; that's the time of god's wrath. Revelation 3:10 is further proof of a Pre-Trib Rapture. The Bible says the Lord's coming is the 'blessed hope,' but how can it be 'blessed' if we have to go through the Tribulation first? Since we're the generation of the Rapture, it wasn't necessary for God to reveal this truth to the Church fathers and reformers" (MacPherson, pp. 97-98).   These statements by MacPherson come from the beliefs of Pretribulationists. Let's examine each one closely.

The Rapture Can Happen At Any Moment

Pretribulationists base this statement on the assumption that the Rapture (catching up) is separate and distinct, i.e., detached from Christ's Second Coming. This is the root of the Doctrine of Imminence, which we will discuss later. Walvoord (p. 112) says that there is no biblical passage stating precisely when the Rapture occurs in relation to the Tribulation or the Second Coming. How can the Pretribulationists be so sure, then, that the Rapture will occur at the beginning of Daniel's seventieth week? They can't, but that doesn't deter them. They maintain that major prophecies point to the conclusion that only a Pretribulation Rapture can be a literal fulfillment of Scripture. And what do they base their conclusions on? They base them on the fact that the prophecies make no mention of angels or attending hosts, and that there is no mention of judgment to follow.

The Rapture's single purpose is to remove the Church from the earth and take it to heaven to be with Christ until the Second Coming. Apparently, in their thinking, the Rapture will be a momentary event, (in the twinkling of an eye), while the Second Coming will take place over many hours. Why? Because it will take that long to move the gigantic procession of millions of saints and angels from heaven to earth. This is supposedly described in Rev. 19:11-16. Furthermore, the prophecies make no mention of any preceding events relating to the Rapture. On the other hand, many events precede the Second Coming. Therefore, it is impossible to describe two events more distinct than the Rapture and Second Coming.

The basis for the most powerful argument for a Pretribulation Rapture, according to Van Impe (pp. 24-25), is Mat. 25:31-36. This passage describes Christ returning to the earth to judge the nations. Two groups are present on the earth at this time—the lost and the saved. Van Impe argues that if the Rapture occurs postmillennial, there would be no one left to reign with Christ on the earth. Why? Because believers receive their glorified bodies at the Rapture (1 Cor.15: 51-53; Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2-3). Supposedly, these glorified bodies remain in the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, which hovers above the earth for the entire one thousand years (Rev. 21:9-22:5)! However, the Posttribulation adherents do not advocate a postmillennial Rapture. Quite to the contrary, they advocate a Premillennial, Posttribulation Rapture. Thus, Van Impe's argument is moot.

Walvoord (p. 113) argues that Posttribulationists seldom offer any substantial evidence to support their beliefs. He assumes that if Christians were present during the Tribulation, they would not escape the afflictions because the judgments, including pestilence, stars falling from heaven, war, and famine, are against the entire civilization, and events of this kind do not single out non-Christians to suffer such devastation while Christians are spared. Thus, all living people, regardless, would be included and exposed to Satan's wrath as well as the wrath of the world rulers. However, they are the same because the world rulers, including the Antichrist, will be under Satan's power and influence.

Unfortunately, Walvoord and Van Impe's theories do not take into account God's sovereignty and power. If God protected the Israelites in Egypt during the plagues, He can do the same thing during the Tribulation. God placed a "hedge" around His people many times in the past. We find a prominent example in Job 1:10.

"Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land."   The word "hedge" is the Hebrew suwk (sook), which means to entwine, i.e. shut in (for formation, protection or restraint), fence—(make an) hedge (up). We see here that God, indeed, had placed a "hedge" around Job for the purpose of protecting him from harm. God is capable of doing this at any time and in any place or circumstance. Who is to say that He will not do the same for the saints during the Tribulation? The Pretribulationists think in terms of manmade views of timetables and events denying the possibility that God can do what He wants when He wants. Does He not say in Isa. 55:8,

". . .my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD."   It'll Be Fast-In The Twinkling Of An Eye

Pretribulationists base this statement on 1 Cor. 15:51-53. MacPherson (p. 98-99) says that the "twinkling of an eye" refers only to the speed with which the dead and mortal bodies change into immortal spirit ones, not the speed with which the Rapture will take place. The Rapture itself could take hours for all we know. Sadly, the Pretribulationists are loath to read beyond verse 53 because verse 54 alludes to the "when" and "then", the when of the Rapture. Paul reveals in verse 54 when the Rapture will occur. By "death is swallowed up in victory" he means that Isa. 25:8 will finally be fulfilled. Thus, the Rapture's timing and Isaiah 25:8's timing is the same, and the Rapture must be Posttribulation.

The Rapture will positively happen before the Tribulation

The only place the New Testament mentions the Rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul comforts believers whose loved ones have died, assuring them that Christ will give them first consideration in resurrecting them at His return. Sauer (pp. 66-68) says that

"The word harpazo means to snatch, seize, i.e., take suddenly and vehemently. In 1 Thess. 4:17, harpagesometha is translated 'caught up.' There is a notion of a sudden swoop and a feeling of a force that cannot be resisted."   Paul's language is unmistakable. It requires a removal of believers from the earth at the time of the Second Coming only.

Try as hard as you may, you cannot find the Antichrist in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. How, then, can preachers and scholars be so confident that the Rapture is Pretribualtional when they stop at verse 18? The passage can be easily understood if you don't stop at verse 18. The following verses in chapter 5 are connected to the last six verses of chapter 4 by the conjunction "but." In 1 Thess. 5:1 Paul says that the "times and seasons" of the Rapture coincide with the time of "sudden destruction."

With regard to the Pretribulation view of a two-stage coming and a secret Rapture, it is strange that one can find no mention of a secret Rapture in 1 Thess. 4:16. Paul is hardly describing a "secret coming" here. There is no Pretribulationism in these verses. Rather, Pretribulation is an assumption in which Scripture is interpreted wrongly. Consequently, the Rapture is an event in which believers receive their resurrection bodies without seeing death. They are "caught up" from earth, and with the risen dead who precede them, they enter a new realm of existence in a glorified state. The Rapture takes place at the Second Coming, and the Church will accompany Christ as He immediately returns to the earth to establish His millennial kingdom. The Pretribulationists call this the "yo-yo" theory. Van Impe (pp. 22-23), says that all believers who have ever died "in Christ" during the last two thousand years are already with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8).

"Why," he continues, "should a handful of believers experience God's wrath while millions who lived and died during the last two thousand years enjoy the blessings of heaven during the Tribulation?"   But is this what 2 Cor. 5:8 implies? Does the verse say that we go into the presence of Christ immediately upon death? If so, why the need for a resurrection of the dead? The idea is that Christ will bring those millions of saints with Him from heaven at His return, place them back into their mortal bodies and resurrect them with immortal, glorified, resurrection bodies. Does that make sense? If they are in heaven with Christ they already have immortal, glorified bodies for they cannot come into the presence of God in any other form (1 Cor. 15:50). Those in the grave are in the grave, not with the Lord or in the presence of the Lord. Job pleads with the Lord,

"O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me" (Job 14:13).   The set time Job refers to here is the resurrection. Why does Job plead for God to remember him? So that He won't leave him in the grave! David says of the state of death and the grave,

"For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks" (Ps. 6:5)?

If those in the grave do not remember God, i.e., have no memory of God, and are unable to give God thanks or glory, how can they be present with the Lord? Again, David asks,

"Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave" (Ps. 88:11)?   In Eccl. 9:10, Solomon declares,

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."   It is obvious from these verses that there is no consciousness beyond the grave until the resurrection.

Lenski (p. 1012), says of 2 Cor. 5:8 that Paul is speaking of the hope of the resurrection to be with the Lord, not that he expects to be immediately with the Lord when he dies.

"To be sure, 'out of the body' means that the body will be left behind; it will go to the grave. To say this will be the end of it, to deny the resurrection of the body on the strength of this phrase, is untenable. The proposal that we should believe that Paul has given up all that he wrote in 1 Cor. 15, the most magnificent presentation of the resurrection of the body in the entire Bible; that Paul has now come to believe that the body will not be raised up at the Parousia, is unacceptable to us. At one time we are to believe that Paul wanted his body to be transformed at the Parousia and then that, if he died, his body would never be raised or transformed. Yes, there is a separation from the body; but 4:11 has already told us that in due time the body will be made to share in the home with the Lord: 'and will present us together with you.'"   This speaks of the resurrection at the Second Coming.

Van Impe, (pp. 22-23), however, is not convinced. He staunchly maintains that the Church and the Bride of Christ must go through a time of examination called the Judgment Seat of Christ. According to the Posttribulationist teaching, this is impossible because there is not enough time for it to take place.

"The Posttribulation adherents teach a "yo-yo theory" -- up and down, going to meet Christ and returning instantly -- and have no time interval for His judgment-seat examination or marriage. It takes time to investigate God's people (2 Cor. 5:10). This is an impossibility in the posttribulation arrangement of events because millions cannot be investigated in less than one second or 'the twinkling of an eye' (1 Cor. 15:52). Apparently, Mat. 19:26; Mk. 10:27; Lk. 1:37; and Lk.18:27 did not come to mind when Van Impe wrote this statement. The 'bob up to meet Him and bob down to reign' theory, if true, wipes out the intervals of time demanded for the judgment seat of Christ and the marriage." Has Mr. Van Impe not read Zech. 14:1-4? Verse 4 says "And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south."   It would be foolish for anyone to deny that 1 Thess. 4:13-17 refers to anything but the Day of the Lord. Paul confirms it in 1 Thess. 5:2. It is the same day that Zech. 14:1-4 speaks of. Thus, Van Impe's "intervals of time demanded for the judgment seat of Christ and the marriage of the Lamb are wiped out, and his "yo-yo" theory has no merit!

Once again, a prophecy expert has resorted to spiritualizing away the true meaning of the Scripture. He does not understand that the scene pictured 2 Cor. 5:10 is the final judgment called the Great White Throne Judgment in Rev. 20:11-13. Lenski (p. 1015) explains, "The scene pictured is the final judgment with Christ. . . seated on the platform, all of us facing Him, and all of us made public so that nothing shall be hid."

As soon as the Rapture happens, the "Day of the Lord" will begin

When the Pretribulation theory developed in the 1830's, the Pretribulationists placed the Day of the Lord at the end of the Tribulation. The only thing they "stretched forward" was the Rapture. This view remained for the better part of a century. Darby and Scofield were both Pretribulationist and both maintained that the Day of the Lord would not begin until the end of the Tribulation. By the early part of the 20th century, Pretribulationists had to make a decision. They could either push the Rapture back to the Posttribulation Day of the Lord or stretch the Day of the Lord forward in order to hook it up with their Pretribulation Rapture. They chose the latter and relegated some of the Day of the Lord verses to their "inactive files."

We won't be on the earth during the Tribulation; that's the time of God's wrath

On page 196, Pentecost quotes a passage from William Kelly's book Lectures on the Second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, in which he deals with such passages as Matthew 24, Daniel 12, Luke 21, Mark 13, Jeremiah 30, and revelation 7. Kelly concludes,

". . .the view here maintained follows on a close investigation of every distinct passage that Scripture affords upon the subject of the great tribulation. I should be obliged to any one who will produce me other passages that refer to it; but I am not aware of them. I demand of those. . . whether they can point out one word, which supposes a Christian or the Church on the earth when the great tribulation arrives. . .?"   Evidently Mr. Kelly has not looked at Rev. 13:7.

"And it was given unto him (the Antichrist) to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations."   Who does Mr. Kelly and other Pretribulationists think the saints are if not the Church. The saints are mentioned dozens of times in the New Testament when referring to the genuine members of the Church, the body of Christ. As a matter of fact, Scripture mentions the word "saints" 61 times in the New Testament! Acts 9:13 speaks of the "saints" at Jerusalem. Paul in Romans 1:7 calls the Church members there "beloved of God and saints" (see also 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:1,2; 14:33; 16:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:2; Heb. 6:10, etc.). The Greek word for saint is hagios (hag'-ee-os) which means—sacred (physically pure, morally blameless or religious, (most) holy (one, thing), saint.

If, then, a saint is all of this, how can Mr. Kelly and other Pretribulationists say with such confidence that the Church is not present during the tribulation? They can't and be honest about it! However, Pentecost (p. 196) adamantly states,

"It must be concluded with the above author, since every passage dealing with the tribulation relates it to God's program for Israel, that the scope of the tribulation prevents the church from participating in it."   Despite any proof to the contrary, then, the Church won't be here on the earth because "that is the time of God's wrath!" If all other arguments fail, this is the one the Pretribulationists use. MacPherson (p. 103) has it right when he says,

"Even if the Tribulation were exclusively divine wrath, the Church wouldn't have to be off the earth to keep from being objects of such wrath, for genuine believers are never subject to it." (See Rom. 8:1-3).   What do we know about the Israelites in Egypt during the plagues? They weren't the objects of divine wrath. God protected them right where they were! Look also at Psalm 91:7. When God's protection comes between some close calamity and us, we are millions of light years removed from any harm as far as He is concerned.

When has God ever removed the Church from suffering and persecution? Scripture is full of examples of the hardships the Church has endured through the ages and God never once removed her from the tribulation. Rather He has protected her in it. Jesus said to His disciples,

"And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Mat 10:22 KJV, see also Jn. 15:18-19). He further told them, "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake" (Mat 24:9 KJV). In John 15:20 (KJV), He said to them "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also."   If true believers (the Church) aren't supposed to be on the earth when God brings His wrath, why doesn't He rapture them as soon as they accept Christ? That way they would never have to undergo the hatred, suffering, persecution, death, and martyrdom He describes in Mat. 24:9. Look at Revelation chapter 6. Many Pretribulation leaders have admitted that this chapter is a table of contents of what follows in the rest of the book. Scofield connects different verses in chapter 6 to verses in chapters 7, 16, 19, and 20. He also connects the "Great Day of Wrath" to Rev. 16:12-17 and 19:11-21.

Pretribulationists often quote 1 Thessalonians 5:9 as proof of a Pretribulation Rapture.

"For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ."   They think that the word "wrath" equates to the word "tribulation." The word "wrath" is the Greek orge, which means punishment resulting from anger, indignation, vengeance, or wrath. In Matthew 3:7 when John the Baptist sees the Pharisees come to where he is baptizing, he pointedly asks them,

"O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"   The word used here is also orge. Was John the Baptist referring to the Tribulation? Hardly! If he were, that would mean that God would have to resurrect those Pharisees in order for them to undergo the Tribulation. Again, we read in John 3:36,

"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."   In this case the wrath of God remains on the unbeliever even before he goes through the Tribulation. Romans 5:9 says,

"Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him."   The "wrath" referred to in all these verses, including 1 Thess. 5:9, is not the Tribulation but, rather spiritual death in the lake of fire as a result of the sin of unbelief (cf. Mat. 3:10). These are salvation verses, not Tribulation verses (see Lenski, Hendricksen, Dunn).

Revelation 3:10 is further proof of a Pretribulation Rapture

Another verse that Pretribulationists use to prove the Church won't be on earth during the Tribulation is Revelation 3:10.

"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."   However, throughout the history of the Church no one ever interpreted the verse this way. Before 1830, everyone believed that the phrase "keep them from" meant "preservation from" on the earth. Further, since 1830, even the greatest Greek scholars—those that even the Pretribulationists exalt the most—have dittoed the earlier authorities.

Lenski explains,

"the verbs match: 'thou didst keep—I too will keep,' both are used in the sense of bewahren, guard, hold, keep, preserve against loss, damage, etc."   Aune says,

"This verse has been a crux for the modern argument between the Pretribulation and the Posttribulation views on when Christ will return. Unfortunately, both sides of the debate have ignored the fact that the promise made here pertains to Philadelphian Christians only and cannot be generalized to include Christians in the other churches of Asia, much less all Christians in all places and times. Furthermore, to be "preserved from the hour of tribulation," means not that they will be physically absent but rather that they will not be touched by that which touches the others" (see also, Johnson, p. 454).   The Bible says the Lord's coming is the "blessed hope," but how can it be "blessed" if we have to go through the Tribulation first?

Walvoord (pp. 113-114) says,

". . .any realistic view of the future time, which Christ referred to as the Great Tribulation, includes the realization that a rapture climaxing the tribulation is hardly a blessed hope. A doctrine that teaches otherwise does not fit with Christ's command to 'let not your hearts be troubled" (Jn. 14:1), Paul's exhortation to comfort and encourage (1 Thess 4:18), or the concept of the Rapture being a 'blessed hope' (Titus 2:13). The Thessalonians. . .would hardly have been comforted if they had been told they had to go through an extended period of suffering, during which most of them would be killed, before the Rapture would occur. No such warning regarding the Rapture can be found in Scripture."

"Such reasoning," says MacPherson (p. 105),

"fails even to consider Christ's own crucifixion and resurrection: blessed events, to be sure, but accompanied with and preceded by much heartache and anguish!"   In other words, Walvoord's argument does not hold up in view of the suffering of Christ and His reason for going to the cross and His resurrection. The fact that the Church has to endure the Tribulation does not take away her "blessed hope", for that blessed hope, after all is accomplished, is not that the Tribulation is ended, but that the Resurrection and the translation of the saints is the final stage in their salvation.

Van Impe (pp. 20-22) disagrees. Like others of his ilk, he believes that the "blessed hope" is the fact that the Church escapes the Tribulation. He attributes this to Jesus' teachings and backs it up by quoting Lk. 17:26-32. However, Christ is not here referring to the Rapture but to the tribulation and the death of many of the inhabitants of the earth. Thus, many bodies will lie dead and the eagle (vultures, NIV) will come to feed on them. These verses nowhere speak of the Rapture. However, Van Impe will not be moved from his position. He goes on to quote Rev. 6:17; Rom. 2:5 and 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9). He says that the great day of wrath will fall upon sinners who store up, treasure up, or accumulate "wrath against the day of wrath."

It is true that the Tribulation will effect end-time sinners in this manner. However, what about sinners over the past two thousand years who have stored up wrath "against the day of wrath?" Will they have to be resurrected and placed in the Tribulation for this to be fulfilled? Ridiculous! We have already addressed the deliverance from the wrath to come in 1 Thess. 1:10. It is the wrath of God that assigns the incorrigibles to the lake of fire and spiritual death. The same is true for 1 Thess. 5:9. Nevertheless, Van Impe insists that the salvation spoken of in these verses cannot be eternal deliverance from hell (fire) because the Christian receives that without Christ's return. "The moment," he asserts, "a Christian believes, he is delivered from condemnation and 'is passed from death unto life" (Jn. 5:24). The result of this is that "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1). True, these verses speak of salvation, not the Tribulation. Jesus Christ said we will enter the kingdom only after much tribulation (Acts 14:22), and that includes those alive during the Tribulation. It is true that Christ delivers the Church from the Hour of testing, but not by rapturing it before the tribulation begins. This is not, as Van Impe believes, how God will keep the Church from the hour of temptation and testing.

This sort of reasoning is selfish. It refuses to identify with past centuries of suffering, affliction, separation from fellow disciples, and death endured by the Church in past ages (see Heb. 11:35-38). No, the Church won't be raptured before the Tribulation, but she will be protected in it.

Since we are the generation of the Rapture, it wasn't necessary for God to reveal this truth to the Church Fathers or Reformers

There is a hidden confession in this statement. It is that the Pretribulation Rapture Theory wasn't heard of until relatively modern times. This begs the question, "Why, if we are the Pretribulation generation, and God did not find it necessary to reveal the doctrine until now, did He reveal the truth as early as 1830? Was His timing off by 150 years? And if we had to wait 150 years before, how do we know we don't have to wait another 150 years?"

How do the Pretribulationists answer this? Well, the theory was only "rediscovered" or "recovered" in the 1830's. The New Testament writers taught what we see today, but it dropped out of sight in the second century. If this true, if the New Testament writers did indeed teach a two-stage coming with a full seven year gap between them, why did they "rediscover" only a small gap and then take decades to dogmatically settle on a seven-year gap? Only one conclusion is possible—the Bible never did espouse such a doctrine. The dividing of the Second Coming into two stages did not exist before the 1830's. Even Darby admitted that it had never been done before, that it was new.

The King James scholars were Posttribulation Rapturists, and they produced the King James Version without being aware of Pretribulation Rapture doctrine. For ten long years after the birth of the doctrine, the gap between the Rapture and the Second Coming was still a far cry from the modern version. According to MacPherson (pp. 105-107), Robert Norton, the chief recorder of its origins, wrote in 1839,

". . .the well known period of 1260 days. We have next to remark that at the conclusion of this period, and immediately previous to the last judgments and woes of the Apocalypse, a most important event intervenes. VIZ., the translation of the saints, and their consequent exemption from these woes" (Neglected and Controverted Scripture Truths, London: John F. Shaw, 1839, p. 275).   It amazes how quickly some change their minds and beliefs. It took Norton only a year to change from a rapture at the end of the 1260 days to one at the beginning. MacPherson (pp. 105-107) again quotes,

"The principal. . .and most important portion of Scripture, showing that the translation and first resurrection of the saints, or at least, of the first fruits, is to be expected previous to the final reign of Antichrist in the twelfth chapter of Revelation. . .That the man child thus caught up to the throne previous to the 1260 days of the Dragon's 'great wrath,' and who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron, is the mystical body of Christ, is evident. . ." (The Memoirs of James & George Macdonald, of Port-Glasgow, p. 21).   The Church Isn't Mentioned Once In Chapters 4 To 18 In The Book Of Revelation

The word "church" may not be mentioned in these chapters, but the word "ecclesia" is. The Greek word ecclesia is the word for "Church." It means the "elect" or "called out ones". MacPherson (pp. 107-108) takes the Pretribulationists to task over this statement. Says he,

". . .they don't tell their listeners and readers that ecclesia isn't found once in the same chapters in any heavenly or in-the-air scenes! If they're going to start their argument with a literal mention of 'church'", he argues, "why don't they stick with literalism? Instead, when trying to show where they claim the Church is during these chapters, they switch over to symbolism and point to the 24 elders (see Pentecost's discussion on pages 207-209, parentheses added)! They change in the middle of their argument to symbolism and arbitrarily choose the heavenly elders, ignoring the earthly saints in the same section and ignoring the fact that 'saints' is used dozens of times in the rest of the New Testament when referring to genuine members of the Church!" He adds, "Israel isn't literally mentioned in much of the same part of Revelation either. But of course Pre-Tribs see Jewish persons there don't they?"   A case in point is Jack Van Impe's explanation of the "elect." Says he,

"Posttribulationists (those who believe the Church of Jesus Christ will endure the terrible period of the Tribulation) like to use this verse (Mat. 24:22). . .saying this passage proves the Church will remain on earth because we are the 'elect'" (p. 33).   His next statement is absurd in the extreme!

"Nothing could be further from the truth. Many do not realize that God has two elect groups on earth. There is the Church (see Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:2), but that is not the group referred to in Mat. 24:22."   Really? The same word eklektos is used in 1 Pet. 1:2 and Mat. 24:22. Would God use the same word to designate two different groups? If so, how would we differentiate between the two? "How do I know this?" he asks. He then quotes Isa. 42:1 and says it speaks of the Jews as God's elect! However, even a casual perusal of this verse shows that it is not talking about the Jews but about Jesus Christ! It is a messianic passage. Does God ever describe the Jews this way? Did they ever do the things described in verses 2-7? Of course not! Those are the things that Christ Jesus accomplished during His mission and ministry on the earth. In addition, he adds, "So does Isa. 45:4; 65:9, 22." Chapter 45 verse 4 does not limit the "elect" to Judah (Jews) but includes all twelve tribes (Gad, Reuben, Asher, Simeon, etc.). Van Impe limits Chapter 65:9, to the Jews but it speaks of Jacob and Judah and is a future, millennial prophecy. Isa. 65:22 is another millennial prophecy depicting the land as a Garden of Eden where the people enjoy peace and prosperity and long life.

Another case in point where the Pretribulationists lump all of Israel together and call them Jews is the sealing of the 144,000. According to Van Impe (pp. 38-39),

". . .there will be a great revival. It will occur during the seven-year Tribulation period when the 144,000 Jews (Rev. 7:4-8) will circle the globe, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, declaring the good news: The King is coming! At that time, the Bible says, 'All Israel shall be saved' (Rom. 11:26).   That means the Jews. Van Impe does quote Rev. 7:4-8 as proof that the 144,000 are Jews, but evidently he didn't read farther than verse 4, for verses 5-8 name the tribes individually in the order of their birth. Judah only, of these twelve tribes mentioned, are Jews.

Pentecost is just as confused.

"During the seventieth week the church must be absent, for out of the saved remnant in Israel God seals 144,000 Jews, 12,000 from each tribe, according to Rev. 7:14" (p. 214).   Are all twelve tribes of Israel "Jews"? Obviously not, if you read the verses correctly. If they were all Jews there would be only one tribe, not twelve! And what about Rev. 7:14? Is this still talking about the 144,000 or has the scene shifted? The scene has shifted! Rev. 7:14 talks about a multitude, which no man could number, from all nations, tribes, tongues, and peoples (v. 9), who have accepted Christ and His all-sufficient sacrifice, and claimed Him as their Lord and savior. If the great multitude of Rev. 7:9-14 is so large that no man can number them, how can they be just the 144,000? These are not just Jews that have been saved to some sort of "Jewish relationship" with God and Christ as Pentecost maintains, but the saved, the Church, the Elect, who have endured the Tribulation, kept the faith, and come out of it with their sins washed clean by the blood of Christ, having received the crown of life.

The Doctrine of Imminence

There is yet one doctrine to be discussed regarding the Pretribulation Rapture Theory, that of the doctrine of Imminence. Though not mentioned specifically, we have seen it hinted at throughout this paper. The Doctrine of Imminence (an at-any-moment-coming) states simply that the Rapture could happen at any moment, without warning, and without precursory events announcing its impending presence.

Pentecost (p. 202) says that Israel received many signs in Scripture that would precede the Second Advent. These signs were a cause of a life of expectancy, a looking forward to the time when Christ would return. They could not know the day or hour when this would occur, but they could, by these signs, know when their redemption was near. However, God, in His Word, gave the Church no such signs. He simply told them to live in the light of Christ's imminent coming to change them and bring them into His presence. He proof-texts this hypothesis by quoting several verses (Jn. 14:2-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Cor. 15:51-52; Phil. 3:20, etc.), all of which refer to the Second coming, not a secret rapture prior to the Tribulation. Pentecost states further,

"Such passages as 1 Thessalonians 5:6; Titus 2:13; Revelation 3:3 all warn the believer to be watching for the Lord Himself, not for the signs that would precede His coming."   How can one watch for the coming of the Lord Himself without being aware of the signs that announce His imminent coming? These very signs tell us that His return is near, and cannot be separated from the advent itself. Rev. 3:3 says that if we don't watch, Christ will come upon us as a thief in the night, indicating that we would never know that He was about to come or that He had come. The antithesis of this is that if we stay awake, alert, and aware, i.e., "watching" for, and correctly interpreting the signs, we can know that His coming is near and will not overtake us as a thief in the night.

Although John Darby "clarified", systematized, and popularized the doctrine of imminence, it was not a new thing with him. Theissen (Pentecost, p. 203) says that the early church held a Premillennial view and regarded Christ's coming as imminent, the Lord having taught them to expect His return at any moment. He concludes, therefore, that

". . .the early Church lived in constant expectation of their Lord, and hence was not interested in the possibility of a Tribulation period in the future."   It is because of this sort of interpretation of Scripture that the Pretribulationists believe so strongly that the Church will not be present during the Tribulation. Pentecost (p. 204) sums up by saying,

"The doctrine of imminence forbids the participation of the church in any part of the seventieth week. The multitude of signs given to Israel to stir them to expectancy would then also be for the church, and the church could not be looking for Christ until these signs had been fulfilled. The fact that no signs are given to the church, but she, rather, is commanded to watch for Christ, precludes her participation in the seventieth week."   In contrast to this, scholars such as Alexander Reese, George Ladd, and Robert Gundry show that the early Church and the early Church fathers were interested in the possibility of a Tribulation period in the future because, if they were anything, they were Posttribulationists (MacPherson, pp. 37-38).

In an attempt to counter the historical arguments of Reese, Ladd, and Gundry, Walvoord comes up with only three sources from the early church era—sources that he claims "really" teaches the kind of imminence he wholeheartedly endorses. The first quote that Walvoord proffers is that of Clement of Rome who lived and wrote about 40-100 A. D. Clement writes,

"Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall his will be accomplished, as the Scriptures also bear witness, saying, 'speedily will he come, and will not tarry'; and 'The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look.'"   The second source comes from the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles in the Didache.

"Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ye ready, for ye know not the hour in which the Lord cometh" (The Didache, p. 24).   A third source quoted by Walvoord is The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, which originated in the early church period. It says,

"Observe things that are commanded you by the Lord. Be watchful for your life. 'Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning, and ye like men who wait for their Lord, when He will come, at even, or in the morning, or at cock-crowing, or at midnight, For what hour they think not, the Lord will come; and if they open to Him, blessed are those servants, because they were found watching.'"   According to MacPherson (pp. 39-40), Gundry has shown that in Walvoord's (1954), Stanton's (1956), and Pentecost's (1958) writings, they have broken the Didache quote off in the very same spot after the second sentence. They do so in order to prove the any-moment imminence they so strongly propose. Gundry goes on to show that the omitted remainder of the quote is antithetical to the Pretribulation quote. He adds that Walvoord also breaks off the quote found in The constitutions of the Holy apostles immediately after the word "watching", and ignores the rest of the passage which is Posttribulation (The Church and the Tribulation, pp. 175, 177). Walvoord, however, believes the omission of much of the Didache quote isn't all that serious. Why? Because,

"only the 'creation of men' is going through the Tribulation—and not the 'Church' (The Rapture Question (revised), p. 53).   "But isn't the Church," MacPherson counters (p. 40), "part of the human race? Besides, if the entire Didache quote is as harmless as Walvoord now seems to feel, why doesn't he imitate Gundry and publish the axe-rated part of it". . .?

We have seen that Walvoord's Pretribulation view goes back much further that 1830. According to MacPherson (p. 36), his equation consists of three points. (1) Imminency (at any-moment coming) is the heart of the Pretribulation Rapture Theory (The Rapture Question, revised, p.53). (2) Imminency can be found in the earliest centuries of the Christian era. (3) Therefore, the Pretribulation Rapture Theory (in undeveloped form) existed in the same early centuries. Walvoord, however waivers somewhat in that he admits that not all imminence doctrine in the early Church has been of the Pretribulation variety. MacPherson quotes (pp. 37-38),

"There have been occasions," he says, "When church members have held to an imminent coming because they believed that they were enduring the Great Tribulation, or that the fulfillment of 'all these things' had been accomplished" (The Rapture Question, pp. 51, 69).   However, even Walvoord (MacPherson, pp. 38-39) contradicts himself in his defense of Pretribulationism. He clearly teaches in his book The Rapture Question that (1) The concept of a Pre-Trib Rapture isn't found in the Old Testament (pp. 34-37, 204, 206-207). (2) That a Pre-Trib Rapture isn't found anywhere in Matthew, Mark, or Luke (or any part of the Olivet Discourse (The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation, pp. 86-93). (3) That a scholar should never take from a source only those facts that support his view and ignore anything contradicting it (Ibid. pp. 9, 39, 58, 62, 68, 80, 82, 85, 93, 142, 146, 156).

The Bible verses quoted by Clement in the Didache come from Hab. 2:3 and Mal. 3:1. The others are connected to Mat. 24:42-44, Mk. 13:35, and Lk. 12:35-37. Thus, Walvoord's first source violates his first principle and the other two counter the second one. Even Scofield, a Pretribulationist, acknowledges that Habakkuk and Malachi referred to the Second Advent. The Second Advent, therefore, could hardly have been imminent if the first Advent and coming of "my messenger"—John the Baptist—had not yet taken place. In addition, the last two quotes Walvoord uses are based on the first three Gospels, and specifically the Olivet Discourse and the Second Coming.

In conclusion, let's take a look at the emphasis Matthew 24 places on the Second Coming. Hal Lindsey, on the back cover of his book The 1980's: Countdown to Armageddon, quotes a few verses from Mat. 24. He places three dots in the middle of the quotation. MacPherson (p. 112) suggests that these dots stand for three thoughts that Jesus repeats in this passage.

"First of all," MacPherson begins, "He talks about or implies coming deception in several verses including 4, 5, 10 (one meaning of 'betray' is 'deceive'), 11, 15 (the Antichrist will be a super deceiver), and 24. Christ also emphasizes (vv. 6, 8) that the end won't happen before its time."   There is a repeated mention of "all these things" in vv. 6, 33, and the last verse adds the word "see" to the expression. Verse 15 reveals that one of the items His followers will see is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet. These three things, the deception, the "all of these things", and the abomination of desolation are related and will come into sharp focus immediately prior to the Second Coming.

When you put it all together, there can be no doubt that just before Jesus' Second Coming there will be many deceivers claiming to be Christ's representatives. They will "stretch forward", if you will, the end (the Tribulation), and change "all these things" to read "some of these things". By this they hope to escape the worst (Tribulation), and teach their constituents the same. As we have seen, the best way to do this is have a secret Rapture or evacuation of the Church before the Tribulation begins. However, Jesus clearly tells His followers that He won't come for them secretly, but openly and visibly like a vivid display of lightning (24:26-27)!

Preachers, teachers and writers spend a lot of time on the "what" of the Tribulation. They quote such verses as Joel 2:2—"A day of darkness and gloominess"—but they seldom spend an adequate amount of time on the "when." They assert that the Day of the Lord includes the Tribulation and begins when the Tribulation begins. Largely, they ignore the "when" verses such as Joel 2:31, Mal. 4:5, and 2 Thess.2: 3, which depict things which must happen before the Day of the Lord can ever begin. For example, in 2 Thess. 2:3, Paul says that Antichrist is revealed first. In addition, Joel declares that the sun and moon will be darkened. Jesus avers in Mat. 24:29 that this will occur after the Tribulation. The Joel passage, regardless of the Pretribulationists machinations, were important to early Christians and Christian leaders. Peter quoted it on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-20). From the outset Christians knew that their hope (the resurrection and completion of their salvation at the Second Coming) would follow the Tribulation.

What if a preacher or teacher quoted 1 Thess. 5:4, and then said, "Thank God, that day won't over take us! Would that be misleading? Yes, it would. I like MacPherson's take on it. Says he,

"Imagine yourself catching the end of a sportscast that's announcing: '. . .but the players didn't win the game very quickly.' Would you assume that the players didn't win at all? Of course not! If the players lost, there would be no need to add 'very quickly' as a modifying phrase. Using the phrase indicates a game that is won, while not using the phrase indicates a game that is lost."   In other words, he is saying that the modifying phrase in the Thessalonians passage is "as a thief." If the Day of the Lord won't overtake believers (the Church or the Elect), why use the phrase at all? By this Paul confirms that the Day of the Lord will, in fact, overtake the Church, which will still be on the earth during the Tribulation; but it will not overtake them "as a thief." The Church will not be ignorant of its coming unless she is taught and accepts the teaching that she will not be on the earth during the Tribulation.

Could the Pretribulation Rapture theorists be the "deceivers" of this age, teaching the Church not to worry about the Tribulation because she won't have to endure it? If so, they are doing grave harm to the Church. If believers buy into this theory they will not prepare for the Tribulation and it will come upon them like a thief in the night. If that happens, woe unto her for she will not have prepared herself for the greatest trouble the world has ever known until this time or ever will know.

Copyright © 2002 by Jesse Acuff

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Bibliography

Reference Texts:

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2. Kliest, James A. The Didache, vol. 6. New York: Paulist Press, 1948. 235 pp.

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4. Lenski, R.C.H. Commentary on the New Testament, Interpretation of St. John's Revelation. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. 675 pp.

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