"All the law is fulfilled in one word ..." (Galatians 5:14).
Some men in our church were talking about the rapture and what our attitude should be toward those of a different viewpoint. One remarked, "Allen believes in pre-tribulationism, but he sees the possibility of both sides."
I responded, "No, not exactly. I don't believe post-tribulationism has any possibility of being correct. What you really mean is that I accept post-tribulationists as persons."
This conversation illustrates two points I want to bring out before I finish. First, on the basis of what the Bible says, we can believe without a doubt that the rapture will rescue believers prior to the coming great tribulation. Second, we as Christians must receive those who differ as equal brothers and sisters in Christ.
There was a time when I wasn't sure if the rapture came before the tribulation or after. I had to find out. That need led to the search recorded here to find out what the Bible really said and how the Bible interpreted itself.
Now I am sure, and I believe everyone can be sure. We don't have to wonder any longer. Why? Because the Bible allows only one possibility. The arguments are simple enough and clear enough that anyone can believe on the basis of the Bible alone, no matter who says what.
Searching out the truth about the rapture has been sheer enjoyment. I learned much from reading the works of others and from talking with various people, scholars and laymen alike. This interaction caused me to dig and to search the Scriptures, setting aside some "pat answers" to discover things which I never would have thought of on my own. Rather than conclusions limited to my own thinking, I view this work as a triumph for cooperative interpretation.
Reasons for my writing are my desire to display the harmony of the Bible and my obligation to be a faithful steward of what God has given me. But one big purpose behind it all has been to bring us to a unity of faith on the rapture issue.
Even though I am sure about pre-tribulationism, I still accept post-tribulationists as people. We ought to fellowship with them. As in most any controversy each side has an aspect of the truth, and we can learn much from each other.
Let's look at the Biblical basis for receiving post-tribulationists. Ephesians 4 describes two kinds of unity, unity of the Spirit and unity of the faith:
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ....
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting ... of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:116).
Unity of the Spirit is a spiritual oneness while unity of the faith is a doctrinal oneness. Unity of the Spirit we have already while unity of the faith we are striving toward. Let's make sure we know how to distinguish between these two kinds of unity, because confusing the two leads to dissension between brethren.
Unity of the Spirit. The unity of the Spirit rests on what genuine believers have in common. Paul lists some items common to all genuine believers:
By this list Paul draws the boundaries broad enough to include all genuine believers, but narrow enough to exclude all false believers. Paul is not talking about a unity like the worldly "ecumenical movement" which waters down basic beliefs. We hold strong to the basic beliefs and our unity rests solidly on that foundation.
Some people glibly say, "Oh, yes, we all believe in the same God." But this is not true. Many people believe in a god of their own mind instead of the God of the Bible. The Christ of the Bible, the Christ that Paul has been talking about in Ephesians, is above all other power in the universe:
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him ... what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come (Ephesians 1:1721).
"Oh, yes, we all have faith." But the faith of the Bible, the faith that Paul has been talking about, is a faith that brings salvation apart from any works that we do. Good works are the result of salvation, not the cause of salvation (see Ephesians 2:810).
So Paul draws narrow boundaries, but he also draws them broadly. As long as a person is part of the same body, sharing one Spirit and one calling, how can I reject him? If we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, what right do I have to refuse to fellowship with him? If we have one God and Father, can we not work together?
Unity of the Faith. We now move to the second kind of unity, the unity of the faith. This is not a unity that we already have, but it is a unity we are striving toward. We strive toward it because it goes beyond basic faith required for salvation and presses toward perfect knowledge of God. This is where apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers come in. Their job is to instruct us regarding all the doctrines of the Bible, and their purpose is to bring us to a unity, or to an agreement, on all these doctrines. Quite a task, isn't it? This is why we are still striving toward the unity of the faith.
I am sure you have heard this idea: "It doesn't matter what we believe. It's not really important. We'll just enjoy our unity and cover up our differences."
No, it doesn't work that way. If that were the case, what good are pastors? We don't need teachers. Throw away the writings of the apostles. No, God intends for us to receive solid teaching, and He intends for us to come to the unity of the faith.
Can we all come to the unity of the faith on the rapture issue? Yes, I think we can. Some may doubt this because, obviously, post-tribulationism is not taught by "cunning craftiness" warned of in Ephesians 4:14. But at the same time God intends for us to grow "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).
The chart below illustrates my Biblical basis for receiving post-tribs even though I happen to believe pre-trib.
Unity of the Spirit
Unity of the Faith
already have it
progressing toward it
basis of fellowship
reason for teaching
Why Now? Why Not Before? If we can come to a unity of the faith on the rapture issue now, then why has disagreement continued for so long? If pre-trib is clearly taught in the Bible, then why hasn't everyone seen this long ago? If we believe in the same rules of interpretation, why do we still disagree? These are good questions and I would like to offer two answers.
First, I think God is allowing the prophetic Scriptures to become more and more unsealed as the time of the end approaches. You can observe this for yourself when you go to your Christian bookstore. On the shelves you see more books and commentaries on Revelation and on the end times than ever before. Now that the end is getting closer, there is a greater need for us to know these things. We all need to be united now, looking for His coming at any day and any hour.
Second, some of the overlooked details in Scripture are finally coming to light. They were there all the time; we just haven't noticed them before. Anyone can pay attention to the details of Scripture. Scholars are not in a class by themselves. In our church a young mother proved some scholars wrong by spending just fifteen minutes with her concordance. She was willing to take the time and she discovered the truth about a certain word. Even brand new Christians at Berea took time to check up on the apostle Paul (see Acts 17:11). Meditation on the details of Scripture leads to deeper truth.
Historically, the process of discovering the overlooked details about the rapture has taken some time. To begin with, the study of the end times was not taken up in earnest until the 1800s. Since that time it has taken an interplay of minds and ideas on all sides in order to arrive at some of these discoveries.
Today we need this interplay of minds because you may see something in Scripture which I don't see. And I may see something that you haven't seen. Together, working as a body as the Lord intended, we can arrive at the unity of the faith even though the interplay of minds and ideas takes some time.
When I study a subject in Scripture, I am not content to study only the evidence, the bare facts. I also like to ask, Why? As a capstone to this study we ask, Why did God design the tribulation period? Here are five reasons for the tribulation period:
First, to glean out the last possible person who will be saved. The "hour of testing" produces a polarization in which men are forced to choose Christ or antichrist. The winnable are won, while the disobedient are hardened even more (Revelation 3:10; Daniel 12:10).
Second, to give birth to Israel. This is the "time of Jacob's trouble" which will produce the spiritual restoration of the nation (Jeremiah 30:7; Zechariah 13:9).
Third, to call out righteous people from all nations who will enter the millennium in their natural bodies.
Fourth, to call out guests to attend the wedding feast Christ is preparing for His bride.
Fifth, to provide a dispensational test. Men will no longer have the excuse, "But, God, if You had only given me a taste of hell, I would have repented." God gives them a taste of hell on earth to prove once and for all that men are still stubborn at heart (Revelation 9:2021).
I find no reason in the Bible for the church to be in the tribulation. I find no exhortation for the present-day believer to prepare himself to endure the last seven years of tribulation. Christians do not lack courage when they rejoice in the assurance that Christ will come to rapture them before the tribulation. Nor do we excuse laziness. As Christians we face and endure tribulation every day. These daily trials shape our character so that we will become more and more like Christ. We are strengthened by today's tribulations, not tomorrow's. Let us make the most of them so that God can perform His perfect work in us that we might be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:4).
But I do find reason for the church to be raptured before the tribulation:
First, to reward those who have received and kept His Word (Revelation 3:10).
Second, to display His mercy and grace. Although it is a reward, God was not obligated to promise this reward. Sheer goodness gives us the pre-tribulation rapture!
The last page of the Old Testament leaves ringing in our ears a prophecy of the coming of Elijah. After those last words was a long gap of 400 years. But the very next prophesied event to occur was the fulfillment of that prophecy as John the Baptist appeared in the spirit and power of Elijah.
The last page of the New Testament leaves ringing in our ears a prophecy of the coming of Christ. After those last words has been a long gap of 2000 years. But the very next event to occur....