"Return from the wedding" (Luke 12:36)
"Pre-tribulationists have not one verse in the whole Bible which proves that the rapture comes before the tribulation. They come with arguments and implications, but where is just one little verse? Show me one verse."
Challenges like this one I have read in post-trib literature, and such a challenge deserves to be answered. Can we meet the challenge? Do we have one verse that proves pre-tribulationism?
Before I tell you what verse I have in mind, I want to ask you a question: When is the wedding? We know that the church is the bride and Christ is the bridegroom and someday we will be married. Earthly marriage is just a foretaste of the ultimate joy and fulfillment which we will experience at the heavenly marriage. And it will be without all the problems that earthly marriage has. An earthly wedding is beautiful to watch. But just think of the thrill and excitement we will experience at our heavenly wedding!
My question is: When is it? I think we can all agree that it is at Christ's return. Paul wrote, "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2). Right now, according to Paul, we are "espoused." This means we are betrothed or engaged. This means we are not married yet. As long as we are in the church age we are in the engagement period, not the marriage period. So I think we can all agree that the wedding cannot take place until the rapture. Not one minute before. Agreed?
Now, how about that challenge? Can we prove pre-tribulationism from one verse? I think we can. The verse is Luke 12:36:
And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.
Read it closely. Did you notice the phrase "return from the wedding"? What does that tell you? That one little phrase gives away the whole secret. You see, if the wedding occurred before this return, then the rapture occurred before this return. A prior wedding necessitates a prior coming. It's so simple. If this one verse does not set up a chronology, then my Bible is written in riddles instead of plain words.
Nothing more needs to be said, but lest there be any doubt about this, I'll take time now to examine possible objections.
Objection Number 1: The Post-Trib Rapture Is the Wedding. A post-trib may reason that the post-trib rapture is the wedding. In other words, as we go up we are married, and as we come down moments later this is His return from the wedding.
I do not object to the rapture being the wedding. But I do have one little question about this scheme.
Yes, who's waiting?
The verse says to be like men who wait for their lord's return from the wedding. If all are raptured at this time, no one is left who will be waiting.
The rapture does not fit at the end of the tribulation.
Objection Number 2: It's Only a Parable. Some may object to getting a chronology out of Luke 12:36 by saying: It is only a parable. It's not talking about the real Lord or the real wedding. It's just an earthly illustration, that's all.
Think now. What is a parable, after all? It is an earthly illustration with a heavenly meaning. Any other parable would be accepted as illustrating a heavenly meaning. Why not this one? Any other parable that talks about a wedding is commonly accepted as applying to the heavenly wedding. Any other parable that talks about a lord is commonly interpreted to apply to the Lord. Isn't that the purpose of a parable, to illustrate heavenly meaning?
Want proof? Look at the following verse:
Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them (Luke 12:37).
What earthly lord does that, reversing the expected roles? Obviously, this earthly lord illustrates the heavenly Lord. Furthermore, verse 40 clearly applies this to the coming of the Son of man.
The strength of the pre-trib position is that it can accept the chronology of Luke 12:36 at face value. The weakness of the post-trib position is that it cannot accept the implications of the chronology.
We know that God inspired every word of the Bible; so we can trust the chronology in Luke 12:36. Would Jesus use an untruth to teach a truth? Of course not. Jesus is a better teacher than that. Out of all possible parables that He could have chosen or invented, He gave this one. Why? Why not another one? He gave us this particular parable because it teaches accurately concerning the second coming, and I cannot imagine Him choosing a parable that would be misleading in any way. Yes, we can trust the chronology.
I am sure that some are thinking: you cannot prove doctrine from a parable. A parable can only be used to illustrate doctrine which is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture.
I agree with this wholeheartedly. I merely used this one verse, Luke 12:36, because some post-tribs have asked for one verse, and so I gave it to them. But having done that, let us go to another passage in Revelation which confirms the illustration we have seen in Luke.
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of saints (Revelation 19:78).
This passage also sets up a chronology, the identical chronology as Luke 12:36. Notice, "His wife hath made herself ready [past tense]." Notice also, "And to her was granted [past tense] that she should be arrayed in fine linen." Now if the wife, which is the church, is robed and readied, then she must also be raptured. Even without assuming that the wife is the church only, the implications remain valid. There is no way for her to be robed and readied unless she were in heaven, and there is no way for all believers who make up the wife to be in heaven without the rapture.
If the rapture occurred previously, this would rule out a post-trib rapture, because at this point in Revelation 19 Christ has not yet left heaven to begin His descent to earth after the tribulation.
To set Luke 12:36 and Revelation 19 in perspective, think of a shopping trip. Suppose my wife came in the door and said to me, "I just returned from the grocery store."
"I'm glad you're home now, but where did you go?"
"I just said. I returned from the grocery store. A trip from the store implies a previous trip to the store."
"Good point. That settles the chronology, but what other evidence do you have?"
"Evidence? Just look at the bags of groceries in my arms! Doesn't that tell you where I've been?"
Just as my wife brought the groceries safely home, so Christ has brought His bride safely home to heaven by Revelation 19. The bride, robed and readied, are the "groceries," proving a previous trip to earth by Christ.
The chronology of Revelation 19 does not fit post-tribulationism. It's that simple.
But it's not that simple, really, because I am sure some will raise objections. So let's take time now to answer possible objections to our chronology in Revelation 19.
Objection Number 1: The Wife Is Readied on Earth. Some may object that the wife may not wait until the rapture to be robed and readied. Why couldn't she receive robes on earth and be readied for the marriage while on earth?
It is true that Revelation 3:18 speaks of being clothed in white raiment now. But being clothed spiritually is different from being clothed physically. Revelation 3:45 points up the difference:
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
Yes, we now have garments in a spiritual sense. But we await the actual moment when we will be arrayed physically. This happens only in heaven.
Let me give you a real live example of this. Do you remember the souls under the altar in Revelation 6:911? When did they receive their white robes?
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice saying, How long, Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
As faithful as these souls were on earth, even unto death, they did not receive their robes on earth. They had to await heaven. Yes, this happened before their resurrection. But resurrection has nothing to do with my argument. My point is they had to await heaven. Yes, they are not church saints, but that is irrelevant to my argument because post-tribulationists believe they are church saints anyway. My point is they had to await heaven.
I know of only one exception, and the exception proves the rule. Jesus was seen in dazzling white on the mount (Mark 9:13), but He was in a heavenly transfigured state at the time. You and I won't be arrayed like that until we get to heaven.
Not only do these other Scriptures demand arrival in heaven, but the very definition of "fine linen" demands arrival in heaven. "Fine linen is the righteousnesses of saints" (Revelation 19:8). "Righteousnesses" is plural in the Greek; so we know it is talking about the various righteous deeds we do in the power of the Holy Spirit. If my robe is made up of the deeds I do, then my righteousness is not complete until my life on earth is complete. As long as I have more righteous deeds to do, my robe is not finished. Can you imagine going to a wedding, and here comes the bride down the aisle in a half completed wedding dress? A bride with holes in her dress not sewn up yet is not quite ready for the wedding.
But the wife of the Lamb in Revelation 19 is ready. Her dress has no holes; all the sewing is done. She has no more righteous acts to perform; they are all done. She has no more deeds to do because her life on earth is complete. The very definition of "fine linen" will not allow the bride to be ready on earth.
If the wife, which is the church, has arrived in heaven by Revelation 19, this not only disproves post-tribulationism but it also militates against the partial rapture theory which says that part of the church is raptured before the tribulation and the rest are left behind. This passage informs us that no segment of the bride is left straggling upon the earth. She is all in heaven. If she were not all in heaven, how could she be robed and ready?
(Also against the partial-rapture theory, 1 Corinthians 15:51 says "we shall all be changed," not some of us. First Thessalonians 4:17 says "we which are alive" shall be raptured, not some of us).
The attempt to robe the wife on earth has failed. Other Scripture forbid it, and the definition of "fine linen" forbids it. The wife has left earth and she has arrived in heaven by Revelation 19, and she had to get there somehow. She must have gotten there by rocket or by rapture.
Objection Number 2: The Marriage Is After the Tribulation. In order to get around the idea of a rapture before Revelation 19 others may object that the marriage occurs after the tribulation. The marriage is mentioned before Christ's return, but it actually takes place after Christ's return.
I agree that the marriage is after, but this objection misses my point altogether. My argument is based, not on the wife's marriage, but on her robing and readiness. The marriage may be future, but her preparation for the marriage is past. That's the point.
This does raise a problem of a different nature, though. If Revelation 19 places the marriage after the tribulation, then why does Luke 12:36 place the wedding before the end of the tribulation? As you recall, Luke 12:36 says,
And ye yourselves [be] like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding.
Can both Luke 12:36 and Revelation 19 be correct? Is the wedding before or after Christ's return? Will the real wedding please stand up?
This seems a problem only because of our English culture. Remember, the writers of the Bible did not live in our country. They didn't know anything about our weddings. They wrote from a background of their own wedding customs. According to Eastern marriage customs the marriage has three phases. Walvoord explains it this way:
Though marriage customs varied in the ancient world, usually there were three major aspects: (1) The marriage contract was often consummated by the parents when the parties to the marriage were still children and not ready to assume adult responsibility. The payment of a suitable dowry was often a feature of the contract. When consummated, the contract meant that the couple were legally married. (2) At a later time when a couple had reached a suitable age, the second step in the wedding took place. This was a ceremony in which the bridegroom accompanied by his friends would go to the house of the bride and escort her to his home. This is the background of the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25:113. (3) Then the bridegroom would bring his bride to his home and the marriage supper, to which guests were invited, would take place. It was such a wedding feast that Christ attended at Cana as recorded in John 2:112.
The marriage symbolism is beautifully fulfilled in the relationship of Christ to His church. The wedding contract is consummated at the time the church is redeemed. Every true Christian is joined to Christ in a legal marriage. When Christ comes for His church at the rapture, the second phase of the wedding is fulfilled, namely, the Bridegroom goes to receive His bride. The third phase then follows, that is, the wedding feast.1
So the marriage of the Bible has three phases, the betrothal, the processional, and the feast. We are in the betrothal stage now, the rapture-processional is what Luke 12:36 refers to ("return from the wedding"), and the feast is what Revelation 19 refers to. Therefore, we find no contradiction at all between Luke 12:36 and Revelation 19. They merely refer to different aspects of the marriage.
(I am not disputing that Israel also is the bride, or part of the bride. She had an earlier marriage, divorce, and will be remarried. See Jeremiah 3:1,8,14,20. The marriage of Israel need not correspond in time with the marriage of the church, or at least I know of no Scripture which says so. Revelation 21:914 portrays a unity of the bride that does not wipe out distinctions.)
There is also the matter of a feast to prepare for. Some people are under the impression that the marriage feast transpires during the tribulation instead of after the tribulation as we have said. But what is a feast without guests? If I invited people over to my house for dinner, I would not begin the meal until all the guests arrived. Who are the guests at the marriage supper of the Lamb? It couldn't be the church because the church is the bride. No one sends the bride an invitation to her own wedding. If not the church, then that leaves Old Testament saints and tribulation saints. These are the guests. If the feast took place in heaven during the tribulation, then the tribulation saints would miss the supper. And you and I would miss their company too.
No, tribulation saints will not miss out on the wedding invitation. "And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9). The mention of invited guests at this point tells me that the feast is anticipated instead of dissipated. Invited guests look forward to a feast. If the feast were almost over what would be the purpose of mentioning invited guests at this point?
A second indication of a future feast is this: the wife is ready. Ready for what? Ready to attend the marriage feast, of course. Suppose you are invited out to dinner and you get all ready and go. You enjoy a delicious feast of fried chicken and all the trimmings. After you finish the main course out comes your favorite dessert, strawberry pie. You relish each bite of it, and just as you are about to take the last bite, your host exclaims, "Are you ready for dinner?" Quite out of place, isn't it? You see, the mention of the wife being "ready" at this point tells me the feast is future.
A third indication of a future feast is the usage of the word "come" in the phrase "the marriage of the Lamb is come" (Revelation 19:7). In other words, it is about to begin. In Greek "is come" is in the past tense, but I understand it to be a dramatic past. The dramatic usage of a verb indicates that something is on the verge of happening. This usage of "come" is common in Revelation. It occurs, not once, nor twice, but it forms a striking pattern as you can see from checking out Revelation 6:17; 11:18; 14:7, 15. Let me show you one of these passages as an example:
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Revelation 6:1517).
As you can see, the people are terrified of the wrath on the verge of breaking forth. If God's wrath had already vented itself, then it would be a little late for the people to cry for the mountains and rocks to fall on them. They yearn to hide, not from wrath past, but from wrath future. Their cry is, "Who shall be able [not who was able] to stand?" This illustrates the dramatic usage of "is come" as it is used consistently throughout Revelation. I believe Revelation 19:7 is no exception to the pattern, because in the context are the "ready wife" and the "invited guests" which point to a future feast.
Evidence of a feast after the tribulation comes not only from this context, but also from other Scriptures. Matthew 25:10, from the parable of the virgins, is a fourth indication. The setting of this parable is after the tribulation as you can see by following the flow of thought from Matthew 24 onwards. At the conclusion of the parable, Jesus says that the wise virgins "went in with him to the marriage." Therefore, the marriagethat is, the marriage feastis after the tribulation.
A fifth indication of the time of the feast is what Jesus said to His disciples at the last supper. "But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matthew 26:29). This places the time at the commencement of the millennial kingdom after the tribulation.
A wonderful celebration will be the marriage feast. I look forward to it very much. I will relish that meal more than I have relished any meal in my life. I hope to see you there too. If you are reading this book before the rapture, then you can be there as part of the bride, the wife of the King of the universe. If you are reading this after the rapture, then you can share in the celebration too as royal guests. Here is your invitation: "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17).
You have the opportunity, however, to choose your feast. Everyone alive at the end of the tribulation will attend a feast. If not the marriage feast, it will be another feast. What is this other feast?
And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great (Revelation 19:1718).
Choose your feast. Will you enjoy the marriage feast? Or will you be enjoyed at the Supper of the Great God, not as guests, but as food?
Pointing out the contrast between these two feasts is intended when John was instructed to write, "Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9). Our English translation loses something, but the Greek emphasizes the marriage feast by changing the word order so that it reads something like this: "Blessed are they which to the marriage supper of the Lamb are called." In other words, the language implies, "Blessed is he that is call to this feast rather than to that other feast."
What a contrast!
The future feast rests on past preparation. I happen to believe that the marriage feast is celebrated after the tribulation for the five reasons given above. So when a post-tribulationist objects that the feast is after, I fully agree with him. My argument is not based on the feast, but on the preparation. The wife is robed and readiedthat is my point. To be entirely ready she must be entirely in heaven, and if she is entirely in heaven she must be raptured.
Objection Number 3: The Time Is Reversed. Some post-tribs may agree that a ready wife necessitates a raptured wife, and so they may try to say that Revelation 19 is not written in orderthe chronology is reversed. By switching the passage around, they manage to place the readiness of the wife after the return of Christ to earth.
Here are three reasons why the chronology in Revelation 19 cannot be reversed. The first and obvious reason is that it is written in this order. If it was written in this order it must be in this order. I realize that parts of Revelation are not in order because the seals, trumpets, and vials backtrack and amplify each other instead of following consecutively. But even there the order is not random; it follows a pattern of cycles. And the pattern of cycles is made obvious enough so that we can perceive them, as we shall see in a later chapter. There is nothing wrong with an orderly pattern like that, but to play hopscotch chronology is a different story. To reverse the time in Revelation 19 follows no pattern. This reminds me of the proud mother watching her son in a marching band. "Look," she said, "my boy is the only one in step!"
The book of Revelation has nothing out of step, but everything falls into place. The cycles of seals, trumpets, and vials take place in chapters 6 through 18. These chapters backtrack and amplify one another in an orderly patterned way. But by chapter 19 these cycles are over. From 19 on everything is chronological. Everything is in order. Therefore, to reverse the time in Revelation 19 not only is unpatterned, but also it goes contrary to the pattern of Revelation 1922!
It is written that the wife is ready before Christ's coming to earth. If it is written that way, then let's leave it that way.
The second reason for leaving the order as it stands is the context immediately following. Notice verse 14: "And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean." Who are these armies clothed in fine linen? Where did they come from? And why are they wearing fine linen? These questions are easy to answer because it has just been explained to us about the wife of the Lamb being arrayed in fine linen. It is like a play, one scene prepares us for the next. As the drama of Revelation unfolds we first see the wife arrayed, and next we watch her in her new garments ride down from the sky on white horses. The two segments are hinged together in such a way that one has to follow the other and to invert the order would ruin the whole thing.
The third reason for leaving the order intact is the context preceding. The first part of the chapter contains "Alleluia's" occasioned by the destruction of the great whore, Babylon. This is a tip-off regarding the time. When is Babylon destroyed? It has to be sometime before the end of the tribulation because of its aftereffects described in Revelation 18.
And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning (Revelation 18:9).
When Christ returns to earth He will terminate all overt wickedness. Therefore, for these wicked kings to lament the sinful city, instead of rejoicing, shows me that the time is before Christ's return.
Here is another aftereffect of Babylon's destruction:
Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her (Revelation 18:20).
This sounds like the apostles and prophets are still in heaven. If Christ had returned they would have returned to earth with Him.
Therefore, there is some timeI don't know how longbetween the destruction of Babylon and the coming of Christ to earth. This is where the "Alleluias" come in. In Revelation 19 the "Alleluias" come in response to the destruction of Babylon. This tells me that the time is yet before Christ's coming. If Christ had come, it seems to me that the "Alleluias" would come in response to the victory of Armageddon instead of the victory over Babylon. In a football game, as soon as a player makes a great play, everyone stands up and cheers. To stand up and cheer the play previous to that, or two plays ago, is a little late and out of place.
Therefore, the "Alleluias" in response to Babylon's destruction place the time before Christ's return. And as one "Alleluia" flows into the next one, and that one into the next one, and that one into the next one, before you know it the wife is ready. (How fitting it is, because Babylon the harlot, decked in purple and scarlet, gives way to the wife of the Lamb, arrayed in fine linen, clean and white.) The readiness of the wife is hopelessly enmeshed in a context which puts the time before Christ's return.
Another item from the context preceding is "A great voice of much people in heaven" (verse 1). If these people are still in heaven then the time has to be before Christ's return, because when Christ returns to earth He brings all the saints to earth with Him.
In light of the context, how can anyone invert the time? Well, I suppose someone could say that the first part of Revelation 19 happens before Christ's return, the middle part skips to after Christ's return, and the last part reverts back to Christ's return itself. Hopscotch chronology does not appeal to me, especially when the passage reads so smoothly and orderly as it is written.
In light of the three reasons given above for leaving the order intact, what evidence is offered to the contrary? Only one word as far as I know. The word is "reigneth" in verse 6 of Revelation 19.
And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
The point is made that "reigneth" is in the present tense, and therefore, the time must be during the reign of Christ after His return. It is fine to base an argument on one word if that word carries insurmountable implications. But in this case the argument tries to squeeze too much out of the one word "reigneth."
For one thing, the tense of a verb in Greek does not always tell the time. Usually, but not always. In this context, "reigneth" could very well be what grammarians call the futuristic present. Dana and Mantey define the futuristic present this way:
This use of the present tense denotes an event which has not yet occurred, but which is regarded as so certain that in thought it may be contemplated as already coming to pass.2
They then cite the example of Matthew 26:2, "Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified."
Therefore, a present tense can denote a future event if the context so dictates. And since the context of Revelation 19 is before Christ's return, a futuristic present for "reigneth" is a good possibility.
Another possibility is that "reigneth" refers to the reign of Christ in the broad sense not limited in time to His millennial reign. This possibility, too, comes from the context. In the preceding context we find the destruction of Babylon (chapters 17 and 18), and the "Alleluias" which open chapter 19 are occasioned by the destruction of Babylon. It is in light of Babylon's destruction that praise arises for His present reign. By destroying Babylon Christ demonstrates that He is reigning, and this happens during the tribulation rather than during the millennium. I look forward to Christ's reign in a special sense during the millennium, but I know that Christ reigns in the broad sense throughout all ages. The mere use of the word "reign," therefore, does not prove millennium to me.
With these two possibilities for the meaning of "reigneth" in the present tenseand both of these possibilities come straight from the contextI see no reason to make the tense of the verb invert the natural order of Revelation 19 making the chronology come unglued, especially in light of the three reasons given earlier which glue the passage together in such a way that the chronology has to remain the way it is.
Objection Number 4: The Past Tense Is Not Past. I can think of only one more way that post-tribs may try to dodge the idea of a wife robed and readied by Revelation 19, namely, to claim that the tenses of the key verbs are not a simple past tense. "His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white." Although "hath made ready" and "was granted" are past tense, some may claim that these verbs grammatically are "dramatic past" which speaks of a future event rather than a past event. Can this be so? Not without support from the context. Always the context determines such matters.
As I examine the context I find no support for making it future but abundant support for leaving it past. Let's look at the evidence.
According to the context the wife has to be already robed and readied (past tense). Why? Because the marriage feast is about to begin. We can chart the flow of thought this way:
How do we know the marriage feast has come?
Because the wife is ready.
How do we know the wife is ready?
Because she is robed.
It follows a logical sequence. Since she is robed she is ready. Since she is ready the marriage feast can now proceed. One event depends on the other. By this reasoning, if the wife were not yet robed and readied, it would seem premature for John to write that the time for the marriage has come. The future feast awaits past preparation.
You see, it is not the past tense alone, but it is the whole force of the context which places the wife's readiness prior to Christ's return to earth.
Besides, so far as I have been able to determine, the verbs "made ready" and "granted" are nowhere else used in a "dramatic past" sense. Contrariwise, the verb "come" has consistent dramatic usage in Revelation. Likewise, "reign" is used in this way (Revelation 11:17). But where else in the entire New Testament is the past tense for "made ready" and "granted" used to denote a future event? It is without precedent and without contextual support.
If God intended to denote a future event, He could easily have worded it, "The wife is about to make herself ready." Why didn't He put it that way if that is what He meant? (He did use similar wording in Revelation 11:18.) If this book is a "revelation" then God's inspired words ought to reveal instead of conceal. His words (and tenses) lead toward the truth instead of saying the opposite of truth.
All four objections fail to get around Revelation 19. The wife cannot be robed and readied while on earth, the time of the feast is irrelevant because it is the time of readiness that counts, the chronology cannot be reversed, and the past tenses are simple past. Revelation 19 is too high, we can't get over it; too wide, we can't get around it; too low, we can't get under it.
Therefore, since the wife is robed and readied by Revelation 19, she must have been raptured by Revelation 19. This rules out a post-trib rapture.
We have looked at Luke 12:36 and Revelation 19:78, both presenting a certain order of wedding events. Now I would like to show you a third passage. Once you hit on the truth you find that the Bible harmonizes all over. Psalm 45 prophesies about the marriage of the King. Verse 14 says,
She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee.
The virgins follow. What does that tell you? If the wife is the church, and if the virgins are tribulation saints (as they are in Matthew 25:113), then tribulation saints follow church saints. The church age is completed at the rapture, and the tribulation period follows.
Now I don't use this passage for proof, you understand. I just throw it in to show you how the Bible harmonizes. This Psalm takes the literal marriage customs of the day, the literal wedding processional, and applies it to the marriage of the King. As a pre-tribulationist I can enjoy the luxury of how it all fits together.
Objection Number 5: These Are Only Implications. I've read enough post-trib literature to guess what a sharp post-trib is probably thinking now. "All you've given us is implications. One implication after another. Don't you have even one outright statement from the Bible declaring plainly that the rapture comes before the tribulation?"
Well, if I have given implications, then all I am asking for is some answers to these implications. That's fair enough, isn't it?
I could say the same thing about post-trib arguments if I wanted to. I could say that all they have is implications; they have not one single Scripture which says outright, "The rapture is after the tribulation." Sure, Matthew 24:2931 places a "gathering" after the tribulation. But is this gathering the rapture? That's implication. Sure, 1 Corinthians 15:52 places the rapture at the "last trumpet." But is the last trumpet the seventh trumpet of Revelation? That's implication. Sure, Revelation 20:56 places the "first resurrection" after the tribulation. But is the first resurrection the rapture resurrection? That's implication. Sure, 2 Thessalonians 1:7 places "rest" after the tribulation. But is rest identical to rapture? That's implication. Sure, 2 Thessalonians 2:1 mentions the gathering of the church. But does this occur after the tribulation? That's implication.
I could toss aside all post-trib arguments in this manner if I wanted to. I could ignore them all and say, "Where is one outright statement from Scripture?" But I don't. I think it only fair that I examine each implication on its own merits. In the following chapters I will scrutinize each implication, one by one, to see if it will stand or fall.
As I said before, implications come in two sizes. Some you can get around and some you can't get around. All I am asking is that you scrutinize my implications to see if you can get around them or not.
Did you know that some Bible writers used implications? Let me show you a few.
One obvious implication in the Bible is the Trinity. Nowhere in the Bible does it say in so many words, "There is one God who exists in three persons." We have put this doctrine together by implications. Does this mean the Trinity s a weak doctrine? By no means. The doctrine is strong because the implications are strong. If implications are sufficient to prove the Trinity, are they not sufficient to prove the time of the rapture?
Another implication is one that Jesus gave concerning Himself:
Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me (John 10:2425).
Jesus expected them to believe the implications from His works. These implications were so strong that an outright statement was unnecessary. He was not offering anything less; He was offering something just as strong or stronger. Does it make sense to accept these implications concerning Christ and reject implications concerning the rapture? Jesus held the Jews accountable on the basis of implications alone. Does the manner of His second coming demand more proof than the manner of His first coming?
Of course, not everything in the Bible is implication. Most of it is not. Especially so for the way of salvation. The plan of salvation is spelled out so clearly in Romans and in Galatians and elsewhere that no one can accuse God of not clearly telling us how to be saved. For deeper Bible study, though, some treasures lie beneath the surface in order to hide them from unbelievers and in order to prod believers to study the Word more.
Resurrection in the Old Testament is another implication. If you were going to prove resurrection from the Old Testament, how would you do it? Here is how Jesus did it:
Then came unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection ... And Jesus answering said unto them, Do you not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? ... As touching the dead that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err (Mark 12:1827, excerpts).
Did Jesus offer a plain statement? No, He offered an implication, pure and simple. And the listeners were in error for not knowing and believing this implication. Does God expect us to understand implications about the rapture? Of course He does.
Peter proved Christ's resurrection from a different passage, but it was still an implication. Before Christ rose from the dead, it is said of Peter that he "knew not the Scripture, that he must rise again from the dead" (John 20:9). What Scripture? It says that Peter knew not the Scripture. What Scripture? Does the Old Testament say in plain words that Christ must rise again? Is there such a Scripture?
A few days later Peter knew the Scripture. He was preaching; so he had to know it. What Scripture was it? It was Psalm 16. Here is Peter as he is preaching from Psalm 16:
For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption (Acts 2:2531).
Does Psalm 16 say in plain words that Christ must rise from the dead? No, it doesn't. But Peter drew an implication from it that was strong enough to face a potentially hostile crowd. Now, does anyone expect me to come up with a stronger statement for the rapture resurrection than Peter did for Christ's resurrection?
I could show you others, but I'll stop here. My point is this: let's be consistent, let's be fair. If Bible writers use implications, if the entire post-trib case rests on implications, then why demand more out of pre-tribulationists? We all have to accept the Bible the way it is written, not the way we want it to be.
We are down to this. Are my rapture implications strong or weak? Can you get around them or can you not get around them? As much as possible I have tried to stay away from weak implications. I could have argued that Christ returns to the air one time and to the earth the next time. But I have avoided that argument because theoretically Christ could return to the air and to the earth all in one motion.
I could have argued that Christ returns for His saints one time and with His saints the next time. But I have avoided that argument, because theoretically He could come for His saints and with His saints all on the same day.
Post-tribs have been asking for something stronger, and so I have tried to give strong arguments. The argument of the known day versus the unknown day is strong because the only possible answer is two different days. The question of who will populate the millennium is strong because somebody with a natural body has to populate the millennium. If not the unsaved, if not those raptured, then who? It has to be somebody. The timing of the wedding is strong because the order of events can run only one way. I invite all to scrutinize these implications, and more to follow later. Are they not just as strong as an outright statement?
I too might wish for the Bible to state the timing of the rapture differently, but I cannot wish for it to state the timing more clearly, for it is already as clear as can be. All I need do is to accept the way the Bible is written and believe it.
If you were alive in Jesus' day, would you join the others in saying, "If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. These implications you are giving us are not what we asked for at all. You want us to settle for something less, and we won't settle for anything less than an outright statement." Would you press such demands? No, I'm sure you wouldn't.
Some post-tribulationists have asked for one verse, just one verse, that proves pre-tribulationism. In this chapter I offer Luke 12:36. Will you believe it?
1. John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), p. 271.
2. Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Riverside, NJ: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1955), p. 185.