If you have been around the church for any length of time, possibly as few as twenty seconds, you may have run into those who want to get you straightened out on when Jesus is returning. There are three terms that are ballyhooed about in this endeavor. We shall take a moment to unpack those terms before we proceed to the text of the book.
They are pretribulation, midtribulation, and posttribulation. Sound scary? They really aren’t.
Those holding the pretribulation view of the Second Coming of Jesus attempt to identify all premillennialists with their view of the end times. However, through most of the history of the church, those who taught premillennialism did not have a detailed pretribulation calendar of events of the end times.
Until the nineteenth century, believers thought in terms of the rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus as the same event. It occurred after the tribulation. In the nineteenth century, a swing to Dispensational Theology appeared.
Dispensational Theology had its roots in J.N. Darby, a Plymouth Brethren minister. He introduced into the church the idea of the coming of Jesus in two stages: one for his saints at the rapture and one with his saints at the Second Coming at the close of the tribulation.
According to his interpretation of prophecy, there was a seven-year period of time that was the seventh week predicted by Daniel 9.24-27.
With the church removed, God would resume his dealing with Israel.
Darby’s ideas widely influenced believers in England and the United States. Darby came to the U.S. to hold prophetic conferences and met the mentor of C.I. Scofield. Scofield adopted Darby’s prophetic interpretation from his mentor and incorporated it into his reference Bible (Scofield Reference Bible). This position was taken up by some of the leading theological schools in the nation like Dallas Theological Seminary, Talbot Seminary, etc. The book that brought this system of belief to the populous was The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. Lindsey was a product of Dallas Seminary. His book was one of the most favorite books of the Jesus Movement in the ‘60s. Along with this, most of the TV evangelists believed and shared this point of view. In today’s world, the Left Behind series has taken this view and made it easy reading in fiction stories. The problem is that folks are learning their eschatology from these fiction stories.
There are several versions of how Darby came by this system of interpretation. Samuel P. Tregelles, who was also a member of the Plymouth Brethren movement, believed that Darby’s view originated during a charismatic service conducted by Edward Irving in 1832.
Other historians believe that this new understanding of the rapture of the church was the product of a prophetic vision given to Margaret MacDonald in 1830. Margaret claimed special insight regarding the Second Coming and began to share her beliefs with others. Her teaching led to a charismatic revival in Scotland. Darby was impressed by this and visited her. By his own testimony, he rejected her claim of a new outpouring of the Spirit, but apparently accepted her approach to the rapture of the church and worked it into his own system.
Darby’s own explanation is based upon his presupposition that the church and Israel are two distinct peoples of God in Scripture. When the church is withdrawn from the world, then the prophetic events involving Israel can be fulfilled.
The pretribulation rapture of the church is based on a literal chronological interpretation of the book of Revelation which takes the following pattern.
The seven letters of Chapters 2 and 3 equal seven successive ages of Church History.
- Ephesus = Apostolic
- Smyrna = Persecution
- Pergamum = Patronage
- Thyatira = Corruption
- Sardis = Reformation
- Philadelphia = Evangelization
- Laodicea = Apostasy
The rapture of John in Chapter 4 symbolizes the rapture of the church. Chapters 6–18 equal the Great Tribulation. This period of tribulation will involve the rise of the Antichrist who will promise peace on earth. He will make an agreement to protect the restored state of Israel. However, he will turn to the Jews and demand that they worship him. The ones who will not cooperate will be persecuted. This final holocaust against God’s chosen people will lead them to accept Jesus as their Savior. Plagues will ravage the earth during the time of tribulation and, finally, will come the battle of Armageddon.
Chapter 19 tells that the result of this battle will issue in the visible, personal, victorious return of Jesus to earth; the church safely in heaven has been enjoying the marriage supper. Chapter 20 says that the Lord will bind Satan for a thousand years and rule the world with his followers. Chapter 20.7-22.21 tells us that Satan will be doomed and that the dead will be judged. The description of the new heaven and new earth is then described. Some of the distinctive beliefs of Dispensational Theology are: God’s children are the Jews; Jerusalem and the Temple must be restored; the Jews are protected from the wrath of God, and the Jews suffer the persecution of the Antichrist.
In summary, the pretribulation view believes that all the prophecies that were supposed to be fulfilled when Jesus came the first time will come to pass at his Second Coming. The Jewish rejection of Jesus in the first century forced the postponement of the kingdom of God until the Second Coming. See: The Rapture Question by the Late John Walvoord.
Proponents of this view are: The Late Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, and others in the Pre-Trib circle, such as Ed Hindson, Tommy Ice, Chuck Missler, Zola Levitt, Thomas McCall, John Hagee, Grant Jeffrey, Marlin Maddox, Perry Stone, Texe Marrs, and the Late John Walvoord, others from the TV world that could be included would be the Late Jerry Farwell, Pat Robinson, and the Trinity Broadcasting Network headed by the Late Paul Crouch.
Religious TV and print are full of these voices propagating a soon rapture of the church while reading the “signs of the times” in the present arena of socio-political events, a “pick-up-the-daily-paper or watch-the-latest-news-report and interpret the Bible.”
John might “roll over in his grave” if he knew how he has been interpreted. Now, there’s a figure of speech for you.
The mid-tribulation rapture of the church became popular in the mid-1950s. One of its leaders was Harold John Ockenga, who was a leader in the Evangelical Movement, which developed in the U.S. after World War II.
The modification that this view brings to the pretribulation rapture was the limitation of the wrath of God upon the world as described in Revelation 16-18, to the first three and a half years of the tribulation period. The support for this argument came from Daniel 7.25, which was believed to indicate that the church will be under the tyrannical rule of the antichrist for three and a half years.
For this view, Revelation 12.14 indicates that an agreement with Christians and Jews guaranteeing religious freedom will be made with the world ruler of the end times.
Revelation 12.14 is cited as supporting midtribulationism by predicting a flight into the wilderness by the church during the first three and a half years of the tribulation period.
This view maintains that the rapture is to take place after the fulfillment of certain predicted signs in the first three and a half years as described in Matthew 24.10-27. When Jesus returns in an impressive display, it will be to draw the attention of the unsaved people of the world who will notice that the Christians are gone. This will draw large numbers into a relationship with God. It will be a major revival (Rev. 7.9-14).
Those espousing a posttribulation view of the rapture of the church are uncomfortable with the sharp distinction between the church and Israel that is held by pretribulationists. They find no reason to distinguish sharply between Israel and the church. The rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus are the same events which appear to occur after the tribulation according to Matthew 24.27-29.
They believe that much of the advice, given the church in Scripture relative to the last days, is meaningless if the church does not go through the tribulation. As an example, the church is told to flee to the mountains when certain events occur, such as the setting up of the abomination of desolation in the holy place (Matthew 24.15-20).
This view believes that the people of God who face persecution is the church. They believe that there is no internal evidence in the Bible and Revelation to indicate that the seven churches equal seven-time periods and that there is no indication that John’s rapture is the church’s rapture.
So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation, ‘spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.
There are four basic varieties of posttribulationism:
- Classic posttribulationism can be found in the works of J. Barton Payne, who taught that the church has always been in tribulation and therefore the great tribulation has largely been fulfilled.
- Semi-classic posttribulationism found in the work of Alexander Reese believes that the entire course of church history is an era of tribulation, but, in addition, there is to be a future period of the great tribulation. See: The Approaching Advent of Christ by Alexander Reese.
- George Ladd espoused futurist posttribulationism. He believed that there would be a seven-year period of tribulation between the present era and the Second Coming. He interprets Revelation 8-18 in a natural fashion. He believed that the pretribulation rapture was an addition to Scripture and, as such, obscured the truly important event of the actual appearance of Christ to inaugurate his reign. See: The Blessed Hope and The Last Things by George Ladd.
- Dispensational posttribulationism is forwarded by Robert H. Gundry. This name was given to this view by the Late John Walvoord, who was a leading proponent of Dispensational Theology and former President of Dallas Theological Seminary. In this view, Gundry combines the pretribulational arguments with an acceptance of the posttribulational rapture. The Church and the Tribulation by Robert Gundry
For a view of all three of these theologies see: Three Views of the Rapture where three professors from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School take each position and respond to each other.