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Answering the Root of Rapture Rejection (Part 2 of 2)

by Michael Hildreth

Reprint from The Kingdom, The Power, and The Glory

 (Part 1 appeared in the April Word & Work).

 

      As we continue our response to Christendom’s widespread rejection of the rapture, we must look at another essential reason for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ for his church. We have already discussed Messiah’s promised reign, as foretold by the Old Testament prophets, and confirmed by the apostles and authors of the New Testament (cf. Acts 1:3, 6, 7; 3:21; 15:13 – 18; et al). We know it is necessary for Christ to first gather the church in order to later return with her and exercise authority over the nations. However, this is also necessary in order to rescue her from the impending tribulation which will take place “to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10, NIV). Therefore, the glorious return of Jesus with his redeemed Body, and the establishment of his millennial kingdom, will follow the execution of God’s wrath upon the earth. His righteous indignation against mankind’s wickedness will characterize the final episode of world history prior to Christ’s triumphant arrival as absolute monarch.

       Since the church is not the object of God’s wrath, she will be completely removed out of the way before his wrath is unleashed against the sons of men (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9). The wine press of that great day will be trod with incredible divine fury, and no one left upon the earth will escape the vengeance that is coming (Rev. 6:16, 17; 19:15). One of the major interpretive problems presented by amillennial doctrine is the denial of a coming tribulation. Consequently, those who hold this view also reject the pretribulational rapture of the church. All passages which plainly promise deliverance at his coming are simply understood as general deliverance from this world of sin, having no relevance to the disputed tribulation. According to this perspective, the hope of his coming provides nothing more than the prospect of eternally dwelling in heaven with God. However, if it can be validated that a tribulation period is, indeed, foretold by God’s word, then the Lord’s coming serves a purpose beyond what is claimed by advocates of Amillennialism. Let us consider some very concise prophetic statements in order to better grasp the reality and intent of the Lord’s coming before the anticipated tribulation era. 

      First, it should be noted that Scripture does not fleetingly, obscurely speak of the tribulation. It is both vividly and repeatedly described by the Hebrew prophets in multiple Old Testament texts. In fact, they have written more about that period than about the period of Christ’s personal ministry on the earth. Amillennial interpreters have generally ignored this wealth of information in Scripture. Some of them have sought to dismiss the prophecies as utterly fulfilled in the past, surrounding the time of the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Preterism). Others see the plethora of prophecies as symbolically fulfilled throughout the entire church age (Idealism). They deny the explicit duration of that time period, which was foretold to be exactly seven years in length (Dan. 9:24 – 27; Rev. 11:3; 13:5). They also flatly deny the detailed description of it. Daniel predicts the time of trouble will be “such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time” (Dan. 12:1, KJV). Jesus adds, “Then shall be great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21). Anyone honest with these two prophetic statements will admit that many periods of world history have far exceeded the horrors of Jerusalem’s destruction by Emperor Titus in A.D. 70. The world wars of the twentieth century certainly surpass the terror and devastation endured by first century Jews. Historians agree that many more Jews died during World War 2 than in A.D. 70. Furthermore, the tribulation will affect “the whole world” directly because all will be tried except Christian overcomers (Rev. 3:10). Clearly, there is no room for the preterists’ ridiculous claim of past fulfillment.

      We must also place no confidence in the idealists’ assertion that prophecies concerning the tribulation are vague metaphors about general struggles endured during the church age. Revelation provides highly detailed predictions of suffering, war, disease, globalist government tyranny, and specific events to take place during the tribulation. For example, a 200-million-man army is prophesied to unleash devastation upon multitudes of people, even killing off one-third of humanity (Rev. 9:13 – 21). What could this very specific, unambiguous prophecy reasonably represent throughout church history? Based upon what evidence do we conclude that these words are symbolic, not to be fulfilled as literally understood? Such a claim is purely supposition and it makes Bible prophecy into foolishness. 

      Isaiah wrote, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Christians uniformly recognize this prophecy as literally fulfilled. Jesus was, in fact, physically born to an actual virgin. We know this is true from New Testament fulfillment which records that it literally came to pass. Why, then, do Christians abruptly adopt a different approach, imposing symbolic meanings upon passages which are, likewise, meant to be understood for what they precisely state? Is that using an interpretive method which sincerely seeks an honest understanding of Scripture or is it twisting Scripture to agree with amillennial conclusions? “If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense lest you end up with nonsense!”

      The church will be caught up to be with Christ before “the terror of the Lord” (Isa. 2:10. 17, 19). This is the case because there is no reason for the Lord to beat up his Bride prior to marrying her. The Bride has already repented and accepted Jesus as Messiah, having no need of chastisement before the glorious arrival of Christ. On the other hand, the world will know the furious retribution of God against man’s sin in that great time of decreed “desolations” (Dan. 9:26; Zeph. 1:17). Scripture calls that seven-year period, “the Day of Jehovah” (Joel 2:1 – 11; 3:14 – 17; Amos 5:18 – 20). However, this time is also identified as “Jacob’s trouble” because it is designed to elicit Israel’s repentance for her rejection of Jesus as Messiah (Jer. 30:4 – 7). Two-thirds of the Jewish people will be wiped out in the tribulation (Zech. 13:8, 9). Although all humanity will suffer agonizing affliction during the tribulation, and many will die, the target and focus is the City of Jerusalem (Zeph. 1:7 – 18).         

     The death toll will far surpass the horrors of Hitler’s Holocaust or any other time of oppression that Israel has faced, but the remaining Jews will repent and call upon the Name of the Lord. They will certainly look upon him whom they have pierced and cry for him, finally acknowledging his blessedness and great sacrifice for sin (Zech. 12:10; Matt. 23:37 – 39). The tribulation results in Christ’s coming, obtaining Israel’s repentance toward God and their willingness for his kingdom to be established (cf. Hos. 3:4, 5; 5:15). “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26)

       As we can easily see from these outstanding prophecies, there will definitely be a “great tribulation” period (cf. Matt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14). It will be crueler than any other time and it is centered on Israel and her relationship to Messiah – not the church. Many passages affirm the imminence of the rapture and the believer’s need to eagerly expect it at any moment (Matt. 24:36 – 44; 25:1 – 13; 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Thess. 5:4 – 9; Tit. 2:13; Rev. 16:15; 22:12, 20, et al). Since the tribulation will certainly take place in the future, and the coming of Jesus to gather his church is truly imminent, it stands to reason he will take his church out of this world before the tribulation. No other possibility exists. It will be a pretribulational gathering, followed by a world-wide time of trial, and the glorious reign of Messiah on the earth. Let us firmly hold to our hope in the rapture of the church and disregard attacks against this sacred truth! – MAH

 

Michael A. Hildreth is minister of the Pine Prairie Church of Christ in Pine Prairie, LA.

‘I am utterly obsessed with the love of God and his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.’




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