What Is the Meaning of a Pretribulation Rapture?
Theories abound concerning the Rapture, especially about when it will occur. The Pretribulation Rapture is held as doctrine by many, and they often fervently argue their “rightness” using various passages from Scripture. But arguing gets us nowhere, because God told us numerous times in His Word to be at peace with one another (e.g., Romans 14:19, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Galatians 5:22, Colossians 3:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:13, 2 Timothy 2:22, Hebrews 12:14). That admonition should guide our conversation when we engage with others about eschatological subjects (Eschatology is the study of last things).
A hot-button topic that guides the differing (and hotly debated) views is when the Lord will return. There are, however, things regarding His second coming about which all Christians agree:
We can agree to disagree on details within each part, but it’s good to have a foundation of agreement.
To explore the subject of the Pretribulation Rapture as well as we can, we need to unpack the meaning of each term within this sentence.
Tribulation—The passage which guides the use of this word is found in Matthew 24:21 when Jesus spoke of the Tribulation many believe is the seven-year period spoken of by Daniel in chapter 9:24-27. It is divided into two parts: the Tribulation is the first relatively peaceful three and a half years (a time, times, and half a time), and the second part is considered the Great Tribulation, a time described by Jesus as that which “has not been from the beginning of the world until now…And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved” (Matthew 24:21-22, Revelation 7:14).
Rapture—The term, while not explicit as a noun used in Scripture, is taken from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which says the Lord will descend (from heaven), calling His own. Translation of the word “rapture” comes from Paul’s use of the phrase, “caught up” in verse 17, “the dead in Him will rise first and then “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them (in the clouds) to meet the Lord in the air.” The phrase caught up is translated from the Greek, harpazo, which means to snatch up, carry off, or grasp hastily. The translation from harpazo to rapture includes two steps: first, harpazo is raptus in Latin, which then becomes rapture in English.
Given the definitions of the component parts, the Pretribulation Rapture is the belief that believers will be caught up to be with Jesus before the wrath prophesied to occur in the Tribulation.
Those who follow this ideology say it:
Leads to godly living in an unholy age.
Promotes a strong emphasis on evangelism of the lost.
Leads to a zeal for worldwide missions.
What Are the Different Views of When the Rapture Will Take Place?
The starting point for each interpretation comes under the heading of each view of the Millennium. The Millennium is defined as the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ revealed in Revelation 20:1-4, and there are three eschatological schools of thought regarding the timing of Christ’s return and the Millennium.
Amillennialism (A literal future 1000 years is not expected; it is figurative. Amillennialists hold that the Millennium is the time Jesus reigns with His saints between His two advents.)
Premillennialism (Supporters trust Christ to return and remove His church from the world before the tribulation.)
Post-millennialism (They believe a majority of the whole world will convert to Christianity during the 1000 years and will culminate in Christ’s second coming.)
The views of when the Rapture will occur fall under the millennial opinions, and each is self-explanatory: Pretribulation(Christians will be kept from the time of distress and will be secreted away by the Lord before the Tribulation. His return for us is imminent—can happen at any time), Mid-Tribulation (Christians will endure the first half of the tribulation but will be rescued before the Great Tribulation when the Antichrist is revealed), or Post-Tribulation (Christians will suffer through the whole of the seven years of Tribulation, and the Rapture will coincide with Christ’s return).
What Scripture Supports a Pretribulation Rapture?
Adherents to the Pretribulation Rapture reference the following passages to support their view (not an exhaustive list):
1 Corinthians 15:51-53 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 are the foremost passages used to promote a Pretribulation Rapture. Advocates say these passages mean Christians will be taken away before the “wrath of the Lamb,” which is referenced in Revelation 6:16.
Proponents state Revelation 3:10 directly says the church will be kept from the “hour of trial.” (See next section)
Is There Any Scripture That Contradicts a Pretribulation Rapture?
While not exhaustive, the following are arguments that contradict a Pretribulation Rapture:
Opponents say 1 Thessalonians 4:17, in its context, is speaking of those who have already died and who will be resurrected at Christ’s return. It says nothing about Christ removing His church either before or during the Tribulation. That same message can be gathered from the context in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. Both passages speak of the resurrection of the dead and do not directly speak of when the Rapture occurs.
Another passage that challenges the Pretribulation (secret) Rapture viewpoint is within 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, where a visible second coming of Christ is indicated. The term Paul uses is parousia, meaning, presence, arrival, coming (see also James 5:8, 1 John 2:28). This countermands the belief of a secret Rapture.
Matthew 24:15-28 seems to indicate a Post-Tribulation Rapture, for Jesus stated the things believers would see. How would they see if not present? Matthew 24:29 says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days.”
Revelation 3:10 says the Lord will keep the church in Philadelphia from the “hour of trial that is coming on the whole world.” The word keep means to watch or preserve. It doesn’t mean to remove. Also, while all Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17), this passage is directed to the first-century church in Philadelphia. We may glean from all of the Bible, yet not all admonitions and directives are automatically for all of us (cf. Genesis 17:4, regarding the land God promised to Abraham).
We can each state our case and we can quote various passages from the Bible to try to sway our audience. Yet we must not speculate based upon our own presuppositions, because, in the end, God’s Word is the final authority. Before we spend any time in the Word, we must pray for the leading of the Holy Spirit and not our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). God will lead us into the insights He has for us. One very important thing to remember is God has not revealed everything!
So then, is the Pretribulation Rapture biblical? My answer is based upon the research I (and so many others) have done.
I don’t know.
None of us knows for sure.
There are upcoming events which we need not concern ourselves with except to be ready. Ready for what? One day we will all stand before His throne (the Bema Seat for believers and the Great White Throne for unbelievers) and give an account of what we did with the Gospel. We are first to obey God by loving Him with all our hearts, minds, souls, and spirits, and then love our neighbors as ourselves. We love Him by obeying Him, and the best way we love our neighbors is by sharing the Gospel. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 24:44, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Son of Man is the third favorite title Jesus used to describe Himself (Christ is #1, Lord is #2). Son of Man may be stated Heavenly Judge. It’s a majestic and supernatural title that gives us a better understanding of Jesus as our supreme Judge as we wait for Him to either call us home or return (Titus 2:11-15).
Solomon says it best in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.”
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Lisa Loraine Baker is a rock & roll girl who loves Jesus. She and her husband, Stephen, inhabit their home as the “Newlyweds of Minerva” with crazy cat, Lewis. Lisa is co-author of the non-fiction narrative, “Someplace to be Somebody” (End Game Press, spring 2022). She has also written for Lighthouse Bible Studies, and CBN.com,
This article is part of our larger End Times Resource Library. Learn more about the rapture, the anti-christ, bible prophecy and the tribulation with articles that explain Biblical truths. You do not need to fear or worry about the future!