Seven Arguments for a Pre-Tribulational Rapture – Pt. 1

The study of prophecy today has become an area of much debate among theologians. Some theologians and pastors (like Mark Driscoll), take the view that prophecy and the study of things to come is not an area that should be emphasized or overly focused on while the church is gathered together. Then there are popular theologians (like Hank Hanegraaff on the “Bible Answer Man” radio broadcast) who do devote more time to the topic of prophecy, but deny that the Bible teaches a rapture or a tribulation. Over the last few decades though, the predominant understanding of future events has shifted from a dispensational view, to a more covenant theological view. As it relates to this current series of blog posts, the view that there will be a rapture has become a minority position. This series will argue that a belief in the rapture is not only biblical, but that a multitude of arguments can be made in support of this position. What will be focused on, is that there are seven good arguments to be made in favor of holding to a pretribulational (meaning, before the tribulation) rapture.[1]

Argument 1: The Scriptural Distinction Between Israel and the Church

I won’t be spending much time here arguing why I believe the Church is a distinct entity from the nation of Israel as I have done so at length elsewhere on this blog (In a two part series entitled “The Relationship Between Israel and the Church.” You can find part one here and part two here).  But I do want to take some time to explain why this point is important to the topic of the rapture.

When Christ came, He made to the Jewish people a legitimate offer to bring in the Kingdom, but the Jews rejected and crucified Him. The result was that God created the Church in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. The Church is a body that is made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers, the combination of which constitutes an entirely new body in the outworking of God’s plan (Eph. 2.11-22, cf. specifically vs. 15, “one new man in place of the two”). What happened at the onset of the New Testament age we are in today is that God has temporarily set aside His plans for the nation of Israel, and is instead focusing on the Church and the spread of the Gospel. Dispensational theologians believe that once the church is raptured out, God will move His focus back onto the Jewish people. 

After the crucifixion, God put a spiritual blindness upon the Jews. “A partial hardening has happened to Israel” (Rom. 11.25). Although the “blindness” is partial, meaning that is indeed possible for some Jews to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, they are unable to turn as a nation to Christ. Paul also tells us that this blindness will not last forever, only “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11.25b). Once the church is removed by way of the rapture, the blindness will be removed and God will return to advancing His plan with the Jewish people. Benware states that “it would seem most logical that God first complete His program with the church, remove the church at the rapture, then resume His program with national Israel. Otherwise, during the tribulation period there would be two distinct groups of redeemed people – the Church (the body of Christ) and national Israel in covenant relationship with God – witnessing for two distinct programs of God.” [2]

Perhaps the main area where this topic relates to the discussion of the rapture, is that God made certain unconditional covenants with the people of Israel (that is, promises that God will literally keep and fulfill, and that the actions taken by the nation of Israel will have no effect on whether those promises are fulfilled or not). Particularly the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. 

The Abrahamic Covenant – Gen. 12.2-3; 15.18-21

When God makes this promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, He starts with personal promises to Abraham. These are that God would “make [Abraham] a great nation,” that He “will bless” Abraham, and that God would make Abraham’s “name great” (12.2). These personal promises were then followed up by universal promises. God promised Abraham that God would dispense with either divine blessing or a divine curse on people depending on how they treated Abraham and his offspring. God further promised that in Abraham, all of the families of the earth would be blessed (3).

Once the narrative of Abraham continues, we find that God confirms the covenant again in chapter 15. In this passage we see more elements of the Covenant added and expanded upon. Namely, the promise that God would make a great nation out of Abraham’s offspring (5), and that God had decreed a certain land would belong to the nation that would come from Abraham (18). [3]

The element of this Covenant that makes it relevant to the study of prophecy is whether or not the “land” promised to Israel has already been fulfilled or not. The Amillennial understanding is that the land promise has in fact already been fulfilled. Either by spiritualizing the promise so that it is fulfilled by the church today, or it was fulfilled at some point in Israel’s past (perhaps with Joshua leading the Israelites into the promised land, cf. Josh. 21.43). There are problems with this interpretation. As Ryrie says:

Please observe the inherent self-contradiction of the Amillennial position. If the covenant is conditional, then even the amillennialist does not need to look for a fulfillment in the days of David, Joshua, or Solomon. If the covenant was fulfilled in either of those times, then it was not conditional. If it was fulfilled under Joshua or Solomon, then the church does not fulfill it. If the church fulfills it, then one need not look for a fulfillment in the days of Joshua or Solomon. [4]

The premillennial interpretation is much cleaner. Most of the Abrahamic Covenant has already been fulfilled literally, so it stands to reason that the promise of land must also be fulfilled literally.

The Davidic Covenant – 2 Sam. 7.12-16; Ps. 89.3-4; Jer. 33.22, 25-26.

The Davidic Covenant is an enlargement of the topic of the “seed” blessings that were found in the Abrahamic Covenant. The promise that was made by God to David can be found in 2 Samuel 7.12-16. God made this promise after David set his mind on building a permanent dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant. John Walvoord summarizes the elements of the covenant as follows:

“The provisions of the Davidic covenant include, then, the following items: (1) David is to have a child, yet to be born, who shall succeed him and establish his kingdom. (2) This son (Solomon) shall build the temple instead of David. (3) The throne will not be taken away from him (Solomon) even though his sins justify chastisement. (5) David’s house, throne, and kingdom shall be established forever.[5]

House, kingdom, throne. These are the three essential features. It should be noted that like the Abrahamic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant is intended to be fulfilled literally. There will be a kingdom that is established forever, and that kingdom will be ruled over by a descendant of David.

Pentecost suggests five reasons as to why this covenant is important to the study of eschatology and by extension the rapture:

“(1) First of all, Israel must be preserved as a nation.”[6] In order for the Jewish nation to maintain their kingdom forever, they must, naturally, continue to exist as a distinguishable entity.

“(2) Israel must have a national existence, and be brought back into the land of her inheritance.” [7]

“(3) David’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, must return to the earth, bodily and literally, in order to reign over David’s covenanted kingdom.” [8]

“(4) A literal earthly kingdom must be constituted over which the returned Messiah reigns.” [9]

“(5) This kingdom must become an eternal kingdom” [10]

Conclusion

Now to draw up a summary of this first argument in favor of a Pretribulational Rapture. What was meant to be shown was that Israel still exists as a distinct entity in the overall plan of God. They have not been set aside. A look at some of the unconditional covenants that God made with the nation shows that He still has a plan for them that will be set back in motion once the Church has finished it’s mission. These covenants will ultimately find their fulfillment in the time of the Millennial Kingdom, this means that the Tribulation would be the time in which God prepares the Nation of Israel for the onset of the Kingdom. We can then reasonably infer that the Church will need to be raptured out before this time of preparation because it seems unlikely God would be advancing two distinct programs at once.

This argument also serves to strengthen the argument that will be looked at in the next post, “The Nation of Israel and the Stated Purposes of the Tribulation.”

 


[1] The basic structure and outline for this series of posts is taken from Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach (revised and expanded) By Paul N. Benware. p. 215-36.

[2] Benware. Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach (revised and expanded), 216.

[3] Ryrie, Charles. Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 526-7.

[4] Ryrie. 530.

[5] Walvoord, John F. “Millennial Series,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 110:98-99. April 1953. Qtd. in Pentecost, Things to Come. 101-2.

[6]Pentecost, Things to Come. 114.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid. 

[9] ibid.

[10] ibid. 115.

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