Thursday, October 1, 2009

Introduction to Eschatology: Views of the Rapture

I'll give these in the order of the Rapture, that is, pre-, mid-, prewrath, and post-. Note that the strengths and weaknesses, though obvious and typical, can be argued against by anyone with any wit.

Pre-trib View
The Tribulation is a seven-year period of divine wrath, during which God brings Israel back to Himself. As Christians are not appointed to wrath and as Israel is God’s focus, the Church cannot be here.
Strengths: The Rapture is unexpected and unpredictable; incentive for godly life.
Weaknesses: Produces fear of being left behind; indeed, devotion is based on fear, not love.

Mid-trib View
Oddly, mid-tribs often consider themselves pre-tribs—they just don’t think the Rapture is imminent. Instead, they suppose that the Antichrist must appear first by breaking his seven-year covenant (Dan. 9:27, 2 Thes 2:3). The Rapture follows, then the Tribulation proper—a three-and-half-year period of wrath much like the pre-tribs expect. (The first three and a half years of the covenant are considered too mild to be part of the Tribulation.) Thus mid-tribs believe in a pre-tribulational Rapture, but not an imminent one.
Strengths: Accounts for the frequent references to three-and-a-half-year periods in prophecy (Dan. 7:25, 9:27, 12:7, 11; Rev. 11:2, 3, 12:14, 13:5).
Weaknesses: Though trying to combine the strengths of pre-trib and post-trib views while minimizing their weaknesses, mid-tribulationism often seems to accomplish the opposite.

Prewrath View
Just as mid-tribs are technically pre-tribulational, prewraths are technically post-tribulational. Unfortunately, the prewrath view is rather complex. It divides the last seven years into “the Beginning of Sorrows” (Matt. 24:8—the first three and a half years and the first four Seals of Revelation), “the Great Tribulation” (Matt.24:21—the Fifth and Sixth Seals, followed by the Rapture), and the “Day of the Lord” (Luke 17:30–31--but compare Matt. 15:16–21--which extends from the Seventh Seal until the Second Coming). The Seals are taken to represent the wrath of man, the Trumpets the wrath of God on Jew and Gentile alike, and the Bowls the wrath of God against those who persecute the Jews, who have been saved following the Trumpets.
Strengths: Harmonizes the unexpectedness of the Rapture (Matt. 24:36, 42, 44) with the expectedness of the Rapture (1 Thes 5:4—the “thief” metaphor refers to unexpectedness).
Weaknesses: Complex; based on hairsplitting terminological distinctions that are hard to support.

Post-trib View
Post-tribs are the only premills who are not concerned with wrath. They generally suppose that God is a very good shot, who can strike all around us without hitting us (Psa. 91, especially vv. 7–8). Given that tribulation or oppression is said to be the lot of Christians (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Col. 1:24; 1 Thes. 3:3–4), post-tribs see no reason why we should be spared the final period of tribulation, which probably will differ from that experienced today in communist and Muslim countries only in extent. There has always been tribulation, that is, persecution, but there have always been refuges from it as well, such as the New World once furnished. The final tribulation will lack such havens and be marked by extreme delusion among the ungodly.
Since post-tribs do not consider the Rapture an escape, they instead take it to represent the glorification and empowerment of believers, so that we may rise to meet our Lord as He returns. We shall then escort him to earth (this meeting and escort is the proper meaning of the word translated “meeting” in 1 Thes. 4:17), where he shall punish and destroy those who have taken the mark of the Beast.
Strengths: Probably the oldest view of the Rapture, and the least complicated.
Weaknesses: Predictability of the Second Coming/Rapture; lack of people to enter the Millennium.

Get to know your neighbors! You're going to spend eternity with these people, and it may turn out that some of them are right, not you.

And next up we'll consider the role of the Rapture and eschatology in general in preaching and teaching.

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