I believe the premillennial pretribulational view to be correct, and I'll provide support for that position below, but before I do I wanted to list a few common terms related to this topic.
- Premillennialism - Christ returns prior to the millennial period.
- Postmillennialism - Christ returns after the millennial period.
- Amillennialism - Christ returns after the millennial period BUT ... they see the millennium as a spiritual reign in heaven or the Church Age as the millennium.
- Pretribulation - believes that the rapture happens before the tribulation.
- Midtribulation - believes that the rapture happens in the middle of the tribulation.
- Posttribulation - believes that the rapture happens after the tribulation. That the rapture and the second coming are same event.
Scriptural Support for Pre-trib Rapture
- The unknown day vs the known day - The bible speaks of Jesus second return in two ways. The unknown day and a known day. Matthew 25:13 tells us that no man knows the day nor the hour. But Revelation 11:1-2 and Rev 13:5 talks about the antichrist ruling for 1,260 (3.5 years) and then his rule is ended by Jesus Himself. How can we not know the day, but know the day? The answer is that we will not know the day nor the hour of the rapture. Many scriptures tell us to not let that day catch us unaware...like the days of Noah when they were eating and drinking and marrying. Bam! Out of the blue, Jesus raptures His Church. But in the years leading up to His second return, everyone will be aware. They will be hiding themselves among the rocks for fear of God's Wrath. The rapture will happen before that point.
- The Saints Return with Christ in Fine Linen - Revelation 19:8 speaks of the saints in Heaven clothed in fine linen. Rev 19:14 says that an army clothed in white linen returns with Christ at the second coming. Some have claimed that this is an army of angels, but I believe this is the same group. It's the raptured Church. Zech 14:5 also speaks of this group of holy ones that will return with the Lord. Finally, the event of the return of Christ seems to be described in Col 3:4, when it says we will be revealed with Him. In other words, when He returns, we will return too, and why would we return with Him if we just got raptured? It makes much more sense that we would have experienced the wedding supper with the Lamb, and then return to earth at His second coming. 1 Thes 3:13 mentions that the saints will come back with Jesus when he comes.
- Kept From the Hour of Testing - I think one of the biggest supports for a pre-trib rapture are the verses that tell us we will be kept from the hour of testing. Some interpret Rev 3:10 in different ways. I do not believe the 7 churches of Revelation represent different time periods of the Church. I think they are just seven messages to Churches of that day. The messages can also be applied to other churches or individuals in the promises and warnings they give. For example, I think no church should tolerate the spirit of Jezebel, not just the Church of Thyatira. Likewise, any church that is lukewarm should expect to be spewed out like a cold cup of coffee. The message to the Church of Philadelphia was a promise to keep them (and us) from the horrible things to come. Paul also speaks of this in 1 Thes 5:9, when he says we are not appointed to wrath. The Gospel writer Luke also understood this when he said watch and pray you may be counted worthy to escape all these things.
- Who is Gathered First - Why are there conflicting stories about who will be gathered first? Sinners or Saints? 1 Thes 4:13-17 says that the dead in Christ will be gathered first. But in the story of the tares and the wheat in Matt 13:30, the tares are gathered first and burnt. perhaps the two stories are unrelated, but I think it supports the idea of two gatherings. The Church will be gathered first in the rapture, and then at the end of the age, after the tribulation, and after Jesus returns, the Angels will gather the wicked.
- The One Who Restrains - 2 Thes 2:6-7 speaks of one who restrains. It says the Antichrist won't be revealed until the one who restrains is taken out of the way. Who is the one who restrains? I believe it is the Spirit filled Church. Once the Church is gone, the Antichrist is free to do what he pleases, and things will go downhill quickly after that.
- Did The Thessalonians miss the Rapture - In 2 Thes 2:1-2 it would seem that the Thessalonians were worried they missed the rapture. It says, "with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him." They were worried that they had missed the rapture and were in the tribulation. They would not even be asking this question about Jesus physical return to earth, because Jesus would physically be here. But they were worried, because of the persecution they were experiencing, that the rapture happened. Paul goes on to tell them that 2 will happen before our gathering together to him in the Rapture. 1st there will be a falling away. Second, the man of lawlessness will be revealed.....then the rapture can occur.
Early Church Fathers and early writing Support for the Pre-Trib Rapture
The Rapture of the church is not a recent development of the dispensational movement. We see examples throughout the early church of the idea of the church being removed from the wrath of the last days. Below are a few examples and quotes from early writing. I don't spend a lot of time explaining these examples, but let the quotes speak to the issue. You can dig in more on each of these examples to understand them better. I found many of my points in this paper by David k. Hebert
- Shepherd of Hermas. In the fourth vision - mentions in this vision that the virgin is the church and that it escaped the great tribulation.
- The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles - "but they that endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself." This is a reference from the Church being saved from the Tribulation.
- Irenaeus’ (120-202), Against Heresies, Book 5 - He uses Enoch as a type of the church who is caught up... and escapes the doom that is coming. After this discussion, Irenaeus goes on to talk about the Beast and the Antichrist. The order of the book seems to imply a catching away, then the tribulation.
- Victorinus Commentary on the Apocalypse. - And from 15:1, “. . . and I saw another great and wonderful sign, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is completed the indignation of God. For the wrath of God always strikes the obstinate people with seven plagues, that is, perfectly, as it is said in Leviticus; and these shall be in the last time, when the Church shall have gone out of the midst." This writing implies that the Church will be absent when the last plagues are applied.
- Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians - This writing does not directly speak to when the rapture happens, but the logical flow through the book is similar to Irenaeus in that it lists those being "saved" first, and then flows to wrath.
Rebuttal of other rapture positions
- 2 Thes 1:4-10 - Post-Trib supporters use this verse to suggest that the 'relief' that comes in verse 7 referrers to the rapture. They would suggest that this comes at the same time that Jesus returns with his fiery angels. I don't think this is a rapture passage at all. The focus of this passage is about God paying back evil done to us. The 'relief' mentioned is not the rapture event, but relief that happens as Christ takes his rightful place. The world will be relieved....believers from all generations will be relieved when Jesus sits on His throne. This is a second coming passage ... not a rapture passage. Here is a good defense of this position.
- Matt 24:31 - the elect in this passage are referring to the Jewish community and this verse parallels the verse in Isaiah 2712:13. This entire chapter speaks to the deliverance of the nation of Israel. It speaks about chasing off the dragon and that through this entire process it would bring about the redemption of His people... "Therefore through this Jacob’s iniquity will be forgiven;" Again, the tribulation is for Israel, not the church.
Verses that seem to be about the Rapture and/or end-times
- 1 Thes 4:13-18
- 1 Cor 15:50-57
- Matt 24
- Luke 21
- 1 Thes 1:10
- Dan 12:1-4
- Matt 13:36-43 - This speaks of the 2nd Resurrection ...gathering of the wicked.
- Luke 17:34-37 - This speaks of the rapture of the saints ... when Jesus calls... we don't want to go back, just like Lot's wife. We must be ready to leave this world. This parable also happens in the day (two in the field, and at night (two in bed). This hints at the idea that it will be world wide.
- Rev 20:3 - Tribulation Saints resurrected.
- Matt 24:29-31 - The Jews gathered up and taken to Israel.