Sections I, II, and III disprove pre-trib and mid-trib onlyisms. Section IV disproves pre-wrath and post-trib onlyisms, all historicalisms and romanisms. Section V proves partial rapture. Section VI answers all know queries regarding partial rapture.
By Watchman Nee
In order to understand Matthew 24 and 25, it is essential to have a clear knowledge of the subject of rapture. For it is one of the most important matters in this last hour. Unfortunately it is greatly misunderstood by many. Rapture is the same as the word “receive” found in John 14.1-3. It does not signify the idea of “climbing up” to heaven but of the Lord receiving us to heaven. Hence rapture is a specific term used to denote His receiving us at His soon return.
There are different views on rapture among believers. Some say (1) that the whole body of the saved will be raptured before the Great Tribulation; others believe (2) that the whole body of the saved must go through the Great Tribulation before they are raptured; while still others feel (3) that a part of the saved will be raptured before the Great Tribulation and a part of them will be raptured after the Great Tribulation. There are mainly these three schools of interpretation on the subject; yet merely because any one of them is different from the one you hold to does not give you any warrant to denounce the different view as heresy. It is wrong to withhold fellowship simply for this reason. Well-known believers are found in all three schools.
Of the first school mentioned, names can be cited such as J. N. Darby, William Kelly (C. H. Spurgeon once said that Kelly’s brain was as large as the universe), R. A. Torrey (who later changed to a post-tribulation rapture view), Phillips Brooks, James Gray, Arno G. Gaebelein, J. A. Seiss, C. I. Scofield, and so forth. Of the second school, there could be listed such names as George Muller (who first believed in pre-tribulation rapture), A.J. Gordon of Boston, A. B. Simpson, W. J. Erdman, W. G. Moorehead, Henry Frost of Canada, James Wright, Benjamin Newton, and so on. And as to the third school, we have names such as Hudson Taylor, Robert Chapman, Robert Govett (Spurgeon praised his writings as having light a century ahead of his time and as being full of gold), G. H. Pember, D. M. Panton (the “prince of prophecy”) and others. None of the three schools can completely ignore the others, yet only one is correct. Let us therefore examine them with fairness, having the attitude of a judge and not that of a lawyer.
I. Reasons given by the first school - that is to say, by the adherents of a pre-tribulation rapture - are presented in the following paragraphs.
A. 1 Thessalonians 1.10. “The wrath to come” - This is the Great Tribulation. Since the Lord Jesus will deliver us from the wrath to come, we must be raptured before the Great Tribulation. Also, 1 Thessalonians 5.9 “For God appointed us not unto wrath” - Once again this “wrath” has reference to the Great Tribulation. Let me say, though, that such an interpretation of “wrath” here as being the Great Tribulation is incorrect. How do we know that this wrath must necessarily be the wrath in the Great Tribulation? And even if it were granted that it is, such an interpretation of this word “wrath” would still be unreasonable because the Great Tribulation, on the one hand, is God’s punishment and wrath coming upon the unbelievers, and on the other hand is Satan’s attack and wrath descending on the believers. When Satan assaults the believers, the latter enter into the experience of the Great Tribulation but do not come under the wrath of God.
B. Jeremiah 30.6-7. “The time of Jacob’s trouble” - The Great Tribulation is only for the Jews, not for the Gentiles or for the church. Since the church is not the Jews, we therefore will not go through the Great Tribulation. See also Daniel 12.1. If there were only these two passages in the entire Bible which speak of the Great Tribulation, then the Great Tribulation would indeed be exclusively for the Jews. But we can read other passages in the Bible, such as Revelation 3 which speaks of “the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (v.10). The prophecies of Jeremiah and Daniel were directed toward the Jews, and hence they used such words “Jacob” and “Thy people” quite logically.
C. Revelation 4.1-4. Interpreters of this first school consider Revelation 2 and 3 as depicting the sage of the church; 4.1 as referring to the rapture of the church; 4.4 (with the 24 elders) as representing the glorified church after the rapture; and chapters 5 and 6 as having reference to the beginning of the Great Tribulation. But 4.1 is not spoken to the whole church. It is only spoken to John. “Come up hither” is an accomplished fact in the personal experience of John on the isle of Patmos. Otherwise, Philip’s experience as recorded in Acts 8.29 might also be taken as signifying the rapture of the whole church. As regards the 24 elders, it is rather absurd to deem them as signifying the glorified church, for the following reasons:
(1) 24 is not the number of the church; only seven or multiples of seven are, such as the seven churches in Asia.
(2) Nowhere in the Scriptures does “elder” ever represent the church. There are elders in the church and among the Jews, but not all believers are elders. God first created the angels, then He chose the Jews, and finally gave grace to the church. How can the church bear the title of elders?
(3) In Revelation 4 and 5 we learn that the elders sit on thrones with crowns of gold on their heads, whereas Christ is standing there. Can the church receive glory before Christ is glorified? Thrones and crowns are symbols of kingship.
(4) The elders are clothed with white garments. Some suggest that these garments speak of Christ our righteousness for His blood has washed them white. Yet nowhere in the Scriptures is there mention made that the garments of the elders are washed with the blood. Our robes need to be washed with blood because we have sinned; but the 24 elders have never sinned.
(5) The elders never experience redemption. In chapter 4 we observe that they sing the song of creation. And we see in chapter 5 that though they sing the song of redemption, they sing not of themselves but of men who are purchased by the blood of the Lamb. “And madest them to be . ... ,,(v.10) - The word “them” here refers to the church. Now if it is the church who sings, would she use “them”?
(6) Revelation 4 deals with the universe and not with the church, the nations, or the Jews. And hence we may say that these are the elders of the universe, The church is not an elder of the universe.
(7) Revelation 5.8. The church cannot bring people’s prayers to God.
(8) Revelation 7.13 If John also represents the church, it would then be the church asking the church.
(9) John calls one of the elders “My lord” (7.14), thus indicating that his position is lower than the elders. If the 24 elders represent the church, then John who is among the first in the church, should be the elder of the elders.
(10) The number 24 should be taken literally, not symbolically. Since one of the elders speaks to John, how can one twenty-fourth of the church talk to John? The number is fixed, and hence the elders are fixed. These 24 elders are archangels who rule the universe. Even under Satan in his domain there are principalities and authorities.
D. 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17. Do not these verses speak of rapture? Obviously they do, yet they do not specify what time. They deal with the fact of rapture, not with the time of rapture. Thus, they can not be used to prove pre-tribulation rapture.
E. 1 Corinthians 15.50-52. Whether dead or living, all will be raptured. Yet, again, it presents the fact of rapture without specifying a time sequence that would indicate a pre-tribulation rapture. On the contrary, it can be used to prove a post-tribulation rapture. “At the last trump” is a descriptive phrase that is equal to the seventh trumpet cited in Revelation 11.15. Some people advance the theory that according to Roman custom the trumpets are sounded three times. But the Holy Spirit follows no Roman law.
F. Luke 21.36. The Lord distinctly promises that the church may escape the Great Tribulation and “stand before the Son of man” -This no doubt refers to rapture. Nevertheless, there is a condition involved. Not for all who are simply born again, but for those born-again ones who watch and pray. “That ye may prevail” - If you watch and pray, you may prevail. Hence the promise is given to those who do these things. Does everyone in the whole church watch and pray? Let us pay attention to this.
G. Revelation 3.10. This is reckoned as being the strongest argument, yet it too is a promise with a condition. It therefore cannot be taken as evidence for the pre-tribulation rapture of the entire church. What is meant by “the word of my patience”? Today people revile Him and curse Him, but the Lord neither punishes them nor smites them with lightning and thunder. Such is the patience of Christ in this age. Today we are patient together with Christ. We do not resist. But does every Christian keep the word of His patience in this manner? If so, the whole church would indeed be raptured. If this verse can be used indiscriminately to prove the rapture of the whole church before the Great Tribulation, then people can with equal justification forget the condition “whosoever believeth on him” and erroneously claim that all men are saved. Furthermore, the promise of the Lord here is addressed to the church in Philadelphia, not to the whole church. If the church in Philadelphia can represent the whole church, then we may surmise that the entire church will be raptured before the Great Tribulation. Yet at that time there were actually these seven churches in Asia Minor, and the promise of the Lord was given to but one of these seven. Accordingly, the church in Philadelphia cannot represent the complete church; or else the overcomers in the other six churches mentioned will not be raptured.
II. This first school has not only no scriptural evidence but bases too much of its arguments merely on assumptions. For such a weighty problem like rapture, it should certainly not be decided on mere assumptions. Its assumptions are as follows.
A. Revelation 1-3 speaks of the church. After chapter 3 the church is no longer mentioned, so that she must have already been raptured by the time of chapter 4ff. (in the kingdom age, all will be righteousness and majesty; there will not be the patience of Christ). If chapters 1-3 refer to this age, chapters 4-19 will be the time of the Great Tribulation, in which the church has no part. This kind of argument is called the argument from silence. However, we cannot say that from chapters 4 through 19 the church is never touched upon. Even though the word “church” is not used, many other descriptions employed do indeed fit the church, such as “didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation” (5.10), “the saints” (17.6), and “the armies which are in heaven” (19.14). Unquestionably the word “church” is not used, but who can say that those in view in the above examples do not belong to the church? Furthermore, “the things which must shortly come to pass” (including the Great Tribulation) are shown to “his servants” (22.6), and “these things” (including the Great Tribulation) are testified “for the churches” (22.16). These things will not be written if they are not relevant to the church and to the believers.
B. After the church is raptured, there will still be very many on earth who shall be saved. These are the saints who come out of the Great Tribulation (see Rev. 7.9-17). They are saved during the Great Tribulation. There is a weakness in such assumptions by this first school which it must recognize; otherwise its adherents will be unable to round out their theory. Let us understand, however, that the “great multitude, which no man could number” (7.9) must exceed the number of 200 millions (“twice ten thousand times ten thousand”) which is the biggest among many numbers cited in the book of Revelation (9.16). Taking today’s population at about 2 billions (That is, in the early 1930’s; but the world population for 1976 was estimated at about 4.3 billions - Translator), there will still be 1.5 billions after one fourth are killed (Rev. 6.8). Such a numberless multitude who “come out of the great tribulation” mentioned in the Revelation 7 passage must therefore have reference to those overcoming saints who come out of the great tribulation experienced by all believers throughout the twenty centuries of church history.
C. Before the Great Tribulation, the Holy Spirit returns to heaven. Since the church is with the Holy Spirit, it may be assumed that the whole church is raptured before the Great Tribulation. The basis for this assumption is 2 Thessalonians 2.6-7 where the phrase “one that restraineth” is made to refer to the Holy Spirit. Yet “one that restraineth” cannot be the Holy Spirit, for the subsequent clause - “until he be taken out of the way”- is not the proper terminology to be used in speaking about the Holy Spirit. The Third Person of the Trinity has many different names, such as the Spirit, the Spirit of glory, the Spirit of revelation, etc; and the word “Spirit” is usually present - and even though in one instance the word “Comforter” is used alone, yet from the next clause which follows (“even the Spirit of truth”) it is evident that this has clear reference to the Holy Spirit (John 14.16-17). Never do the Scriptures say the Holy Spirit is “he that restrains”; moreover, how can the Holy Spirit be said to “be taken out of the way”? Furthermore, where does the Bible announce that the Holy Spirit is absent during the Great Tribulation? And how can there be the so-called believers of the Great Tribulation if the Holy Spirit is not present? For no one is saved without the Holy Spirit, He who is born of the Spirit is spirit. Moreover, this matter of the Holy Spirit’s presence during the Great Tribulation is clearly shown in Revelation 5: “and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth” (v.6). The time of the Great Tribulation is the time of the latter rain (see Acts 2.15-21, Joel 2.28-31). The prophecy of Joel was not completely fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. For on that day there were no “wonders in the heaven and in the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke”; nor was “the sun . . . turned into darkness, and the moon into blood” (Joel 2.30-31). All of these five wonders will be fulfilled around and in the time of the Great Tribulation: blood (first trumpet), fire (first and second trumpets), smoke (fifth trumpet), sun and moon (sixth seal). Pentecost is only a miniature, a foretaste. Peter does not say: “It is fulfilled”; he merely says that “this is that” (Acts 2.16). As a matter of fact, the Holy Spirit is going to do greater work during the time of the Great Tribulation. If there will not be the Holy Spirit present, how can the saints ever endure during the Great Tribulation?
D. The disciples in the four Gospels are Jews. It is to them, that is to say, to the Jews, that the Lord exhorts to watch and pray. Since we Christians will be raptured anyway, there is no need for us to be exhorted to watch and pray. We go to the Epistles for our inspiration. However, the disciples are Christians, and they too are in the church. Are not the disciples called Christians (Acts 11.26; cf. Matt. 28.19)?
E. Adherents of this first school of interpretation do not regard much of the four Gospels and the Acts as written for Gentile believers. C. I. Scofield, for example, maintained that the so-called Sermon on the Mount is exclusively for the Jews. They forget, though, the words in Matthew 28.20 (“teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you”) and in John 14.26 (“and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you”). They base all their teachings on the words of the apostle Paul, whereas they should remember what Paul himself said in Colossians 3: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (v.16).
F. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world...; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24.14). They suggest that the gospel of the kingdom is different from the gospel of grace and that the gospel of the kingdom is only preached during the time when the Lord was on earth and immediately before the Great Tribulation. Since we are saved by the gospel of grace, it is their contention that the gospel of grace need not be preached to the whole world before we are raptured. Thus, the gospel of the kingdom will only be preached again ten or twenty years before the Tribulation. Yet the gospel of the kingdom is the gospel of the kingdom of God, and the gospel of grace is the gospel of the grace of God. According to Acts 20.24-25, “the gospel of the grace of God” spoken of in verse 24 is none other than “the preaching” of “the kingdom” mentioned in verse 25. Also, please note from Acts 1 that the Lord after His resurrection spoke to the disciples “the things concerning the kingdom of God” (v.3).
G. They view the work of Christ on earth as fulfilling the ministry towards the circumcised, thus showing a definite Jewish background; and therefore whatever is commanded in the Gospels is not for us Christians but is for the Jews. Let me say in response, however, that the dispensation of Grace also begins with Christ. Please read the following passages: (1) Matthew 11.13-14 and Luke 16.16 - where the phrase “from that time” in Luke means from the time of Christ; (2) Acts 10.36-37 and 13.25-27 - where we see that “the word of this salvation” (13.26) begins to be preached at the time of John the Baptist; (3) Mark 1.1-15 and John 1.1-15 - from which we learn that “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1.1) commences with John the Baptist; (4) Luke 4.17-21 - which verses describe the gospel of grace in a number of ways and concludes by recording the Lord Jesus as saying: “Today hath this scripture been fulfilled” (v.21); (5) John 4.23 - wherein the phrase “and now is” indicates that during the dispensation of Grace those who worship God worship Him in spirit and truth (whereas under the dispensation of Law, men apprehended God in the flesh and according to rituals); and (6) John 5.24-25 - which verses tell us that what is included in the phrase “and now is” is the gospel of grace.
III. The Bible has sufficient evidence to prove that the church passes through the Great Tribulation. The following are some of the evidences.
A. 2 Thessalonians 2.1-9. Please read this passage very carefully. Verse 1 gives the topic of this passage - namely, the coming of Christ and rapture. Since the rapture spoken of here is a being gathered in the air, there is already a hint as to its being after tribulation. In verse 2, the word “spirit” signifies another spirit, not the Holy Spirit; the term “word” means rumor; “us” refers to Paul, Silvanus and Timothy; and “the day of the Lord” is the day of the coming of Christ and rapture. In those days there were people who deluded the Thessalonian believers by saying that the day of the Lord had already come and that they had been left behind. Yet verse 3 shows that this day will not arrive until after the following two signs: (1) that before rapture, there will appear the man of sin, the son of perdition, who is the Antichrist; and (2) that there will first come the falling away, which is apostasy. When will the man of sin be revealed? It will naturally be at the Great Tribulation, So that rapture will be after this Tribulation. At least part of the church must go through the Great Tribulation.
B. 1 Corinthians 15.50-55; 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17. The first passage dwells on resurrection and change; the second deals with resurrection and rapture. These two are parallel passages. All students of the Bible agree that the events in both passages happen at the same time. Is there any intimation as to the actual time for these events? Indeed, there is. “At the last trump” indicates that the time must be after the Tribulation. The first school of interpretation insists that the blowing of the last trumpet occurs before the Tribulation, but its adherents have not a single Scripture verse to support their view. The last trumpet is sounded after the Tribulation; it is the last of the seven trumpets mentioned in the book of Revelation. How absurd it would be if after the last trumpet had been sounded there would still remain seven more trumpets to be heard! It would be like having had the last son born, only to be followed by seven more sons. Someone contends that the “trump” here is the trump of the church, not that of the Tribulation. Where, then, is there recorded in the Scriptures anything said about the first trump of the church? Still others say that Paul merely borrows from the Roman military custom, that as soon as the last trumpet is blown the entire army marches away. Yet the Scriptures have not adopted this Roman military practice. This “trump” is the trump of God, not of the church. Without a doubt it is the last of the seven trumpets cited in the book of Revelation. Furthermore, according to Revelation 10.7, at the sounding of the seventh trumpet the mystery of God is finished - which mystery is the church.
C. Other evidences are these:
(1) Matthew 24.3, 13.40, 28.20: “the end of the world” - The word “world” is aion in Greek, which means “age” - that is to say, the end of this age. Chronologically, the Great Tribulation falls in this age. If rapture is to occur before the Tribulation, there will be a gap of three years and a half.
(2) 1 Corinthians 15.25; cf. Acts 2.35: “till he hath put all his enemies under his feet, - This is factual after the Tribulation.
(3) 1 Timothy 6.14: “that thou keep the commandment, without spot, without reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”- The appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ will occur after the Tribulation. If He is to come to the air before the Tribulation, would there be any need for waiting, watching, and keeping?
IV. Though there are evidences in the Bible on a post-tribulation rapture of believers, this still does not imply that the whole body of believers will be raptured after the Tribulation. And hence this second school of interpretation has its errors too. For the Bible clearly indicates to us that some believers are raptured before the Tribulation. Here are some of the reasons for this view.
A. Were the entire body of believers to be raptured after the Tribulation, there would again be no need for us to watch and wait and be prepared. Knowing that the Lord would not come before the end of the three and a half year's period, we could live evilly up to three years five months and twenty-nine days. Yet such a concept violates the very principle of the Scriptures.
B. Were all of us believers to be raptured after the Great Tribulation, then our waiting would not be a waiting for Christ but for the Antichrist, since the latter must come first.
C. The church would lose her hope - “Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2.13) - for included in this hope is the blessing of escaping the Tribulation.
D. The second school of interpretation does not accept the idea of a secret rapture; yet its followers forget the word, “Behold, I come as a thief” (Rev. 16.15). A thief comes secretly, is never preceded by a band, and always steals the best.
E. This second school views the twelve disciples as being purely Christians in direct contrast with the view of the first school which considers these twelve as being merely Jews. As a matter of fact, however, these twelve disciples are Christians as well as representatives of the Jewish remnant. For example, in Matthew 10.5-6 and 23.3 we see that all have a Jewish background, a fact which is thus inapplicable to Christians.
F. There is a failure in this second school to distinguish between rapture and the appearing of the Lord. There is a difference between Christ coming for the saints and Christ coming with the saints. That which Enoch prophesied, as recorded in Jude, points to the coming of the Lord, "with his holy myriads” (see Jude 14-15 mg.) when His feet step down on the Mount of Olives. So does the prophecy which is given in Revelation: “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen” (1.7). In taking the historical view, the second school of interpretation regards that part of Revelation up to chapter 17 as having already been fulfilled, with only the part from chapter 17 onward waiting to be fulfilled. (This is exactly opposite to the futuristic view taken by the first school of interpretation which deems only chapters 1-3 as having already been fulfilled, with the rest remaining to be so). If the book of Revelation only records primarily things of the past, then how can the average child of God ever understand it? It would require doctors of philosophy and learned historians to comprehend it! Furthermore, it would no longer be revelation either!
V. As we have come to see, the first school lacks scriptural evidences while the second school, though it possesses many proofs, nevertheless has many errors too. What, then, does the Bible actually teach? Let us consider the following observations.
A. Revelation 3.10. “The hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world” - This is the Great Tribulation. This verse tells us that a certain class of people may escape the Great Tribulation, even those who keep the word of the patience of Christ. Instantly it tears apart the arguments of the second school of interpretation as well as those of the first. Although Philadelphia represents the true church in the dispensation of Grace, it is nonetheless only one of the seven local churches in Asia at that time. Thus it shows that only a relatively small number of people (one seventh) may be raptured before the Tribulation. Furthermore, pre-tribulation rapture is not based purely on our being born again as children of God, but is dependent on one other condition, which is, our keeping the word of the patience of Christ. Do all believers today keep the word of the patience of Christ? Obviously not. It is therefore evident that not the whole body of believers will be raptured before the Tribulation. The second school contends, however, that this passage of Scripture does not refer to pre-tribulation rapture, for it speaks of keeping - that God will “keep” them safely through the Great Tribulation: just as, for example, when an entire house is caught on fire, one room may be left untouched; or for example, when the land of Egypt came under the plague, the land of Goshen where the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt went unscathed (see Ex. 9.26, 10.23). Such an explanation is erroneous because (1) the “keeping” in view here is not a keeping through but a keeping from. In the Greek text, after the word “keep” in this verse there is the word ek which means “out of” (as in the word ekklesia which means “the called out ones”). Here, therefore, ek signifies a being kept out of the Tribulation. And (2) “Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial” (3.10a) - As we have seen, the trial which is to come upon the whole world is the Great Tribulation; but notice that it is not a keeping from the trial but a keeping from the hour of the trial, In order to be kept out of the hour of trial, we must leave the world. There are only two ways for God to keep us out: death and rapture. And hence part of the living will be raptured before the Tribulation.
B. Luke 21.36 also proves that not the entire church but only a part of it will be raptured before the Tribulation. The accounts of Luke 21 and Matthew 24 are quite alike, except that Matthew stresses more the coming of Christ and the Tribulation while Luke focuses more on the destruction of Jerusalem and the Tribulation. Hence there is the famous question asked in Matthew (24.3), and there are also more parables recorded in Matthew’s account than in Luke’s. In 70 A.D. Jerusalem experienced a terrible destruction, and at the end she will experience a great tribulation. The record in Luke can be outlined as follows: 2 1.8-9 - the things before the end; 10-19 - believers will suffer; 20-28 - how Jerusalem will be destroyed (verse 28 seems to suggest that the saints will all pass through the Tribulation); 29-33 - a parable guaranteeing the certainty of these things to come; and 34-36 - Were it not for this passage, it might be inferred that the whole body of believers would surely be raptured after the Tribulation: yet verse 34 has a change in tone from the preceding verses, verse 35 shows that the things mentioned earlier concern the whole inhabited world, and verse 36 presents the condition for escaping the Great Tribulation - which is to watch and pray. How are believers to escape all these coming things and to stand before the Son of man? Naturally by being raptured. Death is not a blessing: we do not pray and expect death. The condition here for rapture is to watch and pray. Hence here, not all the regenerated may be raptured. Pray always. What to pray for? Pray that we may escape all these things which shall come to pass. “That ye may prevail” (or, “ye may be accounted worthy” AV), It is not a question of grace, but rather a matter of worthiness. How about worthiness? God cannot receive you to the place where you have no desire to go. Some people may consider heaven as too tasteless a place in which to live as may be indicated by these words: “Lest haply your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life” (v.34). If a balloon is tied, it cannot ascend. In sum, Luke 21.36 shatters the arguments of both the first and second schools of interpretation. The second school may still raise other arguments, such as (1) that rapture is not dependent on conduct - yet in reply it should be asked whether anyone thinks a carnal believer lying on a bed of fornication will be raptured? Or (2) that the phrase “all these things” does not refer to the Great Tribulation but to the surfeiting, drunkenness, and cares of this life cited in verse 34. In reply, it should be noted that verse 36 reads, “all these things that shall come to pass" - whereas “surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life” pertain to the things which are present now. And therefore, “watch ye” means to not be deceived by such activities.
C. Other proofs as follows:
(1) By reading Matthew 24.42 together with 1 Thessalonians 5.2, 4, it is evident that there are at least two raptures: for note that the first passage suggests rapture before the Tribulation because one must be watchful since he does not know when his Lord will come; while the second passage suggests rapture after the Tribulation because one knows when the day of the Lord shall come.
(2) The places to be raptured towards are also different. Whereas Revelation 7.15 mentions to “the throne of God” and Luke 21.36 mentions “to stand before the Son of man”, 1 Thessalonians 4.17 says that it is to “the air” – Such distinctions would thus indicate that the entire body of believers is not raptured all at one time.
(3) Mark 13 states, “But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (v.32), So that the day of the coming of Christ is unknown. But 1 Thessalonians 4 declares that “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (v.16). From this second passage we know that the appearing of Christ is after the sounding of the seventh trumpet. And hence the first passage relates to pre-tribulation rapture while the second relates to post-tribulation rapture.
VI. Questions raised against separate rapture, and answers thereto, are submitted below.
A. Some people say that the rapture of the church cannot be divided because the body of Christ cannot be divided. It should be noted in reply, however, that the body is a figure of speech which signifies one life. If the body is taken literally, then there is already division today because the Lord is now in heaven, Paul has already died, we remain living on earth, and some believers are yet to be born.
B. Others object that rapture is part of redemption, that since redemption is according to grace, rapture cannot be based on the concept of worthiness. In reply, it needs to be pointed out that while the act of changing (see 1 Cor. 15.51-52) is indeed according to grace, the act of being taken (rapture) is according to works.
C. Some observers ask, is it not rather cruel to take away hope from the church? To which we must answer that in the Scriptures there is no such false hope given; and therefore it is better to alert people to this fact.
D. I Corinthians 15.23, say some, only mentions “they that are Christ’s” and that nothing is said about works. But let us be aware that this verse does not speak of rapture, it speaks of resurrection.
E. Since the dead will not go through the Great Tribulation, would it not be unfair to the living for them to go through it? Will not the righteous God be unjust in this regard? In response, let me say that we do need to be concerned; for during the millennium each and every believer (including all believers who died prior to the Great Tribulation) will receive, as a consequence of appearing before Christ’s judgment seat, the things done in the body while alive, according to what he has done whether it be good or bad (2 Cor. 5.10).
F. Since in 1 Cor. 15:50-52 (“We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed”) “all” is the word used, surely this signifies the whole body. Yes, the “all” here does indeed refer to the entire body, but it does not have reference to the same time. For example, we all will die, but certainly not all of us will do so in one day.
G. There is a distinction made in the Bible between wheat and tares, some say, but no difference made between wheat and wheat; consequently, all wheat must be raptured. In reply, it should be noted that the times of ripening for wheat are not the same. Thus there are the firstfruits and the later harvest.
H. Some argue that according to I Thessalonians 4.15, the living “shall in no wise precede them who are fallen asleep” -The dead are resurrected at the seventh trumpet; and so timewise, rapture occurs after the Tribulation. Now if there is a first rapture, it will have to take place before the resurrection of the dead. But since this verse distinctly says “shall in no wise,” how then can rapture take place twice? Let me say in reply that it is most precious and significant to find in both verse 15 and verse 17 the qualifying clauses “we that are alive, that are left” - Now to be alive is obviously to be left on earth; why, then, is there this apparent unnecessary repetition? Because it implies that there are people who though alive yet have already gone ahead (that is, raptured) and therefore are no longer left on earth. Would Paul enlist himself among this class of people who are alive and are left? Not at all. He uses the word “we” only because he is speaking at that moment of writing, and the proof of this is that since Paul no longer lives today, he cannot be numbered among those who are left on earth. Our summary conclusion to all this is that the third school of interpretation seems to be the correct one - that is to say, that one group of believers will be raptured before the Tribulation while another group of believers will go through the Tribulation and be raptured afterwards.
Also read A Spirit of Rapture and Raptured Alive.