There is no pretrib rapture.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 February 2022

Years ago I was at a prayer meeting where we watched some video about the End Times… and I let slip I didn’t buy it. Yeah there’s a rapture; it’s in the bible; duh. Yeah there’s the second coming, when Jesus returns to take possession of his world, and we Christians join his procession. But the rapture takes place at the second coming. Not before any period of great tribulation, nor in the middle of it. That whole tribulation timeline? Not in the bible. At all.

Some of these folks reacted as if I’d just grown a second head.

It’s understandable. They grew up in churches which taught a pretrib rapture: Before the world is thrown into misery, with the Beast running amok and Christians getting persecuted and slaughtered, Jesus supposedly whisks us away so we needn’t live through any of it. We’re safe and sound in heaven with him, watching all the mayhem on earth, rooting for our left-behind family members to get saved… then somehow not get murdered by a world full of antichrists.

I grew up in such churches too. I’d heard this bushwa all my life. Most Christians who have, never bother to ask, “Where’s this found in the bible?” We don’t look for it. We don’t read Revelation; we read books about it by “prophecy scholars“ who claim to know what it means. I guess they read it so we don’t have to.

Hence Christians take the idea as a given. Love the idea. ’Cause they don’t have to suffer tribulation? Who’d want to? It’s like “going out the heavenly fire escape,” as my mom likes to put it: When the going gets tough, we Christians get to go.

So when I suggest there’s no pretrib rapture, to them it’s like saying there’s no heaven.

“You go right ahead and believe what you believe,” one of the prayer meeting members later told me. “You can stay here and ride out the tribulation. I’m gonna get raptured.”

“So basically I can go to hell with all the unbelievers?” I said.

“I didn’t mean that,” she backtracked.

“I know. But here’s the thing: I don’t wanna ride out the tribulation. Who seriously wants to live through tribulation? I’m no masochist; I wanna get raptured! I love the idea. It’s just it’s not from the bible.”

Tribulation’s gonna happen.

Jesus said this to the Twelve and the other folks at his last supper:

John 16.33 KJV
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Ye shall have tribulation. Jesus’s original audience most definitely went through tribulation. Having Jesus plucked out from among them and brutally killed (even though he returned to life that weekend) was tribulation. Then the Judean senate prosecuted their new church for heresy. A generation later, the Roman Empire went after ’em good and hard for blaspheming their gods. Christianity underwent nearly three centuries of Roman tribulation before one of the emperors became Christian and legalized it. And in other parts of the world it’s still under tribulation. Ask any Egyptian, Indian, Iranian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Sudanese, or Syrian Christian whether the great tribulation is yet to come. Feels to them like it never ended.

Over the past 20 centuries of Christian history there’s been plenty of tribulation. Recessions, wars, plagues, natural disasters, acts of terror. Unjust laws, political suppression, societal upheaval, bullies, personal injury, what have you. Governments taking over the church and turning it into some demented Christianist thing which promotes nationalism instead of Jesus, and persecutes real Christ-followers for daring to put our King before our country. “Life is suffering” is one of the things the Buddha got absolutely right: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Jesus didn’t pull that punch either.

But he’s also overcome the world. When he returns, he ends the suffering. And that’s when we get raptured. Not before.

Taking an X-Acto knife to the bible.

The scriptures make it clear the rapture and the second coming are one event. Not two, separated by seven years. So why do so many Christians insist it’s two?

I mean, here’s the primary passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 which we Christians quote when we read about the second coming. It doesn’t describe any separate rapture and second coming.

1 Thessalonians 4.15-17 KJV
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

But here’s how the proponents of the pretrib rapture slice up this passage.

RAPTURE For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive
SECOND COMING and remain unto the coming of the Lord
RAPTURE shall not prevent them which are asleep.
SECOND COMING For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God:
RAPTURE and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air:
SECOND COMING and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Can we legitimately do this with the scriptures?—claim it’s simultaneously talking about two events, seven years (or if you believe in a midtrib rapture, 42 months) apart, then decide which clause applies to which event? No: Those who do so, clearly distort the text. The apostles described the second coming as they understood it, and we’re to take our cues from them. Not rework their words into our grid.

But reworking the bible is precisely what “prophecy scholars” specialize in. Darbyists, who make up the bulk of these “scholars,” have several lenses through which they view the End Times. These lenses include:

  • CESSATIONISM, the belief God turned off all the miracles till the End Times. Therefore no End Times prophecy can happen. Not till God turns the miracles back on. Which, they insist, he won’t do till some major supernatural End Times event which indicates the miracles are active again. (Early Pentecostals used to believe this event was the Azusa Street Revival of 1906–08.) Most Darybists claim this event will be a secret rapture.
  • FUTURISM, the belief since End Times events can’t happen till miracles are back, no prophecy with any supernatural element whatsoever will get fulfilled till then. Ergo no prophecies have been fulfilled for the past 20 centuries. But once the miracles are back, every last one will be fulfilled in a seven-year orgy of activity.
  • THE TIMELINE, the insistence Revelation happens in chronological order, and all prophecies get fulfilled in sequence. (And that the book doesn’t bounce around in time—even though Jesus gets born Rv 12.1-5 and Satan falls Rv 12.7-9 in the middle of the book, a fact Darbyists tend to blow off as the book’s solitary flashback.)

For these reasons and more, Darbyists insist there has to be a seven-year or 42-month period of tribulation. Otherwise there simply isn’t time for the Revelation timeline to unfold. And at the end of the timeline, Jesus returns and sorts out the world.

But Jesus warned us he could return at any time.

Mark 13.32-37 KJV
32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. 33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. 34 For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. 35 Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: 36 lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. 37 And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.

If there has to be a seven-year tribulation before his return, but it’s not started yet, it means he’s not returning at any time. He’s returning seven years from when it starts. Seven years from now, or longer. So we know our master delays his coming, Lk 12.45 and we put off our duties, get drunk, and beat the other servants.

The tribulation timeline nullifies Jesus’s instructions to watch out for his immanent return. Which is why Darbyists had to nullify that nullification. So they invented a pretrib “return,” of sorts, where Jesus doesn’t really return. The Christians vanish from the earth, so he comes for us… but no one else. Just the elect. And that day, which comes without any seven-year advance warning of worldwide misery, is what we gotta watch out for.

For those who believe in a midtrib rapture, they figure the first 42 months of tribulation is gonna be bad, but the last 42 months is gonna be super bad. The first half is just gonna look like an extended period of the usual misery we find in the world, so we might not connect the dots and realize it’s End Times tribulation… and suddenly Jesus shows up and raptures us before the profoundly-bad stuff happens.

Do either of these separate rapture ideas come from bible? Not at all. Again, they start from the End Times framework of “prophecy scholars”—who noticed their framework was inconsistent with bible, so they “fixed” it… and made it even more inconsistent. But hey, now they can preach immediacy. “Watch out! You never know when you might get raptured.”

Wishful thinking.

Anyone with half a brain does not wanna live through tribulation. Especially great tribulation. Who’d wanna live through that?

So it stands to reason we’d want to find proof from the scriptures which tells us we escape tribulation. That God’ll rescue us like he saved the Hebrews from the Egyptians, and take us someplace safe and feed us manna. Heck, I’m hoping since the Americas are never mentioned in the bible, maybe all the End Times awfulness will be limited to pagan nations outside the western hemisphere. Maybe we North and South Americans get to be a resource and oasis for Christians in trouble elsewhere.

And yeah, I admit I may be entirely wrong about this. There’s an awful lot of wishful thinking involved in my interpretation. It’s absolutely iffy. I admit that. I know better than to make it a foundational part of my End Times thinking or teaching.

And it’s just as iffy as the pretrib rapture idea. But unlike me, those who wish and hope for a pretrib rapture do not know better than to hang their hat on it. Instead they resist anyone who tells ’em different. Heck, they think it’s orthodoxy: If you don’t believe in the pretrib rapture, maybe you’re getting left behind! God’s gonna forget all about grace and smite you for not believing something he somehow revealed to prophecy scholars… but not the apostles Paul nor John.

The primary reason the pretrib rapture is a popular view in the United States—and how we’re able to export it to other parts of the world—is the same mindset behind our prosperity gospel rubbish. We imagine God loves us so much, he’d never let his beloved kids suffer any trouble or discomfort. Nevermind what Jesus teaches about any such thing—

Matthew 5.10-12 KJV
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

—because God’s made us an exception when the rest of humanity is suffering.

It’s such an American mindset, isn’t it? We regularly figure the rules don’t apply to us in any other way. Why should the End Times be any different? Fits our exceptionalist culture like a tailored suit.

That, and the intricate, violent, dark Christian revenge fantasies which are also part of how we imagine a post-rapture tribulation. With all the Christians gone, God’s now free to unleash horror after fresh horror upon the pagans of the world. All the people who used to bug us? Getting bugged a thousand times worse by the Beast and his minions, who erect some sort of bizarro anti-Christianity in our absence, and inflict outrageous things upon any Christians they find… Rv 13.7

Wait, how are there Christians left on earth after Jesus raptured us all? Well the most common interpretation is the rapture gets a lot of doubters to quit doubting and turn to Jesus… but too late; now they gotta suffer tribulation. Which in many ways is also a dark Christian revenge fantasy. All our pagan relatives who bug us about following Jesus, yet we really don’t wanna see ’em end up in hell? Okay, maybe the rapture will snap ’em out of it. But their penance for holding out so long, is they gotta ride out the tribulation. That’ll learn ’em.

This common interpretation is actually not what Darbyists originally taught. One of their explanations for a pretrib rapture was the Holy Spirit is currently holding back the forces of evil:

2 Thessalonians 2.7-8 KJV
7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming…

And the Spirit can’t be taken out of the way… unless the Christians whom he currently indwells are taken out of the way too. So we gotta get raptured before the seven-year tribulation. Only then will the earth be Spirit-free, and the Wicked One will be revealed—and the Lord Jesus can destroy him in his second coming.

Thing is, if there’s no Holy Spirit on earth anymore during the tribulation, how can there be any new Christians? Because he’s who makes us Christian. No Holy Spirit? Not Christian.

The usual Darbyist answer? They don’t buy that whole Spirit-had-to-leave-the-world explanation anymore. Because they no longer need additional evidence to believe what they do. They believe it regardless.

That’s the power of wishful thinking: Beliefs without proof. Without scriptures. Without reasonable explanations. Without wisdom. You believe it because it works for you… even when there’s no evidence it actually is working for you. You believe it because it comforts you… even when there’s every indication it’s causing all sorts of other chaos in your life.

Been there, done that. I’m going with bible. 1 Thessalonians plainly states the rapture happens at the second coming. Whether a seven-year tribulation precedes this second coming, or whether all the tribulation throughout Christian history—including all the tribulation going on today—fulfills Revelation best, doesn’t matter. Jesus will return at any time, whenever the Father sees fit. So let’s be ready. It’s gonna be awesome.