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Taken from the works of William Arnold III
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The Biblical Basis for Post-Tribulationism
One Rapture Passage
If we are going to try to decide when the rapture takes place then we must first go to the rapture passages and see what the Bible actually has to say about this event. Naturally, if we want to know when this event will take place we should look where it is discussed. The problem is that there is only one "rapture passage" in the Bible: 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Only Paul mentions the church being caught up in the air, and he only says it in this one passage. Therefore, this must be foundational to any discussion of the rapture. Since this is the only place in Scripture where the rapture is mentioned, all other passages that are taken to be "rapture passages" must have some connection to this verse. In other words, how would someone claim another passage as a "rapture passage," without first proving that the same event is being described as is in the one rapture passage in the Bible? This is very significant to the discussion, because the next closest passage to this one is Matthew 24:27-31, which specifically states that it takes place "after the tribulation."
Another passage that is commonly referred to as a "rapture passage" is 1 Corinthians 15:52. Although I would agree that this is describing the same event, the rapture is not specifically mentioned here. The reason we connect the two is because similar events are mentioned. Both passages mention a trumpet and the resurrection of believers. Because of this, we conclude that these are both the same event. However, as I already mentioned, Matthew 24:27-31 has much more in common with the one clear rapture passage. Notice the similarities:
"The Rapture," A Bad Term?
It may come a surprise to some that the word "rapture" is not in the Bible.1 When we realize that Scripture does not speak of the rapture but rather says that at the coming of the Lord we will be raptured (caught up), it sheds new light on the discussion. It is misleading to speak of the rapture and then to ask when the rapture will take place. The Bible only mentions the coming of the Lord and says that when he comes we will be caught up together to meet him. But pre-tribulationists start by talking about the rapture and the second coming as if they were two separate events and then claim that post-tribulationists confuse the two. The fact is, however, that the Bible does not make this distinction. Instead, it uses the word "coming" (parousia) when we would expect to see the word "rapture" if indeed this were a different event.
It is also interesting to note that the New Testament does use at least two other words to describe the return of our Lord, and once again no distinction is made. They are: apokalupsis, "revelation" and epiphaneia, "appearing." Both of these Greek words are used as the hope of the church (1 Cor. 1:7; 2 Tim. 4:1,8; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:7,13; 4:13) and in clear second coming passages (2 Thess. 1:7; 2:8).2 It would seem very strange then for the writers of the New Testament to use at least three different words interchangeably to describe two different events that are separated by seven years. In other words, it would be confusing to use these three words to speak of two different events without distinguishing the two events. We would expect them to use different words for different events (such as rapture and second coming maybe?). How are we able to distinguish what Scripture does not?3
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
When we take a closer look at our "rapture passage," we see that Paul is not describing a new event but is explaining that at the coming of the Lord the dead will be raised. Notice how he begins his thought in verse 13, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope." This sets the tone for what he is about to discuss. It is what he will be addressing, his "thesis statement" if you will. We then see him develop his theme of the dead in Christ as he goes on:
Paulís point to the believers at Thessalonica is that they need not worry about their dead loved ones. Jesus will resurrect them when he returns. He says that this will take place at "the coming of the Lord." There is no hint that this is any different than the coming which everyone was expectingĖthe one that Jesus told his apostles would take place "after the tribulation" (Matt. 24:29). We would also expect that the eschatology Jesus taught them would be the same as what Paul was teaching, unless we have reason to believe differently.
It is primarily this lack of evidence for multiple comings that is the basis for post-tribulationism. When it is realized that there is only one coming, post- is the only position. All agree that Christ is coming after the Tribulation, so if there is only one coming (or one stage of his coming as some prefer to call it), then the rapture must occur after the Tribulation.
2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
As mentioned earlier, a frequent charge against post-tribulationism is that they fail to distinguish between rapture passages and second coming passages; however, since we never find the word rapture in the Bible, what we label as a rapture or second coming passage will depend on our view of eschatology. If we believe that the church will be raptured prior to the Tribulation then any passage speaking of Christ coming in judgment will be labeled a second coming passage and any passage which speaks of his coming as a hope for the church will then be labeled as a rapture passage. This can at times be arbitrary and even circular. However, there is at least one passage which positively links the two as one event. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Paul clearly states that God will give the believers rest when Jesus comes in flaming fire, dealing out retribution (v. 7,8). Then he goes on to say that the unbelievers will pay the penalty, "when he comes to be glorified in his saints on that day" (v. 9,10). There is no other conclusion than that the coming for the saints and the coming to execute vengeance are the same coming.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3
Once again, we see Paul laying out his subject matter at the beginning. He is going to be speaking, "with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him" (verse 1). Then he states that the Day of the Lord,4 "will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction" (verse 3). This is the most clear denial of an "any moment" rapture as one could imagine. There really is not much upon which to expound. This passage speaks for itself. But if I may paraphrase, Paul is saying, "With regard to his coming and our gathering, that will not happen until . . ." It also seems quite clear that Paul links the coming of our Lord with our gathering together to him, because he is going to speak with regard to both. I fail to see where in the passage Paul goes on to talk about the gathering after discussing the coming if we assume these are separate events.5
Also, Paul is making a point here. He stresses in verse 3, "let no one in any way deceive you" (which is a double negative in the Greek, a very strong negation). He says this as if someone would try to tell them otherwise.6 But he is very emphatic for them not to be deceived, because it will not happen until these things happen first. "It will not come" is in italics in the KJV and NASB, thus signifying that it was supplied by the translators. However, it necessarily is demanded by the rules of grammar in the Greek and is thus translated by every major translation.7
Furthermore, if we follow Paulís flow of thought from verse one to verse two, he seems to link the "coming of our Lord" with the "day of the Lord." Not only is this the most logical way to understand this passage, but in my opinion it fits best with all of the other "day of the Lord" passages which will have bearing later in the discussion.
Finally, it would seem strange for Paul to tell them that the antichrist must come first if he knew they would not be around to see it. Why even say this at all? Why not tell them that the rapture must come first? It seems that he is warning them that this is what the church is to look for. Also, as we will see in chapter 7, this is how the early church understood this.
That this is taking place after the Tribulation is obvious. People are sitting on thrones reigning with Jesus. Both sides are in agreement at this point. But what to me seems equally clear is that the Bible states this is the first resurrection. If the rapture is to be preceded by the resurrection of believers (1 Thess. 4:15-17; 1 Cor. 15:52), and this is the first resurrection, then the rapture must be after the Tribulation.
For a pre-tribulationist this cannot really be the first resurrection. If the rapture takes place before the Tribulation, and the resurrection takes place before the rapture, then the first resurrection had to take place at least seven years before this time. They will usually say that this is the third or fourth phase of the first resurrection, which neither this nor any other passage teaches. The literal reading of this passage is that there has been no resurrection before this (aside from the Lord himself, of course). I fail to see what would be the significance of saying, "This is the first resurrection," if there had already been several resurrections of believers prior to this time. The book of Revelation was written to churches, who had hope of a future resurrection. When they read, "This is the first resurrection," the most natural thing for them to assume is that this is the one they were waiting for.
Also, if the church is not included in this resurrection, then John never does mention the resurrection of the church. Why would he leave out such an important event, especially when it was to the church that he was writing? He would have left them wondering where they fit into this picture. Of course, the way in which one views the order of the book of Revelation has a bearing on the discussion, but this will be dealt with in the next chapter.
1 Corinthians 15:50-55
This passage and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 are probably the two most common passages people think of in relation to the rapture. We often hear it said that we will be caught up "in the twinkling of an eye" (verse 52). However, I think it will come as a surprise to many that the rapture is nowhere mentioned here. All it states is that a trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised and we will be changed. Thatís it! This passage leaves us on the earth with changed bodies. Of course, I am not denying that Paul is describing the same thing here as in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. However, as was pointed out earlier, the reason we connect the two is because of the similar events that are taking place.
It is also interesting that Paul begins this discussion with his statement about how the living will inherit the kingdom (v. 50). We know that this will take place at the second coming. It seems as though Paul is saying, "Even the living will be changed in order to enter the kingdom in glorified bodies." This entire chapter is about the resurrection and Paul had already stated that you must first die to receive a glorified body (vv. 35-38, 42-44). Then he states in verse 50 that you cannot inherit the kingdom with a mortal body. The question naturally arises, "So what about those who are still alive when Christ returns? Will they be excluded from the kingdom?" Paul goes on to reveal the answer to this mystery by basically saying, "Look, those who are still living will not have to die to receive an immortal body but will be transformed while they are still alive." Not everyone will have to die first, but everyone will be changed (v. 51). He goes on to say that this is because the perishable must put on the imperishable and the mortal must put on immortality (v. 53). When Jesus returns, even those who are still alive and in their mortal bodies must be changed in order to inherit the kingdom, because it is itself imperishable (v. 50).
Verses 23 and 24 have been used by some to teach the multiple-phase coming that we discussed in the preceding section. With reference to the resurrection these verses state, "But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at his coming, then comes the end." Now this does show multiple resurrections: Christ, those who belong to him at his coming, then the end. In other words, the resurrections are: the Lord himself, the first (general) resurrection, then the second resurrection. This does not show multiple phases within the first resurrection but seems to preclude such an idea.
If the resurrection of "those who are Christís at his coming" takes place at the rapture, then Johnís "the first resurrection" (Rev. 20:5) also takes place at the rapture, or it isnít even mentioned here. It would seem strange that what John called the first resurrectionĖas if it were a very significant eventĖwould be completely overlooked by Paulís discussion of the order of resurrections. If indeed "those who are Christís at his coming" is a reference to the second coming, then either Paul does not mention the rapture (which would seem equally as unlikely, since he is writing to the church), or the rapture occurs at the second coming. That the latter is true is demonstrated by statements in the book of Revelation showing that those who die during the Tribulation would by all means be included in "those who are Christís." This is seen in passages such as Revelation 6:11; 7:14; 12:11, 17; 14:12; 17:6; 20:4.
As was already pointed out, this passage has more similarities to the one rapture passage (1 Thess. 4:17) than any other passage in the Bible. However, since it explicitly states that it is "after the tribulation," pre-tribulationists claim that this is not the rapture, although they readily claim 1 Corinthians 15:52 as a rapture passage based on fewer similarities. Since they go to great lengths attempting to prove this, I must take some time in reaction to their position.
One reason they deny that this is the rapture is the claim that Jesus was talking to the Jews here, and this passage does not apply to the church. Well, Jesus was talking to the disciples (Matt. 24:3), and it is true that they were Jews. Naturally, the gospel had not been given to the Gentiles yet, so most everything Jesus said was to Jews. Jesus lived in Israel. Whenever he spoke he usually was talking to Jews. If Jesus talking to Jews makes a passage inapplicable to us, then that would take out most of the gospels. In this instance, though, he was talking specifically to the disciples in private (v. 3). These men were the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). In my opinion they represent the church better than anyone. Furthermore, Jesus had already told Peter "Upon this rock I will build my church" in chapter 16 and given the disciples instructions for church discipline in chapter 18.8
This discourse was prompted by their question, "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (v. 3). The disciples were asking him what they should look for in connection with his coming. Jesus went on to describe the Great Tribulation. The disciples lived after this awaiting his return and telling others about it. It does not seem reasonable to think that this was not really the coming they were to look for. Why answer them with a description of the Great Tribulation followed by a description of his coming in the cloudsĖwith the sound of a great trumpet and the gathering his electĖif really they were going to miss all this by means of a pre-tribulation rapture? Would this not be what they went out and taught the church just a short time later?
Also, they asked him about events concerning sunteleias tou aionos, "the end of the age." Four chapters later, Jesus ends the Great Commission with the statement, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20, emphasis added) using the exact same words and speaking to the same people, and everyone applies the Great Commission to the church. Furthermore, they were instructed to make disciples, baptize, and teach until "the end of the age" (28:19-20). The most reasonable conclusion is that the church will be here until the end of the age.
Probably the main reason pre-tribulationists claim that this passage pertains only to Jews is that Jesus gives special instructions to those who will be in Judea at this time (Matt. 24:16-20). It seems that the reason he does so is because this is when the antichrist will break his covenant with Israel and set up the "abomination of desolation" (v. 15). This is very central to this time period and even marks the midpoint of the seven years. It is a key event worth discussing whether we are talking to the church or to Israel. Also, the Old Testament was the only Bible the disciples had at this time. He naturally builds on what they already knew. They had read in the book of Daniel about this time of great distress "such as never was" and about the abomination of desolation (Dan. 11:31; 12:1-2, 11). Jesus is adding to the knowledge that they already had.
Since the antichrist will be in Judea at this time as he sets up the abomination in the temple, and immediately after this he will begin persecuting Godís people, then we would expect the Lord to give instructions for those who will be in Judea at this time. This does not make the entire discourse a "Jewish passage." Also, part of the disciplesí question was about the destruction of the temple (v. 3) which is in Israel.
It is also interesting that Jesus said in verse 9, "Then they will deliver you to tribulation" [emphasis added]. Tribulation, then, is not the "wrath of God" but is the persecution of man. Tribulation is what Christians suffer for being Christians.9
Also, we have no reason to believe that what Jesus taught here is any different from what Paul later taught about the Lordís coming (1 Thess. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:23, 50-52). If I was a firstĖcentury Christian and heard Paul talk about the parousia of the Lord for the first time, I would have no idea that he meant a completely different event. He uses the same words, describes the event in an amazingly similar manner, and gives us no reason to think he had anything else in view. Basically, what I am saying is that the eschatology Jesus gave Paul is the same as the eschatology he gave the other disciples here.
Furthermore, when we combine this with what Jesus went on to say about his parousia, it seems inescapable that he is speaking of the same event:
In a very similar account in Luke, Jesus again compared his coming to the days of Noah and of Lot:
Here Jesus shows that God came in judgment on the same day that the believers were saved. Then he says that "it will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed" (v. 30). My point is that the rescue and the destruction both happen on the same day. Both the rapture of the church and the coming in judgment happen at the same time. When Jesus returns it will be a "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) to those who know him and judgment to those who donít (2 Thess. 1:7-8).
2 Peter 3:8-15
This passage has traditionally been understood to be describing events after the Millennium. Because of this, the "day of the Lord" has been understood to continue through the Millennium with these events taking place at the end. It is difficult to understand in this way when it is described as coming "like a thief" (v. 10). Plus this phrase "like a thief" is usually used with reference to the second coming of Christ. Also, Peter seems to be describing an event that the believers are presently waiting for (v. 12, 14) and which is connected with Godís promise (v. 9). Furthermore, he states that Paul wrote of these things in his letters as well. All of this does not support a post-millennial event. Their basis for a post-millennial understanding is the reading "burned up" in verse 10 (KJV, NASB11). This is translated from the word katakaio. The idea is that if the earth is going to be burned up at this time, then this could not take place before the Millennium, because Christ is going to rule on this present earth for a thousand years during the Millennium.
However, the reading "burned up" is probably not original. There are several variant readings in the Greek manuscripts, and many translations favor the reading heurethesetai such as the NIV and NET, "laid bare;" the NLT, "exposed to judgement;" the NRSV, "disclosed;" and the NAB, "found out." This is also the reading favored by the NA27/USB4 Greek Text. Concerning this variant the NET Bible comments:
On the translation "celestial bodies" for stoicheia in verses 10 and 12, it comments:
If we accept the reading of these translations, then the passage is not saying that the earth will be burned up but that the heavenly bodies will be dissolved, and the earth and mankind will alone be left before God. This is quite in harmony with Jesusí description of the second coming. Alluding to Joel 2:31, he said that the sun and moon will be darkened and the powers of the heavens will be shaken (Matt. 24:29). Isaiah 34:4 and Revelation 6:14 add that during this time the sky is rolled up like a scroll (compare "the heavens will disappear," 2 Peter 3:10). The Old Testament ties the darkening of the sun and the moon with the stars as well in passages such as Isaiah 13:10, Ezekiel 32:7-8, and Joel 2:10; 3:15. Isaiah 60:2 states that darkness will cover the earth before the glory of the Lord appears. Joel 2:2, Zephaniah 1:15, and Amos 5:18-20 describe the day of the Lord as a day of darkness.
So if the events in this passage take place at the second coming, and if these events were what the believers in this epistle were to look for, then our hope and our expectation is the second coming. That the latter is true is evident in such places as verses 9 and 10: "The Lord is not slow concerning his promise . . . but the day of the Lord will come." If we follow Peterís flow of thought, it as though the promise in view here is fulfilled in the day of the Lord. The church is to be looking for and expecting the event described in this passage. Verses 12 and 14 state that we should be waiting for and hastening the coming of this day. Concerning the latter verse the NET further comments:
The conclusion we must draw, then, is that the church is expecting to see these events take place and should strive to be ready when they happen. This would hardly be applicable with a pre-tribulation rapture scenario.
1. Actually, we get the noun "rapture"
from the Latin Vulgate where the verb harpadzo "caught up" is
translated as "raptus." My problem is not so much with the word itself, but,
since this is a verb and not a noun, it is a reference to the action "caught
up" which takes place at the event "the coming," not to the event itself.
Using the noun "rapture" in our discussion leads one to believe that this is
an event in and of itself. In fact, I have seen Pre-Tribulationists even make
the statement, "The Bible never says that the rapture will take place after
the Tribulation." This is a meaningless statement, since the Bible never uses