Why I Still Believe in the Rapture

Rev. Gary Osborne

Are you watching and waiting for Christ, or Antichrist?

A few years ago, pre-wrath advocate Marvin Rosenthal wrote that the pre-trib rapture was of Satanic origin and unheard of before 1830. "To thwart the Lord's warning to His children, in 1830," proclaims Rosenthal, "Satan, the 'father of lies,' gave to a fifteen-year-old girl named Margaret McDonald a lengthy vision."1 Rosenthal gives no documentation, he merely asserts that this is true.

Another thing amazing about Rosenthal's declaration is that a few paragraphs later in the article he characterizes his opposition as those who "did not deal with the issues, misrepresented the facts, or attempted character assassination."2 This description is exactly what he has done in his characterization of pre-trib rapture origins.

This article will attempt to dispel these characterizations and give a Biblical basis for each and every Christian to believe and look forward to the "Blessed Hope" – the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church!

To begin with, let’s admit that a subject such as this has been, and will continue to be, written in books much larger than this brief article. It is not my desire or contention that the entire debate can be resolved through the few words devoted to the topic here. In fact, we will simply be looking at two "big picture" proofs (at least that’s what I term them) of a pre-tribulation rapture. If an individual is not convinced by these two proofs, they will probably never be convinced. Nevertheless, it is our objective to simply re-emphasize a topic that has apparently fallen into disrepute, or at best, been forgotten.

Before we look at the two proofs, let's consider why we even need to examine this doctrine of the rapture. The simple fact is that the rapture of the Church is no longer spoken of in Christendom today (at least not with the frequency it has in the past). By that I mean that the issue has been replaced, by and large, by the following two topics: 1) The great last days revival, and 2) The coming worldwide chaos of Y2K and other assorted calamities and judgments.

Lets quickly examine this new "fad" called the "River revival" and how it pertains to the rapture. It is obvious that since God is sending such sweeping revival to the world that this just couldn’t be the time for the rapture. After all, for the first time since the birth of the Church at Pentecost, God is seeing His great desire for the salvation of souls come into full bloom. TV Preacher Rod Parsley has said that God told him to let everyone know that 1999 is the year where we will see 10, 50, and even 100x’s more souls saved than all the previous years put together! Well, with that being the case, it just wouldn’t make since for God to call us home quite yet. In fact for many, this "revival" is finally going to "Christianize" the world, something the Church MUST do before Jesus can come back! This point was emphasized again on Trinity Broadcasting Network by a minister (I didn’t catch his name, unfortunately) who was being interviewed on the February 11, 1999 Praise the Lord show. He said, "God is raising up a new generation. A generation that will do what previous generations didn't’ do. For years the church didn’t accomplish God’s purposes, but now, with this new thing He is doing, giving His people new power, the church is entering its finest hour. Therefore…I can tell you that Jesus won’t come back yet! There is just too much left for us to do!" Never mind that a last days world-wide revival isn’t even mentioned in Scripture (which has been written and spoken about many times by some good Christian leaders – including those of ABP). In fact, Jesus, Peter, John and the apostle Paul tell us the exact opposite – the last days will be characterized by a great falling away, not a great revival! But that is another subject. The point here is that this fascination with "revival" has taken the Christian community’s eyes off of Christ, and specifically His return for His Bride (as strange as that may seem)!

The second problem is that of the continued prophecies concerning imminent destruction via computer disasters and God’s judgment, especially here in America. More and more we are hearing how we had better "flee to the mountains" and prepare to wait it out. This is strangely reminiscent of what Jesus said in Matthew 24, "…then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, a person on the housetop must not go down to get things out of his house, a person in the field must not return to get his cloak. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days. Pray that your flight not be in winter or on the sabbath."

The only problem here is Jesus is speaking about Jews who are living in Jerusalem during the tribulation! I am shocked at the number of ministers who are now preaching nothing but coming judgment – WITHOUT A WORD ABOUT THE RAPTURE! Yes, I know full well that the U.S. is not exempt from the possibility of judgment BEFORE the rapture. However, I personally have not heard one minister refer to these coming events in this way. Instead, the words "mark of the beast" and "Antichrist" are used in conjuncture with all the doom and gloom of impending destruction! There is no mention of the rapture from these people. No, it is clear they no longer hold to a "Blessed Hope". Many seem to view this whole issue (the tribulation) as some kind of Shakespearean tragedy, or they seem to have some type of romanticized thoughts about running from Antichrist and living in the mountains. It is very strange indeed. How sad all this is. If the only thing we have to look forward to is the tribulation and running from the Antichrist, we are indeed sorrowful people. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a wish fulfilled is a tree of life." (Pro. 13:12 NASB) Without the hope of a rapture, there is little to look forward to.

Along these same lines, I doubt that many of the disaster proponents have thought about how unbiblical a computer crash would be, if it is linked to the beginning of the tribulation. Firstly, the Antichrist will clearly need computers to set up his one world system! There can be no doubt of this. So if the computers go down, he is left without the key component to carry out his plan. Secondly, Paul lets us know in Thessalonians 5 that it is only when people cry "peace and safety" that sudden destruction will come! How will that destruction come? Through the return of Christ at Armageddon, not a computer disaster! No, if this catastrophe were to take place as some say, it will set us back in the prophetic plan, not move us ahead. Remember, the Antichrist’s arrival is marked by peace (albeit a false peace), not destruction (at least at first). Now, if some wish to believe that America will be judged and even destroyed, fine. But understand, this cannot be related to the tribulation! Again, the Antichrist comes in a time of peace and prosperity, not disaster! The real problem here can be traced back to a wrong interpretation of Mystery Babylon in Revelation 17 & 18. One minister who is leading the way in this "disaster" movement has said on numerous occasions that America is Babylon. Time and space do not permit for all the reasons to be listed here as to why that cannot be so! It is suggested you pick up a copy of Dave Hunt’s book A Woman Rides the Beast for a fine discourse on the identity of Mystery Babylon. If this theory were true, then yes, we could expect America to be destroyed by fire – one day! But even this would only happen AFTER the Antichrist had been in control for a number of years! So, it appears this cannot be the case – at least not now.

Hopefully you can now see how the belief in a glorious event like the rapture has been lost in the wake of these two prominent "messages" being delivered to all of Christendom: the "revival" and the "disaster". The truth lies in neither! No, the answer to end-time events is found in the Scriptures (all the Scriptures – not just a few isolated texts). The big picture in the Word of God gives us at least two reasons to believe in a pre-tribulation rapture!

Proof # 1 Imminency

This one Bible fact alone – that Christ’s return is IMMINENT, is enough by itself to point towards only one position concerning the rapture. It must be pre-tribulational! Nothing else can logically fit into prophecy. What is the biblical definition of imminency? Dr. Renald Showers defines and describes imminence as follows:

"1) An imminent event is one which is always 'hanging overhead, is constantly ready to befall or overtake one; close at hand in its incidence.' ('imminent,' The Oxford English Dictionary, 1901, V, 66.) Thus, imminence carries the sense that it could happen at any moment. Other things may happen before the imminent event, but nothing else must take place before it happens. If something else must take place before an event can happen, then that event is not imminent. In other words, the necessity of something else taking place first destroys the concept of imminency.

2) Since a person never knows exactly when an imminent event will take place, then he cannot count on a certain amount of time transpiring before the imminent event happens. In light of this, he should always be prepared for it to happen at any moment.

3) A person cannot legitimately set or imply a date for its happening. As soon as a person sets a date for an imminent event he destroys the concept of imminency, because he thereby is saying that a certain amount of time must transpire before that event can happen. A specific date for an event is contrary to the concept that the event could happen at any moment.

4) A person cannot legitimately say that an imminent event will happen soon. The term 'soon' implies that an event must take place 'within a short time (after a particular point of time specified or implied).' By contrast, an imminent event may take place within a short time, but it does not have to do so in order to be imminent. As I hope you can see by now, 'imminent' is not equal to 'soon.'"3

A. T. Pierson has noted that, "Imminence is the combination of two conditions, viz.,: certainty and uncertainty. By an imminent event we mean one which is certain to occur at some time, uncertain at what time."4 Thus we can see that the fact that Christ could return, but may not soon, at any moment, yet without the necessity of signs preceding His return requires the kind of imminence taught by the pre-trib position and is a strong support for pretribulationalism. But what New Testament passages teach this truth? Those verses stating that Christ could return at any moment, without warning and those instructing believers to wait and look for the Lord's coming teach the doctrine of imminence. Note the following New Testament passages:

1 Corinthians 1:7-"awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,"

1 Corinthians 16:22-"Maranatha."

Philippians 3:20-"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;"

Philippians 4:5-"The Lord is near."

1 Thessalonians 1:10-"to wait for His Son from heaven,"

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18-"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of {the} archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."

1 Thessalonians 5:6-"so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober."

1 Timothy 6:14-"that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,"

Titus 2:13-"looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus;"

Hebrews 9:28-"so Christ . . . shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him."

James 5:7-9-"Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. . . . for the coming of the Lord is at hand. . . . behold, the Judge is standing right at the door."

1 Peter 1:13 -"fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

Jude 21-"waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life."

Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20-"'I am coming quickly!'"

Revelation 22:17, 20-"And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.'" "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming quickly.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." (all the preceding verses were taken from the NASB)

It is significant that all of the above passages relate to the rapture and speak of the Lord's coming as something that could occur at any-moment, that it is imminent. This is why believers are waiting for a person - Jesus Christ - not an event or series of events such as those related to the tribulation leading up to Christ's second advent in which He returns to the earth and remains for His millennial reign. The point here is simple. Logic dictates that you CANNOT believe that Christ’s return is imminent, yet also believe in a mid, pre-wrath, or post tribulation rapture! To believe in the first, you must believe in the second! Again, if you believe in IMMINENCY you MUST (if you are to be logical and true to the Word) believe in the pre-tribulation position. Much more could be said, but the point has been made. And as an aside, if someone does not even believe the return of Christ is imminent, the conversation with that individual might as well cease, because that person is NOT even "reading" the same Bible we are. By that I meant that if something as fundamental as this can not be agreed to, there can really be no further debate on the subject. The imminent and literal return of Christ is as plain as His sacrificial work on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension back to Heaven!

Proof # 2 The Character of God

The second big picture proof of a pre-tribulation rapture is a simple, yet very persuasive one – the character of God Himself. In other words, what does the Bible teach us about God’s character in relation to His people and His wrath/judgment. The best thing to do now is to look at what Christ says about His return. Both in Matthew and Luke Jesus compares His return to two specific Old Testament situations. He says, "As it was in the days of Noah… and as it was in the days of Lot… so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man." (Luke 17:26-30) The beautiful thing about these two stories is what it says about the people of God and the people of the world in relation to our Lord’s wrath being poured out.

Both of these stories tell us the following: Firstly, God will always judge sin! This world never will "get away" with its injustices and iniquities. Secondly, and this is important, God ALWAYS removes His people BEFORE He executes His judgment! In both cases, God did nothing before both families were securely removed from the area designated for destruction. In fact, in the case of Lot, the angels made the following announcement, "And when morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up, take your wife and your two daughters, who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city. "But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the Lord was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city. And it came about when they had brought them outside, that one said, "Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, lest you be swept away." But Lot said to them, "Oh no, my lords! "Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, lest the disaster overtake me and I die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved. "And he said to him, "Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there." (Gen. 19:15-22 NASB)

Strange, that Jesus chose these two stories to speak about His Second Coming. Yes, it is true that the stories, in context of what Jesus said, can refer to the end of the tribulation, but they can also refer to the beginning. The point here is that the "Day of the Lord" and the "last days" refer to the BIG PICTURE of the totality of God’s prophetic plan! This plan begins with the rapture of the Church and continues through the tribulation, into the Millennium, and culminates with the New Heavens and New Earth! But our point is that God’s character is to remove His people before He pours out His wrath!

Some well meaning individuals have mistakenly made ridiculous arguments against a pre-tribulation rapture. It might be helpful to examine a few such arguments. One popular thesis states, "The Church must go through the tribulation so it can be purified." Upon first consideration, this sounds very noble and biblical. But, as the old saying goes, "Hold the phone!" I thought the blood of Christ purified me? If His blood can’t do the job, then nothing can! I concede that going through the trials of this life helps purify our faith, but that is a far cry from God's end time wrath! The two cannot be compared.

Another argument asks, "Church history gives no indication of a belief in a pre-trib rapture. So if the early church fathers didn’t believe in it why should I?" The fallacy in this argument is two fold. Number one, as a Pentecostal I will have a hard time finding a great deal written about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit in the writings of the Early Church Fathers. If this is my criterion I should abandon that belief as well! Yet we don’t. Why? Because we are BEREANS! The question really is this – Do I go to the Church history (as important and useful as it is) or to the Scriptures as my final authority?

The second reason the Church history argument is erroneous is that the Apostle Paul said, in the 1st century of the Church’s existence, that "all in Asia have forsaken me."(II Tim. 1:15). I think most of us are aware of the fact that immediately, beginning in the 1st century, false doctrine began to infiltrate the Church. As the persecution of Christians continued, it is little wonder that many began to doubt the doctrine of the rapture. Over the course of time the doctrine became less and less visible. Combine this with the fact of the joining together of Church and State in the fourth century. When this took place, the emphasis on a heavenly kingdom was lost. The "Church" turned its attention to a earthy kingdom, so the rapture became outdated, so to speak. There is little doubt that this is the reason behind the so-called lack of historical evidence for the rapture.

Yet another argument against a pre-tribulation rapture states, "But it’s not fair that millions have been persecuted for Christ and we won’t be." Again, stop to consider. No one is saying we will escape persecution. The way things are going here in the United States there is every reason to believe we could (in fact some presently do) face persecution. But this is entirely different from God’s wrath! A question to ponder – What Groom would willing pour his anger and wrath out on his bride? If no human would do that, why do we think God will? Especially when His character, demonstrated over and over again in the Scriptures, indicates He will always remove His people first, then pour out His wrath on sinful humanity!

By no means do these arguments hold up. The fact of the matter is that the only way to reconcile all the Scriptures concerning the Second Coming of Christ is to view it in two phases – the rapture and the return. Why do we have a problem with this? The Old Testament never distinctly referred to two separate comings of the Messiah. Isaiah could be writing about the Messiah one minute as the Suffering Servant (His 1st coming) and then "jump ahead", so to speak, and write about the Messiah as conquering King (His 2nd coming). Today we can see so clearly that Christ came the first time to die, yet He will come again a second time to reign. That was the only logical way to reconcile the OT Scriptures about Him. The Jews in His day rejected Him because they saw only the 2nd coming aspect of the Messiah – the aspect they wanted! They couldn’t grasp the fact that He HAD to come twice! So why do we have such a hard time taking the same principle and applying it now? Those who are honest, with themselves and the Word of God, won’t have a difficult time with a pre-trib rapture.

So the question remains - are you watching and waiting for Christ, or Antichrist?

[Author: Gary Osborne is the President of the Alliance of Biblical Pentecostals. He graduated from Central Bible College and now resides in Spring Hill, Florida where he pastors Berean Assembly.]