The early church wasn't dogmatic about the time sequence of endtime events. This fact should keep us from being so dogmatic in our interpretation of biblical endtime prophecy that we either become contemptuous of Christians who don't share our viewpoint, or we make their view of the rapture a test for fellowship. Keeping in mind the need for constraint and tolerance on this issue, we'll explain why we believe the rapture will take place before the tribulation.
The main support for a pretribulational rapture is the clear biblical evidence for the imminence of Christ's return -- the evidence that the Lord's return will be without warning ( Matthew 24:36-39,43,45-51;25:13 <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage?search=Matthew+24:36-39,43,45-51;25:13> ) -- along with the most reasonable interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage?search=2+Thessalonians+2:1-12> .
Belief in the imminence of the Lord's return involves the implication that the rapture will occur before the time of great tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24:2 <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage?search=Matthew+24:2> , 2 Thessalonians 2:3 <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage?search=2+Thessalonians+2:3> , and Revelation 17:14 <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage?search=Revelation+17:14> . If the Lord's return is to be truly imminent (without warning), it will occur before this tribulation time. Consider that if the events described in these passages began taking place -- bringing about, among other things, the first 3 1/2 years of the Antichrist's reign -- believers would realize that they were in the last days and there would be no element of surprise. If surprise were ruled out, we would say that the Lord's return will be soon, but not imminent.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage?search=2+Thessalonians+2:1-12>
, which speaks of the revealing of the Antichrist, must be understood in the light of the statement, "He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming" ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage?search=2+Thessalonians+2:7-8>
It is our view that the "restrainer" is the Holy Spirit working through the church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we believe that the Antichrist will not be openly revealed until the church is taken away in the rapture and its influence of being "salt" and "light" is removed. (It is important to realize that the Holy Spirit will continue to work among the people on earth even after the removal of the church. However, the Holy Spirit will not work through the body of Christ as He is doing today)
We respect anyone who has a strong view of scriptural authority, including our friends whose study has led them to a midtribulational or a posttribulational viewpoint. Our main problem with their viewpoints is the elimination of the possibility of a truly imminent, any-moment rapture.
Dan Vander Lugt <http://www.rbc.org/bible-study/answers-to-tough-questions/Dan-VanderLugt.aspx>
What does the Bible teach about the 2nd coming of Jesus and something called "the Rapture"?
The Bible describes two separate and distinct future events, both of which are often described as the Second Coming. The first event is what Bible scholars call the Rapture. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, the apostle Paul writes that "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 will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord."
In this passage, Paul is describing an event in which Jesus Christ will not physically, literally touch down on the earth but will first come "in the clouds" and snatch away His true followers from the earth in an instant of time. Those who have not chosen to follow Christ, those who have not been "born again," will remain behind on the earth and will have to go through a terrible time of wars, famines, natural disasters, and divine judgments known as the Tribulation.
The second event occurs at the end of the Tribulation. This is when the Bible teaches that Jesus will physically, literally return to earth, destroy His enemies, and set up His own righteous government based in Jerusalem. He will reign on earth for one thousand years. In Revelation 19:11-20:6, the apostle John writes, "I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. . . . He will rule [the nations]. . . . And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and he threw him into the abyss. . . . And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God . . . and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. . . . Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection. . . . They will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years."
Q: Are there any signs that will indicate when the return of Jesus Christ is close at hand, and if so, what are they?
One day while Jesus and His disciples were sitting on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem, the disciples asked Him this very question. Their query is recounted in Matthew 24:3.
"Tell us," they said, "what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
Jesus could have refused to answer the question. Instead, He answered them at great length and detail. His answers are recorded in Matthew chapter 24 and in Luke chapter 21, and they provide a checklist of signs to watch for. Among them:
? Revolutions (Luke 21:9, NIV)
? The rise of false prophets and false messiahs (Matthew 24:4-5, 11, 23-27)
? Wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6)
? Nations rising against nations (Matthew 24:7)
? Kingdoms rising against kingdoms (Matthew 24:7)
? Famines (Matthew 24:7)
? Plagues (Luke 21:11)
? Earthquakes (Matthew 24:7) and "great earthquakes" (Luke 21:11)
? "Terrors" that lead to "men fainting from fear" (Luke 21:11, 26)
? Persecution of the believers (Matthew 24:9)
? Apostasy and betrayal of one another (Matthew 24:10)
? Increasing lawlessness (Matthew 24:12)
? People's love for one another growing cold (Matthew 24:12)
? "The roaring of the sea and the waves" (Luke 21:25)
? The good news (the gospel) of Christ's love and forgiveness will be preached "in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations"-even Muslim nations, even Radical nations-"and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14)
Jesus cautioned His followers not to speculate on the exact time of the Rapture or the Second Coming. In Matthew 24:36, He said that "of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." But "day and hour" is a very narrow slice of time. By giving us at least fifteen other specific signs that would be happening in the last days, Jesus clearly wanted us to know when the time of His return was rapidly approaching.
Why? He gave the answer in Matthew 24:42, when He said, "Therefore, be on the alert." He reinforced the point in the next verse, when again He urged His followers to be "on the alert." In Matthew 24:44, He stressed this critical point for a third time. "You also must be ready," He insisted, "for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will."
Followers of Jesus Christ who study these signs are coming to the conclusion that they are being fulfilled today and that we are, in fact, living in the last days. They are, after all, living through revolutions, wars and rumors of wars, and horrifying persecution, for starters.
They have no idea precisely when Jesus will return, of course. But given how closely world events are tracking with Bible prophecy, they find themselves increasingly motivated to "be ready" by living lives of holiness, by sharing the gospel with Muslims and nominal Christians, by making disciples of all nations, and by planting new church congregations throughout the region.