JUST ONE VERSE TO PROVE
THE PRE-TRIB RAPTURE?
The Family Squabble Has Gotten Out of Control
Allow me to begin this article with one heartfelt word: *Sigh*
There is so much debate right now between the various camps holding differing positions on the timing of the rapture, an outsider would look at the situation in the pre-millennial prophecy community and assume we are enemies rather than family. You would think, based upon what has been said recently, we are forgetting that our adversaries are the teachings of antagonistic secular humanists, new age pantheists, and radical Muslims. That is a shame, for we are forgetting our prime directive given to us by Jesus and repeated by the Apostles Paul, John, and Peter: to love one another as Christ loves His Church. “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” (I John 3:23) (See also John 13:24, 15:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:9; 1 Peter 3:8) But this is plenty of vitriol within the family and accusations flying back and forth. Passion and zeal have intermingled with dogmatic partisanship and the debate over the rapture flourishes again, hotter now than ever.
To make it clear up front, I am predisposed toward a Pre-Trib point of view. I characterize myself in this way, not carelessly nor without respect for the other perspectives, for I have always been given to seeing another’s point of view. As a teacher I do my best to encourage my students to develop their own point of view–to present the alternative teachings and study the scripture, THEN purpose that they make up their own mind. I teach that way, not because there are many truths and one truth is as good as another, but because God gave each of us a mind and made us moral agents. There is no escaping the fact that we are responsible for what we choose to believe. By studying for ourselves and asking for enlightenment from the Holy Spirit, we should form our beliefs and be able to give a reason for the hope that is within us. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15) Peter also teaches that no scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation (2 Peter 1:21) for the prophecies came from prophets moved by the Spirit of God, not by the will of men. They are God’s words and not open to interpretation. That being said–that there abides one truth and one right interpretation–in regard to the timing of the rapture, there remains plenty of room for God’s people to miss that right interpretation. Mistaking what comprises the correct point of view can be because we don’t want to know the truth and we hide from the light of truth. But in this squabble, we should not begin by assuming that those who disagree with us do so because they are being dishonest, seek to injure us, or lack earnestness to learn what the Bible teaches.
Therefore, we should seek to work together to learn the singular, biblically correct interpretation and to do so in charity and humility. We should not disparage those whose interpretation is different than ours, but to uphold them in prayer and fellowship even as we express our disagreement based upon our understanding of the scripture.
But allow me to go further: Those who disagree with our view on the rapture, and do so based upon their understanding of the Word of the Lord, are neither apostates nor heretics. They are not uncaring nor unfaithful. Pre-Tribbers are not escapists; Post-Tribbers are not masochists. If pastors, they serve the Lord in good faith and teach in accordance to what they have learned. To accuse those we disagree with with any of these motives constitutes a moral lapse on our part. To be angry with them, to call them ignorant or unthinking comprises a serious sin which Christ solemnly warns us against. “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca (“Good-for-nothing”) shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22) The time has come to place this insight and commandment of our personal point of view above what we deem constitutes doctrinal correctness. We should stand up for what we believe, but not while we tear someone else down. To do less, is to dishonor God who commanded we love one another and Him with all our heart, soul, and mind.
A Frequent Charge Leveled Against the Pre-Trib Position
Having presented the previous as my context for speaking on the topic, allow me to narrow my focus to just one matter: whether there is a single verse that proves the Pre-Trib rapture interpretation of the resurrection and coming of Christ for His saints.
It is indeed one of the arguments advanced against those who espouse the Pre-Tribulation rapture of the church, that we should be able to “name one verse that proves the Pre-Trib position is true.” The argument obviously originates with a brother or sister (usually a brother!) that takes the view that the rapture happens right before the wrath of God is poured out on an unbelieving and unrepentant world, or one who believes that the rapture and the visible Second Coming of Christ happens immediately before (or maybe one 24-hour period before  the visible return of Christ to this earth. Of course, these latter two views are the Pre-Wrath and Post-Trib point of view. But the arguer when advancing his or her argument assumes that there isn’t one verse that by itself can prove the Pre-Trib position stands true. Furthermore, the “arguer” assumes (wrongly I might add) that if there isn’t any single verse that clearly states the Pre-Trib position (and eschews the others), then, obviously, the doctrine of the Pre-Trib view must be wrong. In other words, any doctrine worth its salt must have at least one, clearcut verse (not passage mind you, just a verse) that says explicitly, “Jesus Christ comes for His Church before the “Tribulation Period of the Last Days” commences.
The fact of the matter is that any doctrine worth its salt will indeed have several verses (that to those who believe the doctrine) seemingly offering substantial corroboration, as well as evincing whole passages that teach the doctrinal truth, as well as scores of hints and antitypes scattered throughout the scripture, and furthermore, will correspond and coordinate with other biblical doctrines. Despite this being so, on the other hand, for the unbeliever in a doctrine, who has his or her mind made up “for good” and likely fears changing his or her mind for one of many reasons (some psychological, some prideful, some scriptural), the opposite will be true. One verse won’t convince them, whole passages won’t convince them, antitypes scattered throughout the Bible will be discounted, and other doctrines that could reinforce the doctrine in question will be dismissed as obviously unrelated if not totally antithetical to it. Ladies and gentlemen: That constitutes the way we humans are wired. As the saying goes, once we have a horse in the race and the betting window closes, we are more than reluctant to give up on that horse.
Three of those “Just One Verse” Verses
With this as backdrop, allow me then as one who believes the Pre-Trib rapture has merit and is supported by scripture, to recite just a few verses that we who believe this way ascribe as scriptural evidence for our position. For those who believe otherwise, these verses can be interpreted in such a way as to not support the Pre-Trib understanding. That is a given. Nevertheless, these few verses hold meaning to me to substantiate that the rapture comes before the time of great tribulation. I will quote both the traditional King James version as well as the New English Translation (a more modern version but based on more numerous and more highly regarded Greek manuscripts) just to show that the meaning of the verses isn’t altered by moving from one version to another. Then I will provide some very modest commentary just to make my point in this article. Now, the three one-verse rejoinders:
Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. (KJV)
But stay alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (NET)
Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. (KJV)
Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (NET)
1 Thessalonians 5:9–
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. (KJV)
For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (NET)
As we read these verses, please understand they do not prove any of the rapture positions outright. But they can support any of the positions, including the Pre-Trib position. There are antitypes in the Old Testament of being “kept from” (as in preserving–think of Noah and his family, or Daniel in the Lion’s Den) as well as rescued from (as in escaping–think of Lot and his daughters, or Rahab from Jericho). These verses, all three, or any one support the Pre-Trib rapture. But like other “single verses” that support other doctrines, they need to be read in light of the meaning of resurrection, the meaning of salvation, and God’s antitypes like the harpazo (or rapture) of Enoch and of Elijah.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary (New Testament) Craig S. Keener provides this same perspective in which any of the various views of the rapture can be supported, including the Pre-Trib point of view:
Apocalypses sometimes prophesied special deliverance (i.e., protection) for the righteous in the coming times of hardship; the Old Testament also promised God’s faithfulness to his people in such times… Some texts (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls) spoke of the righteous being tested by the future time of suffering, although the motif of the righteous being tested in sufferings in general was a common one (“Keep from” could mean “protect from” [cf.Rev 7:3; cf. Jn 17:15, the only other New Testament use of the construction] or “preserve from.”) Revelation probably contrasts the wicked “earth dwellers” with the righteous “heaven dwellers”; apocalypses (like 4 Ezra, Similitudes of Enoch and 2 Baruch) also announce judgments on the “inhabitants of the earth.” 
In regards to Luke 21:36, Keener points out the same perspective again: the verse could easily support a Pre-Trib point of view, but one can’t be dogmatic about it.
“Strength to escape” (v. 36) could refer back to the escape of verse (Luke 21:) 21 or to enduring the persecutions of verses 12-19; “standing before the Son of Man” may mean persevering or being presented triumphant before him. 
When we come to the verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, those who discount that this verse refers to the wrath of God described in Revelation’s “trials, vials and trumpets” argue that the salvation proclaimed here is soteriological salvation–in short, being saved from God’s wrath in hell not from the wrath of God poured out on the “earth dwellers” in John’s apocalypse. However, I disagree strongly on this point primarily because the entire context of Paul’s discourse relates to the day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:2) coming as a thief to those who are “in the dark”. Paul admonishes them that they are not living in the dark, but in the light. They are children of the day so they WILL NOT be caught by surprise (so long as they live by faith, live soberly, put on the breastplate of righteousness, etc.). Whether they wake or sleep (5:10) they will live together with Christ. The use of those terms, waking and sleeping, reminds us of Paul’s exquisite wording on the rapture and resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:51: “We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed.” And likewise, his introduction to this passage from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, “concerning them that have fallen asleep.” At a future great day, the Lord will bring with him those that have fallen asleep, and “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.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
From my point of view, the argument advanced against the Pre-Trib position (“there is not one verse that proves it”) is a two-edged sword. There is no verse that disproves it unless it is taken out of context and detached from the rest of biblical teaching.
There are indeed many arguments pro and con: And I believe all of those arguments can be adduced in support of or against any of the positions held on the timing of the rapture. That doesn’t mean that they are all equally true; contrariwise, it does not mean that none of them are true. One will be proven true. And frankly, as we get closer and closer to the great tribulation of the last days the correct point of view will become rather obvious. In the meantime, I believe we are called to continue to study the scriptures, listen intently to teachers representing any of the positions as long as they do not teach from envy or strife (1 Timothy 6:4, Philippians 1:15), and test our views making more sure the word of the Lord… and, especially as Paul and the Lord Jesus Himself said, that we are counted worthy to stand before the Lord, whether triumphant in heaven or valiant in the midst of persecution here on earth. For in either case, the Lord Jesus will be with us and we will be with Him. And, whether because of the refinement from earthly persecution or the glorification which comes as part of the heavenly parousia, the debate will be over–we will be together and living harmoniously in the knowledge of the truth.
 There are those who believe the “Day of the Lord” (which most all scholars associate with the wrath of God and the Day of Judgment) is a literal 24-hour day. I do not hold to that point of view.
 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary–New Testament, Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, see commentary of Revelation 3:10, pp. 736.
 Ibid., p. 235.