Copyright Rev. Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. 1992



As we move on in our study of future events the next one on the horizon is the tribulation. There is much discussion as to the question of whether the church will go through the tribulation, yet there is little difference of opinion as to the fact of the tribulation.

The tribulation is a seven year period of time in which many dreadful things happen to the earth and the people living at that time. I am reminded of a cartoon that I saw once where two dogs outside a church have just heard of the coming tribulation. One says to the other, "That's 49 years of tribulation to you and me!" Even with only seven years of it, I think most will agree that it is not a time that a person would care to go through.

The information we have concerning the events of the tribulation are contained primarily in the book of Revelation chapters four through twenty. Other references relate to the time, however this is the most descriptive of actual occurances.

We will look at the different ideas as to whether the church will go through this time or not. There are a number of positions that we will consider.

The pretribulational rapture position will follow immediately a brief introduction to the topic of the rapture. After this we will consider some of the other positions that have developed over the years.

The tribulation is a period of time during which God deals with national Israel to draw them back to Himself. It will be a terrible time of destruction and death upon the earth. The book of Revelation describes this time of trouble for us.

The time is called the tribulation, the time of Jacob's trouble, and the seventieth week of Daniel. The time is divided into two time frames, each three and one half years long. Some describe the first period as tribulation while contrasting it to the final period which is entitled the Great Tribulation.

The tribulation as a whole is a time of God showing all of mankind that He indeed is over all and the display of destruction is quite convincing for men will call for the rocks to bury them so they can escape God. This does not seem to be a time for a person to desire to live through.

As we move on, we need to consider the teaching that the church will be taken out of the world before this terrible time on earth.


Those that hold this position believe that the church age saints will be taken from the earth before the tribulation period begins. The living saints will be translated as were Enoch and Elijha, the dead church age saints will be resurrected and united with those translated, in the air.

There is some discussion as to whether the translated go through death on their way up. There is a possibility there is a cessation of life as we know it today, but if there is it will be instant and not something that should be feared.

I suspect there is an instant change in the person. The fact that these people will be changed from flesh and bone to glorified bodies is evident. They are prepared for the spiritual realm and there will be a cessation of normal life. I do not feel that it will even be noticed by the believer.

This pretribulation rapture is based on the following line of thinking. Several of these will be similar to what we covered the last time, but the review will be good.

1. This belief is the position which allows for the closest to the literal interpretation method which most fundamentalists hold. The literal method of interpretation seems to be the most logical method.

2. Israel seems to be the focal point after Revelation 4:1 for there is no more mention of the church as such in the book. Daniel 9:24 also shows that the tribulation is a time for Israel. "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people...." (God is speaking to Daniel of Israel.)

3. The tribulation is the wrath of God -- God wouldn't put us through it. The death of Christ frees us from judgment and the tribulation IS judgment!

4. There are literal distinctions between Israel and the Church in Scripture so we must carry literal distinctions throughout the Bible. Other positions fog this distinction when end times are considered. You must have a mixing of Israel and the Church if you have the rapture anyplace but before the tribulation.

Israel was set aside during the Church age but as the tribulation opens God is ready to begin His dealings with them once more. Romans 11:13ff shows the Gentiles being grafted in after branches were broken off. Vs 25 shows Israel's blindness is only until the end of the Gentile age (the Church age). This also indicates the distinction between Israel and the church.

There is no need for the church to be present for this period of time. It would be strange for the Lord to ask us to place ourselves under a Jewish system of worship and life (the temple etc. will be a part of the tribulation).

5. The doctrine of imminence taught by the apostles requires that we can't know when the tribulation begins. The Revelation has gives great detail concerning events in the tribulation. If believers saw these events occurring they would know that the Tribulation had begun. If we knew the tribulation was upon us then we would know when Christ was coming. This is not an imminent return. (Titus 2:13 tells us to watch; Acts 1:6-7 mentions that the apostles were looking for Christ to come at any moment; I Thess. 5:1,2 teach imminence as well - it mentions the return will be as a thief in the night; John 14:1-3 where Christ mentioned that he would return.)

I would like to just recap some information from "THE RAPTURE QUESTION" by Walvoord, and suggest that you read pages 52 and those following for more detail.

Historically the church has held to the imminent return of Christ. That is, the sudden return of Christ, or the fact that His return could be at any moment. The apostle Paul was always looking for Christ's return. Moffat quotes the early Jewish belief in the fact that some would not go through the tribulation. Clement of Rome (1st century) mentions, "Of a truth soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished as the Scriptures also bear witness, saying, 'speedily will he come, and will not tarry;' and, 'the Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One for whom ye look.'" The Didache (120 A.D.) mentions to watch for the Lord. (Taken from the book, THE RAPTURE QUESTION by John F. Walvoord. Copyright 1979 by the Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. p 52ff.)

There are indications that the early Church fathers did not grasp the details of the Lord's coming, but all seem to have been looking for the return at any time. Now, in light of all that, we cannot say they believed in a pretribulation rapture. They believed in the imminent return of Christ. They mention nothing of a tribulation, but of a sudden return.

This is an indicator! They had the revelation and would have understood something of what was being spoken of so, surely would have mentioned a tribulation if they were planning to go through it. I would guess they did not really understand the Revelation enough to see the tribulation as such, but saw only some things to be interpreted allegorically!

6. In Daniel's 70th week the earthly government comes under the control of Satan. (Rev 13 hints at it.) Romans 13 commands us to be under the authority of the government. This gives the believer a bit of a conflict if he is still living in that period of time and system of government. If the believer is going through the tribulation as the other positions dictate there would be a real problem. Some might mention the mark of the beast in this regard, however those refusing the mark will die, and if the saints all die there will be no one to rapture.

7. Let us consider an argument from silence. Never in the epistles is the Great Tribulation mentioned. If the church was going to go through such a horrifying time don't you think that the Lord would have warned us of the coming trouble through the writers of the New Testament.

8. After a study of the other positions, one is left with only one position that is logical and consistent - the pretribulational position.

9. The tribulation and the Day of the Lord are prophesied in both testaments. The translation, or rapture, of the church people is a mystery that is revealed to us (I Cor. 15:51-52). The two must be separate.

10. Revelation 3:10 states, "Because you have kept the word of my perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth."

11. Joel 2:28-32 seems to indicate that someone is to be delivered from the tribulation, but the church saints are the only ones that fit. Part of this prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, however it will have it's ultimate fulfillment in the end times. (V 32 mentions that those that call on the Lord will be delivered.)

12. Zephaniah 2:1-3 indicates that God saves some out of His anger. (Day of the Lord - tribulation)

13. God usually delivers Godly people before divine JUDGMENTS. (Noah from the flood; Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah; Moses and Israel from the loss of the first born; Joshua and Caleb were permitted to enter the promised land while the others were not allowed to enter.) The tribulation is certainly judgment and the Godly people will be taken out if God follows His usual pattern.

14. John 14:16 mentions that Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would indwell us forever. "...give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever;"

II Thess. 2:6-10 shows that the Holy Spirit will be taken out of the world. Verse 7 mentions the restrainer. The term is in the masculine and must be more powerful than Satan to restrain Satan and only God can fill this qualification. We must assume this is speaking of the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit indwells us, if the Holy Spirit is going, then the believers must go also to keep John true to what is said.

15. If you hold to the interpretations that the 24 elders of Revelation are representative of any Old Testament or New Testament saints you must have a taking out of saints of one kind or the other before the tribulation (the elders are there). Some set forth the belief the elders are angels however the two classes are held as distinct in Revelation 5:11, "And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders...." (Those holding to the twenty-four elders being representatives of the church, suggest the following as basis for their belief: a. The number is a representative number relating to the priesthood: I Chron. 24:1-19. b. Believers will wear white: Rev. 3:5; 4:4. c. Crowns and the term redeemed are related to New Testament believers: I Thessalonians 2:19, I Corinthians 6:20.)

16. I Thess. 4:13-5:10 indicates that the coming will be as a thief in the night (vs. 2) which indicates before the tribulation. The whole text seems easiest to interpret if it is pretribulation. Also, the only way it can be a surprise is if its before the tribulation.

17. The rapture in the New Testament speaks of church age saints only. The 2nd coming speaks of Christ's return to set up a kingdom. All Old Testament prophecy fits into two areas. Messiah the lamb or Messiah the King. His coming at the cross was as a lamb. He next will come as a king.

Question: Is the church ever promised a nation - land - kingdom on earth? NO!

Question: Is Israel promised these things? YES! All through the Old Testament. Israel is of prime interest in the end times.

18. The rapture does not see Christ on earth - only in the air. The 2nd Coming is when Christ touches down on Mt. Zion. This and number 17 show the rapture and the 2nd coming are two events. The 2nd coming is before the millennium thus the rapture needs to be before the tribulation. (Unless you have it very very close to the 2nd coming, as some posttribs do.)

19. The rapture is never spoken of as more than one taking out. There is no inference whatsoever that it is in waves as the partial rapture folks indicate.

20. Daniel 9:11 shows the tribulation to be the trouble of the Jews.

21. I Thess. 3:13 mentions that the saints will be coming with Christ at the 2nd Coming. They have to get up there before the 2nd coming some how and a pretrib rapture would make more sense than the posttribulation.

We want to look at some of the other thoughts concerning the time of the rapture.

THE PARTIAL RAPTURE THEORY: (G. H. Lang, G. H. Pember, J. A. Seiss and Austin Sparks hold to this thought.)

This position is one which teaches that only the worthy will be taken out before the tribulation and that the unworthy believer is left on earth to go through a time of purging. Indeed this sounds like the reformations answer to purgatory, the only difference being is that we know how long the tribulation is, while the Roman Catholic has no idea how long they will be in purgatory.

They base this position basically on Hebrews 9:28 which states, "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."

Ira E. David indicates they will be raptured out as they are prepared to go. The indication is that those ready when the tribulation starts will go, and then there will be waves going every now and then.

Some suggest Paul was trying to catch the first boat over when he mentions: "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death, If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." Phil 3:10-12


1. They do not tell you how many good works, or how pure you must be to make it in the first wave.

2. They do not deal with I Corinthians 15:51 which says, "we shall all be changed".

3. The church is termed the body of Christ. It would be of interest to know which part of the body, Christ is going to rip from the rest of the body when He takes part of His body to heaven.

4. We see in this position, that old doctrine of works coming into the scheme of things. If I work hard enough, then I will please God!

References they use.

Look to the context on these, and you will certainly fail to see any hint of a partial rapture.

Matthew 24:40-51 Speaking of two in the field and one taken. There are several possible explanations to this text. To begin with there is no indication of waves of believers going from time to time. There seems to be a set separation.

a. This could be prophetic of the rapture. It could be speaking in general of all mankind and the fact that some will be taken and some will not.

b. This would fit with the second coming when Christ comes with His armies and removes all of the lost from the face of the earth to set up His kingdom with all righteous Jews. Mark 13:24-26 indicates that Christ will gather the saints at His second coming. It may be that He gathers them into one spot, then deals with the lost on a world wide basis.

c. This would fit nicely with the end of the Millennium when there will be some that are taken by death at the great sweep of the lost from the kingdom.

Matthew 25:13 speaks of the ten virgins - some are taken and some are left. The context of this is given in 25:1, "Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins...." This is a millennial text. To use this in relation to the rapture, you would have to be posttrib.

Mark 13:33-37 This asks the believer to watch, and not be caught sleeping. It is clearly speaking of living a life that depicts someone believing He were coming at any moment. This is a good imminence text. Stay awake! The context would again be speaking of the Second coming. Verse 24 mentions, "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light." Then v 26 mentions, "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory."

Luke 21:36 Again the context identifies this as a text belonging to the kingdom. v 31, "...know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand."

I Thess. 4 13-18 If it is those that are watching, how can the dead be involved as this text tells us?

I Thess. 5:6 Again the thought of watching is the purpose.

II Tim 4:8 This speaks of reward for loving and watching for His appearing. Time nor waves are present in the thought of the verse.

Titus 2:13 The thought of looking and watching is prevalent.

Hebrews 9:24-28; Revelation 3:3; 12:1-6.

My over all question might be something like this. I know of people that are watching, but are doing nothing else. This seems illogical to say that the watchers will go and the workers will stay. Indeed, the people that set dates for the coming of the Lord are watchers.

I think the better idea is for us to be watching, looking and anticipating the day, but to labor in the fields that are white unto harvest until He comes!


Norman B. Harrison states that the rapture occurs with the sounding of the 7th trumpet of Revelation 11:12 and the catching up of the two witnesses. He feels that the two witnesses represent the church.

The problem with this is that we have no indication that the two witnesses represent the church. Indeed it would seem there is evidence that the two witnesses are Old Testament resurrected saints. Malachi mentions Elijah coming back. (Mal 4:5)

The two witnesses are killed and this is not a very clear representation of the church.

He feels that the church must suffer tribulation. I suspect they use Acts 14:22 for a proof text. "...that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." They feel the last half of the Tribulation is the wrath of God. I Thess 5:9, "For God hath not appointed us to wrath but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,"

Rev. 6:16-17 mentions that "the great day of his wrath is come," and this is in the 6th seal. They need to place the trumps and seals in the first 3 1/2 years of the tribulation. Thus, the church is removed before it.

The following was added to and adapted from the Rapture Question - Walvoord.

1. They are in truth pretribulation rapture people for the rapture is before The Great Tribulation.

2. They reject the thought that all of Daniel's 70th week is tribulation.

3. They at times call themselves pretrib and not midtrib.

4. They view Revelation 1-10 as fulfilled, or being fulfilled today. Chapter 11 and on are yet future.

5. They place emphasis on the trumps. The last trump of Rev. is the last trump of I Cor. 15:52. However, no scripture links the two trumps. The trump of Rev. is sounded by an angel but we don't know who sounds the I Corinthians trump. The Rev. trump is to wrath while the I Corinthians trump is to escape from the world. The Revelation trump is not the last LAST trump, for Matthew 24:30-31 says there is one at Christ's 2nd coming. "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."

Concerning trumps: In the Roman army there were three trumps sounded when they were striking camp. 1. Strike tents and prepare to depart. 2. Fall into line. 3. Last - march away. The church is marching away so to speak. This is the last trump for the church but may not be the last trump of the end times. You see, the last bell for a class period is not the last bell of the day.

Problems with the position:

1. If we can read Revelation then we can look for the events of the 7 trumps and first six seals and know when the rapture will occur. Has it occurred to you that this eliminates the possibility of an imminent return of Christ. We could indeed know and predict it if the rapture wasn't until half way through the tribulation.

2. They forget that the 70th week is to for dealing with Israel only. The church would not need to be present.

They argue that the temple was not destroyed until 70 AD so God mixes things also. However, Acts 10 seems to be a definite turning point where God began to work with Gentiles. (We have synagogues today but it isn't to say that God is working with both Israel and the Church today.)

3. Their thinking on the first 3 1/2 years is that it isn't really tribulation. Let's look at some of those non-tribulation events. Famine, 6:5-6; death for 1/4 of the world, 6:8; stars falling, moon turned to blood, mountains and islands moved (6:12-14). This isn't the wrath of God?

POST TRIBULATION RAPTURE THEORY (George Ladd (Taught at Fuller), Leon Morris, and Harold Ockenga hold to this thought.)

This theory views all living saints as going through the entire tribulation, and that the rapture is actually a part of, or very close to the 2nd coming of the Lord, just prior to the Millennium. This is usually held by Amills and Postmills.

The people holding this position are normally split into two camps.

1. Those that hold to the theory that the present age is the tribulation. In Acts 8:1-3 there was a great persecution which was called tribulation in Acts 11:19. Therefore the tribulation started with the church age.

The term used here is also mentioned by Christ in Matthew 24:21, "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be."

2. Those that hold to a seven year tribulation at the end of this present age, and prior to Christ's second advent.

Ryrie in a Survey of Bible Doctrine lists the following points of this theory. Following each point an answer will be given.

1. "The rapture and the second coming are described in the Scriptures by the same words, which indicates they occur at the same time (I Thess. 4:15 and Matt 24:27)."

Matt 24:27, "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." I Thess. 4 15, "...the coming of the Lord...." Why do they have to be the same thing and at the same time? There is no proof.

Might I mention something about that word coming? It is Strong's number 3952 if you want to look it up. It is used in I Cor. 16:17 of Stephanus, and in II Cor. 7:6 of Titus. This is the term "parousia". It is even used in II Pet 3:12 of a coming day. Thus, the usage of the term in relation to two events does not require that the two events are one.

2. "Since saints are mentioned as present during the tribulation days, the church is present on earth during that time (Matt 24:22)." "...but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." There are "elect" in the passage which can relate to elect of any age. The Church need not be anywhere near.

3. "It is predicted that a resurrection will occur at the beginning of the millennium, and since it is assumed that this is the same resurrection as that which occurs at the rapture, the rapture will take place just before the millennium (Rev 20:4)."

An assumption which has very little basis. This would be the resurrection of all righteous dead and they would meet the living righteous in the air. All changed - glorified bodies. Only ones left to enter Christ's kingdom are glorified saints and lost from the tribulation. Problem: The entrance into the kingdom requires rebirth, thus the lost can't enter, and glorified saints can't be reborn, thus no one can enter the kingdom. There also is no one to produce children for population to rebel at the end of the Millennium if there are only glorified saints.

4. "The church can and will be preserved from the wrath of the tribulation period by supernatural protection while living through that time and not by deliverance from the period (as Israel was protected from the plagues while living in Egypt)."

Not one ounce of evidence to this thought is given in Scripture. Indeed Rev 6:9-11 shows that the righteous will be martyred in the tribulation. That is NOT supernaturally protected!

5. "The Scriptures do not teach imminency; therefore, the rapture can be after the known events of the tribulation."

A study to show imminency would be needed here, but it would seem that as a thief in the night indicates imminency!!!

6. "Posttribulationalism was the position of the early church." So were several doctrines that more modern theologians have proven to be in error.

References that are used: Matt. 13:37-43 These verses show a gathering, but again the time is not mentioned; Matt 13:47-50 These verses also mention a gathering, however both saved and unsaved are mentioned - this is not so at the rapture; Matt. 24:4-14; John 14:3 This verse really has nothing to do with when but that He will return for us; I Thess 4:17; II Thess 2:1; Rev 8-16.

So, what do we do know that we've gone through these positions?

1. Take time in your future ministries to dig in, and see what some of the fundamental writers say on the subject of the rapture. Next study literal interpretation, dispensations and then the imminency of Christ.

2. When you have that firm in mind go to some of the other writers and see what they teach, and why they believe what they believe. Remember they mix terms that literal interpretation cannot. (Israel and Church)

3. I think that a good study of the subject will leave you feeling as I do - that of all the evidence and opinion, the pretrib position is the easiest to see in scripture. It fits well with the scriptural references that we have to deal with.

4. Study and think and consider. The questions are not answered solidly no matter what some may say. There are good and bad in all of the positions. The pretribulation position seems to present very few difficulties to me.

5. I am not sure that the subject has been studied as completely as it should be by any of the scholars. Many of our doctrines today were formed over hundreds of years of study and restudy. Men discussed and studied until they arrived at the best teaching involving all of the texts. Historically there does not seem to be any real statement on premillennialism.

The Trinity was not an established doctrine until A.D. 325. Human depravity wasn't a settled doctrine till the 5th century AD. The sufficiency of Scripture and the priesthood of the believer weren't settled until the reformation. So, we may not settle the end times discussion for many more years! I think that as years go by, we may see more definitive statements concerning the pretribulation rapture.

6. Realize that this is nothing that you are going to loose your salvation over! When we went through this in my first year of college I was on the skids for two or three months trying to figure out what I was. There was a much greater emphasis on prophecy at that time. I wasted a lot of time that I should have been using for study!

I am not saying it isn't important. I am saying, give it some good study and time for thought!

The thoughts that we have considered are basically a compilation of the thinking of several pretribulation men.

This may be an overstatement, however I don't think that it is. The pretribulation position fits into the literal interpretation that most fundamentalists hold to. To hold some of the other positions, you have to accept other forms of interpretation which are not consistent with historical fundamentalism, nor logical principles of interpretation.

The system fits well with what scripture states. The logical and scriptural arguments seem to be very consistent with the Word.

Dr. Pentacost states, "Pretribulation rapturism rests essentially on one major premise - the literal method of interpretation of the Scriptures. As a necessary adjunct [something that accompanies] to this, the pretribulationist believes in a dispensational interpretation of the Word of God. The church and Israel are two distinct groups with whom God has a divine plan."

As I have studied the other positions I find it hard to believe that you can hold to any other position without doing damage to these four doctrines:

a. Literal interpretation.

b. Dispensations.

c. Distinctions between the church and Israel.

d. Imminency of the return of Christ.

Dr. Pentacost on pp 193-194 of THINGS TO COME, mentions that Allis one of the key Amillennialists of our day admits, GET THIS, that if one is to interpret scripture literally and not figuratively that one MUST BECOME a premillennialist. That is the proven end of literal interpretation. He further admits that if you hold to literal interpretation you must also become, as a result of your study of scripture a pretribulationist.

Dr. Pentacost of p 194ff details the pretribulation rapture position in great detail. I believe he hits most of the points that we have mentioned.

Concerning literal interpretation those taking other positions must spiritualize the texts concerning prophecy. Walvoord gives some examples in the following quote.

"Postribulationists usually ignore the distinction between Israel and the church much in the fashion of the amillenarian school. The reason for this is that none of the tribulation passages in either the old or new testament ever mention the "church" or the ecclesia. In order to prove that the church is in the tribulation period, it is necessary to identify key terms as equivalent to the church. Hense, Israel becomes a general name for the church and in some contexts becomes an equivalent term. The term elect is taken to be equivalent to the church, regardless of the limitation of the context, and saints of all dispensations are considered as members of the true church. In order to make these various terms equivalents, it is necessary to take Scripture in other than a literal sense in many instances - the use of Israel as equivalent to the church being an illustration." (Taken from the book, THE RAPTURE QUESTION by John F. Walvoord. Copyright 1979 by the Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. p 57)

In short, I think what I am saying is this. Present a position other than the pretrib without damaging the doctrines of literal interpretation, dispensations, distinctions between Israel and the church or the imminent return of Christ and I will consider it!