Debunking the False Hope of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture

Posted February 14, 2018 by Amy Wang (Updated February 19, 2018)

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Many bible verses have been used in support of an escape from tribulation via rapture. However, this pre-tribulation rapture interpretation is questionable due to verses which clearly indicate believers, including Gentile believers, will undergo the tribulation (Revelation 6:9,7:9,7:14,13:7). Below, we will look at many of these verses in greater depth and how to respond to them.

When the great tribulation does finally come, those who hope in the rapture may wonder why they remain on earth and have not been taken up into the sky to meet Jesus (2Peter 3:3-4). In their disillusionment, they may fall away (Matthew 13:20-21, 2Thessalonians 2:3). Indeed, if God did not shorten that time of unprecedented distress, no one would be saved (Matthew 24:21-22). However, Jesus' prayer was not to take us out of the world, but to protect us spiritually from the evil one (John 17:15, Matthew 6:13, Matthew 10:28). Fortunately for the sake of others, Christians may remain on earth as witnesses, to share the true hope of redemption and of a better kingdom (Philippians 1:23-25, 1Peter 3:15, Matthew 10:18-19, 2Peter 3:9).

Examine All Things and Watch One's Doctrine

The Bible calls us to examine all things (1Thessalonians 5:21) and to watch our doctrine closely (1Timothy 4:16). In particular, we need to be on guard against Satan's crafty misinterpretation of Scripture. In the wilderness, Satan took a Bible verse out of context and read into it his own meaning to tempt Jesus (Matthew 4:6, Psalm 91:11). His interpretation contradicted Scripture as a whole. This is called twisting, or distorting, the Scriptures (2Peter 3:16-18). We need exegesis, not eisegesis. Eisegesis means reading into scripture meanings that are not there. No prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation, so we need to seek out the author's intended meaning (2Peter 1:20). Below, I have summarized a few key issues in which the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory may deviate from Scripture as a whole.

1. One taken, the other left behind, might also refer to the second coming or judgment.

In the Left Behind movie series, before tribulation strikes, true Christians are raptured and “taken” up to heaven with Christ, while their unbelieving companions are “left behind” for judgment. This is a creative interpretation of passages that talk of two women grinding at the mill and two in the field, one of which will be taken and the other left (Matthew 24:39-40, Luke 17:34-35). However, there is no evidence these scriptures refer to the secret rapture as opposed to the glorious second coming of Jesus.

Additionally, the two preceding verses talk of Noah’s flood, where the flood took all men away except for Noah and his family who were left behind (Matthew 24:37-38). Thus, "left behind" does not necessarily have a negative connotation. Craig Blomberg and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright argue that “taken" may similarly mean taken for judgment, so being "left behind" might actually be the better option in this context (Blomberg and Chung, 78).

2. The absence of the word “church” does not imply its nonexistence.

Pre-tribulation dispensationalists say the rapture is necessary to remove the Church so God can finish dealing with the Jews. They claim the word "church" is not used from Revelation chapters 4 to 19 because the church has already been raptured before the tribulation. Thus, they conjecture that any mention of believers in those chapters refers to Jews who are saved during the tribulation, of which they may mention the 144,000. However, if the absence of the word “church” were to imply its nonexistence, we might as well say the church did not exist in 2Timothy, Titus, 2Peter, 1John, 2John, or Jude (Gundry, 78). Despite the lack of the word “church,” there are other similar words such as “saints” (Jude 1:3), or descriptions of believers, which can imply the existence of a church. (Pawson). In particular, Revelation 6:9-11 speaks of the souls slain for the word of God and their testimony who cry to God for vengeance. These include Gentile believers, distinct from Israel, who will come out of the great tribulation (Revelation 7:9,7:14).

3. Avoid the Judaizing of scriptures.

Another argument of pretribulationists is to divide the bible into sections intended for Christians (the Church) and sections intended for Jews (Israel). This is known as the “Judaizing” of scriptures. For example, if Matthew 24:29-31 is inconvenient to pretribulationists because it implies believers exist during the tribulation, they argue that Matthew was intended for a Jewish audience, even though the gospel of Mark catered to Gentiles also contain similar passages. (Scruby, "Jewish Wastepaper Basket")

Pre-tribulationists may also claim the wedding feast only applies to Israel, but there is evidence that the church is also part of the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:31-32, Colossians 1:18). Additionally, let us remember that there are Jews inwardly who are not ethnic Jews (Romans 2:29). Furthermore, Gentiles are not just a "parenthesis" in God's plan (Thigpen, 165-166). God intended to show mercy and grant salvation to Gentiles all along. The holy city New Jerusalem, prepared as a bride, will have the twelve tribes of the children of Israel and the twelve apostles of the Lamb written on it (Revelation 21:2,14).

4. The rapture is not “any time”

Because Jesus compared His second advent to a thief in the night, some believe it will come unexpectedly, at any time. However, Paul writes that it will not be as a thief in the night for those who are awake (1Thessalonians 5:4). First of all, this passage most likely refers to Jesus' second coming, not a secret rapture before that (Newport, 108). Second, both Paul and Peter knew they would die before Jesus' return (2Timothy 4:6, 2Peter 1:14-15), so they knew His second coming was not imminent at any moment (Pawson). Furthermore, before the end comes, the gospel must first be preached among all nations (Matthew 24:14). Before that day, a falling away will take place and the son of perdition will be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Craig Blomberg says there is no basis for saying that the word apostasy refers to the rapture and not a falling away or rebellion (Blomberg, 78).

But isn't He coming soon? Aren't these things "at hand" and coming "shortly"? Certainly, Jesus said He was coming soon (Revelation 22:12). Joel wrote about the Day of the Lord at hand (Joel 1:15). Furthermore, Revelation talks about that which must “shortly” come to pass (Revelation 1:1,22:7). However, it has already been over a thousand years since then, so perhaps God’s time scale is simply different than ours. After all, to Him, a thousand years is like a day (2Peter 3:4, Revelation 6:10, Matthew 24:48-51). (Pawson)

What about the call to watch? The command to watch likely refers to moral vigilance, so we will not fall into temptation (Matthew 26:41). We need to be ready at any time because we never know when we may die. So, rest assured that physical sleep is allowed. You don’t have to sit on the rooftop at night waiting for Jesus' return. John Piper explains that of the ten virgins, the five wise virgins were sleeping when the groom came back. Hence, their preparedness was not hindered by physical sleep. (Piper)

5. The rapture is not a “secret” coming

The coming of the Son of man will be very evident— not as in a secret chamber, but as the lightning coming out of the east and shining unto the west (Matthew 24:26-27). Every eye will see Him (Revelation 1:7). After the trumpet sounds and the Lord descends with a shout, the elect will be gathered together (1Thessalonians 4:16-17, Matthew 24:31).

Pre-tribulationists may use the term “Parousia" to refer to the secret coming and the "Apocalypsis" to refer to a later, final advent in glory, when in reality, there may be no such distinction. This interpretation actually goes against their own theory since "Parousia" is the very word used in Matthew 24:27-31, which refers to a visible coming that “immediately” follows the tribulation. This chapter does not mention a separate "Parousia" before the tribulation. Hence, this term is probably used to write about Christ’s glorious arrival at the close of the age, not the rapture (1Corinthians 15:23, 2Thessalonians 2:8, 2Peter 3:4, 1John 2:28).

Furthermore, the word "parousia" was supposedly used to refer to the appearance of state dignitaries visiting a city. The word "apantesis" for “meet” or “meeting” was used for the gathering of citizens to meet an approaching celebrity, who was then accompanied into the city (Thigpen, 113; Blomberg and Chung, 83). In other words, the text does not imply a reversal in direction, where Jesus descends to the clouds and then returns back to heaven with the church (Rossing, 176). If Jesus will come back the same way He ascended, maybe it refers to the fact that He will set His feet again on the earth (Acts 1:11, Zechariah 14:4,9). If this includes the millennial reign, then it may include a portion of those who died from persecution who were first raised (Revelation 20:4-5, 1Thessalonians 4:16-17) (Gundry, 80).

Bear in mind that Hebrews 9:26 and 9:28 only talk about two comings of Jesus Christ — a first coming to sacrifice himself and bear the sins of many (i.e., the crucifixion), which already happened, and a future second coming unto salvation. There is no mention in Scripture of a second return/third coming or a secret coming. At the last trumpet, at His second coming, we will all become like Him, including both dead and alive (1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 2Thessalonians 1:10, Colossians 3:4, 1John 3:2, 1Thessalonians 4:15-17). Furthermore, if the dead in Christ rise first, then we would assume this includes those who died in the tribulation, which would place this after the tribulation (Gundry, 80). To argue for multiple comings, some pre-tribulation rapture advocates make dubious distinctions of terms, just like the distinction of Parousia and Apocalypsis. For example, they also claim (a) the “day of Christ” in Philippians 1:10 and 2:16 is distinct from the (b) “day of the Lord” in 2Thessalonians 2:2. However, these terms are interchangeable, because Paul also refers to "the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Corinthians 1:8). See Thigpen's book for many similar examples employed by pre-tribulationists (Thigpen, 120-121).

6. The Bible does not promise believers to be spared of tribulation.

According to many different scriptures, Believers can expect tribulation and persecution (Acts 14:22, 1Thessalonians 3:4, 2Thessalonians 1:4-5, John 16:21,33, Matthew 24:9-10,24:26-31,Revelation 6:9,7:9,7:14,13:7,20:4, John 15:20, 2Timothy 3:12). What then should we make of scriptures used to argue for an escape from tribulation? We will look at some of these verses below.

"Kept from the hour of temptation"

Revelation 3:10 says to those who kept the word, that they will be kept from the hour of temptation that will come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth (Revelation 3:10). However, the same word "kept" appears in John 17:15, where it refers not to physical removal from the world but a spiritual guard (5083 téreó"to watch over, to guard.") against temptation. (Blomberg and Chung, 81 and Shackleton)

"Counted worthy to escape"

Jesus also says to watch and pray that we might be accounted worthy to escape the things that shall come to pass and to stand before the Son of man (Luke 21:36). However, an escape could also refer to escape from temptation or corruption (1Corinthians 10:13, 2Peter 1:4) (Scruby) Furthermore, during the difficult days ahead, Revelation 14:13 calls blessed those saints who die in the Lord at that time. Many will not escape tribulation by rapture but by martyrdom (See also Philippians 1:21-23, Isaiah 57:1).

"Hid in the day of wrath"

Zephaniah 2:3 says to seek righteousness and meekness, if so we may be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger. However, the use of the word “hid” seems to imply that one may be present during the day of the LORD’s anger, yet shielded from the anger. Perhaps it is like how the Israelites were protected in Goshen while the rest of Egypt suffered the 10 plagues of God’s judgment. (Revelation 7:3, 9:4) (Thigpen, 126-127). Remember that Noah was still alive during the flood that destroyed the world, Lot was rescued and kept alive when God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, and Rahab was kept alive when the Israelites took Jericho. Likewise, Israel may be saved through the time of Jacob’s trial, not saved from it (Jeremiah 30:6-7). (Blomberg and Chung, 81)

"Not appointed to wrath" (1Thessalonians 5:9-10).

In the Bible, "wrath" may sometimes refer to the unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:7-12) of everlasting punishment in hell, not the temporary suffering that God works out for a greater good (2Corinthians 4:17) (Thigpen, 126). When the Bible says Christians are not destined to wrath, it may be referring to God’s final judgment of hell’s everlasting punishment, not the tribulation (1Thessalonians 5:9-10). (Blomberg and Chung, 81-82).

Biblical Pattern: Oppression, Judgment, Salvation

Scripture also says that God’s judgment (i.e., discipline, not the final judgment) begins with his people (1Peter 4:1-7, Amos 3:1-8, Ezekiel 9:6, 1Corinthians 10:1-12). The typical pattern in the Bible is tripartite: God allows his people to be oppressed, then judges the oppressors, and finally saves His people. In God’s sovereign plan, wicked men often serve to discipline and refine His people, but they will later be judged for their evil. (See: Blomberg and Chung, 27, Hess)

7. Jesus gave instructions for believers to handle tribulation

Jesus also gave instructions about what would happen as if it could happen to his hearers (Piper). He used the second person (you) to refer to hearers being delivered up to councils, beaten in synagogues, and brought before rulers and kings as a testimony, for whom the Holy Ghost would provide the words to speak (Mark 13:9-11). He also wrote about what to pray for (Mark 13:18) and what to do when we see the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15). In Revelation, believers are also called to come out of Babylon so as not to partake in its plagues (Revelation 18:4). This suggests that Christians will be alive when the abomination of desolation is revealed, and will be given instructions for what to do.

8. The Holy Spirit cannot be that which withholds

The Scriptures say the Wicked one will not be revealed until that which withholds be taken out of the way (2Thessalonians 2:6-7). Some pre-tribulationists maintain that the Holy Spirit is that which withholds. However, without the aid of the Holy Spirit in the washing of regeneration and renewal of the saints (see Titus 3:5), how is anyone saved during the tribulation? Furthermore, when believers are delivered to stand in front of governments, the holy spirit is also the one who will instruct them what to testify (Mark 13:9-11).

9. If there is no escape from tribulation, what is our true hope?

Yes, the scriptures give us reason to believe some of the church will experience persecution during the great tribulation. However, just as Jesus overcame, we can overcome, too (John 16:33, 1John 4:4, 1John 5:4). And after we have overcome, He will wipe away every tear and lead us to the fountains of living water (Revelation 7:17). Our comfort and true hope is our final redemption when Jesus returns (Luke 21:28, Titus 2:13).

To train for tribulation, see also my article "Stay Calm and Strong During the End Times." For more information on other end times perspectives, like the "mid-tribulation rapture" and "Pre-wrath" views, see also "End Times Theology Buffet: Coping with Options".


Blomberg, Craig L. and Sung Wook Chung, editors. A Case for Historic Premillenialism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009.
Blomberg, Craig L. et al includes Chapter 2 by Richard Hess, “The Future Written in the Past: The Old Testament and the Millenium.”
Gundry, Robert. The Church and the Tribulation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 1973.
Pawson, David. Revelation Riddle, Session 6
Piper, John. "The End is Near — Are You Ready?" - June 29, 2016.
Scruby, John J. The Great Tribulation: The Church's Supreme Test.
Shackleton, Edmund. Will the Church Escape the Great Tribulation? 3rd ed. (Aylesbury: Hunt, Barnard & Co., n.d.) Part 3: "Arguments for a Pretribulation Rapture Considered."
Thigpen, Paul. The Rapture Trap: A Catholic Response to “End Times” Fever. Westchester, PA: Ascension Press, L.L.C., 2002.
Rossing, Barbara R. The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. New York: Basic Books, 2004.
Newport, John P. The Lion and the Lamb: A Commentary on the Book of Revelation for Today. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1986.


Jacob Choudhury says on 2019-02-17T12:46:18-05:00:
This post makes sense and yet so many on YouTube say they have had "rapture dreams". These dreams are a case of wishful thinking and also an indication of the sorry state of Christendom. These subjective dreams are not to be confused with the endtime dreams referred to by Joel which would be given by the Holy Spirit. But Those dreams won't contradict the Bible.

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