Why the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Deception Thrived

Posted February 12, 2018 by Amy Wang (Updated February 17, 2018)

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One of the most popular views now dominating the end times literature is the pre-tribulation rapture, but this relatively new deception contradicts the majority view of the early church and Scripture. According to pre-tribulationism, God will rescue Christians before an unprecedented and "great tribulation” by taking them up into the clouds in the “rapture,” leaving others behind to suffer tribulation. How can this deception thrive and where does it go wrong? We look into this briefly below. For a more in-depth analysis, see: "Debunking the False Hope of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture."

The Early Church Believed Differently

Prior to the 1830s, many, like St. Augustine, believed precisely the opposite view that the church was destined to go through tribulation and persecution, i.e., the post-tribulation view. Luther and Calvin did not believe the church would be spared the tribulation under the Antichrist. Instead, they believed Christ would return afterward (2Thessalonians 2:3). Biblical support for their view that the church will be present during the great tribulation can be found in Matthew chapter 24's Olivet Discourse and Revelation chapters 6 and 7. Prior to specific heavenly signs mentioned in both books, the church will experience a great tribulation and martyrdom (Revelation 6:9-13,7:9,7:13-14 Matthew 24:29-31).

Additionally, St. Jerome (342-420), St. Augustine (354-430), and St. John Chrysostom (347-407) only believed in two advents of Christ (Hebrews 9:28, Matthew 24:30), not a secret, second coming followed by a visible, third coming [1]. Indeed, Christ's coming will be visible to every eye, even those who pierced him (Revelation 1:7), and those who died in Christ will not be left behind, but they will rise first. Then, the dead and alive who are in Christ will be with the Lord forever (1Thessalonians 4:15-17).

Popularization of the False Pre-Tribulation Rapture Idea

The history of Pre-tribulationism should already raise some eyebrows. J. M. Darby, controversial founder of the Plymouth Brethren, supposedly worked a 15-year old girl’s revelation into a larger theological view called dispensationalism. [2] The Scofield reference bible (1909) widely propagated the mistaken view of the pre-tribulation rapture. Incidentally, two of the Scofield Reference Bible’s contributing editors, William J. Erdman and William G. Moorehead, later repudiated the dispensationalist view of J. M. Darby. Afterward, Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s bestselling Left Behind novels (1995-2007) further popularized this view. [3] The Left Behind novels sold over 80 million copies and hit the movie theaters. According to the CEO of Tyndale, at one point, the novels represented more than 50 percent of Tyndale publisher’s total sales revenue. [4]

How can false theology become so prominent?

Why did false doctrine thrive? First, false hope sells better than grim reality. We want to believe that God would spare Christians from tribulation. Second, perhaps not enough people are doing what the Bible says to do — to examine everything and hold on to that which is good (1Thessalonians 5:21).

Let’s look into these two points in greater detail. First, consider how the soul winces at the thought of hardship [5]. The biblical view is hard to sell. How many people wanted to hear the doom-and-gloom message of weeping Jeremiah? Who wants to believe that God will call many Christians to martyrdom during the end times (Revelation 6:9,7:9,7:13-14, 12:11)? Who wants to accept that we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22) and that Christians will be persecuted (John 15:20)? Even Peter had difficulty accepting that Jesus must die (Matthew 16:22-23) and that he himself must be martyred. (John 21:18-19)

We need to examine (1Thessalonians 5:21) what we are taught, like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). Many people are teaching the pre-tribulation rapture and dispensational millennialism, simply because they themselves were taught to believe it at a church or seminary. Closer inspection, however, reveals how the pre-tribulation rapture theory takes verses out of context and reads into it meanings that the original authors did not have in mind. If you read all of scripture, however, you will find that to keep pre-tribulationism, you must "leave behind" the bible. For a more in-depth analysis, see: "Debunking the False Hope of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture."


Just because a view is optimistic, does not mean it is realistic, true, or acceptable. The false Jewish prophet Hananiah was popular because he gave a positive feel-good message of hope (Jeremiah 5:30-31,28:1-11). However, the realistic and true message came from the weeping prophet Jeremiah. There are many who only seek religion for the comfort it offers and do not love the truth that God may take us outside that comfort zone and let us suffer through perilous times (2Thessalonians 2:10).

Just because a view seems to be in the minority, does not mean it is incorrect. When Elijah faced the false prophets of Baal, he lamented that he was the only one true prophet of God. However, God reminded him that He had reserved 7000 in Israel who have not bowed unto Baal (1 Kings 19:18). Fortunately, there are still voices who hold to post-tribulationism, and some who once adopted the pre-tribulation rapture have changed their view upon further study.

Just because a view is ancient, does not mean it is dated. Some truths are timeless. It is hard to believe that so many generations of church fathers could have missed the pre-tribulation rapture interpretation, if it were the plain-sense meaning of scripture, as some pre-tribulationists claim [6].

The Bible itself predicts a time when people will have difficulty to endure sound doctrine and will instead turn aside to fables (2Timothy 4:4). Unfortunately, causing people to trust in a lie (Jeremiah 28:15) may prevent them from preparing their hearts, and may perhaps contribute to the falling away that is predicted before the second return (2 Thessalonians 2:3).


Further Resources:

  • Tregelles, S. P. The Hope of Christ's Second Coming:
  • Newport, John P. The Lion and the Lamb: A Commentary on the Book of Revelation for Today. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1986.
  • Rossing, Barbara R. The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. New York: Basic Books, 2004.


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