� 2015 Andy Woods
articles commenced a series on the rapture of the church. We began with the
question, "What is the Rapture?" This question can best be answered
by noting ten truths about the rapture from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians
15:50-58. We then moved to a second main question, namely, when will the
rapture take place relative to the coming seven-year Tribulation period? We
offered the contention that believers can develop certainty that they will be
raptured before the Tribulation period occurs for at least seven reasons. After
dealing with these two questions, we began to explore some of the weaknesses
associated with the other competing views that seek to answer the question, "When
Will the Rapture Take Place Relative to the Coming Tribulation Period?" At
least five differing perspectives exist. We noted at the onset that it is
important to understand that all of the non-pretribulation positions have a difficult
time handling the seven arguments favoring pre-tribulationalism
previously discussed in this series. We have already noted the problems
associated with mid-tribulationalism.
In the last few articles we began to scrutinize the arguments favoring post-tribulationalism. In this article,
we will continue to scrutinize post-tribulationalism.
Post-tribulation rapture theory contends
that the rapture will take place at the end of the coming Tribulation period.
This view typically sees no distinction between the rapture and the Second
Advent and thus seeks to harmonize all references to Christ's return as taking
place at the end of the future Tribulation period. Those adhering to the post-tribulational rapture typically rely
on at least one of four arguments to
support their position. In past articles, we noted that post-tribulationism errs in superficially connecting Paul's
depiction of the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:50-58) with either the
events of Matthew 24:30-31 or Revelation 20:4-6. Moreover, we noted that
contrary to the assertion of post-tribulationalism,
although believers will be exempted from some of the judgments during the Tribulation
period, they will still be subjected to many other judgments during this time
period. Thus, post-tribulationism errs in failing to understand that the divine
promise of Revelation 3:10 conveys a complete escape not only from coming
Tribulation judgments but also the very time of those judgments. We now move on
to an analysis of a fourth argument
posited by post-tribulationalists.
4. The post-tribulational
rapture position has been the dominant view held by theologians throughout the
history of the church. Adherents of the post-tribulational view are quick
to point out that the pretribulation rapture view appeared relatively late in
church history and that the dominant view early on was the posttribulational
According to posttribulationalist George Ladd, "every church father who
deals with the subject expects the church to suffer at the hands of the Antichrist"
and "the prevailing view is post-tribulational
Gundry similarly concludes, "Until Augustine in the fourth century, the
early Church generally held to the premillennarian understanding of Biblical
eschatology...And it was post-tribulational."
Indeed, post-tribulationism's appeal to history rather than the Scripture at
this juncture may be a subtle concession of the inadequacy of its biblical
support. At any rate, this objection can be handled in three ways.
First, the issue
is not when the view became popular but if it is taught in the Bible. If the
view can be successfully defended from the Scripture, this fact alone should be
sufficient to settle the argument, regardless of when the view became popular.
For example, when Martin Luther attempted to reform the Roman Catholic Church
in the 16th century and bring the church back to the truths taught in
Scripture, he faced the same criticism. Luther was told that his way of doing
things was a departure from centuries of church tradition. Luther's response
was "sola scriptura," which means that the final authority for all
matters of faith and practice is the Bible and not church history, tradition,
or popularity. Note Pentecost's response to the post-tribulational appeal to
antiquity: "If the same line of reasoning were followed one would not
accept the doctrine of justification by faith, for it was not clearly taught
until the Reformation. The failure to discern the teaching of Scripture does
not nullify that teaching."
In fact, Paul himself seemed to stress the necessity of
relying upon apostolic truth as opposed to relying upon the subsequent
generations of the Church Fathers when he gave the following exhortation to the
Ephesian Church elders: "I know that after my departure
savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse
things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore
be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I
did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now
I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you
up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are
sanctified" (Acts 20:29-32). According to Paul, truth should be determined
by reliance upon "the word of His grace" handed down from the
apostles rather than the savage wolves that would infiltrate the Church from
within after the apostles had left the scene.
Second, the notion
that the earliest Church Fathers were universally post-tribulational is a
highly debatable proposition. One of the pervasive characteristics of their
writings was their belief in the imminent, or any moment, appearance of Christ.
As explained earlier in this series, imminency is only compatible with pre-tribulationism.
Pentecost observes, "The early church lived in the light of the belief in
the imminent return of Christ. Their expectation was that Christ might return
at any time. Pre-tribulationism is the only position consistent with this
doctrine of imminence."
Note the following citations from various Church fathers demonstrating their
belief in imminency.
The Second Epistle of Clement to the
Corinthians (A.D. 95‒140)
proclaims, "Wherefore let us every hour expect the kingdom of God in love
and righteousness; because we know not the day of God's appearing."
The Didache (A.D. 120) similarly states, "Watch for
your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but
be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come."
According to The Epistle of Barnabas
"For the day is at hand on which all things shall perish with the evil [one]. The Lord is near, and His
Such statements revealing a belief in Christ's imminent return are incompatible
with post-tribulationism, which denies that Christ can return at any moment.
Thus, statements like these are sufficient to dispel the post-tribulational
appeal to antiquity of the early Church Fathers.
sum, in this series, having previously answered the question, "What is the
Rapture?", we noted at least several reasons that affirm the pre-tribulational
rapture view. We then began interacting with the other positions on the timing
of the rapture. In this article, we observed that post-tribulationism's argument from antiquity errs in appealing to historical
sources outside the Bible and failing to acknowledge that imminency was
embraced by many Church Fathers.
(To Be Continued...)
 Was the doctrine of
the pre-tribulational rapture of the church really an 19th century innovation?
Why was it not prominently taught in church history? Please see part 10 of this
series for answers to these questions.
 George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 31.
 Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the
Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 173.�������������������
 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come:
A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Findlay, OH: Dunham, 1958; reprint, Grand
Rapids, Zondervan, 1964), 168.
 See part 9 of this
series for a fuller discussion of imminency.
 See part 15 of this
series for a fuller discussion of the relationship between imminency and
 Pentecost, 168.
 For additional
quotes from the early Church Fathers demonstrating a belief in imminency, see Larry V. Crutchfield, "The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation in the
Apostolic Fathers," in When the
Trumpet Sounds: Today's Foremost Authorities Speak out on End-Time
Controversies, ed. Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy(Eugene, OR: Harvest, 1995),
John F. Walvoord, The Rapture
Question, Revised and Enlarged ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 50-53; Pentecost, 168-69; Grant Jeffrey, Apocalypse: The
Coming Judgment of the Nations (New York: Bantam, 1994), 101-109.
 Second Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians
 The Didache 16.1.
 The Epistle of Barnabas 21.