� 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
At any rate, this objection can be handled in three ways. First, in our last article, we saw that 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. Second, we also observed that 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. Imminency is compatible with
pre-tribulationism rather than post-tribulationism. We now move on to our third response.�
Third, even if the post-tribulationism was influential in
church history long before pre-tribulationism, this fact in and of itself would
be insufficient to establish post-tribulationism's credibility. Prophetic truth
is designed by the Holy Spirit to become progressively more understandable as
the world approaches the allotted time period when the prophecies will be
fulfilled. Progressive revelation has ceased with the closing of the biblical
canon back in the first century (Jude 3; Rev. 22:18-19). However, progressive
illumination, whereby the Holy Spirit enables the Church to comprehend ever
increasing degrees of already revealed biblical and prophetic truth, not only
has been taking place but even now continues to be an ongoing reality. After
receiving a prophetic vision about the future, Daniel was told, "But as
for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of
time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase� (Daniel 12:4).
Daniel then inquired into the vision's meaning and was once again told that the
words are to be closed up and sealed until the time of the end. Daniel 12:8-9
says, "As for me, I heard but could not understand; so I said, 'My lord,
what will be the outcome of these events?' He said, 'Go your way, Daniel, for these
words are concealed and sealed up until the end time.'" Many incorrectly
interpret this reference in Daniel 12:4 to how many in the last days "will
go back and forth, and knowledge will increase" as increase in travel and
technology in the last days. However, the reference going "back and
forth" is also used in Amos 8:12 to refer to a vain search for spiritual knowledge
during a time period when it is inaccessible. This verse says, "People
will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they will go
to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it." When
this parallel passage is taken into account, going "back
and forth" or "to and fro" is a reference to reading revealed
Scripture. As people will give themselves in the last days to reading and
studying prophetic truth, Daniel predicts that God's obscure end time program
will become increasingly understandable, especially as the time period for the
predicted events draws ever nearer (Dan. 12:4, 8-9; 1 Peter 1:10-11).
We find this principle of progressive
illumination also at work in Daniel's vision of the Ram and the Goat in Daniel
8, which would not be ultimately fulfilled until the Grecian era, or several
centuries from Daniel's personal time frame. Daniel 8:27 says, "Then I,
Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up again and carried
on the king�s business; but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none
to explain it." This same concept of progressive illumination is
also discernible in the writings of the Old Testament prophets, who were unable
to comprehend some of the specific details of their own messianic prophecies.
Concerning these Old Testament prophets, First Peter 1:10-11 says, "As to
this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come
to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to
know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He
predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." In this
same sense, God's end time prophetic truth becomes progressively unsealed or
illuminated as history finally catches up to the time period when the prophetic
scenario will be fulfilled.
Because God's prophetic truth is not meant to be fully
understood until just before the prophetic events transpire, we have the
ability to understand end times prophecy better than the great minds who
studied it throughout church history. This is not because we are more
intelligent than them, but rather because we are living closer in time toward
the fulfillment of these prophecies. Similarly, if the Lord tarries, those
living on the earth just before the Tribulation period begins, or those who are
actually in the Tribulation period itself will comprehend prophecy far better
than we will. Because prophecy is progressively revealed, it is logical to
assume that prophetic truth would be better understood by believers living later
in Church history than by Christians early on in Church history.
This reality explains why Eschatology was the last of all
the branches of theology to be developed and systematized. Here is a very rough
outline of doctrinal history. The Church resolved issues related to canonicity
around A.D. 180. It then
applied itself to the subject of Christology around A.D. 400. It dealt extensively with issues
related to the Atonement around A.D.
1100. About mid A.D.
1500, the Church systematized issues related to salvation, known as
Soteriology. It was not until around A.D. 1800 that the vast subject of Biblical eschatology began to
be systematized and developed.
Orr outlines the progress of Christian dogma in a similar
way. The second century was the age of Apologetics. The doctrine of God and especially
the Trinity then took center stage in the third and fourth centuries as the
Church dealt with the Monarchian, Arian, and Macedonian controversies.
Anthropology then became the Church's focus in the early fifth century during the
Augustinian and Pelagian controversies. The late fifth and then sixth and
seventh centuries were characterized by an ecclesiastical interest in
Christological (Nestorian, Eutychian, Monphysite, Monothelite) matters. In the
sixteenth century the reformers focused upon salvific or Soteriological
concerns. Finally, the Church gave itself to correcting a Mythical and
Mediaeval pre-reformation Eschatology. Thus, Eschatology was the last of the
branches of theology to be systematized since it was not designed to be
progressively unsealed or illuminated by the Holy Spirit until just before the
fulfillment of the predicted events (Dan. 12:4, 8-9).
If this doctrine of progressive illumination related to
biblical prophecy is accurate, then turning to the sages of the past throughout
corridors of Church history in order to understand end times prophecy is an
exercise in futility. The real question should be not what the earliest Church
Fathers or even the Protestant Reformers taught about Bible prophecy. Rather, a
more fruitful inquiry should relate to what the Holy Spirit is illuminating to
the Church today about Eschatology through God's written Word as interpreted in
its plain and ordinary sense. If the preceding discussion is accurate, then
post-tribulationism's appeal to antiquity for support is significantly
In 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 and the prior article, we observed that post-tribulationism's argument from antiquity errs in appealing to historical
sources outside the Bible, failing to acknowledge that imminency was embraced
by many Church Fathers, and failing to understand the notion of progressive
illumination of prophetic truth.
�(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.�������������������
 James Orr, The Progress of Dogma
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 21-31.