The Collapse of the Pretrib Rapture
Church looking upward,
Unless you follow eschatology at the scholarly level (theological journals, scholarly papers, etc.), and unless you engage with broad swaths of the Christian community (across the major denominations/movements), you would not know that the pretrib rapture position is collapsing. In the last twenty years or so, skillful and vocal theologians have risen to aggressively question and oppose the pretrib construct. The result has been disastrous for pretribulationism.
One of several watershed moments in this clash was the 2020 documentary, "Seven Pretrib Problems". The documentary organizes and explains, with immensely helpful visual aids, the sometimes-shocking hermeneutical problems, contradictions, and logical incoherencies in the pretrib position. Tedious theological research in recent decades, by many in the deep Bible study community, has uncovered these. Several scholars, theologians, pastors, and teachers appear in the documentary, giving brief explanations and commentaries on how the pretrib idea is nearly impossible hermeneutically. They also expose the surprising behind-the-scenes confusion among pretrib scholars themselves, that the average Christian would never know about. The documentary presents what is called "the prewrath rapture" as the most viable and defensible hermeneutically.
Below is an imagelink to the documentary, my thoughts on the documentary, as well as my own rapture position, which some of you have asked me over the years.
Several distinct impressions struck me as I watched this documentary back in 2020. I watched it nearly seven times over the course of several days. It is that meaty, that intricate, that technical. I'll leave the heavy explanations to the documentary, and focus here mainly on my personal thoughts and reactions.
My Longterm Suspicions of the Pretrib Position
When I first learned about pretribulationism many years ago as a young Christian, my reaction was sarcastic. I thought, "Hmmm, what a convenient belief. Everyone in church history has to suffer except for that privileged little group at the very end." I did not write off the position, though, because wonderful men and women of God around me believed it. I listened, I asked questions, I read about it here and there, but I was simply too young and focused on other things to dig into it too much. I did not dismiss or disbelieve the idea, but I did remain suspicious of it. Like radical Islam's belief that seventy virgins are waiting for the jihadi who blows himself up, the pretrib rapture felt wildly convenient for the lower self.
As I matured in the Christian life, as I could devote more time to deep Bible study by downgrading from pro soccer to semi-pro, I was able to dig into eschatology with the time it deserved (required). I learned about the five main rapture positions, and as I did, my suspicions of pretribulationism only grew. The idea was pioneered and popularized in the mid-1800s in the wealthy, entitled, colonial North Atlantic (John Darby, the U.K.), and spread like wildfire throughout the U.S. through C.I. Scofield. The church fathers, early church leaders within one or two generations of the original apostles, did not teach or imply a pretrib rapture. Many of the scriptures used to propose a pretrib rapture required a strange amount of deduction, inference, and analogizing. These are just a few things off the top that increased my suspicion during that time.
Roughly a decade ago I began thinking to myself and commenting in my private relationships, "The pretrib view is the weakest of all the rapture views. There are too many question marks where there should be checkmarks, and there are some hermeneutical problems that seem impossible to satisfy."
Fastforward to 2020, when the aforementioned documentary was released. I can tell you from firsthand experience: it takes hundreds of hours of study to learn what the documentary compiles, organizes, and articulates in 2 hours and 16 minutes. I am not exaggerating when I say the documentary is an indescribable blessing, a gift to the church. Regarding the documentary, here are my thoughts and impressions.
A Stunning Demonstration of Hermeneutics
Hermeneutics is a fancy word for interpretation. The moment you read your Bible and say it means this or that is hermeneutics. Anytime you create meaning and understanding from Scripture you are doing hermeneutics. No one can say they want to "just keep it simple" and stay away from things like "theology" and "hermeneutics" and "exegesis". That is literally impossible. If you draw any type of coherence out of what is written in Scripture you are doing hermeneutics. Is Jesus your personal Savior? That very belief is a Spirit-inspired hermeneutical act based on what is written about Him in the Bible.
Realize, then, every single time you open your Bible you are entering a hermeneutical space.
The documentary is a stunning demonstration of how to do hermeneutics carefully, responsibly, thoroughly--at a basic level and an expertise level. Perhaps that is what is so shocking about the pretrib construct; it seems to have so many hermeneutical holes and question marks. Pretrib scholars have scampered to and fro to patch up these holes, which seems to add only more chaos and more contradictions to their position. The documentary shines a blinding light on their behind-the-scenes efforts. Pretribulationism is collapsing.
As you watch the doc, observe closely how the presenters handle Scripture. Notice how everything in a context has to fit and flow and reconcile. Notice how they pay microscopic attention to every single word in a verse; nothing is generalized or assumed. Notice how the underlying Greek in one verse is compared with the same Greek in other verses. The hermeneutics--how the presenters handle Scripture--all through the doc is one of the greatest demonstrations of hermeneutics I have ever seen. If you want to learn how to understand the Bible, watch closely their hermeneutical methods and visual aids.
This is why there are so many different tribes and sects in the born-again community: very, very few Christians, leaders included, know how to do hermeneutics carefully, responsibly, thoroughly, without emotion, without deeper wishes, without personality, without denominational loyalties, without movement bias, without culture, without politics, without anything but the God-inspired Text itself and the original intent of the human author.
The Church Fathers were Prewrath or Posttrib
One of the most damning prosecutions of the pretrib idea is that the church fathers (early church leaders within a generation or two of the original apostles) were either prewrath or posttrib in their writings. They wrote about the last-days church facing the Antichrist, which eliminates the pretrib and midtrib positions, leaving only the prewrath, posttrib, or phased rapture positions. (More on these other positions in a bit.)
The church fathers are not equal to Scripture, however, what they wrote has significant weight because they knew the apostles or knew individuals who knew the apostles. These early church leaders never articulated or implied a pretrib rapture; that fact is a nearly impossible coherency hurdle to overcome. Let me reframe it: should we believe a theological idea that came into existence in 1830 in a British colonial empire swimming in wealth, privilege, entitlement, and colonial exploitation, or, a theological idea the early church fathers consistently wrote about? They wrote about the last-days church facing the Antichrist, even as they faced their own proto-antichrists ruling in Rome.
The documentary devotes one of seven segments to the church fathers, and how they wrote about the church witnessing the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation. This equates into what we call today either the prewrath, or posttrib, or phased rapture positions.
The Olivet Discourse Catastrophe
Watching the doc, a real learning moment for me was that I did not realize how much pretrib scholars struggle with the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 and 25. In fact, a large chunk of the pretrib position collapses in Matthew 24 and 25 alone. I urge you to take your time on the Olivet Discourse segment.
It hurts my heart a bit how pretrib proponents are scrambling and struggling, in full view of the deep Bible study community, to fit and flow and reconcile Matthew 24 and 25 into their view. Beloveds, if you have to try that hard your construct is partially or completely wrong. The Word of God is a smooth-flowing and harmonious puzzle. Excessive hermeneutical acrobatics, leaps, and twists are a red light. If you have to try that hard your understanding is partially or completely wrong.
Will the church witness and face the Antichrist, as the early church fathers wrote? 2Thessalonians 2:1-3 say Yes. Here is the passage in the NKJV. The underline phrases are the ones relevant to our discussion.
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.
The doc devotes one segment to this very passage. It is the simplest, clearest, most direct scripture telling us the church will witness the Antichrist revealed. Paul writes "that Day", referring to the coming of Jesus and our gathering/rapture to Him (the underlined phrase in verse 1). He says that Day, the coming and the rapture, will not come unless "the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed". There is no escaping this verse. As the documentary shows, pretrib proponents have come up with embarrassing explanations to try to fit and reconcile this passage into their position. 2Thessalonians 2:1-3 is another dagger into the heart of the pretrib idea. The Coming and the Gathering, Paul says, will not happen until the man of sin, the son of perdition, the beast, the final Antichrist, is revealed.
Verse 4 describes that revealing: when he goes into the temple (a rebuilt third temple) and displays himself to be God. This event is called "the abomination of desolation" by Jesus and Daniel. It had two prophetic foreshadows in the temple desecration by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167 BC) and Titus the Roman general (70 AD).
What about men and women of God who believe the pretrib rapture?
As I walked through the doc multiple times, my heart became heavy for the wonderful men and women of God who believe (and teach) the pretrib rapture. I thought especially of one brother in particular, a tremendous man who has given many tremendous teachings over many decades. A man who has never had a moral or financial scandal. A man who has befriended leaders of other denominations and worked with them. A man who has taught eschatology accurately and powerfully in other areas. It was into these disappointed contemplations that the Holy Spirit brought helpful illuminations to me.
Revelation is Dimensional
Revelation is dimensional. That one truth explains many things in the Christian life.
Having accurate, insightful, powerful revelation in one dimension does not automatically mean you have it in another dimension. Over time and with spiritual growth, a Christian can accumulate a vast universe of revelation in a variety of dimensions. However, that same Christian can also be mildly, partly, or completely blind in certain dimensions (for any number of reasons), even while having great and full revelation in other dimensions. A Christian's understanding of spiritual truth is like bodily exercise: each muscle is its own truth, its own world, and has to be worked and developed individually.
Peter preached so accurately and powerfully on Pentecost that 3,000 were born-again. Yet he struggled with racism and Paul had to rebuke him publicly (Gal 2). In the dimension of Gentile inclusion into the family of God, it took Peter a few rounds of revelation, practical experiences, Paul's leadership, and personal growth to finally and fully get it.
God Authorizes Pressure to Expose & Dismantle Our Wrong Beliefs
The aforementioned leader, along with other pretrib leaders, have been under unprecedented pressure from scholarly interrogation and opposition to the pretrib idea. The average Christian will never know this, but as you will see from the documentary, the behind-the-scenes scramble is on to defend a deteriorating idea. I have observed the pressure grinding on the aforementioned brother in recent years whenever he teaches on pretribulationism. His typically balanced aura becomes noticeably angry and noticeably aggressive beyond his normal thermostat of emotionality. It weighs on my heart for him. God has authorized increasing pressure on the pretrib community, especially the pretrib elites, to expose and dismantle the wrong system they carry.
When God does this in our life, regardless of the subject matter, the safest thing to do is recognize it asap, agree immediately with God, be willing to die to that thing, and humbly cooperate with the changes He is initiating, regardless of whether those changes are theological, emotional, attitudinal, behavioral, financial, whatever. The more we resist and fight, the more pressure God authorizes.
The Five Main Rapture Positions; My Position
There are five main rapture positions in the deep Bible study community: (1) pretrib, (2) midtrib, (3) prewrath, (4) posttrib, and (5) phased (also called "the partial rapture"). I will give only a brief summary of each. Please feel free to email me for further discussion or questions.
The Pretrib Rapture
This position states the church will be raptured--removed from the earth and taken to heaven--sometime before the final seven-year period of human history begins. That final seven-year period is often called "the seventieth week of Daniel", taken from Daniel 9:24-27. That seven-year period is described in the book of Revelation from chapter 6 to 19. In the pretrib model, the rapture and Second Coming are two completely separate events.
The Midtrib Rapture
This position states the church will be raptured around the midpoint of the final seven-year period, around the three and a half year mark. In the book of Revelation, chapters 10-12 are a splitscreen view of various events that happen around the midpoint of that time. The church will see the disguised rise of the Antichrist as a fake white knight during the first three and a half years (Rev 6:2, Dan 8:23-25, 9:27). The rapture and Second Coming are also two separate events here.
The Prewrath Rapture
This is the position of the documentary.
This position states the church will be raptured at some point during the second three and a half years of the final seven-year period. The church will witness not only the disguised rise of the Antichrist as a fake white knight (the first three and a half years), but will also witness his revealing as the man of sin (2Th 2:3), as the grotesque beast (Rev 13:1-10), and the Great Tribulation (13:5-10). The rapture and Second Coming are one event here.
The Posttrib Rapture
This position is nearly identical to the prewrath position. It states the church will be raptured at the end of the final seven-year period. The church will witness and experience the entire book of Revelation, but will be supernaturally protected, provided for, and "passed over" as God's wrath is poured out on the earth. The rapture and Second Coming are one event here.
The Phased Rapture (The Partial Rapture)
This position is an interesting synthesis of multiple positions. It states that only those who are walking intimately, obediently, and in readiness with God will be removed in a pretrib or midtrib rapture. This will be their reward, proponents say. The rest of the church, those who are lukewarm or backslidden or willfully incomplete spiritually, will be left to go through the full seven-year period (or only the second half) as a disciplinary developmental measure. They will be raptured eventually in either a prewrath or posttrib rapture (hence the terms "phased" or "partial"). Since this position is probably brand new to a lot of you, I will try to squeeze a few scriptures into one or two paragraphs to give you an expanded summary.
Proponents of this position say the parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25) is describing a phased rapture. This cannot be about five saved versus five lost because all ten are virgins--a Biblical symbol of being saved and married to the Lord. Also, all ten virgins had the ability to fill their lamp with oil, i.e., they all could be filled with the Holy Spirit if they wanted and as much as they wanted. This is not true of unsaved people. Proponents of this position say this parable is describing a phased rapture. The faithful five get taken in a pretrib or midtrib rapture, while the five that did not know the Lord intimately and obediently get left, disciplined, and developed for a later rapture.
Proponents also point to archetypes or analogies in the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. In 3:10, Jesus says to the church in Philadelphia (NIV): Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
This is a go-to pretrib and midtrib scripture. Phased rapture proponents say this promise is only for those who walk intimately, obediently, enduringly, and in readiness with Jesus (the "Philadelphia" part of the church). This promise was not given to the other six churches, rather, threats of exile, great tribulation, sword, and a surprise coming were given to the others (2:5,10,16,22, 3:3,16). To one, Jesus said their spiritual activities and development were not complete (3:2). These analogies in the seven Christian communities lead phased rapture proponents to conclude a small remnant will be taken in a pretrib or midtrib rapture ("Philadelphia" Christians), while the larger majority (the other six types of Christians) will go through the book of Revelation and have a prewrath or posttrib rapture.
To me, which rapture position is the most hermeneutical viable and defensible? Prewrath, posttrib, and phased. Pretrib and midtrib are eliminated because of the insurmountable and many hermeneutical problems, which the documentary compiles and explains nearly perfectly. The prewrath and posttrib positions are tied for first place in my mind. They are almost identical, but they do have a few key differences.
After a prewrath/posttrib tie, the phased rapture position would be the secondmost viable and defensible position to me. It really challenges us with the parable of the ten virgins and its full implications. It cleverly works on the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3, digging beyond their historical context and perceiving eschatological archetypes and analogies. The archetypes and analogies in the seven letters are simply too formfitting and transferrable to ignore, like the Jezebel of 2:20 correlating with the Harlot of 17:1-7, or, "the great tribulation" of 2:22 (YLT) correlating with "the great tribulation" of 7:14, or, "the hour of trial coming on the whole world" of 3:10 correlating with the Beast having power over the world for the "one hour" of 17:12. The position uses a variety of other scriptures to build and defend its construct, which you can study on your own. The position does have a few hermeneutical difficulties, but not all-out impossibilities, which is why I place it in second place after the prewrath/posttrib tie.