Four Views of End Times Prophecy
In this article, we will examine four common sets of beliefs regarding end times prophecy in the Bible, including amillennial and three different pre-millennial beliefs including post-tribulational rapture, mid-tribulational rapture, and pre-tribulational rapture. We will define all of these terms in a moment. But first, since some readers may not know about the rapture at all, we will take a moment here to look at the scriptures in which the apostle Paul explains the rapture.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul writes, "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (precede) them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
This catching up of all Christians into the clouds that Paul mentions in verse 17 is the event that is commonly referred to as "the rapture". The word "rapture" itself never occurs in the Bible, but since the New Testament was written in Greek, neither does any other English word. So whether you call it the rapture, the catching away, or the great snatch, the message is still the same.
Paul provides further insight on the rapture in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55, "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
So at some future time which only God knows, the trumpet will sound that signals our catching away. Then all of the souls of the Christians who have died will return to their dead bodies, which will be instantly changed to immortal, incorruptible, eternal bodies and come out of their graves. Then the bodies of all Christians who are left alive will be instantly changed into immortal, incorruptible, eternal bodies. We will be caught up into the clouds to meet our fellow Christians who have died and our Lord Jesus Christ in the air. Then we all shall be with our Lord forever.
Now let us look at some of the different viewpoints about the rapture and end times prophecy.
1. Amillennialists believe that God's promises regarding the end times are figurative and will not be literally fulfilled, particularly the 1000 year reign of Jesus Christ on the earth.
Pre-millennialists believe that Jesus Christ will return to the earth prior to His literal reign on the earth for 1000 years. Three groups of pre-millennialists include the following:
2. Post-tribulationists believe that the rapture will not occur until the end of the seven year tribulation, just prior to the beginning of the millennial kingdom.
3. Mid-tribulationists believe that the rapture will occur three and one half years into the tribulation, at beginning of the three and one half year great tribulation.
4. Pre-tribulationists believe that the rapture will occur prior to the seven year tribulation, but not necessarily immediately before the tribulation.
Why not amillennial?
1. There will be a literal seven-year tribulation. The last half of it will be the great tribulation. History has shown that God reveals His prophecies literally. Examples of literally fulfilled prophecies include the rise and fall of the Medo-Persian and Greek empires, the destruction of the city of Tyre, the temple being destroyed and rebuilt several times, dozens of events in the life of Jesus Christ, and many other prophecies. There will also be a literal tribulation of seven years on earth. In Daniel 9:24-27, the angel Gabriel told Daniel that 69 weeks of years after the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem is given, the Messiah would be crucified. Since God expressed this prophecy in years of 360 days, this is 69 times 7, or 483 years of 360 days each. The commandment Gabriel spoke of was given by King Artaxerxes about 100 years later in 445 BC (Nehemiah 2:1-8). Moving forward 69 weeks of 360-day years from the 445 BC date, this brings us to the early spring of 32 AD, when Jesus Christ was crucified. For further detail on this and other prophecies, see Fulfilled Prophecies and Other Evidence that the Bible is the Word of God. This prophecy also reveals that the 70th week will begin when the Antichrist makes his seven-year treaty with Israel and the surrounding nations, and that the Antichrist would break the treaty at the midpoint of the seven years. The last three and one half years are called the great tribulation. Its length is one half of a seven year period (Daniel 9:27), and "a time, times, and an half" (Daniel 12:7). Taking a "time" to be a year and "times" to be two years, this gives three and one half years. Revelation further describes the length of the second half of the tribulation week as 1260 days (Revelation 12:6) and 42 months (Revelation 13:5). Since God gave us the duration in four different units of time (days, months, years, and weeks of years), can there be any doubt how long it will last? Also, since God fulfilled the first 69 weeks of years literally, we know that He will do the same with the 70th week of years.
2. There will be a literal 1000-year kingdom of Christ on the earth. Isaiah 65:20-25 tells us that in God's kingdom on the earth, life spans will be greatly increased, just like before the flood. People will have children, build houses, and plant crops. There will also be physical death. We know from this that the kingdom must last a long time (in human terms), but the Old Testament does not tell us just how long it will last. In Revelation 20:2-7 we are told that it will last 1000 years. Jesus Christ, as if wanting to make it abundantly clear, tells us six times that it will last 1000 years. After this, the heaven and earth are destroyed, the last judgments are given, and the new heaven and earth are created. Some amillennialists try to support their belief with 2 Peter 3:10 which says, "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." They say the earth is destroyed immediately after the rapture in one day. However, they fail to check the context of the passage. Just two verses before, Peter said, "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). Therefore, Peter does not contradict Revelation's description of the thousand year kingdom or Isaiah's prophecies. For a detailed scriptural study of what the 1000-year kingdom will be like, see the article on the main page called The Millennial Kingdom Reign of Jesus Christ.
Why not post-tribulational?
1. The conquered saints: In 1 Thessalonians 5:9, Paul writes "For God hath not appointed us to wrath ...." But at the midpoint of the tribulation, Revelation 12:12 says "... Woe to the inhabitors of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." Revelation 13:7 says of the Antichrist, "And it was given unto him to make war with the saints and to overcome them ...." His authority lasts for 42 months (Revelation 13:5). Also, Daniel 7:25 says the Antichrist "... shall wear out (oppress) the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time (3 and 1/2 years)." "... he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people." (Daniel 8:24). "... when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished." (Daniel 12:7). The Antichrist can only "destroy ... the holy people" if the tribulation saints are not members of the true Christian Church of this present dispensation. The saints in the tribulation are people who become believers after the rapture of the Church.
2. Sheep and Goats: We know from Matthew 25 that Jesus Christ will divide the sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left after he returns. Matthew 25:31-34 says, "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ...." Then in Matthew 25:41, "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels ...." Now if all the believers were raptured just before Jesus Christ returned, there would be no sheep left on earth to divide, only goats.
3. Who would populate the millennial kingdom? We know that mortal believers will live in the kingdom. But if all the believers would have been raptured, thus immortal, and all the unbelievers would have been killed. There would be no more mortal believers left to populate the kingdom.
4. Resurrection of tribulation saints: After Jesus Christ's return in Revelation 19:11-16, Revelation 20:4 tells us about the resurrection of martyred tribulation saints who did not receive the mark of the beast, "... they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." If the rapture had occurred just before Christ's return, they would have already been resurrected, and could not be resurrected again.
More reasons why the rapture cannot occur at the end of the tribulation are provided in the pre-tribulational section later in this article.
Why not mid-tribulational?
Mid-tribulationists have no problem with the dividing of the sheep and the goats, the populating of the millennial kingdom, or the resurrection of tribulation saints. And by claiming that most of the worst plagues occur in the second half of the tribulation, they say their view is not in conflict with 1 Thessalonians 5:9 "For God hath not appointed us to wrath ...." But they are hard-pressed to defend their position against the following argument.
Upon whom will the Antichrist wage war? As explained under "The conquered saints" discussion above, the Antichrist will wage war on the believers immediately after the second half of the tribulation (the great tribulation) begins. If all the believers had just been raptured, there would be no saints left upon which to wage war.
More reasons why the rapture cannot occur in the middle of the tribulation are provided in the pre-tribulational section below.
Merely by process of elimination? Not hardly. There are many reasons why the true Christians of this dispensation cannot be on the earth during the tribulation.
1. Israel is the focus of the end times, not the present church: During the Church age there are three classes of people: Jews, Gentiles, and the Church (1 Corinthians 10:32). Within the Church, there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. During the tribulation however, God's focus will be on the nation of Israel. God will deal with Israel as Gabriel said in Daniel 9:24 "Seventy weeks (of years) are determined upon thy people ...." That is, Daniel's people, Israel. As discussed under the amillennial topic, the first 69 weeks have passed and one remains. In Revelation chapter 7, the 144,000 are all chosen from the people of Israel, and their tribes are listed. In chapter 11:7-8 the two witnesses are martyred in Jerusalem. In Revelation 12:6, the woman that flees into the wilderness for 1260 days represents Israel in the great tribulation. These are just some of the reasons we know Israel is at the center of God's plan. For a detailed study which explains how the last week of Daniel's 70 weeks will be a continuation of the old kingdom program, see The Seven Churches of Revelation. The present, predominantly Gentile church and the doctrines concerning it were a mystery unknown to the Jews throughout the first 69 weeks. We therefore must be removed prior to the beginning of the 70th week, which is determined upon the nation of Israel (Daniel 9:24).
2. Make way for the gospel of the kingdom: Jesus Christ said in Matthew 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." The gospel of the kingdom was "... Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). But, Paul preached the gospel of grace which is: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, freely gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins. He was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8 that if anyone "... preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." Thus we know that this present predominantly Gentile church must be removed to allow the worldwide preaching of the gospel of the kingdom that Paul did not preach to us.
3. The tabernacle of David: Referring to Peter's visit to the house of Cornelius, James said, "... God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down ..." (Acts 15:14-16). After what? After God takes out of the Gentiles "a people for his name" (Christians). Of course a there are some Jews mixed in, for there is no difference within the present Church. Thus, the filling of the Church must be completed prior to the rebuilding of the temple, which is prior to the midpoint of the tribulation (Daniel 9:27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:4). Also, we see that once God is through calling out a people for His name from among the Gentiles, He will return His attention back to Israel, rebuilding the temple. Prior to this, the believers in this age must be removed from the scene, being caught up into heaven.
4. The fulness of the Gentiles: After discussing the analogy of the good olive tree and the wild olive tree, Paul reveals the mystery in Romans 11:25-26, "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved ...." Once again we see that it is not until after the last Gentile becomes a Christian that God resumes his program with the nation of Israel.
5. We do not know the day of the rapture. We will not know the date, but we are told to watch (1 Thessalonians 5:2 and 6) and know the general time of the end. There is no warning for the rapture. It could literally happen at any time. However, Daniel 9:27 tells us that the second coming is seven years after the Antichrist makes his covenant with Israel and three and a half years after he breaks the covenant. Christians cannot be left on earth during the whole tribulation or even the first half, because we would know the exact date of the rapture, contradicting scripture. If the post-tribulationists or mid-tribulationists were correct, we would have a seven year or three and one half year notification before the rapture.
6. The wrath of God: All three premillennial views, post-tribulationists, mid-tribulationists, and pre-tribulationists agree that Christians will not suffer the wrath of God as explained in 1 Thessalonians 5:9. However, the plagues of the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls are on a global scale. Also, remember the verses about the conquered saints previously mentioned in the post-tribulational discussion. Since the church is not appointed to wrath, it cannot be present when these global plagues come upon all those that dwell on the earth. Evidence of the tribulation being the wrath of God can be seen in Revelation 6:16-17 which says, "And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" Other passages on the wrath of God include Revelation 11:16-18, 14:10, 14:19, 15:1, 15:7, 16:1, 16:19, and 19:15.
7. The Holy Spirit: Paul told the Thessalonians, "And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let (hinder), until he be taken out of the way" (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7). Who do the Thessalonians know that is powerful enough to hold back Satan? This has to be the Holy Spirit. Before the tribulation, God will catch away all Christians (in whom the Holy Spirit dwells) and He will also remove His hand from the powers of evil in this world, making way for the great deception and the kingdom of the AntiChrist. The Holy Spirit will begin operating in a manner that is more like Old Testament times, unlike the manner in which He operates today. He will not indwell believers again until Jesus Christ returns at the end of the tribulation, with these two exceptions: He will be the seal on the 144,000 young men of Israel (Revelation 7:1-8), who will be preaching the gospel of the kingdom throughout the world, and He will fill the two witnesses in (Revelation 11:3-4).
8. Believers pleading for vengeance: The slain saints of the tribulation plead for vengeance in Revelation 6:10, "And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" Contrast this with the martyr Stephen's last words: "... Lord, lay not this sin to their charge ..." (Acts 7:60). This attitude of vengeance is not a characteristic of those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Unlike the believers today, these Revelation 6 believers are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Besides, Christians who have studied God's Word would not have to ask "How long?" They would already know, as was described in the "We do not know the day of the rapture" discussion above.
One Closing Point:
Perhaps you disagree with some of the points that I have made in this article. In most cases, the disagreement on end times prophecy is only a symptom. The real source of the differing views is a disagreement over how to rightly divide the Word of God. Understanding the difference between the "kingdom" program for Israel and the "grace" program for us is the key. Whether you agree with me in this article or not, please see The Basics of Understanding the Bible and Israel's Kingdom Gospel and Our Grace Gospel. Learning the truths explained in these articles really opened up the scriptures for me. Rightly dividing the Word is of utmost importance in understanding not only end times prophecy, but many other areas of Christian doctrine as well.
Copyright © 1997 Matthew McGee. All rights reserved.