What About the Pretribulation (Any-Moment) Rapture Theory?

What Saith the Scriptures?

A Pamphlet for Berean-Minded Christians

by Dr. Henry T. Hudson

"When did the Apostle Paul Begin to Preach the Pre-tribulation (Any-Moment) Coming of Christ?"

What Guarantee have we that what we believe is the truth? It is a fundamental principle of orthodox historical Protestantism that there is only one court of appeal in matters of faith and practice, namely the Word of God. How much of what we believe has been actually derived from our own direct personal study of the Holy Scripture? We often meet people who believe something because it is taught by some outstanding man. (We must confess that this has been our experience also.) When they read their Bibles they look for confirmation of such teaching. Whenever the Bible fails to confirm the doctrine, they find what they call a "difficulty." The real difficulty, however, is not in the Word of God itself, it is rather in their minds. It does not seem to dawn upon them that they might have to abandon some of their views if they would get rid of the difficulty. When confronted with the difficulty by someone else, it is amazing with what great facility they can dismiss it either by totally ignoring its existence or, at best, by simply glossing over it.

The Difficulty Proposed

The difficulty with which we propose to deal is one which the writer believes, is inherent in the pre-tribulation-any-moment doctrine of the coming of Christ. There are countless ramifications of this theory, but essentially the main idea is that at any moment the Lord Jesus Christ will return and the dead in Christ shall rise and living believers shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18). This event, it is taught, will precede the period of time known in Scripture as the Great Tribulation (Matt 24:21). The theory goes on to teach that sometime following the Tribulation, Christ will return again to gather together the saints who were not caught up before the Tribulation (Matt. 24:29-31). Generally the theory supports the distinction that the first coming is "any moment" and the second is heralded by certain definite signs. Our study intends to concentrate upon one particular problem that the "any moment" coming raises. It is a well known fact that the doctrine of a pre-tribulation-any-moment coming of Christ is an integral part of certain Christian organizations. To deny that Christ will return before the Tribulation is tantamount to heresy. Very few seem to be willing to admit, as one pre-tribulationist has, that there is not as much evidence for their doctrine as they would like to think.

--We cannot help but wonder if the more adamant supporters of this doctrine have ever seriously exposed themselves to the many correlated problems their position engenders.

--We have not found one who has yet provided an adequate and consistent solution to the problem which is the subject of this paper.

--The time of the Coming of Christ might have many implications for one's system of theology, but we cannot allow this fact to divert our attention from the essential question: "what does the Holy Scripture actually teach?" It is only as we endeavor to answer this fundamental question that we can hope to build a system of theology that is structured upon the authority of The Word of God.

One further introductory remark is in order. This study makes not apology for following the exegetical approach for it rests on the assumption that this is the only method that can ever determine the validity of Christian Doctrine. We desire to make this point clear, for it seems that some doubts have been cast over the value of exegesis in determining whether Christ comes before or after the Tribulation.

A Problem To Solve

The problem which we intend to put before the pre-tribulationist is to be found in the amplification of the question that forms the title of this paper. "When did the Apostle Paul Begin to Preach the Pre-tribulation (Any-Moment) Coming of Christ?" We call the reader's attention to the fact that "any-moment" is not the same as "imminent." Any reliable dictionary will show that the word "imminent" conveys essentially the idea of "close at hand" in its incidence, "impending, or coming on shortly." A careful reading of the N.T. will reveal that the strongest note of imminence, with respect to the Coming of Christ, is to be found in the Gospels, without any support to the doctrine of any-momentism. For example the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24) contains three distinct elements:

(1.) A Historical Perspective (time consuming events)

(2.) An Apocalyptic Consummation (a definite climax)

(3.) A Note of imminence (the idea of nearness)

The only time at which it would be possible to preach that Christ would come at any-moment would be after the historical events had come to pass. Is this not precisely what the Lord Himself teaches (Matt. 24:32-44)?

Using the Olivet Discourse as a frame of reference, how soon after it was given could the any-moment Coming of Christ be preached? Judging from the contemporary situation that prompted the discourse and from the parallel account in Luke 21, one of the historical events foretold was the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. The discourse was given around the year AD 33. Surely the events of verses 4-14 would involve a considerable number of years. At what point in all of these historical events did the preaching of an any-moment return of Christ begin?

Matthew 24

To many pre-tribulationists, Matthew 24 presents no apparent problems for their authority for any-momentism is distinctly derived from the Apostle Paul. It is this position which is the primary concern of this study. However, surely it is obvious that the generation who heard the discourse of Matthew 24 expected to live through at least some of the historical events that were foretold by the Lord. Paul was saved in approximately AD 36. This is no more than three years after the discourse of Matthew 24. Are we to believe that Paul when "straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues. . ." (Acts 9:20), preached something different than that spoken by the Lord in Matthew 24? This is hardly a fair question, for his career of service did not officially begin until Acts 13, and this takes us to at least AD 47. While this is true, it is evident from Acts 9:13-16, that Paul was destined for a career of service and suffering. This, it will be granted, involves an indefinite period of time. At what point after he actually begins his career of service does he begin to preach the pre-tribulation-any-moment coming of Christ?

Paul's First Missionary Journey

Paul's first missionary journey probably covers the years AD 47-48. Did he preach to his converts the any-moment doctrine? This seems hardly possible for he tells them, "that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Well, it is was not on his first missionary journey, perhaps it was on the second one. This would probably cover the years AD 50-53. It is generally taught that it was during those years that he wrote 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. From the record in the Acts we learn very little. He was accused of preaching "another King" (Acts 17:7), but there is nothing explicit concerning the time the King would come to inaugurate His kingdom. But, there are two great epistles, which are usually considered to be the first he composed. These were more likely than not written from Corinth somewhere around AD 52-53. In these epistles he has a great deal to say about the Coming of Christ.

First of all, he describes the new converts as having "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven..." (1 Thess. 1:9-10). He goes on to say that Christ "delivered us from the wrath to come" (vs. 10). Literally, it could convey the meaning that Christ is going to deliver the believer from the wrath at the time, when He comes. The thought of deliverance from coming wrath is found elsewhere in Scripture (1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess. 4-10; Luke 3:7, 17:26-30). A common error among many pre-tribulationists is to confuse this coming wrath with the period of the Great Tribulation. It is obvious from such contexts as Revelation 6:16, 17; 11:18; Matthew 25:31-46; 24:30-31, 13:39-43; Zephaniah 1:14-23; Joel 1:15; 2:1-2; Isaiah 2:11-10; 13:6-11; 26:20-21, etc., that the coming day of wrath synchronizes with the day of the Lord and that it follows the Tribulation. The former involves judgment for the unsaved and the latter concerns primarily the persecution of the saints (Rev. 13:4-7; Dan. 7:21-27; 1 Thess. 5:2-9; 2 Thess. 1:4-10). It should be noted that the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night but this is not so with the Tribulation (cf. 1 Thess. 5:2 with Matt. 24:15-21).


After exhorting the new converts at Thessalonica to walk worthy of God who had called them into His glorious kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12), he goes on to rejoice in the act that they would be "in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming" (2:19). Then in 3:13; 4:14-17; 5:2, 23, he mentions the coming of Christ again. Nothing is said of the Tribulation and nothing is said that would lead the new converts to believe in any-momentism. In the Second Thessalonian Epistle, Paul begins by once again associating the persecutions and tribulations of the believers with their being counted worthy of the kingdom of God (2 Thess. 1:4-5). Rather than preach any-momentism, he clearly teaches that they can expect no permanent relief until the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven (vs. 6 and 7). At that time there will be deliverance for the believers and destruction for the unbelievers (vs. 7-10). Both experiences are objects of the one verb "recompense" (vs. 6) which action takes place "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed," or more literally, "at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven; with his mighty angels." In the second chapter Paul reveals a deep concern that the young converts be not deceived concerning certain events connected with the day of Christ (vs. 1,2). He assures them that this day cannot come until two things happen: (1) the apostasy; and (2) the revelation of the man of sin. Does this not fit into the framework of Matthew 24:11, 12, 15? How could pre-tribulationism or any-momentism be taught from 2 Thessalonians when in clear language both ideas are so clearly contradicted?


It will be recalled that Paul wrote both these epistles from Corinth about the years AD 52-53. His stay at Corinth is recorded in Acts 18. It is in this chapter that we have the beginning of his third missionary journey. Chapter 19 records his visit to Ephesus where for three months he spoke boldly "concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8). Did he now preach an any-moment pre-tribulation coming? After many miles and many adventures, chapter 20 of Acts finds him at Miletus where by invitation the elders of the Church of Ephesus meet him. The occasion is a sad one, for Paul bids them an affectionate farewell. What are his parting words?

And now, behold I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face not more. . . Take head therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not spearing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:22-25, 28-30)

Once again Paul makes it clear, and it is by the witness of the Hold Spirit, that certain events were projected into the near future which would make it veritably impossible for him to preach an any-moment coming. The subject of his preaching was "the kingdom of God."

About this time (approximately AD 55-59) Paul writes his first letter to the Corinthians. In the first chapter he describes the believers as waiting for the revelation (apokalupsis) of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:7). He informs them that it is not mere profession of words, but it is their character of life which identifies them with the kingdom of God (4:20). He assures them that there is coming of time when the saints are going to possess the kingdom (6:2,3,9,10). His words in chapter 15:50 concerning the inheriting of the kingdom seem to reecho the words in John 3:3-7. In order to enter the kingdom it is necessary to experience the new birth. In the whole epistle there is no statement anywhere that Paul was preaching an any-moment coming of Christ. The oft quoted passage in chapter 15:51-53 has nothing to do with the thought of imminence, it simply describes the rapidity with which the saints whether living or dead, will undergo the transformation from a corruptible to an incorruptible body.

Acts Chapters 21-28

Moving along in the Acts of the Apostles to chapter 21 we discover that Paul is warned by certain disciples not to go to Jerusalem. The warning is said to originate from the Holy Spirit and Paul is told exactly what would happen if he did go (21:4, 11). In spite of the warning, he determines to go and the results were exactly as foretold (21:33). In chapter 23:11, the Lord speaks to Paul and explicitly informs him that he would bear witness at Rome. Even during a storm at sea, when it was feared that all lives would be lost, he is assured by the messenger of God that he would be brought unto Caesar (27:24). How then would it be possible for Paul to preach an any-moments coming of Christ in the face of these passages? Do they not show clearly that time consuming events are to be fulfilled within the lifetime of Paul? How could he preach an any-moment coming before he had borne testimony at Rome?

When finally he arrives at Rome, probably in the year AD 60, he was allowed to dwell in his own hired house and to receive visitors. Speaking to his visitors he tells them that "because that for the hope of Israel (i.e. the resurrection) I am bound with this chain. . . " (28:20). In later conversation, we learn that he "expounded and testified the kingdom of God. . . " (28:23). For "two whole years. . . " we read, he continued to preach "the kingdom of God" (28:30,31). During this two year imprisonment he wrote the epistles of Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians. Let the reader go carefully through these epistles for there is no verse in them that would support the any-moment-coming doctrine. In broad outline, the Apostle tells how according to the mystery of God's will the believing Gentiles are made partakers in the redemption provided through the blood of Christ, and how that they have been predestined upon to the adoption, and to the inheritance that up until his ministry had been primarily reserved for believing Israel. When he mentions the coming of Christ, it is not to focus attention upon it happening at any moment, but to show its practical bearing upon the believer's life on the earth in this present age (Eph. 5:1-17; Phil 3:15-21; Col. 3:1-4).
The Apostle's Last Epistles

With the close of the record given in the Book of Acts, it is generally supposed that Paul was set at liberty and that he traveled for at least three or four years throughout Asia Minor; some think even as far as Spain. Probably around the years AD 65-66 he is imprisoned once again. According to tradition he was beheaded in the summer of AD 68. During these final years of his life he wrote 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. The pertinent passages concerning the coming of Christ are 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1,8; Titus 2:13. The first reference simply asserts that the Appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ will terminate the service of Christians in this present age. The second deals with the Coming of Christ's kingdom and the judging of the living and the dead. In verse 8, Paul speaks of the day when the Righteous Judge will reward him and all who love his appearing. Titus 2:13 describes the blessed hope of believers. It is "the appearing of the glory of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ." Paul expresses the idea that the believers are waiting for it, but there is absolutely no statement that it would be fulfilled at any moment. Judging from what he says in 2 Timothy 3:1-17 and 1 Timothy 4:1-16 he was not living in a moment by moment expectation of the coming of Christ. He knew that certain events of prophecy were to take place before Christ returned (e.g., 2 Thess. 2:1-3), hence he could not preach any-momentism in the sense of a secret unheralded event.


Going back to the title of this study: "When did the Apostle Paul Begin to Preach the Pre-tribulation (Any-Moment) Coming of Christ?" we are obliged to conclude that as far as the New Testament record is concerned there is no indication anywhere that he ever did begin to preach it. Those who insist that he did, must engage in some peculiar methods of exegesis for as this paper has clearly shown there is not point in his ministry when he could have preached such a doctrine. In the chronological outline of his life and work there are always certain events on the horizon than must be fulfilled which would completely contradict the whole theory of any-momentism. How long will those who preach the any-moment unheralded pre-tribulation coming of Christ continue to evade this problem? It is time that this novel nineteenth century doctrinal innovation be exposed for what it is, namely, a perversion of the teaching of Holy Scripture. Let Bible students be guided solely by the principle of "what saith the Scripture?" and may we rest assured that pre-tribulationism will soon be recognized as a fabrication of the human mind without any biblical basis.


1. Clarence E. Cramer, "The Nature of the Great Tribulation and its Relation to the Rapture," Grace Impressions, IV, No. 7 (June, 1966), p.18.
2. Some of these problems are dealt with in the author's paper, A Reexamination of Pre-tribulationism.
3. Exegesis is the science of interpreting statements and passages of Scripture.
4. John Dean, "The Rapture - Imminent or Not?" Truth, XII, No. 11 (April, 1963), 248.

* Also published in article form titled: When Did The Apostle Paul Begin To Preach The Pre-tribulation (Any-moment) Coming Of Christ?