Why I Am A PostTribulationalist

By Ed. F. Sanders

This short essay was originally written in 1973 while I was on the staff at Wheaton College. It was prepared as a handout for a non-credit course I was teaching. Reformatting and minor editing to the original was done in 2004.

The most popular and prevalent viewpoint on the rapture and return of the Lord among fundamentalists is called the Pretrib[1] position. This theory holds that the Lord will come before the tribulation to rapture the saints, then approximately seven years later will return in glory. Thereby the Church Will escape the final period of tribulation and persecution before Christ comes to set up His Kingdom. This teaching sounds attractive and because many popular and prominent Bible teachers and schools had popularized it, it is the one I accepted as a young Christian. However the further I read in Scripture and studied for myself doubts arose which challenged me to determine if I was following the teachings of men rather than God. After a careful and exhaustive study of the Scriptures I concluded that the rapture occurs at the Second Coming of Christ, after the tribulation. Furthermore I found that the hope of escape from trouble and persecution in the last days was contrary to the N.T. concept of suffering and discipleship.

Because the issue of the Christian’s relation to the tribulation is of paramount importance I have summarized the following reasons why I believe the Christian Church will pass through the tribulation and that the rapture and resurrection will occur after the tribulation. Please consider the following points and then "search the Scriptures", as the noble Bereans did, to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). We must look to Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit to determine God's Truth and not to annotated Bibles, man made theology, or popular preachers.

1. Jesus taught that He would not return until "immediately after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29-30, Mark 13:24-26, Luke 21). These passages occur in the great Olivet Discourse given by the Lord to His disciples in answer to their specific questions concerning His return. Jesus never taught that He would come before the tribulation as the pretrib theory requires. The rapture takes place at the “Coming of the Lord” (1 Thess 4:15b). No passage of Scripture can be cited to justify changing the Lord's teaching nor can any passage be cited that states Jesus will come before the tribulation.

2. Jesus specifically taught that the rapture would be after His posttribulational coming (Matt 24:31, 40, 41, Mark 13:27 - integrate the context). The “elect" people of God are gathered together at the Second Coming in glory (who are the elect? - in the NT the word refers once to Christ, once to a group of angels, and all other references are to the church or individual Christians). Paul reflects this teaching on our “gathering together unto Him” in 2 Thess 2:1-3. The Scripture order, when given is always: the tribulation, then the coming of the Lord and the rapture.

3. The Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation, the only N.T. prophetic book, to the Christian Church to guide it concerning future events (cp Rev. 1:4. ch. 2-3, 22:16). In Revelation there is no mention of a pretrib Coming of the Lord or a pretrib rapture. John portrayed only one Coming of the Lord - after the tribulation. His coming is visible, victorious, and the vindication of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 1:4, 1.9:11-12). Since Revelation does not mention a pretrib rapture and coming it is presumptuous to insert one into the inspired order of events (cp John's warning in 22:18).

4. The Apostle Paul, in his teaching on the rapture and resurrection, does not give any evidence that he was changing the previous teaching of the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, he never stated that the rapture would occur before the tribulation. An examination of Paul’s teaching shows that he was in perfect harmony with Christ’s teachings:

A. In 1 Cor. 15:51-52 the rapture is shown to occur at the "last trump”. This last trump is the same event described in 1 Thess. 4:16 and must be equated with Christ's last trump of Matt. 24:31 (called by some the "gathering trump"), and this occurs after the tribulation as verses 20-30 show.

B. In 1 Thess 2:1-3Paul indicates that the Coming of the Lord and our gathering together unto Him (rapture) will not occur until after the final religious rebellion and the man of sin[2] - which places the Lord's return and the rapture after the tribulation. No amount of arbitrary exegesis can separate 2:1 from 2:2 by a period of seven years, as the pretrib theory requires.

C. It is sometimes claimed that Paul taught “something new"- that Jesus would first "come fort His saints, then seven years later He would come with His saints”. But no Scripture can be produced to support such a claim. Actually Paul taught that the return of the Lord would be both "for" and "with" the saints! Read carefully 1Thess 3:13, 4:14 (coming with), and 4:15-17 (coming for). How the coming of the Lord ‘with’ His saints and the coming ‘for’ occur at the same time period is seen in 4:17 - the saints who are “left alive" are caught up to “meet” the Lord in the air as He comes with His saints. There is no basis in the Greek text to interpret this verse as the Lord taking the saints back to heaven for the tribulation period.

D. In 2 Thess 1:4-10 Paul teaches that the Church is now in persecution and tribulation and will not receive rest from the tribulation until the Revelation (apocalypse) of Jesus Christ from heaven with all His mighty angels, in flaming fire, pouring out vengeance upon the unsaved (2Thess 1:4-10). This is clearly after the tribulation. Note that believers are to experience tribulation but it will not experience God’s wrath (cp 2 Thess. 5:9), which is poured out at this Second Coming. The tribulation will be an intensification of trouble, persecution, and martyrdom, which believers have always been called to face.

E. Paul also teaches that we are to be ”looking for that blessed hope" which is the “glorious appearing” of Christ Jesus (Tit. 2:13)[3]. This appearing (ἐπιφάνεια - epiphany) is after the tribulation at the establishment of the Kingdom (2 Tim 4:1, cp 2Thess 2: 8).

F. According to Paul the Christian commission to preach the Word and the gospel does not expire until the appearing in glory of Christ and His Kingdom (1 Tim 4:1-8). How can Christians preach the Word and the gospel until Jesus comes to set up his kingdom if they were raptured seven years earlier? (Cp Jesus commands in Matt 28:18-20).

5. The Apostle Peter indicated to the early church that Jesus will not com until His coming in Glory to set up the Kingdom: Jesus will not leave heaven until He comes to make His foes His footstool (Acts 2:34-35, cp Heb. 10:12-13). Heaven must receive Christ until He comes to set up His Kingdom (Acts 3:20-21). Peter was also in perfect accord with Christ’s teaching.

6. The writer of Hebrews shows that we are to be looking for the Second Coming (Heb.9: 28). There could not be any coming before the second except the first, over 19 centuries ago. The Scripture nowhere reveals a Third Coming As the Lord came only once at His first Advent He will come only once at His second Advent.

7. Two angels showed the disciples how the next coming of the Lord will be in Acts 1:10-12[4]: visible, glorious, personal, from heaven to earth, back to the Mount of Olives (compare Zech 14:1-9). It is obvious that this next coming in glory of the Lord will be after the tribulation, not before. This is too in harmony with the Lord Jesus' teaching.

8. The Coming of Christ for His church in connection with His Second Coming to earth has historically been the teaching of the Church. The teaching of pretrib rapture is a modern doctrine. Searching the pages of Church history and literature you will find no mention of the Lord coming before the tribulation until around 1820. No one has cited any literature, writing, or quotes to the contrary[5]! The doctrine first appeared publicly at the Powerscourt prophetic meetings in England. The theory rapidly became popular through the influence and teachings of J. N. Darby who had attended the Powerscourt meetings along with other Plymouth Brethren. C. I. Scofield was greatly influenced by Darby's teachings and incorporated them in his Reference Bible that has influenced millions of Christians. The men who have continued teaching the pretrib theory are undoubtedly sincere Christians, but they have become enamored with a teaching that is not Scriptural. Bible Doctrine does not depend on how many or how popular the proponents of it are; the truth rests on what God's Word says.

These few points do not exhaust the issue but constitute some of the arguments of the Posttrib position. For anyone who would like to pursue the subject in detail I have prepared a series of notes, Outline Studies On The Rapture Question[6] that may be obtained by request.

Suggested Reading:

The Blessed Hope and The Last Things, George Eldon Ladd

The Church and the Tribulation, Robert Gundry

Systematic Theology (section on Eschatology), Wayne Grudem

© 1973 Biblical Research Institute, (c) 2004 www.theologue.org

[1] Abbreviations used in this essay: ‘pretrib’ (pretribulational - before the tribulation) and ‘posttrib’ (posttribulational – after the tribulation)

[2] I.e. the Antichrist

[3] The ‘blessed hope’ is equated with the ‘glorious appearing’ as proved by the Granville Sharp rule of NT Greek exegesis (nouns with the definite article  connected by ‘kai’). See article Granville Sharp Rules!

[4] Dr. Murray Harris, teaching a course on Acts at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1972), related to me how this passage (Acts 1:10-12) alone exegetically demolishes the pretrib case and establishes beyond a doubt the next coming of the Lord will be posttrib.

[5] Since writing this in 1973 I have become aware of some other theories about the origins of the pretrib theory. See article on Origins Of The Pretrib Rapture Theory.

[6] Outline Studies On The Rapture Question (c)1973 by the Biblical Research Institute is being updated and will be republished in book form as The Late Great Rapture Debate (c)2005