Tuesday, August 30, 2016

An Introduction to the Pretribulation Rapture

In the next few blog posts, we shall look at another doctrinal ramification of a strict Israel/Church distinction: the pretribulation rapture theory. Dispensationalists and Bible Presbyterians (at least in Singapore) understand that the Church has no part in the Great Tribulation, because it is a time of Jacob’s trouble. As the Church and Israel are distinct entities, the prophetic clock for Israel will start ticking again after the Church is raptured pretribulationally, that is, before the Great Tribulation.

Donald Campbell agrees that “a recognition of the distinction between Israel and the church supports the belief that the church will be removed from the earth before the Tribulation at the rapture, the first phase of Christ’s return. This is true because the Tribulation primarily concerns Israel, . . . although this period will see the wrath of God poured out on the entire earth, the period relates particularly to Israel.”[1]

The strict dichotomy between Israel and the Church is paramount to the entire pretribulation rapture theory. If the Church is the true, spiritual Israel, the entire foundation for this theory is destroyed. We have seen in the previous blog posts that a dispensational understanding of ecclesiology – the distinction between Israel and the Church – is not founded upon sound hermeneutics. It fails to do justice to the New Testament understanding of what the Church is. This ecclesiology, particularly the distinction between Israel and the Church, is foundational to dispensational theology. In the forthcoming blog posts, we shall also see why a dispensationalist is primarily one who adheres to this strict Israel and the Church distinction.

Pretribulationism is a doctrinal conviction of many Far Eastern Bible College lecturers.[2] Amongst them are Dr Jeffrey Khoo, Dr Quek Suan Yew and Dr Prabhudas Koshy.[3] Khoo, who clearly advocates pretribulationism, writes:

“The Bible tells us that the world will become increasingly wicked culminating with the evil rule of the Antichrist who will set himself up as God, and demand worship from all. During the seven-year Tribulation period, he will persecute Israel. This seven-year Tribulation period is called “the time of Jacob’s Trouble” (Jer 30:7). Israel will suffer during this period. It is “Jacob’s” trouble. Jacob is Israel, not the Church. The Church will not be present during this time, but will be raptured, snatched up in a micro-second to be with Christ in heaven (1 Thess 4:16-17). During this Tribulation period, God will pour out His wrath upon the unbelieving inhabitants of the earth. It will end with Christ returning to earth with His saints to fight the Antichrist and his armies, destroying all of them at the battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:16, 19:11-21).”[4]

In another place, Dr Khoo reiterates the same doctrine:

“The rapture of the saints will occur before God judges the world with His wrath during the 7-year Tribulation period. This dreadful period is called “the great day of His wrath” (Rev 6:17, 11:18, 15:1, 7, 16:1, 19, 19:15).”[5]

It must be emphasized that the Israel/Church distinction is the only hermeneutical basis for the pretribulation rapture theory. This theory will inevitably encounter problems when the reader considers the fact that numerous people, mainly Jews, will be saved during the Great Tribulation. These tribulation saints are obviously part of the church of Christ; even Dispensationalists and Bible Presbyterians must concede that these saints are to be saved via the same gospel. If the Church is to be raptured prior to the time of Jacob’s trouble, why not also the local churches founded during the Great Tribulation? Therefore, if tribulation saints belong to the Church, the practical rationale for a pretribulation rapture – the deliverance of the Church from the Great Tribulation - is completely demolished.

The pretribulation rapture is not a position explicitly taught in the Scriptures.[6] One cannot arrive at this view unless one sees an artificial dichotomy between Israel and the church. Dr John Walvoord, arguably the most influential and prominent defender of the pretribulation rapture position, candidly admits that this doctrine is entirely inferential. It rests squarely upon the sine qua non of Dispensationalism i.e. the distinction between Israel and the church.

John Walvoord elaborates:

“It is safe to say that pretribulationism depends on a particular definition of the church. . . . If the term church includes saints of all ages, then it is self-evident that the church will go through the Tribulation, as all agree that there will be saints in this time of trouble. If, however, the term church applies only to a certain body of saints, namely, the saints of this present dispensation, then the possibility of the translation of the church before the Tribulation is possible [sic] and even probable.”[7]

Even if we graciously allow dispensational ecclesiology to be a tenable position (which all Covenant theologians believe to be clearly unscriptural), Dr Walvoord admits that the pretribulation position is only possible, or at best, probable. But given the erroneous ecclesiology of Dispensationalism, where, then, is the foundation for a pretribulational rapture? Will the Bible Presbyterians accept the dispensationalist’s definition of the term church i.e. that it “applies only to a certain body of saints, namely, the saints of this present dispensation?” Surely the Bible Presbyterians are not trying to insinuate that Old Testament saints are not part of the church.

Dr Walvoord emphasizes the fact that “if the term church includes saints of all ages, then it is self-evident that the church will go through the Tribulation.” Bible Presbyterians, therefore, must consider whether the Church includes saints from all ages, that is, both the Old Testament saints and the New Testament saints. If they accept the Reformed teaching of the Church as consisting of saints from all ages, then they must seriously rethink their position on pretribulationism.

William Cox summarizes the Reformed position on ecclesiology:

“The church existed in the Old Testament in the form of the elect remnant within national Israel. Israel was the type while the Christian church is the antitype or fulfillment. Christ, by dying on the cross, tore down the middle wall of partition, took the two men – Israelites and Gentiles – and made the two into one man thus constituting the body of Christ. (Eph. 2:14-16). Though the mystery was hidden from the Old Testament prophets in general, it was God’s plan all along to include Gentile believers in the body of which the believing remnant of Israel was the human foundation. (Eph. 3:4-6).”[8]

Dispensationalists, therefore, err gravely by putting asunder what God had joined together.


[1] Donald K. Campbell, “The Church in God’s Prophetic Program,” in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, eds. Stanley Toussaint and Charles Dyer (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 150.
[2] As discussed in chapter 1, dispensational ecclesiology contradicts the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXV, sections I, II and III, as well as the Belgic Confession of Faith, article 27.
[3] James Oliver Buswell, however, “took the mid-tribulational view of the rapture of the church. According to him the “last trump” of 1 Cor 15:52 is to be identified with the seventh and last trumpet of Rev 11:15. The Church Age (“the times of the Gentiles,” Luke 21:24) ends at this moment.” See Jeffrey Khoo, “Dispensational Premillennialism in Reformed Theology: The Contribution of J. O. Buswell to the Millennial Debate,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44, no. 4 (2001): 713. But this understanding of the Church Age also sees it as essentially a parenthesis within God’s prophetic program for Israel.
[4] Jeffrey Khoo, “Three Views on the Millennium: Which?,” The Burning Bush 5, no. 2 (1999): 71.
[5] Jeffrey Khoo, Fundamentals of the Christian Faith: A Reformed and Premillennial Study of Christian Basics (Singapore: Far Eastern Bible College Press, 2005), 133.
[6] For an introduction to the problems of pretribulationism, see Brian Schwertley, Is the Pretribulation Rapture Biblical? [article on-line]; available from http://reformedonline.com/view/reformedonline/rapture.htm; Internet; accessed 10 October 2005. Please note that Schwertley’s eschatological position is Postmillennialism.
[7] John Walvoord, The Rapture Question, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 21-22.
[8] William E. Cox, Amillennialism Today (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co, 1966), 56. See pp. 34-56 for a concise, yet superb rebuttal of Dispensational ecclesiology. Cox was a former Dispensationalist who subsequently became an Amillennialist.

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