“When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44)
From The Cross in the End-Times
Church fathers, biblical scholars, and Christian philosophers have been debating and arguing about end-times prophecies for nearly two thousand years, and still have not managed to reach a consensus. People with high academic credentials have spent lifetimes studying the end-times prophecies in the original languages, and cannot agree with other scholars and theologians on the interpretation of end-times prophetic passages found in the five historical books, the psalms, the prophets, the gospels, the letters to the churches, and in the book of Revelation. I have good Christian friends who are all over the map on the subject of the timing of the rapture in relation to the tribulation.
Many Christians have the plausible belief that the church will come under the supernatural protection of God all the way to the end of the tribulation, through a physical or spiritual hiding place, without a rapture even occurring. One longtime Christian friend humorously calls himself a “pan-tribulationist”, meaning that it will all “pan-out” in good time through unfolding events, like panning for fine gold in a river bed.
I believe the rapture is separate from the second coming. Paul speaks of what we call the rapture as a mystery, yet everyone in the early church clearly knew about the ascension of Jesus and the promise that He would return in like manner someday in the future. The second coming was not a mystery to first-century Christians. A rapture occurring sometime prior to the second coming, as revealed to Paul, would be a mystery.
In sharing his teachings openly with the other apostles (Gal. 2:2), Paul would have certainly included this revelation regarding the mystery of a lifting-up of the Christian church, those believers currently living and those already dead and buried, off the earth and into heaven. Yet we do not see the slightest hint of any opposition to this teaching that Paul seems to have included within his outreach to the Gentile churches in Asia Minor (Acts 20:20), and that he would have communicated during any one of several occasions to Peter, James, John, and other leaders in the early church in Jerusalem.
It is also important to note here that the pretribulation rapture interpretation is not a paradigm in the sense of a universally accepted working hypothesis in science that must be replaced by a better hypothesis in order to be overturned. No matter how popular the pretribulation rapture teaching may currently be, it is only one of four or five competing end-times prophetic interpretations to choose from. People inclined to place the rapture part-way into the great tribulation, with the Christian church having a major role in the final decisive debate, do not have to construct an alternate complete scenario to support a rapture occurring sometime in the middle of the tribulation period. The pretribulation rapture scenario is not the orthodox position that must be replaced by a fully formed and explicitly detailed alternative. In my opinion, the best alternative is to admit we do not have the complete end-times picture as yet.
My working hypothesis is the recognition of the great difficulty everyone had figuring out the nature and mission of the messiah prior to the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet in hindsight everything worked out perfectly according to the designs of God without any dependence upon prior human understanding. Scripture says that end-times Christians will not walk in the night of ignorance (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11), but this does not require that we have a complete scenario worked out from beginning to end to successfully replace the fully constructed pretribulation rapture framework. The pretribulation rapture teaching is not a paradigm but simply one interpretation among several others.