From The Cross in the End-Times
When is the Best Time to Shake-Up the World?
This observation, if accurate, sheds light on one of the key biblical end-of-time events. A rapture of the Christian church that occurs at the beginning of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period, upsets the delicate balance of belief and unbelief, right at the critical time-period when we enter upon the last seven years of human redemptive history. If the rapture is such an obvious disappearance of hundreds of millions of Christians only as an isolated event in the twinkling of an eye, does this highly public sign of the truth-claims of Christianity skew the delicate balance of people’s freedom to remain in skeptical unbelief regarding the existence of God at the most inopportune time?
This clear-cut demonstration of the truth of the Christian message through a pretribulation rapture would be occurring at the very outset of the time-period when the great arguments against God are made by the little horn of Daniel, and during the last great harvest of lost souls as prophesied in Matthew 24:14.
In this era of accurate investigative journalism and worldwide media coverage, have we missed the obvious and unavoidable conclusion that the rapture will be clearly identified as the rapture, thus greatly affecting from that point forward, in the short time remaining, people’s calculations regarding their final decision to accept or reject Jesus Christ as their Savior and Messiah? Has the term “rapture” and its meaning, made familiar through books and movies, already entered the popular vocabulary and psyche to the point that the “horse has already left the barn” in terms of people’s future recognition and identification of a pretribulation rapture taking hundreds of millions of Christians off the earth?
Pretribulation rapture proponents would capably argue that the rapture is precisely the explosive event needed to set in motion the final push for the worldwide evangelism of Matthew 24:14. But let us stand back for a moment and take a detached, mezzanine view of this idea. Is removing all of the Christians off the earth the best way to commence evangelizing the earth? Is a planet empty of all Christians the ideal environment for starting the worldwide effort to evangelize the last remaining group of lost sheep predestined for salvation? Does a simple reading of Joel 2:28-29 contemplate a world full of mature Christians willing and able to serve, or a world that is altogether empty and devoid of the main Christian church?
In order to support a biblical last-days prophecy interpretation having a rapture that occurs prior to the tribulation, and to harmonize this with other end-times prophetic scripture, we have to invent the entirely new theological framework of dispensationalism, which did not exist prior to the beginning of the 19th century.
Is the time placement of the rapture pretribulation too radical a choice if this requires an artificially constructed, major transitional breakpoint at the disappearance of the Gentile church age raptured into heaven, dovetailed with a newly created body of Jewish Messianic Christians converted to evangelize the remainder of the world until the end of the tribulation period? This major bump, this passing of the relay-race baton to a new evangelical workforce as a result of the removal of the Christian church pretribulation, forms the basis of dispensationalism.
Or by contrast, is the best way to evangelize the planet to pour out God’s Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-29), including the New Testament blend of Gentile and Jewish Messianic Christians that make up the current body-of-Christ on earth today?
The exchange that the Antichrist, alluded to in Daniel 7:20-27, 8:17, and 8:23-25, has with the saints of the Most High (Dan. 7:22-25)…implies that for a period of time at the beginning of his reign, when the Antichrist “destroys wonderfully” to the point of the wearing down of the saints of the Most High, that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are still functioning. The usurping, false, second-advent counterfeit messiah the Antichrist temporarily wins the verbal battle through a deceptive message of falsely secured worldly peace and prosperity.
If this is a period of intense battle between freely articulated conflicting worldviews, in which the Antichrist prevails through the deceptive appeal of worldly salvation from our current political, social, and economic problems, then the enormously important finely-tuned balance between the freedom to believe or not to believe in God must still be fully in play.
The overly simplistic teaching that Jesus will rapture His beloved Bride the Church into heaven before a period of tribulation and judgment begins upon the earth, as if that is the rationally normal default expectation, entirely misses some critically important realities. The last days tribulation period is more complicated than Jesus simply sparing the church from the narrow-gate (Mt. 7:13-14) unpleasantness of tribulation.
If God raptures hundreds of millions of Christians, and all of the children under the age of accountability off of the earth pretribulation, then the balance of evangelical outreach based upon truth-preaching is essentially over. If the rapture occurs pretribulation then nearly everyone on the planet will be aware at the beginning of the tribulation period that there is a strong probability that the biblical prophecies surrounding the rapture are accurate and true. Belief in Jesus Christ as Savior will then automatically shift over for many people into the category of being an inarguable fact, like the existence of the noonday sun, or like two plus two equals four.
A pretribulation rapture would have the same effect upon the delicate balance between belief and unbelief that a resurrected Jesus walking through the streets of Jerusalem in broad daylight would have had from the first century onward. The virtue of discovering God through faith and trust, because we have examined the issues involved, and examined the value of abandoning self-sovereignty in pursuit of a journey of faith following God, is partially or entirely lost once the existence of God is reduced to the world of involuntary, observable fact accessible to everyone.
The rapture recognized as The Rapture, and nothing else, is a major milestone event having enormous implications in both the spiritual and natural realms, and has the potential to throw belief and unbelief out of balance depending upon when it occurs.
When we look back through the Bible, we can see the enormous care that God took in keeping the ability of people to believe or not to believe, in balance. The fact that God the Father orchestrated the ministry, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God in the midst of a busy and populated first-century Roman occupied Israel in such a way as to leave in place the free-will ability of the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, rulers, and a large segment of the populace to remain after-the-fact in unbelief, has to be one of the great spiritual engineering marvels of history.
The timing of the rapture is therefore critical. The nature and intent of its impact changes dramatically, depending on when it occurs in relation to the end-times tribulation events. Place it too early, and it upsets the balance between belief and unbelief. Place it too late, after multitudes have already received the mark of the beast and are beyond pardon, and the evangelical value it affords as a powerful sign to the world of the truth of the Christian gospel message is lost forever.
If the rapture is placed well beyond the midpoint of the tribulation, after tens of millions of Christians have been martyred for refusing the mark of the beast, as alluded to in Revelation 7:14, 12:11, and 15:2, then the rapture is not intended as a sign at all, but rather as a well-timed escape mechanism to remove the church from the earth sometime around Revelation 16:15. The rapture is like the main ingredient in the cooking of some precisely prepared gourmet meal. The timing of its addition to the process must be perfectly coordinated to achieve the desired outcome.
The long-awaited rapture cannot be about something as relatively trivial as the removal of the Christian church simply to be out of harm’s way before the massively unsettling but defining tribulation period. Since when is the God of the Bible overly challenged by the threat of invading Midianites, or invading Philistines, or Pharaohs, or Egyptian chariot armies, or the parting of the Red Sea, or kings like Nebuchadnezzar, or a fiery furnace, or a den full of lions, or 450 prophets of Baal, or any of the other tribulations facing the people of God in the Bible?
The timing of the rapture, placed just prior to the start of the tribulation, has no clear basis in scripture one way or the other. The pretribulation rapture teaching is one plausible construction of events according to a particular school of thought. The doctrine of imminence absolutely requires that the rapture occur before the tribulation, only if we define Christian hope as something outside of Hebrews chapter eleven, outside of John 21:18-19, outside of Acts 9:16, and apart from the Holy Spirit inspired character-stretch toward the excellence of a “better resurrection” of Hebrews 11:35.
If it is true that the unique nature of the rapture will clearly reveal itself as the rapture, and nothing else, then this important observation needs to be factored into our end-times calculus. If it does not make sound biblical logic, or even worldly-astute common sense (based on the accuracy of modern investigative journalism) that the rapture can occur at the beginning of the tribulation, because it would prematurely give away too much world-shattering information at the wrong time, then it becomes the nearly unavoidable conclusion that the un-raptured main Christian church will enter into at least some portion of the seven-year tribulation period.