The Pre-Tribulation Rapture - True or False

Posted in: 2008
By Tom L. Ballinger
Feb 26, 2008 - 4:12:34 PM

January 18, 2008


One of the most popular doctrines taught in today’s churches is that of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. Its popularity is especially prominent in Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. The Pre-Tribulation Rapture belief is that the Second Coming of Christ is really two separate Comings. The First Coming is SECRET and occurs before the beginning of the seven-year tribulation. At this SECRET Coming, the Lord Jesus Christ comes for all believers, whether living, or dead. This includes all of the Old Testament saints, as well as the living and dead saints who make up the New Testament Church. These saints are to meet the Lord Jesus in the air and, then, go to heaven; thereby, escaping dreadful judgments that will transpire on the earth during the seven years of tribulation.

At the end of the Great Tribulation, according to their belief system, the Lord Jesus returns to the earth with all of His saints. This Coming is not secret but is seen by the entire world. At this Coming, Christ destroys the anti-christ and his confederates, all of those who chose to believe the lie, all opposition, and He places Satan in the bottomless pit. According to the Pre-Tribulation Rapturists, then, Christ establishes His one-thousand-year reign on earth. Some Pre-Tribulation advocates, as pointed out here, teach two separate Comings while others choose to speak of one Coming in two separate Stages. Stage I is the secret rapture, and Stage II is the visible Coming of Christ in judgment. Both views pay no attention to the fact that the word for “coming” is the Greek word, “parousia.”

The Pre-Tribulation Rapture is an integral part of most Christian orthodox teaching. In many cases, it is made a test of a person’s orthodoxy in some denominations, Bible colleges, and seminaries.

Where did this doctrine come from? It is not clearly, or plainly taught in the Scripture. There is not a single place where it is so stated. The doctrine of a secret rapture was never taught before 1830. Did this system of belief come into existence by a careful exegesis of the Scripture? No, it did not. The first person to teach this was a young Scottish woman named Margaret Macdonald. She was not a theologian, or even a Bible expositor, but she was a prophetess in the Irvingite sect in the Catholic Apostolic Church. Dave MacPherson, a Christian author, wrote a book on the subject and origin of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.

He wrote, “We have seen that a young Scottish lassie named Margaret Macdonald had a private revelation in Port Glasgow, Scotland, in the early part of 1830, that a select group of Christians would be caught up to meet Christ in the air before the days of the Antichrist. An eye-and-ear witness, Robert Norton M.D., preserved her handwritten account of her pre-trib rapture revelation in two of his books and said it was the first time anyone ever split the second coming into two distinct parts, or stages [emphasis added is mine]. His writings, along with other Catholic Apostolic Church literature, have been hidden for many decades from the mainstream of Evangelical thought and only, recently, surfaced. Margaret’s views were well-known to those who visited her home. Among them was John Darby of the Brethren. Within a few months her distinctive prophetic outlook was mirrored in the September, 1830 issue of The Morning Watch and the early Brethren assembly at Plymouth, England. Early disciples of the pre-trib interpretation often called it a ‘new doctrine’” (The Incredible Cover-Up: the True Story of the Pre-Trib Rapture. Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1975, p. 93).

John Darby (1800-1882), who was the leader of the Plymouth Brethren movement and who is, even today, considered to be the “father of modern Dispensationalism,” took Margaret Macdonald’s new teaching on the rapture and incorporated it into his Dispensational teachings. He made some changes from her “revelation,” inasmuch as, she believed there would be a select group who would participate in the secret rapture, while he taught that all believers would be secretly raptured. John Nelson Darby spent the rest of his life propagating this new rapture theory as the keystone to his Pre-Millennial Dispensational teaching.

It is surprising to learn who were the most prominent teachers and preachers who adopted the PRE-TRIBULATION SECRET RAPTURE theory. Probably, the one who was responsible for the most wide-spread acceptance of this Theory was Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). Scofield was a lawyer, turned Bible Expositor, who published The Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. His Bible espoused the doctrines of John Darby in its notes. It became, and still is, a very popular study Bible among Fundamentalists. Scofield’s notes were almost equated with the Word of God, Itself, in some circles. In some Christian circles, if one didn’t adhere to the Scofield Pre-Tribulation system, they would, almost, be taken for a modernist.

Dr. E. W. Bullinger even bought into this theory which was first brought forth by Margaret Macdonald, and, then, refined, embellished, and enhanced by John Darby. Bullinger wrote, “Six times it (the word parousia) is used of Christ’s presence in the air, when He comes forth to meet His raptured saints, before the Great Tribulation.” Then he wrote, “Eleven times it [the word parousia] is used of Christ’s presence on the earth, when with His Church He comes unto the earth, in the Day of the Lord, ‘Immediately after the Tribulation of those days.’” (How To Enjoy The Bible, The Lamp Press Ltd., London 1907, p. 245). Dr. Bullinger’s embrace of the Two-Stage Coming of Jesus Christ seems to have had an influence on some of our Acts 28 friends. As an Acts 28er, myself, I was unable to embrace this doctrine.

If the Pre-Tribulation Secret Rapture was true, I certainly wanted to know it. It must have been in the mid-1970s that I searched out this doctrine and found it wanting. I had no hypothesis which needed to be defended by adopting this proposition. As we say in the South, “I had no dog in that fight.” After a close study of Scriptures, which was to support the Pre-Trib theory, I remained unconvinced.

I read and re-read the following key texts many times:

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming [Parousia] of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:14-17).

It must be confessed that I did not see Two Stages in His Parousia. Stage One - to meet the saints in the air and lead them back to heaven, and the Stage Two - to return to the earth after the Tribulation. I saw, and still do see, His Parousia as ONE EVENT in one fluid motion. The raptured saints will meet the descending Lord Jesus at an appointed place above the earth in the air at a certain aerial longitude and latitude and, then, they will be His train as He makes His Parousia on the earth.

“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (I Cor. 15:51-54).

We see no room, or time, for Two Stages in this future world phenomenon.

The following narrative is a Biblical picture, or type, of the saints meeting the arriving Lord Jesus Christ in the air.

“ …And so we came to Rome. The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged. When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him” (Acts 28:14-16) NIV.

Here, the brothers followed Paul and Luke into Rome. This could be a human picture, or a type of the saints meeting the Lord in the air and accompanying Him back to earth from whence they came.

In 1970, Hal Lindsay wrote the best selling non-fiction book, The Late Great Planet Earth. It made him a household name among Christians the world-over. It, also, made him a fortune. This book was predicated on the proposition that the Bible actually taught a Secret Pre-Tribulation Rapture. The impetus of the sales of this book parlayed his subsequent book sales to be 35,000,000, all of which were centered on a doctrinal error of great magnitude.

Then, in 1995, Dr. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins published the first book, in their Left Behind Series, of “end-times” novels. This series of “Christian-End-Time-Fiction” was based upon the “Secret Rapture” scenario prior to the Tribulation. Simon & Schuster Publishing Company signed them to a $10,000,000 contract to finish writing the series. The ten-million dollars did not include the royalties they were to be paid. To get rich writing Christian literature—write something that is sensationally WRONG!

So, Christendom has taken a “revelation” (a dream, or a trance) of a young prophetess, Margaret Macdonald, of the “Catholic Apostolic Church” in 1830, and embellished it to such an extent that it took on an altogether different dimension.

John Darby built his dispensational teaching of the Pre-Trib Rapture on a foundation of wood, hay, and stubble. From Darby’s faulty foundation, C. I. Scofield and E. W. Bullinger labored, also. This error grew like Jack’s Beanstalk—reached to the high heavens. If we build on the wrong foundation, the whole structure will be wrong.

In a Plainer Words Online of April 19, 2007, Issue No. 182, we wrote, “Some well- meaning Bible students, who find it difficult to place the Epiphaneia, suggest that it is probably the first stage of the 2nd Coming.” If this is carried out, it could result in the expansion of the Two-Stage Theory into what would be a Three-Stage Theory of the 2nd Coming.

The false conclusion would be: Stage One of the 2nd Coming would be the Epiphaniea, i.e., the Appearing of 2 Timothy 4:1, which would be followed by Stage Two, the Rapture, and, then, the Coming to earth—Stage Three.

To answer the question of the title of this article—The Pre-Tribulation Rapture is FALSE!

The Bible never expresses, nor hints, nor suggests that the Parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ includes a Secret Rapture, nor does it even allude to the Church over which Christ is the Head being made to appear with Christ in glory (Col. 3:4) at His Parousia. No! According to Scripture, we know that the Parousia will be sudden, dramatic, and public. The Secret Parousia is unknown in the Word of God, as is the Three-Stage Parousia.

The calling of the Church over which Christ Jesus is the Head will experience its hope at the inauguration of the Kingdom of God—that is, when Christ begins judging the quick and the dead at His Appearing (Epiphaniea) and His Kingdom (2 Timothy 4:1).