The Gospel Observer

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
July 29, 1990


1) The "Rapture" and "The Great Tribulation" (Tom Edwards)


The "Rapture" and "The Great Tribulation"

by Tom Edwards

Neither the term "rapture" nor the premillennial concept of it is found in the Bible, though its literal meaning to be "snatched up" is. This false theory has probably arisen from a misconception of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 in which Paul is comforting the Christians who had lost loved ones in the Lord. They were concerned as to what would become of them when Jesus returns, and Paul assures them that those who are "asleep" in Christ shall rise first to meet the Lord in the air. In this context, Paul is only referring to believers.

One of the premillennial positions teaches that the "rapture" will occur seven years before Christ returns to the earth to begin His "thousand year reign." This seven-year period, according to this view, will be the time of the "Great Tribulation."

Does God's word show that there is coming a "Great Tribulation," worse than any this world has ever known? Let us look to the answer in Matthew 24. In verse 3, it reads: "Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, `Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"'

Three questions are being asked:

1). "...when will these things be?" This pertains to the destruction of Jerusalem. See Matt. 24:2.

2). "...what will be the sign of Your coming....? Christ's coming in judgment upon Jerusalem is the meaning of this question and not the Lord's second coming. (Similar phrases are found in the OT that relate to God's judgment or wrath that was to be poured out upon the ungodly.) Notice the following passage: (63) "But Jesus kept silent.  And the high priest answered and said to Him, `I adjure You by the living God that You tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God.' (64) Jesus said to him, `It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven"' (Matt. 26:63,64).

3). "...what will be the sign...of the end of the age?" The "end of the age" indicates the end of the Jewish age and not the end of time. Though Christ put the Old Covenant to death by His sacrifice on the cross, many Jews continued living by it -- not accepting the New Covenant that Jesus initiated by His blood. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70 finally brought it to an end, for the genealogical records were destroyed and with it the rights one needed in order to serve as a priest or high priest in the temple (cf. Ezra 2:62).

Matthew 24 reveals various events that were to occur prior to the fulfillment of the above questions: false Christs would arise, there would be wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilence, and earthquakes.  These would merely be "the beginning of sorrows."

Matthew 24:14 states: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." Comment has been made today concerning all the modern technologies --  such as radio, TV, transportation, etc. -- which make it even easier to reach all the world with the gospel of Christ; but let us not forget that Paul declares in Colossians 1:23, way back in his day, that the gospel had been "proclaimed in all creation under heaven...."

Matthew 24:15 reads: "Therefore when you see the `abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand)," This was the sign!!!  The context shows that when the believers saw this sign of the "abomination of desolation," they were to "flee to the mountains." Concerning this time, the Lord also instructed them to not bother to get anything out of their house first, but simply flee and not go back. They were also to pray that this event would not happen on a Sabbath day or in the winter. The one who was in the field was not to return for his clothes. It would also be a terrible time for pregnant women and those who were nursing babies. But why would all of these things be such a problem if it pertained to the second coming of Christ? It would not be then. When the Lord returns there will be no woe to those who are pregnant or nursing children. It won't matter if it happens to be in the winter, etc.; but if this all pertains to the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in AD 70, it would make a great deal of difference. How difficult it would have been for a pregnant woman or a woman nursing her child to flee from the "abomination of desolation" -- especially in the winter or on the Sabbath Day when the gates of the city would be closed and locked.

As to the meaning of the "abomination of desolation," let us turn to Luke's account in Luke 21:20,21: (20) "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. (21) Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her." It was the Roman armies that had besieged Jerusalem.  Those who were not prepared, those who did not listen to the Lord, were trapped within the city, having no way out. Their food supplies gradually dwindled and an estimated one million Jews perished. It's been said that some of the people had even slumped to cannibalism: In one case, a mother was found eating her own infant that so repulsed the Roman soldiers that they had to quickly leave her house.

Notice also Matthew 24:21, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be." Clearly, the inference is that never will there be a time as terrible as the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Though this is not to say life will be without adversity, the Bible student should realize that the "great tribulation" which the Scriptures refers to has already occurred.
Jesus had mentioned many things that were to happen prior to Jerusalem's downfall, and then states in Matthew 24:34, "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled."

In addition, if the premillennialist were right, and the "rapture" would be followed by a "seven-year tribulation," which, in turn, would be followed by the "thousand year reign of Christ," then virtually anyone would be able to pinpoint the time of the Lord's return. To do this, one would merely have to add seven years to the time in which one notices that the Christians have been "raptured." If, for example, this would occur July 29, 1990, and the premillennial theory is correct, one could know with certainty that Christ will return July 29, 1997.

Though there were signs that would serve as warnings and indicate the impending destruction of Jerusalem, there will be no signs as to when Jesus returns. No one has the ability or the right to set any dates on this. Christ will return most unexpectedly.

We have seen in previous lessons that the kingdom has already been established; and, actually, Christ has been reigning much longer than a mere thousand years. He has been ruling from the throne of David for almost two millenniums. Just as God owns the cattle "upon a thousand hills" (Psa. 50:10), and He "keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments" (Deut.  7:9), we are in the "thousand year reign of Christ" now.

According to 1 Cor. 15:24-26, when the Lord returns it is not to establish a kingdom, but to deliver the kingdom (church) that has already been established back to the Father.

Are you in God's kingdom, and will you be one who will be "caught up" to God's eternal glory?  These are important questions that we must each ask ourselves.

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17;  John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

First published for the Tri-state church of Christ in Ashland, Kentucky, at 713 13th Street.

evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards