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THEOLOGY > Future > End of the Age > Rapture Question > Statement of the Problem  


In addition to the three millennial interpretations that have dominated Christian thought (see: Eschatological Options), there has arisen a novel interpretation that is without historical precedent. Its interpretation of the end-time is unique because its hermeneutic is unique. It is anchored in a rigid literalism that manifests itself in a Church-Israel dichotomy, by which the character of the Tribulation is delineated and the time of the Rapture is determined. These ideas have developed into an eschatological system known as Dispensationalism. The word “Dispensational” speaks of the distinct methods by which God deals with men at different times; seven dispensations were taught in the original Scofield Reference Bible, the study Bible that popularized this modern interpretation of the Rapture.

Dispensationalism teaches that the Church will be taken up (the Rapture) from the earth before the Tribulation. The word “rapture” is a term that speaks of the time when Christ will come again and take unto Himself His Church as described by Paul in I Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul writes:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (vs. 16-17).

In the Latin translation of this passage “caught up together” is translated by the verb, rapio, from which we get the word “rapture.” According to the Dispensationalist the Rapture is without question before the Tribulation. Thus, the Church will be in heaven with Christ during the Tribulation and will escape the troubles of that awful time of God’s wrath, a time also known as the time of Jacob’s trouble for Israel. After the Tribulation, Christ will return (the Revelation) with the Church to the earth before the Millennium.

In the Dispensational interpretation a distinction is made between the Rapture and the Revelation. Christ will come before the Great Tribulation (the Rapture) and then again just before the Millennium (the Revelation). Thus, the Second Coming of Christ is really in two phases: first, He comes in the air for the Church (before the Great Tribulation); and, second, He comes to the earth with the Church (after the Tribulation and before the Millennium). The Rapture is the removal of believers, and only they see Him when He appears in the air; the Revelation is the manifestation of Christ, and every eye will see Him as He returns to the earth. There are no signs to be fulfilled before the Rapture; there are signs that preceded the Revelation. Therefore, the Church will be spared the Great Tribulation, spending the time with Christ in heaven while the earth experiences the Lord’s judgment. Christ will then return with the Church at the end of the Tribulation to set up His Millennial Reign. In this innovative scheme the Rapture and the Revelation become separate events.

Whether the Church will be on the earth during the Tribulation or whether the Church will escape the Tribulation is one of the issues that creates the division between historic Premillennialism and the recent Dispensationalism. The point of contention is over the proper relationship of the believers being “caught up together” to the Great Tribulation.  Will the “catching up” be before or after the Great Tribulation?

After and before denotes one of the significant differences between the two views. Premillennialism teaches that Christ will come after the Great Tribulation, whereas Dispensationalism teaches that Christ will come before the Great Tribulation. The question is, will the Church be on the earth during that time known as Jacob’s trouble?

It is the affirmation of this study that of the three millennial views, Premillennialism reflects the proper interpretation of Scripture and can be defended exegetically and historically. A correct understanding of Scripture necessitates that the terms, Rapture and Revelation, be viewed as virtual synonyms. And the event to which each of these refers occurs after the Great Tribulation. It is also the affirmation of this study that Dispensationalism is aberrant teaching and cannot be sustained exegetically or historically.

No dispensational writer has ever been able to offer, however,
a single point of continuity
between what is today known as dispensationalism and the historic view.
Clarence Bass

We can find no trace of Pretribulationism in the early church.
George Ladd

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