Last time I discussed the hopeful but faulty application of Jesus’ words “You do not know the day or the hour” to the pre-tribulation rapture theory. This post, excerpt 7 of my book* continues on from there…
The “imminence” view assumes that the starting moment of the tribulation, including the very day and the time of day, could be universally known by all believers if they were not already raptured. It assumes that the tribulation will be exactly seven years long from that point, to the day and the hour. It expects that the mid-point event of Antichrist’s revealing will be exactly on the middle day and the middle hour of that period. It presumes that those occurrences will be so obvious to everyone on earth that the date and time of the visible return of Jesus could be marked on calendars and devices so that alarms would sound at the moment Jesus pierces the sky in power and glory. While I agree that God means exactly what he says in scripture, I suggest that all of the above assumptions are not correct.
The possibility doesn’t seem to have occurred to pre-tribulation believers that we may not know anything about the covenant of Daniel’s 70th week being “confirmed”, if indeed it is still future. It could be an agreement made behind closed doors: a secret pact or treaty; a private and probably sly resolution to achieve something big. News of it may not reach the ears of the public for a few days, or weeks, or months, with no mention of exactly when it occurred. When is this covenant mentioned in New Testament prophesies of end times? The answer is that it isn’t. Paul said that the first-not the second-unmistakable sign that the Day of the Lord is coming would be a “falling away” (2 Thess. 2:3) which surely can’t be fixed to a time or a day. The second would be the appearance of Antichrist in the Jerusalem temple. Paul didn’t mention a “covenant” or “peace deal” as a sign of the Day of the Lord, but only that people will be talking peace and safety when destruction suddenly overcomes them (1 Thess. 5:3). Why didn’t Paul tell the Thessalonians “That day cannot come, until the Covenant, spoken of by Daniel, is signed”? He was speaking of a general false sense of security in his first letter, not a specific event to look for.
So even if Paul did have Daniel’s “covenant” in mind here, there is still no mention of the rapture being years before this sudden destruction, or for that matter, before destruction at all. It is “the Day of the Lord” which will come “like a thief in the night”, not the rapture (1 Thess 5:2).
Similarly, Jesus said that the first unmistakable sign of “great distress” would be Antichrist standing in the Holy Place of the temple. He didn’t mention any covenant or peace deal, which would certainly be a very useful and significant sign for anyone-even if it were for a Jewish remnant only.
Compounding these facts are the mysteriously different number of days given to Daniel to accommodate the fulfillment of last-days events (Daniel 12:11-12). The difference in these dates is something of a mystery even to the “experts”. Notice also that in this scripture in Daniel’s book, relating specifically to end times, there’s no actual mention of the appearance of the Messiah: it isn’t there. Exactly what happens at the end of each of those time periods isn’t clear, and exactly which of those days-if either of them- Jesus will launch from heaven in power and glory we do not know. It may not be on either of those days. It may be many days after or before the exact end of that seven year or forty-two month period. The day and the hour of Christ’s coming isn’t given away by Daniel, even to those who might see the covenant of Daniel’s prophecy being signed.
When Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour” in Matthew 24:36, which “day or hour” had He been speaking of? Which “day” did they not know of? In the previous verses He had been speaking solely of the events of the tribulation and of His physical appearing for the whole world to see (verses 15-35). He was referring to the “Day of the Lord”, the time of tribulation, of his coming, and of the restoration of all things, when he said we could not know. He was not speaking of a pre-tribulation rapture.
Was Jesus in his Olivet Discourse really saying that it would be a Jewish remnant who would see the events of the tribulation, and not the Church? He was, in truth, talking to his original and closest disciples who, although certainly Jewish, became the first born-again members of Christ’s body-the Church-on the day of Pentecost. If the theory that the Olivet Discourse was for a Jewish remnant only were correct, why did Jesus keep speaking to his disciples as thought they would see the events he was foretelling, considering that they constituted the first Christian Church: saved, baptized and filled with the Spirit? Were his first-century disciples not eligible for the rapture? Jesus kept using the word “you”, not “they” when speaking to his first representatives and first members of his Church. They were, after all, co-founders of the Church after Jesus himself-not outsiders or Jews who would only find the Messiah upon his return. He told them what to look for as signs of the tribulation beginning and taking hold on the world. He told them to look out for deception and false Christs, and for the revealing of Antichrist on the temple mount.
Perusing online “evidence” used to defend the doctrine of pre-tribulation theory through imminence, I found the offerings very weak in terms of scriptural evidence and logic. I also found that it’s common for verses to be used without reference to their context. One such offering was a single verse from Luke’s gospel, where Jesus said, echoing quotes from Matthew’s gospel:
“You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40).
In this passage Jesus was speaking about a master-servant relationship. For the good servant, his master’s surprise return would be good news;
“It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready” (verse 38).
Just as a house owner needs to be ready for a thief, Jesus was saying in verse 40 that we too must be ready. Reading a little further sheds some light on the full meaning of the verse about the Son of Man coming at an unexpected hour. Here Jesus switches his analysis to a servant whose master is away and who mistreats his own servants. So when the master returns, says Jesus:
“The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers” (12:46).
Here the wicked servant is the one taken by surprise by the coming of his master. His master comes on a day and at an hour that he was not expecting. The surprise appearance of the master is not a rapture event, it’s a judgment event! The master came at an unexpected day and hour as a judge! This passage is not about the rapture at all, as one website I read is claiming-it’s about God’s interest in our faithfulness. It’s about how we live out our faith rather than living as we did before we professed faith.
Other verses commonly offered as evidence for the pre-tribulation rapture are those speaking of Jesus’ soon coming. For example, somehow James’ words, “the Lord’s coming is near” and “the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9) are seen as evidence for an imminent rapture. If we read the whole verse we see that James was really speaking of faithfulness and sincerity of faith. If “the Judge is standing at the door”, we need to take this as a warning to be true, so that we are not judged with the world, just as the wicked servant who did not expect his master will be. Such verses are not valid evidence for a pre-tribulation rapture.
Another verse used as evidence is Revelation 1:1, which tells us that the events of the Revelation “must soon take place”. I agree that these events will occur quickly and will not be expected when they begin, but John is speaking here of the entire prophecy: the entirety of the book of Revelation. Logically, this means that stars falling from heaven, and the mark of the beast, and the new heaven and new earth are also happenings which “must soon take place”. Therefore the rapture can’t be identified as being any “sooner” than anything else in Revelation, and the book’s first verse is not speaking specifically of rapture!
One Matthew chapter 24 verse used to support the imminence of a pre-tribulation raptur is this one:
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (verse 36).
Which day and hour was Jesus speaking of-was it the time of the rapture? No, he hadn’t even mentioned a rapture, and certainly not a pre-tribulation rapture. He’d been giving an overview of all the events to come, culminating in his visible, physical return in power and glory. This makes even more relevant Peter’s statement that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Peter 3:10). Perhaps Jesus was answering the questions of his disciples from a minute or two before, when they wanted to know when the temple would be destroyed, and what would be the sign of his coming and of the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). Jesus answered that “no one knows…” Not even he knew, at that time. However, he gave them, and us, the signs of his coming, which, by definition, would in the future demonstrate that the time was near, once they began to happen.
Even then, people will still not know the exact day or hour. Even then they will not know until it actually happens. They will know they are in the general time, but they will not know the day or the hour. Therefore, Jesus’ talk of believers not knowing the day or hour has nothing to do with a pre-tribulation rapture: it’s about the events of the tribulation and Jesus’ visible, physical return in power and glory.
* My book entitled “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, is available in paperback and e-book at Amazon. However, the entire book will eventually be excerpted or summarized here. And lucky you-you’re getting an up-dated edit, which will all be one day published as a new version of the book. Thanks for reading.