The “wedding supper of the Lamb”, announced in Revelation chapter 19, is believed to be a love-feast involving Jesus Christ and his bride, the raptured Church. The rapture of the Church is commonly considered to be the calling of Christ’s bride. To this point, I agree. However, pre-tribulation rapture believers are convinced this love feast will occur in heaven while the tribulation is playing out on the earth. They say that an early rapture mirrors betrothal rites and ceremonies in ancient Jewish culture. Are these beliefs really supported in Scripture?
Welcome to the latest excerpt from my book* This subject, the Bride of Christ, as it relates to the rapture, is in two parts. The second part (b) will probably appear next week.
THE IMMINENT COMING
The concept of “imminence”, which I covered in an earlier post, is vital to the theory that Christ will call his bride into heaven before the tribulation. Proponents quote Jesus from the Olivet Discourse, when he said:
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36)
PT believers claim that this and other similar phrases are directly related to the ancient custom of the groom suddenly and unexpectedly showing up to claim his bride, and so support a pre-tribulation rapture. Instead, as I demonstrated when discussing imminence, the above quote and others like it were actually said for the benefit of the very people pre-tribulationists claim will be left behind to live through the tribulation.
One passage of scripture used to support the idea that ancient Jewish marriage rites prefigure a pre-tribulation rapture is found towards the end of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 25:1-13). Here Jesus tells the well-known parable of ten virgins who were betrothed, and expecting the groom to come and take them in marriage. Five were ready for the groom when he came, but five were foolish and were not ready. The belief is that the “ready” virgins who went with the groom represent people who will be ready for the rapture before tribulation, and so are taken by Jesus Christ into heaven. The foolish five represent those not ready, and so are left behind.
Upon a reading of the whole passage, we can see that this parable doesn’t work for the pre-tribulation rapture model, because once the ready virgins were taken to the marriage feast, said Jesus, “…the door was shut” (verse 10). The door was not just shut for seven years, but shut permanently. The groom said to those left behind, now on the other side, “I do not know you” (verse 12). Here is a complete severance of those left behind by the groom: they were rejected forever.
In contrast, as demonstrated even in a certain series of successful books and movies based on a pre-tribulation rapture, Scripture says that there will be believers, or ”saints” on the earth during the tribulation, who will be resurrected if killed, or “gathered” by the angels when Christ returns to the earth:
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring–those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus (Revelation 12:17).
These saints clearly have not been rejected. Are these believers, who remain faithful to Jesus against the forces of evil, to be left out of the marriage supper? Are they not wedded to Christ? If not, how can they receive eternal life? Can they be saved and faithful followers of Jesus and yet not be a part of the bride of Christ?
This very final-sounding remark of the groom to the five virgins he leaves behind, “I do not know you” is reminiscent of the words of Jesus when he warned that those who don’t do his will are going to get a severe shock when they expect to enter the kingdom of heaven but can’t:
“I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23 ESV).
When the five virgins who were “ready” went with the groom to the wedding feast in Jesus’ parable, they were the last to go. Yet in the book of Revelation we find that the gospel is preached throughout the world even during the tribulation, and there will be many saints who “hold to the testimony of Jesus and obey his commandments”. The calling and gathering of believers in the day of the Lord will come when he sends out his angels to gather his elect, at the end of the tribulation. At the end of the virgins parable Jesus Christ again gives this warning:
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
If the five wise virgins going with the groom symbolize a pre-tribulation rapture, we Church-age and good rapture-candidate believers are presumably the “virgins” being told to be ready in this Olivet allegory. But the same warning to be ready was also given just after a description of Christ’s glorious return in power and glory, so that about that very day-the day of Christ’s physical appearing for all the world to see, Jesus said:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son…” (Matthew 24:36).
The warning to be ready for the groom in the virgin parable matches the warning to be ready for the glorious, visible return of Christ.
Jesus continued from the above warning to be ready for his coming, reminding his disciples of the people who died in the Flood of Noah’s time (Matthew 24:37-39). He said:
“Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (verse 42).
The Church is, indeed, the bride of Christ. But the teaching that Christ will take his bride home before the tribulation is unfounded. Even if we accept the claim that ancient Jewish marriage customs do foreshadow Christ’s coming for his Church, there’s still no Biblical basis to demand that this calling must be before the tribulation begins, unless we use circular reasoning. It’s the belief that tribulation events will be clearly seen from the start of a seven year period, which then claims that the groom will appear without warning. But as we’ve seen, Jesus even warned those around on the earth during the tribulation that he will come without warning.
Remember that after five wise virgins were called by the groom to the marriage feast in Jesus’ parable, the door was shut and nobody else was allowed in to the wedding. Indeed, the groom, representing Christ, said to those outside, “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12 ESV). If the Olivet Discourse is mainly for Jews, and the marriage rites are those for Jewish wedding ceremonies, why is it that, according to pre-tribulation thinking, the wedding supper is excluding the “elect” gathered by angels, and seen by pre-tibulation teachers as the Jewish remnant? Isn’t this some sort of replacement theology?
We aren’t left without other scripture to guide us on the subject of the wedding and wedding feast. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel we read a lengthy section in which Jesus addressed the chief priests and elders who hated him (Matthew 21:23). This discussion leads to the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14).The king, snubbed by those representing unbelieving Jews, proceeds to invites any who will come. Those who respond represent, of course, Gentiles. But there are also Jewish believers, which must include at the very least Christ’s original eleven, and all his followers of the first century including Paul: all who will “come”. There’s no separate arrangement for different groups of guests: there is one wedding for all.
Why is it that the “bride” of Christ in Revelation is generally considered to be the Gentile Church, but the Jewish remnant is not, when Jews were the first to be invited to the wedding? Why would we think that the Church would be present at Christ’s wedding but not the remnant, nor the “elect” who are gathered at the second coming of Christ?
As I wrote in chapter five of my book, pre-tribulation teachers have to say that most of the content of the Olivet Discourse is intended for a Jewish believing remnant who will be around during the tribulation while the Church is in heaven, because obviously those who would see the events of the tribulation which Jesus was describing could not have been taken in a pre-tribulation rapture. Yet it was during that same discourse and to those same believers that Jesus said the day and hour, while clearly coming, would be unknown:
“Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33).
This “right at the door” phrase is evocative of the marriage custom, claimed by pre-tribulationists, of the groom coming to the door of the bride to take her with him, and it’s placed immediately before the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ to the whole world. The observers Jesus is addressing would have to first see “all these things” (verse 33). “These things” are the very things which pre-tribulationists tell us we in the Church cannot see.
Then Jesus said:
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36) and;
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42).
*ALL LEFT BEHIND:THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE, by Nicholas Fisher, available on Amazon.