I was a pre-tribulation believer and proponent for twenty-eight years. Therefore I am, I believe, well qualified to critique this mistaken position. Open your minds to reality, dear Christian brothers and sisters…
Today’s excerpt from my book* is taken from chapter 14. The chapter is rather long, so today’s post contains a part and the rest will appear next week.
Paul, writing primarily about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, wrote that the dead will be raised “imperishable”, and that “we will all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51). He gave us more detail of these events in his letter to the Thessalonians. Here he made clear that the resurrection will occur first, and then, “after that” those who are still alive will be taken up to meet the resurrected and the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Therefore, if the rapture were to occur before the tribulation, the resurrection would have to also occur before the tribulation. Conversely, of course, if the resurrection were to be at some time later, say, during or after the tribulation, then the rapture would have to be even later than that. So is it possible to pinpoint the time of the resurrection in relation to the tribulation using scripture?
Pre-tribulation believers have to assert that the resurrection will be in stages, because when we read of a resurrection of martyred believers at the end of the tribulation, occurring after the victorious return of Jesus Christ to the earth, it is called in Revelation, “The first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5). There are only two resurrections in total, according to Revelation, and John informs us that if you miss the first resurrection, there’s a long wait until the second:
“The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” (verse 5).
If it were to be the first “first” resurrection (intentional repeat) in which martyrs of Revelation are raised in chapter 20, then the rapture has to be at the end of the tribulation. So pre-tribulation theory has no choice but to say that the resurrection is in stages, that the resurrection of the martyrs is a second or even a third stage, and that the first stage, taking place with the rapture, occurred at least seven years earlier than chapter 20. Are pre-tribulation believers correct in invoking stages for the first resurrection? Or instead, could this resurrection of martyred believers in Revelation chapter 20, labeled by John “the first resurrection” actually be the same event as the resurrection Paul talked about to Corinthians and Thessalonians, which he associated with the rapture?
There’s no doubt that only the martyred are mentioned at this point in Revelation, giving the distinct impression that they’re the last ones left to be raised, and other believers must have been raised at some time before this. However, the fact that they’re the only ones mentioned here doesn’t exclude the possibility that their resurrection is actually just a featured detail; a part of the simultaneous resurrection of all believers. In that case the focus here, as it has been for several chapters of Revelation, is the persecution of all ages under the Harlot, and more specifically during the tribulation, where those living through it- the “saints who hold to the testimony to Jesus”-have been harassed and persecuted by the Beast. In this case their resurrection is most relevant to the account of tribulation events, and so the one in focus at this point.
WHERE ARE THE OTHER STAGES OF RESURRECTION?
Even though Paul had revealed the “mystery” of Christ’s return; the resurrection and the rapture, many years before the writing of Revelation, there’s no other reference in Revelation to the first resurrection before this one in chapter 20. Why not? It’s not at the beginning, or in any of the letters to the churches, or in the account of John being taken up to heaven. There’s no mention in heaven of resurrection before any seals are opened, or during or after them, until this talk of the “first” resurrection in chapter 20, after Christ’s return with his angels in chapter 19.
Verse 4 of chapter twenty, in which we see the martyrs raised, and before the martyrs are mentioned, speaks of “thrones, on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge”. We normally associate judgment with the physical return of Jesus to the earth. Indeed, how can anyone be judged without him? We, even as Christians, are going to receive a form of judgment, without condemnation (2 Corinthians 5:10 with Romans 8:1). So if the “judgment seat of Christ” is going to occur at the time of the resurrection of the martyrs, either the resurrection of the martyrs is a part of the general resurrection occurring simultaneously, or if the rapture occurred years earlier, the raptured have had to wait seven years to by judged. The other unlikely alternative is that Christ keeps getting out his judgment seat for each proposed phase of the resurrection. Why are seats of judgment being brought into view now for the first time in chapter 20? There’s no mention anywhere of any judgment occurring seven years before or at any previous point in Revelation.
Note, again, what Paul didn’t say to the Thessalonians or the Corinthians in the very scriptures we use as evidence of the resurrection and the rapture. He didn’t say, “some” of the dead will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:52). He didn’t say that those who are “ready” for the rapture will be taken and the others left. He didn’t say “some” of the dead will rise first and the rest later (1 Thessalonians 4:16). He said nothing in these passages about a two or three-staged resurrection, or a two-staged rapture, or for that matter a two or three-staged return of Jesus.
Daniel’s prophetic book gives us an early, Old Testament glimpse of the resurrection. Chapter 11 first foretells some narrative of military and political struggles in the Middle-East in a chronological order, and then, by the end of chapter 11, we’re brought all the way up to the actual time and location of last-days tribulation events. There we learn a little about the movement of Antichrist and his forces in the Middle East.
Chapter 12 continues the order of events Daniel was shown, speaking of a time of “great distress” for the nation of Israel. This description closely resembles Jesus’ remarks in his Olivet Discourse, in which he speaks of the appearance of Antichrist, and the time of “great distress”, unequaled at no time past or future (Matthew 24:15-22). It also evokes Paul’s description of the time of Antichrist’s revealing which will release all sorts of evil on the world (2 Thessalonians 2).
It’s at the end of the succession of events Daniel is told about, and not at the beginning, that the angel talking to him speaks of the resurrection. First comes the warning of “a time of great distress, such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then”. Then the resurrection is described:
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).
*ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, by Nicholas Fisher, available on Amazon.