Good evening @manbrooks – welcome to the discussion, and thank you for addressing these first four points regarding a pre-tribulation rapture with me. I understand that there is great interest in this topic these days, and I’m sure we all want to improve our understanding of it. Perhaps our conversation can help clarify in our own minds what the Bible teaches about these things.
And please pardon the length of my reply, but you have asked some very excellent and important questions.
Regarding the first point – I’m glad that you agree God does not subject His children to wrath. And I think we’d all agree that the devil’s wrath has been directed at God’s people since the beginning and will continue to the end.
You mention that much of what you read in the Revelation is the devil’s work. In the context of this point, I took you to mean that you see the wrath in the Revelation as primarily Satan’s wrath against God’s people. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)
But the word “wrath” appears 13 times in the Revelation – once being the devil’s great wrath in 12:12, and the other 12 times being the wrath of God.
Now, the devil being wrathful is hardly unusual. But for God, Whose patience and mercy is unparalleled, to finally display His wrath – I think that is really epic!
The end of I Thessalonians 4 describes the rapture, then the beginning of the next chapter continues on to describe the Tribulation – the day of the Lord that comes as a thief in the night (v 2) – sudden destruction as travail upon a woman with child (v 3) – the day of darkness that overtakes people as a thief (v 4). But then he begins describing how these things will not come upon the brethren, the children of light, and he encourages them for a couple of verses before saying in verse 9, For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. In the context of those verses, I have to say that it really looks like the Tribulation is primarily the wrath of God, and He has not appointed us to endure it.
Regarding the second point – it’s good that you recognize that the Church is not mentioned in the Tribulation story. But you wonder if the innumerable crowd from all nations in chapter 7 who’ve washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb might not be the Church after all? Because that surely sounds like how we’re used to hearing the church described – we even have songs in our church hymnals using that language.
But it may surprise you to learn that this language is never used elsewhere in the New Testament for the church. In fact, it is only found in this verse here in Revelation 7:14.
Now, I do not say this to deny that the church is indeed made white in the blood of the Lamb – of course we are. My real point is that believers in every age have always been made white in the blood of the lamb. (See Daniel 11:35 and 12:10.) So no, this is not a description that the Bible ever uses specifically of the Church. These are converts of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists who are carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth during the seven-year Tribulation.
Regarding the third point – you are right that when people see the many signs such as the sun darkening, the moon turning red, the stars falling and so forth, then they can know that the day of His appearing in clouds with power and glory is at hand. Every eye shall see Him as He goes to battle against the antichrist at Armageddon, rescues Jerusalem, and sets up His Kingdom.
So obviously when Jesus says in Matthew 24:36 that of that day and hour knows no man, not even the angels – when He tells His disciples in Acts 1:7 that it is not for them to know the times or the seasons (see also I Thessalonians 5:1-2), then He cannot be talking about the revelation of Christ at the end of the Tribulation. He is talking about when His second coming unexpectedly begins at the rapture. Anyone who had been putting off salvation by that point is left behind – foolish virgins with no oil.
Regarding the fourth point – it is true that I John 4:3 tells us the spirit of antichrist is already in the world. It has been in the world from the apostle’s time until now. Obviously someone (referred to as he in verse 7) has been keeping the antichrist at bay through these many centuries. Who has been restraining the spirit of antichrist from New Testament times until now?
You question whether it is the Spirit of Christ working through the Church since the word “Church” is not used. But in verse 1 Paul says, we beseech you brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him. Now that language can hardly mean anyone but the Church. And it is by that coming and gathering that he beseeches them not to believe Christ’s day of judgment is at hand (v 2). It won’t come until whoever is hindering the mystery of iniquity is taken out of the way (v 7). But when he is taken, the world goes into a moral freefall allowing the man of sin to rise at last.
Paul says in verses 5-6 that he’s only reminding them of things he’d already explained when he’d been with them before. And now that he’s reminded them, he’s confident they’ll remember what’s restraining the antichrist.
So, who exactly did he remind them of that gets taken out of the way in this passage? He didn’t mention any angels being removed. The only ones he beseeches them to not be troubled about is them – they’re the ones who’ll be gathered out of this world.
Postscript – rather than commenting on books by great men (since of making many books there is no end – Ecclesiastes 12:12), I’ll just close with this, because I think it is very relevant to the entire discussion.
We all agree that the people of God are going to endure many hardships during the Tribulation. If one assumes that the rapture comes at the end, then they’re going to say that the people of God who are being persecuted throughout it are Christians, the Church. If one assumes that the rapture comes at the beginning, then they’re going to say that the persecuted people of God are the Jews who have finally come to realize that Jesus is their true Messiah.
One of the biggest reasons that I believe the rapture is first is because of how I view the purpose of the Tribulation to begin with. The Tribulation is all about how God saves Israel – not how He saves the Church.
I’ve noted that the church is never mentioned in the Tribulation story, nor any language that is specific to the church. But there’s a great deal of language that identifies the Tribulation overcomers as believing Jews.
There are the two witnesses, “Moses and Elijah”-like figures (possibly even Moses and Elijah themselves), who preach from the beginning of the Tribulation until the middle of it in Jerusalem.
There are the 144,000 Jewish evangelists – called “first fruits” – presumably Moses and Elijah’s first converts. As God promised through Abraham, all nations are finally being blessed through Israel.
There is the conversion of Jerusalem (Revelation 12:8) after the earthquake in Revelation 12:13…
…and this conversion incites Satan’s wrath and the antichrist’s persecution of Israel – the woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and the twelve stars about her head – an obvious reference to Israel from Genesis 37:9-11.
The plagues upon the antichrist in Revelation 16 parallel the plagues upon Pharaoh in the time of Moses.
The symbolisms throughout these chapters come from Old Testament books like Daniel and Zechariah – books Jews should be familiar with – not from imagery elsewhere in the New Testament that Jews would not recognize.
And both the Old and New Testament references to the Tribulation identify it as a time of trouble for Israel – but never for the church.
Jeremiah 30:7 – Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.
Daniel 12:1, And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
Matthew 24:14-15, When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
Romans 11:25-26, blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.
I hope this helps you see this from a new perspective.