Premillennialism, as a system, is based on a literal or normative method of biblical interpretation as opposed to Amillennialism which spiritualizes its interpretation and does not take the Bible literally. In premillennialism, words mean what they normally mean in everyday usage, while at the same time it allows for legitimate figures of speech.
The simple thesis of premillennialism is that Jesus will literally return to the earth before (pre) the Millennium begins and that He himself will inaugurate and rule over it. In contrast, Amillennialism sees the kingdom of God, not as a literal kingdom, but present now “in the hearts of man.”
Premillennialists can be divided into two subgroups on the basis of their basic approach to prophetic texts.
Historicist premillennialists believe that scriptural prophecy – especially the passages in Daniel and Revelation give the entire history of the church in symbolic form. Thus they look into the church’s past and present to find prophetic fulfillment’s and to see where they are in God’s prophetic timetable.
In contrast to historicist premillennialism, the dispensational theory of premillennialism, advanced in 1830 by John Nelson Darby has gained popularity among modern evangelicals, ascribing biblical significance to almost every new development in current world events. The second coming of Christ, and subsequent establishment of the millennial kingdom, is to be preceded by a seven year-long period known as the “Tribulation” – the Earthly activity of the Antichrist as well as the outpouring of God’s wrath on mankind.
Premillennialists believe the Rapture is clearly reveled by Christ in His Olivet Discourse, confirmed through Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church and in his Thessalonian epistles, and verified further by John in the book of Revelation.
“Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” – Matthew 24:29-31
After that occurs…
“For the Lord himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive, and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Okay, it seems pretty clear there will be a rapture. The confusion appears to be the “timing” of the rapture. What difference does the timing of the rapture make, you might ask.
While I don’t believe this issue is necessarily an “essential doctrine” for the believer that has accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior, it can have an impact on how the believer is affected by the period known as the Tribulation. Pre-Tribulationists don’t see the Church undergoing any part of the Tribulation since they are raptured away before it begins. They don’t need to pay attention to the appearance of the anti-Christ or the warnings against taking the mark of the beast since they believe they’ll be gone when all that happens. On the other hand, others believe we should be aware of the appearance of the anti-Christ who will deceive many and demand allegiance to him by taking the mark of the beast.
Within the premillennialist camp there are several schools of thought as to what point Christ takes the Church into heaven.
- Pre-Tribulation Rapture – before the start of the Tribulation
- Mid-Tribulation Rapture – at the mid-point of the Tribulation
- Post-Tribulation Rapture – at the conclusion of the Tribulation
- Pre-Wrath Rapture – the church will go through the great tribulation by Antichrist during the end times, but will be raptured immediately before the ‘Day of the Lord’ wrath, when Christ cuts short the persecution of Antichrist.
- Partial Rapture – only those who are faithful in the church will be raptured or translated and the rest will either be raptured sometime during the tribulation or at its end.
The pre-tribulation position separates the timing of the rapture from the second coming of Christ and advocates that the rapture will occur before the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period, while the second coming will occur at the end of the seven-year tribulation period.
John Nelson Darby, considered the father of dispensationalism, first proposed the pre-tribulation rapture in 1827. This view was accepted among many other Plymouth Brethren in England. Darby and other prominent Brethren were part of the Brethren Movement which impacted American Christianity, primarily through their writings. Influences included the Bible Conference Movement, starting in 1878 with the Niagara Bible Conference. These conferences, which were initially inclusive of historicist and futurist premillennialism, led to an increasing acceptance of futurist premillennial views and the pre-tribulation rapture especially among Presbyterian, Baptist and Congregational members. Popular books also contributed to acceptance of the pre-tribulation rapture, including William Eugene Blackstone’s book Jesus is Coming published in 1878 and which sold more than 1.3 million copies, and the Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909 and 1919 and revised in 1967. [Source: Wikipedia]
The popularization of a pre-tribulation rapture has been advanced in recent years by authors such as John Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, Hal Lindsey, and Tim LaHaye.
The mid-tribulation position suggests that the rapture will occur at some point in the middle of what is called the tribulation period, or during Daniel’s 70th Week.
Mid-tribulationists point to Daniel 7:25 which says the saints will be given over to tribulation for “time, times, and half a time,” – interpreted to mean 3.5 years.
The prewrath rapture view also places the rapture at some point during the tribulation period before the second coming.
The Church will go through the time of the first six seals of Revelation and suffer much of the Tribulation, however references from Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are evidence that this tribulation will be cut short by the coming of Christ to deliver the righteous by means of the rapture. After the rapture will come God’s seventh-seal wrath of trumpets and bowls (a.k.a. “the Day of the Lord”). The Day of the Lord’s wrath against the ungodly will follow for the remainder of the seven years.
Post-tribulationists see the rapture as occurring simultaneously with the second coming of Christ.
Adherents of this view points to Matthew 24:29-31 as evidence the rapture occurs at the end of the tribulation period.
“Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” – Matthew 24:29-31
So, why is it important to have some understanding of the timing of the rapture?
I believe there will be those pre-trib’ers caught by surprise and unprepared as the end time events unfold. If the Church has already been raptured before the Antichrist is revealed, then his identity is not important to them. And, since they believe they will be gone already, they won’t need to prepare to resist taking the mark of the beast. They’re gone, right?
Well, maybe. I don’t know precisely how the end time events will unfold and it would be nice if the Church were spared those difficulties. But, I think that’s mostly wishful thinking. Scripture is full of warnings for believers and unbelievers alike, and detailed descriptions of God’s timetable is foretold by the prophets and Christ Himself. I think we should heed those warnings and be prepared for whatever might happen.
This we can know and be sure of… God’s chosen elect will be saved from His ultimate destruction of the world and will spend eternity with Him in heaven. Maranatha!