In the introduction, I described the beginnings of my views on eschatology, including my background as a Pre-Tribulationalist and my conversion to the Pre-Wrath view of the Rapture of the church. In part one, I would like to begin interacting with the two views, and lay out the case for why I think the Pre-Wrath view is more faithful to the scriptures.
Before I can begin interacting with the two views, I think it is important to describe both views, at least as well as I understand them. Having begun my life as a Christian as a Pre-Tribulationalist, I'll start with the Pre-Trib view. Before I do, I'll try to lay out the general Pre-Millenial view that both Rapture views agree on. I think it is worth stating that both views, in my opinion, have far more in common than they have differences. It wasn't a big leap for me to change from one view to the other.
Both Pre-Tribulationalism and Pre-Wrath are Pre-Millenial views of the end of the age, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the restoration of the Creation to its Pre-Adamic, Pre-Cursed state.
Pre-Millennialism is the view that the millennial (ie. 1,000 year) reign of Christ on the Earth as described in the Scriptures is literal, and that His return, the battle between Heaven and Earth, and the judgment of the wicked will take place before the millennial reign begins. This is in contrast to and Post-Millenialism, which both see the millennial reign of Christ as figurative. Both of those views teach that the millennium of Christ's rule is not a literal 1,000 years, but merely a lengthy period of time between Christ's first and second comings, during which time He reigns spiritually from Heaven. I won't get into any more details here, nor will I seek to refute or interact with the non-Pre-Millennial views any further, but simply seek to illustrate that Pre-Tribulationalism and Pre-Wrath agree on the nature of the millennial reign of Christ and they agree that He will return to judge the living and the dead before He begins that reign.
The distinctions that put people into the Pre-Tribulational view have mostly to do with the timing of Christ's gathering of the Elect. The final period of time before the judgment of the wicked and the beginning of Christ's Millennial reign is described in Scripture as a seven-year period of time. It goes by several different names, including: The 70th Week of Daniel (describing a “week” of years, see Daniel 9), The Tribulation, and the “Time of Jacob's Trouble” (see Jeremiah 30:7).
The Pre-Trib view holds that Christ's gathering of the elect takes place before this seven year period begins, and that it will be a secret gathering. In other words, Christians will simply, suddenly, and unexplainably disappear. No one will see it coming, and the unbelieving world will have no honest explanation for it after it happens. Many theories for how the unbelieving world will react logically proceed from this belief of a “secret rapture,” but none are grounded in scripture, they merely flow from a logical and philosophical progression of the view. One such theory states that the Anti-Christ will tell the world that “wicked Christians” were taken out to be judged (for any number of “sins” upon the world).
Pre-Tribulationalism also teaches that there are no preceding signs required before either the rapture of the church or the 70th week of Daniel can begin. They believe only that the rapture comes first. Many will say that it is unknown how much time passes between the rapture and the commencement of Daniel's 70th week; that it could be minutes, or it could be years. Most will postulate that the time span is likely in the neighborhood of weeks or months, but probably not years, and highly unlikely to be several years.
As a person who holds to the Pre-Wrath view of the rapture of the church (again, this means the gathering of the Elect by Christ at the end of this age), I actually agree with much of what Pre-Tribulationalism teaches. In my introduction, I mentioned my pastor and good friend Eric Douma, who holds to a Pre-Tribulational point of view. Eric is currently teaching through Revelation in our church's adult Sunday School, which brings him into many other passages of Scripture to fully explain the text of John's Apocalyptic book. As I have listened to the audio of Eric's teaching, I could say that I agree with over 90% of what Eric is teaching. Because I hold Eric in such high regard, and so greatly respect the way he handles the Word of God every Sunday, whether teaching Sunday School or delivering a sermon, I find myself especially frustrated over the few percent of differences that we share. I don't get frustrated with people like Hal Lindsey any more, mostly because I don't respect him as I do Eric.
With that said, I'll lay out the primary differences that we have with each other's points of view. As I progress into part two and beyond, I'll interact with these differences, and continue past them into other differences that Pre-Trib and Pre-Wrath have with each other, as well as explain why I believe that Pre-Wrath is the better view.
To begin with, the conversion from Pre-Trib to Pre-Wrath that I went to can be boiled down to one simple change of understanding. That is the view of the specific timing of the rapture of the Church. Pre-Wrath sees the rapture as occuring at some unknown point in time during the last half of Daniel's 70th week. It doesn't kick off the 70th week, or the Tribulation, but as ending it.
“Ending it” is an important difference of view. Pre-Trib sees the Tribulation as being the entire seven year period; seven years, with 360 days in each year (Pre-Wrath would agree that the Bible describes years at being 360 days, not the 365.25 days that we are used to in our Gregorian calendar). That's opposed to Pre-Wrath, which makes a big distinction between the 70th week of Daniel, the Tribulation, and the Wrath of God or Day of the Lord. Pre-Trib sees the four as being synonymous. Pre-Wrath sees the last two as being synonymous, but otherwise are different ways of distinguishing the whole or parts of the greater period of time. Specifically, that the 70th Week of Daniel is the entire period, the Tribulation is a portion of that seven year period, and the Wrath of God (or Day of the Lord) as being another period that follows the Tribulation. This distinction will be important, as we'll see in later parts of this series. However, you can see how “ending it” can be seen from different points of view. If the Wrath of God comes after the Tribulation, the rapture “ending it” (the Tribulation), is an important distinction. It's completely the opposite of the Pre-Trib view, which says that the rapture begins the Tribulation.
I can't understate the difference between the Tribulation and the Wrath of God. Pre-Tribbers see them as one-and-the same, and Pre-Wrathers see them as distinct and different. This is a major area of contention between the two views. Again, we'll interact with this difference later in this series.
Before We Continue
One thing is very important for my case as I explain the strengths of the Pre-Wrath view, and the problems with the Pre-Trib view, and that is a proper understanding of Matthew 24. My good friend Eric Douma and I completely agree that a person's understanding of Matthew 24 is fundamental to our understanding of the greater debate between the two camps of Pre-Millennial eschatology. Before we continue, I urge the reader to stop and go read Matthew 24. Read the entire chapter. As you read, be very careful to follow the text closely. Look at who is talking to whom. Look at what is being discussed. Look at orders of events. Be mindful of signs and non-signs. Consider everything in context with everything else. Try as hard as you can to keep your mind open, and don't insert your pre-existing views into the text, let it speak for itself. As we continue, we'll interact with Matthew 24 heavily.