Theological science operates diverse concepts that are used to determine relationships between a man and the highest powers. In Christian theory, the discussion around the issue of the end-times has been popular for centuries. People believe that Jesus Christ will return according to his promise (Matt. 24:30; 26:64; John 14:3).1 Thus, the New Testament contains evidence of the hope for Jesus’ return.
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Nevertheless, the major debate is around the time when this event is expected to happen. Premillennialists share two core points of view on the Jesus’ return such as pre-tribulationism and post-tribulationism.2 Judging by their titles, it is evident that the supporters of the first position believe that Christ is likely to rapture his church before the tribulation begins while those who support post-tribulationism claim that Christ will return after tribulation to establish his millennial kingdom. As a student who is attempting to obtain Godly knowledge and wisdom, I agree with the view of pre-tribulationism. I believe this position will be valuable for my ministry. My arguments supporting this position are presented in this paper.
Defining the Major Concepts
Prior to analyzing the arguments in support of pre-tribulationism, it is necessary to define the basic concepts understanding of which is vital for further discussion. These concepts include eschatology, reign of God, revelation, rapture, postmillennialism, and premillennialism. Thus, one of the concepts that are integral to theological study is eschatology. It is used to nominate last things, “the final judgment and afterlife, the end of the world and its accompanying events.”3 Christian theory considers eschatology to be an urgent and necessary event that demands certain preparation through repentance and morally-positive actions.
Reign of God is one of the general concepts, which treats God as “a creator, sovereign, sole authority, and controller of the universe.”4 God is treated as ruler of history of humanity whose purpose is to liberate and protect people from injustice or pain they ace in their lives. The reign of God presumes the world where people live in freedom according to the principles of social justice.
Revelation can be interpreted as “revealing, unveiling, or uncovering” and the term roots back to the Latin word revelatio.5 While this concept can be applied in diverse spheres, in theological context revelation means “revealing or unveiling of God and of other truths related to God.”6 Revelation, in fact, is the core concept found in the majority of aspects within Christian theory and practice. Revelation is usually treated as a free gift or a grace, which is expected to achieve human salvation.7 Also, it should be kept in mind that revelation is a continuous process.
The concept of rapture is crucial when it comes to the analysis of pre- tribulationism. Rapture itself is a word of Greek origin and means “to remove suddenly or snatch away.” In the New Testament, it is applied in the contexts of stealing something and removing. One more meaning of the concept is to identify someone caught to heaven. Moreover, it should be considered that rapture is used in eschatological context. It is considered to be a rather secret and unexpected event.8
Postmillennialism is the position that implies the return of Jesus after his kingdom on earth is established.9 Although there are different ideas about the ways Jesus’ kingdom will be create, its establishment is expected to be immediate. At the same time, premillennialism is a standpoint that considers that the return of Jesus will happen before the establishment of his kingdom on earth.10 The basic ideas of pre-tribulationism and post-tribulationism that are integral to premillennialism will be discussed further.
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Arguments in Support of Pre-Tribulationism
As it was already mentioned, I support pre-tribulationism as the view on Jesus’ return. Before proceeding to major arguments, it is interesting to discover the biblical basis for these positions. Thus, despite the fact that the ideas of pre-tribulationism are becoming more popular, the scripture does not contain direct evidence for this type of rapture. One of the ideas that can be treated as evidence is “the sense of expectancy for Christ’s return,” which is traced throughout the scripture.11
Some indirect proofs of pre-tribulation ideas can be found in scripture. For example, pre-tribulationists treat the following aspects as evidence for their views: “we are not destined for wrath” (1 Thess. 5:9), “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2), and “no one knows the hour or the day” (Matt. 24:36). Still, the issue of time of tribulation cannot be determined due to diversity of views expressed at different situations.
Pre-tribulational view is grounded on the supposition that the Rapture has to happen before the Tribulation begins. The church is expected to meet Christ in the air, and the Tribulation is going to follow. However, the events of the Rapture and Christ’s Second Coming happen with a break of a minimum of seven years. From the scriptural point of view, pre-tribulational position has certain strong points. Thus, one of the examples is that the church does not fall under wrath and believers will not suffer by the Day of the Lord.
As for the major arguments in the support of pre-tribulationism, they are as follows. First of all, pre-tribulationists differentiate between the passages relating to rapture as well as those referring to the final coming of Christ. Nevertheless, there are some discrepancies about the individuals saved by Christ. Thus, some parts of scripture regarding rapture claim that the believers will be snatched away secretly while other passages of scripture agree that rapture will be seen by everyone.
The second issue that pre-tribulationists suggest considering are the passages in the Bible, which describe that “believers will be kept from having to endure the wrath of God.”12 Thus, Paul claims that Jesus will “[rescue] us from the wrath that is coming” (Thess. 1:10). Considering the fact that God’s wrath will be directed on the judgment on the wicked people during the tribulation period, it is logical to believe the rapture should take place before this period.
Another aspect highlighted by pre-tribulationists is related to religious texts that clearly identify the fact that Christ could return any time and that Christians “are not to be caught off guard.”13 The proofs for this idea can be found in the New Testament (Matt. 24:42–51; 25:1–30; 1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 4:5; Titus 2:13). Nevertheless, in case Christ will not return until after the tribulation period, according to post- tribulationists’ claims, his return will not be imminent or surprising.
Pre-tribulationist approach is also the one that suggests an ordered chronology of actions. In fact, the major events and their time in pre-tribulationism are agreed and logical with only few differences. At the same time, post-tribulationism is less logical but suggests a greater diversity of ideas about different events. Still, pre-tribulationism seems to be more acceptable in the context of Christian theory because Christians are promised to be saved before tribulation in case they believe in Christ.
Finally, the pre-tribulational ideas seem to be the closest to the accepted character of God, who is expected to make the righteous believers free from the judgment. Some of the examples of God’s salvation found in the Bible include Noah, Lot, and Rahab. Thus, Noah was rescued from the worldwide flood and granted life as well as the opportunity to save animals for the world. Also, Lot, who was saved from Sodom as well as Rahab was delivered from Jericho (Peter 2:6-9).
At the same time, the idea of pre-tribulationism has certain weaknesses that should also be considered. One of the evident weakness of pre-tribulationism is the fact that this view has emerged as a church doctrine recently and is relatively new. In fact, pre-tribulationism has been formulated in detail only in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Another issue that can be considered a weakness is the division of the return of Jesus Christ accepted in pre-tribulationism. Thus, the Rapture and the Second Coming are treated as separate phases while this position does not find any support from the Bible.
One more disagreement that arises within the pre-tribulational idea is the inclusion of some saints in the Tribulation. Pre-tribulationists explain this disagreement by the fact that they differentiate between the saints of the Old Testament and those of the Tribulation who belong to the church of the New Testament. The supporters of the pre-tribulational view claim that believers will be rescued before the Tribulation/ moreover, some believers can come to Christ during the Tribulation as well.
This position, however, contradicts Jesus’ statement in John 6:40, which promises eternal life to everyone believes in the Son of God and that these believers will be raised up at the last day. Thus, the pre-tribulational model with the idea that believers will be raised at the rapture, does not fall within the statement from the Bible because rapture is expected to happen a minimum of seven years prior to the Christ’s second coming.
Finally, the weakness of the pre-tribulational position view is related to some other theories. For example, the Bible does not provide any definite time line about the expected future events and scripture does not identify any separate views on this issue. This situation predetermines the existence of diverse opinions about such a crucial issue as the end times and results in the variety of approaches to harmonization of the related prophecies.
On the whole, the issue of pre-tribulationism is a controversial one. On the one hand, it implies self-disclosure of God to humanity through Christ.14 Also, in the context of the Third World, the concept of divine should be mentioned, which is one of the primary goals of believers in many religions.15 In this respect, the issue of revelation and the related tribulation is left aside. Nevertheless, tribulation is one of the significant concepts in Christianity, which demands careful analysis due to the diversity of approaches to its treatment. Still, judging by the complex of factors that were revealed during this analysis, pre-tribulationism is likely to be more applicable in the context of the Christian theory than other approaches.
Summarizing, it should be mentioned that discrepancies as well as diversity in religious theories in the history of church are not rare. Different approaches have their followers who attempt to find evidence to support the ideas and make more people join them. Speaking about tribulation, Christian theorists divide into two opposing groups. Pre-tribulationists claim that Christ will come prior to tribulation and rescue the believers while post-tribuationinsts believe that tribulation itself comes first.
While both approaches can exist simultaneously and have certain evidence, pre-tribulationist view looks more logical and probable. Among the diversity of arguments to support pre-tribulation approach, the most meaningful are as follows. First of all, since tribulation is considered to be the period for wrath and judgment, it is logical to rescue the most decent believers before it begins. Secondly, the Bible provides evidence that Christ certainly promised that Christians would avoid tribulation, and the promise is expected to be followed. Also, pre-tribulationists differentiate between the concepts of the second coming and the rapture, which is, on the one hand, controversial, but corresponds to the ideas from the Bible that prove different purposes and results of both concepts.
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Finally, pre-tribulationism suggests a more consistent chronology of events thus contributing to trustworthiness of this theory. In the whole, despite a number of limitations and weak points, pre-tribulationist approach is a more likely outcome. Nevertheless, there are still many gaps that need to be studied from diverse standpoints to provide the unbiased analysis of pre-tribulationism and its major ideas in the context of Christian theory.
Boyd, Gregory A. and Paul R. Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.
Fabella, Virginia and R. S. Sugirtharajah, eds. Dictionary of Third World Theologies. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2000.
Thorsen, Don. An Exploration of Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.
- Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy: Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology (2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 320.
- Boyd and Eddy: Across the Spectrum, 321.
- Virginia Fabella and R. S. Sugirtharajah, eds. Dictionary of Third World Theologies (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2000), 84.
- Fabella and Sugirtharajah, eds., Dictionary of Third World Theologies, 177.
- Don Thorsen, An Exploration of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 16.
- Thorsen, An Exploration of Christian Theology, 16.
- Fabella and Sugirtharajah, eds., Dictionary of Third World Theologies, 84.
- Thorsen, An Exploration of Christian Theology, 380.
- Ibid., 376.
- Ibid., 378.
- Boyd and Eddy: Across the Spectrum, 329.
- Boyd and Eddy: Across the Spectrum, 331.
- Boyd and Eddy: Across the Spectrum, 333.
- Fabella and Sugirtharajah, eds., Dictionary of Third World Theologies, 179.
- Fabella and Sugirtharajah, eds., Dictionary of Third World Theologies, 179.