The Haters: Pretribulationism

I haven’t written a “haters” article in a long time. Several times recently, though, individuals have expressed strong disagreement with’s position on the timing of the rapture in relationship to the tribulation. Also, a few well-known Christian teachers have come out in recent years and essentially labeled pretribulationism as a heresy.

What is pretribulationism (also known as pretribulationalism) you ask? It is one of the viewpoints that contends the event described in 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, referred to by many as the rapture, is a separate event from the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Those who hold to a premillennial or dispensational interpretation of the end times believe there will be a seven year tribulation period before the second coming. Some place the rapture before the tribulation (pretribulationism). Some place the rapture at the mid-point of the tribulation (midtribulationism) or just prior to when God begins pouring out His wrath towards the end of the tribulation (pre-wrath). Some place the rapture at the very end of the tribulation (posttribulationism), essentially making the rapture and the second coming the exact same event. For the purposes of this post, I won’t be going into the midtribulational, pre-wrath, or posttribulational views. I would invite you, though, to read the articles linked to above.

Why does hold (softly) to pretribulationism? Scripturally speaking, 1 Thessalonians 5:9 declares, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” If the tribulation is the time period of God’s wrath, why would Christians be included among those who will receive God’s wrath in the end times? Further, Revelation 3:10 indicates that God will keep believers from the time period of testing that is coming on the whole world, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”

Theologically speaking, if the tribulation is the time period during which God especially refocuses His attention on the nation of Israel, fulfilling the last seven of Daniel’s seventy sevens prophecy, what would be the purpose of the church being present during that time period? Revelation chapters 6—18, which many Bible prophecy experts believe describes the tribulation, nowhere mentions the church.

So, with that said, with a pretribulational interpretation being at the very least biblically plausible, why are some Christians so strongly opposed to the pretribulation rapture theory? Here are the four reasons I am hearing:

First, some reject pretribulationism because it is a relatively recent development in Christian theology. There really wasn’t anyone explicitly teaching pretribulationism until the 1800s. While the voice of Christian history should always be taken into account, this argument is not convincing. After all, until the Reformation, it could be said that no one had been teaching salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone for nearly 1500 years. Ultimately, doctrines stand and fall with the question “Is it biblical?”, not by “Has it been popular historically?”

Second, some reject pretribulationism because they believe that if it is wrong, Christians who believed in pretribulationism will be woefully unprepared for the tribulation. I know a lot of pretribulationists. I am one (although I hold to it softly, more on this in a bit). I have no concerns whatsoever regarding their ability to transition to, “Well, I was wrong about that…time to adjust…” Again, pretribulationism should be accepted or rejected based on whether it is biblical, not based on possible repercussions if it is wrong.

Third, some reject pretribulationism because they view it as escapism. They see some pretribulationists not caring about this world, not striving to impact the world for Christ, not being active in sharing the gospel, and not recognizing the urgency for Christians to stand firm in their faith—and they blame it on a supposed “I’m out of here, so who cares?” attitude. While I would agree that this unbiblical (and ungodly) attitude is present in some pretribulationists, the fact that pretribulationism is sometimes misapplied is not an argument against pretribulationism itself.

Fourth, some reject pretribulationism because of repeated failed predictions regarding the timing of the rapture by pretribulationists. Yes, it is accurate that numerous pretribulational teachers have predicted that the rapture will occur on a certain date. These false teachers have led millions of people astray. It is crucial to remember that anyone who predicts the timing of the rapture does so in direct violation of Mark 13:32, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Pretribulationism should not be rejected due to some in the movement directly violating Scripture by participating in date-setting for the rapture.

Why does hold to pretribulationism? Simply put, we believe it is a biblically plausible viewpoint. We believe it is compatible with 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and Revelation 3:10. We believe it corresponds to the end times timeline the Bible appears to present. We believe it would be consistent with God’s character to protect His people from His wrath (see Lot and the Flood for examples).

Why does hold softly to pretribulationism? Because we recognize that it is not an essential of the faith. Because we recognize that it is not the only biblically plausible interpretation of the relevant passages of Scripture. Because we recognize that God can protect His people in the midst of His wrath being poured out (see the plagues of Egypt). Ultimately, I would describe my position on pretribulationism as: “I hope it is true, but I would not be surprised if the tribulation starts and I (and all other Christians) are still here.”

Whatever the case, pretribulationism is not heresy. There are reasons to reject it, but there is no reason to hate it.

S. Michael Houdmann

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The Haters: Pretribulationism