In our previous lesson we established without doubt that the first resurrection has two components, first, the resurrection of the believer at rebirth while still in this life, having received eternal life through the promise that the grave has become a glorious gateway, and second, once the believer leaves this world at death, a resurrection of the soul occurs which lasts for eternity.

Verse five also contains information about the reprobate.

Revelation 20:5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended…)

This is an interesting way of phrasing the sentence. John speaks as if there is a greater pool of “the dead” and this parenthetical sentence refers to the “rest” of them who did not come to life during the thousand years. So, who are the “other” dead if this sentence refers to the “rest of” the dead? They are the believers who were dead in their trespasses but they passed over from death to life through faith during the thousand years. It is further proof that the first resurrection already starts in this life. 

“The rest” do not pass over from death to life during this life as they refuse to believe the truth, refuse to repent and be healed. They remain in death while in this life. They do not participate in the first resurrection, not in the first component neither in the second. If one does not participate in the first component of the first resurrection, then it is impossible to share in the second.  This life will be raised up at the last day to condemnation.

The believers, on the other hand, carry around in their bodies the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in their bodies; they become like Him in his death to attain the resurrection from the dead. They truly die with Christ and will also live with Him.

II Corinthians 4:10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Philippians 3:11 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

II Timothy 2:11  Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him.

John 5:28  "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."

Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection because they will enter heaven and eternal, glorious life.  Those who do no have part in the first resurrection will enter the lake of fire and eternal, torturous death.

I John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

The believers will also be priests of God and Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. The reference to the thousand years places the reigning believers in this life before the Second Coming of Christ. In that sense, we ought to fulfill our duties as priests, kings, and prophets both in our personal lives and in the church:

How exactly we will reign with Christ in heaven after this life and before the second resurrection is not certain and we ought not to be concerned with that.

Before we continue with verse seven and deal with the release of Satan for a short while, there are some issues that we have to deal with beforehand. It behooves us to deal with them extensively because it is easy to be misled if the clear teaching of Scripture is not held closely. To introduce this portion of the study, the passages that are used as the root of the confusion are:

Matthew 26:64  "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

I Thessalonians 4:16, 17 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

This is referred to as the Pretribulation Rapture.  But is the Pretribulation Rapture Biblical?[1]

One of the most popular teachings today in Evangelical and Charismatic churches is the doctrine of the pretribulation rapture. The pretribulation-rapture teaching is that there are two separate comings of Christ. The first coming is secret and occurs before the future seven-year tribulation. At this coming, Jesus comes for the saints (i.e., all genuine believers) both living and dead. These saints meet the Lord in the air and then are taken to heaven to escape the horrible judgments that take place during the seven-year tribulation. At the end of the great tribulation, Jesus returns to the earth with the saints. This coming is not secret but is observed by all. At this coming, Christ crushes His opposition, judges mankind and sets up a one thousand year reign of saints upon the earth (the millennium). Some pretribulation advocates speak of two separate comings while others prefer to speak of one coming in two separate stages or phases (phase one is the secret rapture and phase two is the visible coming in judgment). Hal Lindsey likes to refer to the rapture as “the great snatch.” He writes: “The word for ‘caught up’ actually means to ‘snatch up,’ and that’s why I like to call this marvelous coming event ‘The Great Snatch’! It’s usually referred to as the ‘Rapture,’ from the Latin word rapere, which means to ‘take away’ or ‘snatch out.’”

Although the pretribulation rapture doctrine is very popular and is even considered so crucial to Christianity that it is made a test of a person’s orthodoxy in some denominations, Bible colleges and seminaries, the exegetical and theological arguments used by its advocates are all classic cases of forcing one’s theological presuppositions onto particular texts, which is called eisegesis as opposed to exegesis.  The purpose of this brief study is to show that the pretribulation-rapture theory is not plainly taught or directly stated in any place in Scripture, cannot be deduced from biblical teaching, contradicts the general teaching of the Bible regarding Christ’s second coming, and was never taught in any branch of the church prior to 1830.


The Origin of the Pretribulation Rapture Teaching

The first person to teach the doctrine of Pretribulation Rapture was a young woman named Margaret Macdonald. Margaret was not a theologian or Bible expositor but was a prophetess in the Irvingite sect (the Catholic Apostolic Church). Christian journalist Dave MacPherson has written a book on the subject of the origin of the Pretribulation Rapture doctrine. He writes:

We have seen that a young Scottish lassie named Margaret Macdonald had a private revelation in Port Glasgow, Scotland, in the early part of 1830 that a select group of Christians would be caught up to meet Christ in the air before the days of the Antichrist. An eye-and-ear witness, Robert Norton M.D., preserved her handwritten account of her Pretrib rapture revelation in two of his books, and said it was the first time anyone ever split the second coming into two distinct parts or stages. His writings, along with much other Catholic Apostolic Church literature, have been hidden many decades from the mainstream of Evangelical thought and only recently surfaced. Margaret’s views were well known to those who visited her home, among them John Darby of the Plymouth Brethren. Within a few months her distinctive prophetic outlook was mirrored in the September, 1830 issue of The Morning Watch and the early Brethren assembly at Plymouth, England. Early disciples of the pre-trib interpretation often called it a new doctrine.

John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), who was the leader of the Brethren movement and the “father of modern Dispensationalism,” took Margaret Macdonald’s new teaching on the rapture, made some changes (she taught a partial rapture of believers while he taught that all believers would be raptured) and incorporated it into his Dispensational understanding of Scripture and prophecy. Darby would spend the rest of his life speaking, writing and traveling, spreading the new rapture theory. The Plymouth Brethren openly admitted and were even proud of the fact that among their teachings were totally new ones which had never been taught by the church fathers, medieval scholastics, Protestant Reformers or the many commentators.

The person most responsible for the rather widespread acceptance of Pretribulationalism and Dispensationalism among Evangelicals is Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). C. I. Scofield published his Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. This Bible, which espoused the doctrines of Darby in its notes, became very popular in Fundamentalist circles. In the minds of many a Bible teacher, fundamentalist pastor and multitudes of professing Christians, Scofield’s notes were practically equated with the word of God itself. If a person did not adhere to the Dispensational, Pretribulational scheme he or she would almost automatically be labeled a modernist.

Today there is a whole plethora of books advocating the pretribulation rapture theory and the Dispensational understanding of the end times. Given the fact that among professing Christians the Pretrib rapture is still wildly popular, a comparison of this theory with scriptural teaching is warranted. We will see that the typical arguments offered in favor of this theory are in conflict with the Bible.

Another account of the origin of Dispensationalism is as follows:

Dispensationalism is a form of premillennialism originating among the Plymouth Brethren in the early 1830's. The father of Dispensationalism, John Nelson Darby, educated as a lawyer and ordained Anglican priest, was one of the chief founders of the Plymouth Brethren movement, which arose in reaction against the perceived empty formalism of the Church of England. To the Brethren the true "invisible" church was to come out of the apostate "visible" Church, rejecting such forms as priesthood and sacraments.

Dispensational theology centers upon the concept of God's dealings with mankind being divided into (usually) seven distinct economies or "dispensations", in which man is tested as to his obedience to the will of God as revealed under each dispensation.

Dispensationalists see God as pursuing two distinct purposes throughout history, one related to an earthly goal and an earthly people (the Jews), the other to heavenly goals and a heavenly people (the church).

Dispensationalists believe that in the Old Testament God promised the Jewish people an earthly kingdom ruled by Messiah ben David, and that when Christ came, He offered this prophesied kingdom to the Jews. When the Jews of the time rejected Christ and the earthly kingdom, the promise was postponed, and the "mystery form" of the kingdom - the church - was established.

The church, according to dispensational doctrine, was unforeseen in the Old Testament and constitutes a "parenthesis" in God's plan for Israel. In the future, the distinction between Jew and Gentile will be reestablished and will continue throughout all eternity. The "parenthesis", or church age, will end at the rapture when Christ comes invisibly to take all believers (excepting OT saints) to heaven to celebrate the "marriage feast of the Lamb" with Christ for a period of seven years.

God's program for the Jews then resumes with the tribulation, Antichrist, bowls of wrath, 144,000 Jews preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and Armageddon. Then, the Second (third, if you count the Pretrib rapture) Coming, the instantaneous conversion of the entire nation of Israel, the resurrection of the Tribulation and Old Testament saints, and the "sheep and goats" judgment. The "goats" will be cast into hell; the "sheep" and the believing Jews will enter the millennium in natural human bodies, marrying, reproducing, and dying. The "mystery church" and the resurrected Tribulation and Old Testament saints will live in the heavenly Jerusalem suspended above the earthly city. This millennium will be a time of great peace and prosperity, with Christ ruling on David's throne.

After 1,000 yrs., Satan will be released from the chain with which he had been bound at the beginning of the millennium and many of the children born to the "sheep" and the Israelites will follow him in revolt against Christ. The King will again destroy His enemies, followed by another resurrection of the righteous, another resurrection of the unrighteous, a final judgment, and at last the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Although Premillennial thought has been recorded in the early church, dispensational theology and its pursuant eschatology are new, as even the father of the system admitted. 

I think we ought to have something more of direct testimony as to the Lord's coming, and its bearing also on the state of the church: ordinarily, it would not be well to have it so clear, as it frightens people. We must pursue it steadily; it works like leaven, and its fruit is by no means seen yet; I do not mean leaven as ill, but the thoughts are new, and people's minds work on them, and all the old habits are against their feelings - all the gain of situation, and every worldly motive; we must not be surprised at its effect being slow on the mass, the ordinary instruments of acting upon others having been trained in most opposite habits." - LETTERS OF J.N.D., vol.1 pg.25-26

The new doctrine was widely accepted in America, due to popular prophetic meetings such as the Niagara Bible Conferences. C.I. Scofield promulgated dispensational thought in his Scofield Reference Bible. Dispensational Bible institutes by the hundreds have sprung up across the continent - notably Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary. Media evangelists such as Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, Jack Van Impe, and Hal Lindsey popularize dispensational eschatology today. Most likely, you have heard these doctrines taught over Christian radio programs, and yes, from your own church's pulpit, though probably no one defined the theological system as Dispensationalism nor the origination as Darby around 1832.

Dispensationalists view the teaching as a return to Biblical theology, after nearly 1,800 years of darkness. But, since the day Darby began to preach the doctrine, Godly men have opposed it. Many books have been published exposing the flaws in the intricate system.

"My brother, I am a constant reader of my Bible, and I soon found that what I was taught to believe (by Darby's doctrine) did not always agree with what my Bible said. I came to see that I must either part company with John Darby, or my precious Bible, and I chose to cling to my Bible and part from Mr. Darby." - George Müeller, a contemporary and one time supporter of Darby quoted by Robert Cameron in his book SCRIPTURAL TRUTH ABOUT THE LORD'S RETURN, pp.146-7

It is not our intention to critique the doctrine of Dispensational Premillennialism here, but we merely attempt to determine whether the passages in Matthew 26:64 and I Thessalonians 4:16, 17 teach a different doctrine than what we understand is given in the book of Revelation.

Let us look at their statement of faith. Although many of their articles concur with the Reformed doctrine, we will look at those articles that are in conflict with the teaching of Scripture.

They have a separate article on dispensations, Article 5, in which they say that there are three main dispensations, the time of the Mosaic law, the current period of grace, and the age of the Millennium. They claim that one should not pay too much attention to the dispensations as such as their doctrine but rather their teaching on the church and Israel.

They say the following:

Remember that making a distinction between these time periods is not what makes someone dispensational. Recognizing the progressive nature, and seeing the church as part of Plan A and not Plan B is what makes someone dispensational. Dispensationalists see a clear distinction between God's program for Israel and God's program for the church. God is not finished with Israel. The church didn't take Israel's place. They have been set aside temporarily, but in the end times will be brought back to the promised land, cleansed, and given a new heart.

It is evident that Scripture is at variance with this as we shall point out in the rest of our study.

Concerning their belief in dispensations, they say in their statement of faith, the following:

We believe that the dispensations are stewardships by which God administers His purpose on the earth through man under varying responsibilities. We believe that the changes in the dispensational dealings of God with man depend on changed conditions or situations in which man is successively found with relation to God, and that these changes are the result of the failures of man and the judgments of God.

On the surface it does not sound contradictory to the perception that there are times when God deals with his people in a different manner than in others. What is contrary to Scripture is that there is no clear understanding that God’s dealings with man are always the product of God’s divine plan. The language used here, and elsewhere in their statement of faith, rather implies that God reacts to varying circumstances.

They further declare in the “Dispensations” article the following:

We believe that the dispensations are not ways of salvation nor different methods of administering the so-called Covenant of Grace. They are not in themselves dependent on covenant relationships but are ways of life and responsibility to God which test the submission of man to His revealed will during a particular time.

If one believes that the dispensations are not ways of salvation or different methods of administering the purpose of God, which is to gather for himself a people that freely glorify him, then the dispensations are reduced to mere historical events of trivial importance. We believe that if God’s purpose is to gather and sanctify for himself a people, then the divine plan would not be side-tracked by issues that delay or alter that purpose.

They continue in this Article saying that “…salvation … is always ‘by grace through faith’ and rests upon the basis of the shed blood of Christ. We believe that God has always been gracious, regardless of the ruling dispensation, but that man has not at all times been under an administration or stewardship of grace as is true in the present dispensation.”

They quote the following passages in support of their position. (They only quoted some of the passages below, but the surrounding passages have been included to bring their quotation in context.)

Ephesians 3:1-12  For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-2surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.  6This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.  7I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. 8Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ 9and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms 11according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

It is not possible to accurately determine their motivation for quoting verse three and nine as their proof-text, but when one reads these twelve verses in context, Paul is saying nothing more than the church has now come into the open after being embedded in the nation of Israel up to that time.

They also quote the following:

Colossians 1:25-27 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness-26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.  27To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

I Timothy 1:3, 4  As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work--which is by faith.

The passages in Colossians confirm the passages from Ephesians, while the passages from I Timothy may well have been included to rebuke us, but they rather rebuke them.

Their Article 5 continues as follows:

We believe that it has always been true that "without faith it is impossible to please" God (Heb. 11:6), and that the principle of faith was prevalent in the lives of all the Old Testament saints. However, we believe that it was historically impossible that they should have had as the conscious object of their faith the incarnate, crucified Son, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), and that it is evident that they did not comprehend as we do that the sacrifices depicted the person and work of Christ. We believe also that they did not understand the redemptive significance of the prophecies or types concerning the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 1:10-12); therefore, we believe that their faith toward God was manifested in other ways as is shown by the long record in Hebrews 11:1-40. We believe further that their faith thus manifested was counted unto them for righteousness (cf. Rom. 4:3 with Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:5-8; Heb. 11:7).

A subtle shift in their reasoning exists in this paragraph setting up the deviation from Scripture that is evident in their conclusion.  They declare that “it was historically impossible that [the Old Testament saints] should have had as the conscious object of their faith the incarnate, crucified Son, the Lamb of God.”  On the surface one cannot argue with that because it is so that we have the benefit of history giving us the exact circumstances of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, which the Old Testament saints were expected to realize in the foreshadowing language of the prophecies and the Psalms. But then they continue by saying, “…and that it is evident that they did not comprehend as we do that the sacrifices depicted the person and work of Christ.” We say that this conclusion is not as evident as they believe and that it is false. One only has to read what the prophets have said about the coming Messiah to realize that only the reprobate could not comprehend the work of Christ yet to come.

The Apostle wrote the following:

I Peter 1:10  Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

The Dispensationalists quote the same passages but explain them as follows, “We believe also that they did not understand the redemptive significance of the prophecies or types concerning the sufferings of Christ.” The simple language of I Peter 1:10-12 clearly teaches that “… the prophets … spoke of the grace that was to come…” and that they searched with the greatest care “… trying to find the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing…”  They were not uncertain or did not understand the redemptive significance of their prophecies, they were inspired by the Spirit of Christ and to assert that they did not understand what they were saying, is to sow doubt about the integrity of Christ. 

Scripture continues, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you…” How is that not understanding? They needed this shift to set up their doctrine about the church and Israel.  They contradict their position many times in the rest of their statement of faith.

In Article 6, The First Advent, they say the following:

We believe that in fulfillment of prophecy He came first to Israel as her Messiah-King, and that, being rejected of that nation, He, according to the eternal counsels of God, gave His life as a ransom for all (John 1:11; Acts 2:22-24; 1 Tim. 2:6).

We believe that, in infinite love for the lost, He voluntarily accepted His Father's will and became the divinely provided sacrificial Lamb and took away the sin of the world, bearing the holy judgments against sin which the righteousness of God must impose. His death was therefore substitutionary in the most absolute sense--the just for the unjust--and by His death He became the Savior of the lost (John 1:29; Rom. 3:25-26; 2 Cor. 5:14; Heb. 10:5-14; 1 Pet. 3:18).

This statement implies that Christ first failed to convince the Jews to accept his kingdom, and then, once the Jews thwarted his first plan, Christ “voluntarily accepted His Father’s will and became the divinely provided sacrificial Lamb.” This two-step approach is just not reconcilable with the teaching of Scripture and is a figment of man’s imagination.

These following passages clearly show God’s plan for Christ’s sacrifice and his redemptive work from before creation.

John 6:64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.

Ephesians 1:4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Titus 1:1  Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness-2a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.

There was never an intention to offer the hope of eternal life (or the Christ’s kingdom) to one group and then, upon their refusal, offer it to others. It is clear that God promised the same redemption through the same Savior to the same people, his elect, from the beginning. It is not an accident that the Apostle Paul included the words, “…God, who does not lie…” in this passage.

Let us read what Scripture teaches us further:

I Peter 1:18-21 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  20He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake; 21through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Once again, there is no indication that God’s plan was ever anything but that Christ would redeem the elect “…with the precious blood of Christ …” and that “He was chosen before the creation of the world” to do this but was only “…revealed in these last times for your sake.”

Briefly, and perhaps outside of the scope of our study, their Article 13 “The church, a unity of believers” claims that the church began at Pentecost. It is a common error by many, not only the Premillennialists, that the church was created at Pentecost. The church was founded by the Father when He wrote the names of the elect into the book of life before He created heaven and earth. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was sent, or poured out, to dwell among believers, which Christ clearly said would happen, when He said that he will send the Comforter to us.  The church was tutored by the law while embedded within the nation of Israel, and at the “appointed season [God] brought his word to light.”

[1] Reworked from an article by Brian M. Schwertley.