Part 2 on Left Behind and Rapture Doctrine
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article on the Left Behind and Rapture Doctrine
OF THE POST-TRIB RAPTURE VIEW
The 'post-trib' (abbreviation for 'post-tribulation') rapture view is the belief that Jesus will return visibly and bodily to raise the dead Christians and 'catch up' the living Christians at the end of a period of intense tribulation, called by Jesus "great tribulation" [Matt. 24:21]. The post-trib view is the only rapture view which sees only a single future coming of Jesus. Other rapture views, 'pre-trib,' 'mid-trib,' and 'pre-wrath,' all envision the rapture / resurrection as being prior to the second coming of Jesus by months or years. While all the other rapture views see the rapture as a means to take the Church to heaven for a brief period of time to escape God's wrath, the post-trib view sees the rapture merely as a mechanism to gather together all believers in a single location with Christ, to accompany Him in glory as He is revealed to the world.
HISTORY OF THE POST-TRIB RAPTURE VIEW
Considering all of Church history, the post-trib view has been by far the majority view, dating back to the time of the Apostles. All other rapture views appeared more than 1500 years later at the earliest. The evidence from early Christian literature is exclusively post-trib. A few popular contemporary authors, like Grant Jeffrey, have made claims about pre-tribulationism being found in the writings of the early Christians. And many Christians simply accept these claims without question. However, such claims are blatantly false.
The eschatology of the Early Church (after the deaths of the Apostles) was the direct result of the labor of the Apostles. One big advantage the Early Christians had over us is oral tradition. The Apostles not only wrote the New Testament books under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but they spent their lives teaching the Word of God to the next generation of Christians. A good illustration of the importance of oral tradition is found in 2 Thess. 2, where Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers about the "Restrainer," who was holding back the revelation of Antichrist. Paul wrote, "remember ye not, that when I was with you I told you these things. And now ye know what witholdeth..." [v. 5,6]. Unfortunately, Paul did not reveal the identity of the Restrainer in this passage, and we are left to guess just what he actually told the Thessalonians when he was with them.
The oral teaching of the Apostles, as well as the written Word of God, molded the thinking and theology of the earliest believers. And some of this personal instruction is reflected in the writings of the earliest of the Church Fathers, who either knew the Apostles personally, or were taught by those who were linked to the Apostles. For example, below we have quoted Ireneaus and Hippolytus rather extensively. Both of these men dealt with eschatology extensively, and both had a chain of linkage to the Apostle John who wrote Revelation. John personally discipled several men, including Papius, Ignatius, and Polycarp, the famous martyr. Polycarp was Bishop of the Church of Smyrna under John's leadership, and was most likely the one to whom the letter to Smyrna was addressed in Revelation. Polycarp in turn discipled Irenaeus, who later became Bishop of the Church at Lyons, Gaul (France). Irenaeus conveyed some very intriguing oral tradition that John passed down through Polycarp, and his other disciples, regarding the nature of the Millennium (including some sayings of Jesus). Irenaeus, in his work Against Heresies, Book V, was the earliest writer (who's works have survived) to deal with end-time prophecy in any depth. So, in Irenaeus we have both extensive treatment of eschatology, and a high degree of credibility due to his direct linkage to the Apostle John's oral teaching.
Hippolytus, bishop of Portus, was a disciple of Irenaeus, and carried on his work of refuting heresies after Irenaeus' martyrdom. Hippolytus' eschatological work is even more extensive than Irenaeus'. So, we see that there is an unbroken chain of men, who were directly influenced by the oral teaching of John, who had much to say about the end-times.
What better way to confirm our understanding of the teachers than to test their students! If our theory is correct, that a uniform rapture view can be traced from Jesus through the Epistles and Revelation, then we would expect to find the same continuity in the writings of the post-apostolic Church. On the other hand, if pre-tribbers are correct in their theory, that Paul was given a new prophetic scenario for the Church, we would expect the post-apostolic Church (especially Gentiles to whom Paul was sent) to embrace this alleged pre-trib scheme, and to distinguish their eschatology from what Jesus taught in the Olivet Discourse. If the post-apostolic Christians display the kind of post-trib expectancy consistent with Jesus' teaching in the Olivet Discourse, then pre-tribbers would be forced to the awkward conclusion that the Apostles failed miserably in transmitting sound Christian teaching to the very next generation!
We do not want to give the impression that the eschatology of the Early Church was uniform throughout. There was some controversy, mainly concerning whether the Millennium should be understood literally. Most of the writers understood the Millennium as the literal reign of Christ and the saints on earth for 1,000 years after the second coming. But, those who favored allegorical interpretation (spiritualizing the Millennium) thought the 70th week (but not the tribulation) was already fulfilled. These were exclusively North African writers, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Julius Africanus (all of which were connected with the heretical Alexandrian school). Tertullian, also of North Africa (Carthage), thought the 70th week was past. Yet, like the orthodox writers, he still believed in a future tribulation and Antichrist, and a literal Millennium.
However, despite the disagreement over the nature of the Millennium, and how to interpret Daniel 9:27, there was absolutely no controversy regarding the timing of the rapture. All saw a future tribulation, a literal Antichrist who would persecute the Church, and all were post-tribulationists, seeing only one future coming of Christ after the tribulation.
We do NOT claim independent authority for any Christian literature outside the Bible. Some of the writers we refer to carry greater weight than others, depending on their level of orthodoxy, and their linkage to Apostolic teaching. We present the following evidence only for its historical value, to illustrate how the next generations of Christians understood the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Due to the natural tendency for error to creep in and compound over time, we have limited our evidence to the Ante-Nicene period (from the Apostles until A.D.325). Also, we have tried our best to be thorough. We have NOT selected only quotations that support our post-trib thesis, and ignored those that oppose us. The writings of the early Christians consistently support post-tribulationism, and give absolutely no hint of pre-tribulationism.
IMMINENCE or EXPECTANCY?
One of the key elements of pre-trib thinking is the idea that Jesus could come at any moment, and no intervening prophetic events need occur prior to Jesus' coming. Some pre-trib authors have claimed the early Christians believed in the imminency of Jesus' coming. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE. While there are passages in the Church Fathers that show they expected a soon return of Christ, we should not mistake this for belief in "imminence." The one thing that precludes an "any-moment" coming is their clear belief that intervening events must occur prior to the coming of the Lord for His Church. Yet, most were convinced the end-time scenario would unfold soon. Therefore, they had a healthy EXPECTANCY of the Lord's soon return, while NOT believing in "imminency."
Below is a quote from Irenaeus, Bishop of the Church at Lyons. In this excerpt, Irenaeus was speaking unapprovingly about a group of fellow believers who were enthusiastically trying to figure out the name of the Antichrist based on the value the Greek letters. (There were a few manuscripts of Revelation circulating that had an error in the number of the name of the Beast, 616 rather than 666). Their expectation was quite real, thinking that the end-time scenario — tribulation, Antichrist, second coming — would play out in the near future. But they were in error by using a corrupt manuscript with the erroneous number. In this section, Irenaeus was concerned both with this erroneous number, as well as their unhealthy eagerness to find a candidate who's name added up to the number of the Beast. Irenaeus' advice was to await the fulfillment of certain prophecies in Revelation, including the fall of the Roman Empire and rise of the ten kings, before they begin to speculate on who the Antichrist might be. Hence, it is obvious they did NOT believe the coming of the Lord was "imminent."
|Irenaeus: (AD. 120-202)
"Moreover, another danger, by no means trifling, shall overtake those who falsely presume that they know the name of Antichrist. For if these men assume one [number], when this [Antichrist] shall come having another, they will be easily led away by him, as supposing him not to be the expected one, who must be guarded against. These men, therefore, ought to learn [what really is the state of the case], and go back to the true number of the name, that they be not reckoned among false prophets. But, knowing the sure number declared by Scripture, that is, six hundred sixty and six, let them await, in the first place, the division of the kingdom into ten; then, in the next place, when these kings are reigning, and beginning to set their affairs in order, and advance their kingdom, [let them learn] to acknowledge that he who shall come claiming the kingdom for himself, and shall terrify those men of whom we have been speaking, having a name containing the aforesaid number, is truly the abomination of desolation. ... It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfillment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises, and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved. ... But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is: ... But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." [Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, XXX]
PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH BY ANTICHRIST
The early Christians unanimously believed the Antichrist would persecute the Church, and that the resurrection and gathering to Christ would occur at a single coming, after the tribulation.
|Justin Martyr: (AD. 110-165)
"[T]wo advents of Christ have been announced: the one, in which He is set forth as suffering, inglorious, dishonored, and crucified; but the other, in which He shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians, ... Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus." [Dialog with Trypho, CX]
FUTURIST or HISTORICIST?
The early Christians did not believe they were in the tribulation, as is claimed by some. They considered the revelation of Antichrist to be entirely future, as well as the appearance of the two witnesses. They believed the Antichrist would defile and rule from the Temple in Jerusalem. And remember, the Jews had been driven from Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed in AD. 70, and Roman law at the time forbid them from returning. These Church Fathers expected that Rome would fall and be replaced by the ten kings. Then Antichrist would arise and take over the kingdom, the Jews would be restored back to Jerusalem, and Antichrist would rebuild the Temple. Only afterward would the Antichrist commit the "abomination of desolation," and then persecute the Church. They held a literal "futurist" view of Revelation, just as pre-tribbers do today, minus the pre-trib rapture.
|Hippolytus: (AD. 170-236)
"As these things, then, are in the future, and as the ten toes of the image are equivalent to (so many) democracies, and the ten horns of the fourth beast are distributed over ten kingdoms, let us look at the subject a little more closely, and consider these matters as in the clear light of a personal survey. The golden head of the image and the lioness denoted the Babylonians; the shoulders and arms of silver, and the bear, represented the Persians and Medes; the belly and thighs of brass, and the leopard, meant the Greeks, who held the sovereignty from Alexander’s time; the legs of iron, and the beast dreadful and terrible, expressed the Romans, who hold the sovereignty at present; the toes of the feet which were part clay and part iron, and the ten horns, were emblems of the kingdoms that are yet to rise; the other little horn that grows up among them meant the Antichrist in their midst; the stone that smites the earth and brings judgment upon the world was Christ." [Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 27,28]
Click here for more quotes on the future 70th week (Non-Java Window).
Some pre-trib authors have implied that the reason the early Christians did not teach pre-tribulationism is because they were not as theologically sophisticated as modern scholars. They had not developed their doctrinal positions enough to realize a pre-trib rapture. They excuse this absurdity by claiming the early Christians were not really focused on prophecy. They allege the Church did not concern itself with eschatology until after the Reformation, when pre-tribulationism was "rediscovered."
This line of reasoning implies that correct theology comes from an evolutionary process. And, the Church is progressing and becoming more theologically sophisticated as time goes by. But, isn't the transmission of doctrinal truth from one generation to the next supposed to be fixed? Weren't the early Christians taught personally by the Apostles? Were the Apostles not as sophisticated theologically as today's scholars? Perhaps we flatter ourselves too much if we think we have arrived at truths unseen by the early Church. Did the Apostles transmit a crude system of theology that needed to be refined by later generations? The whole concept of evolving theology is absolutely antibiblical. Acts records that new converts continued steadfastly in the Apostle's doctrine, [Acts 2:42]. Paul told Timothy to faithfully transmit what he had been taught to other faithful men who could then be trusted to pass on pure doctrine to succeeding generations, [2 Tim. 2:1,2]. Paul also warned the Ephesian elders to guard what they had been taught because after the Apostles died, error was bound to dilute the pure doctrine of Christ and the Apostles, [Acts 20:28,29]. And Jude exhorted the brethren to "earnestly contend for the Faith which was once delivered to the saints" [Jude 3]. There was no eschatological vacuum in the early Church! And the extensive treatment of end-time prophecy by Irenaeus and Hippolytus demonstrate a well developed understanding right from the beginning. If there is any need to advance in theology today, it is to get back to what Christ and the Apostles taught. Aside from the Scriptures themselves, the best evidence is to examine what the disciples of the Apostles believed and taught. Obviously, just as Paul warned, as time went on, and new generations of Christians were taught by the preceding generation, a degrading of pure doctrine occurred. Men brought in their own ideas, intentionally and unintentionally, diluting the true teaching of the Apostles. This degrading process is clearly demonstrated in the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, where tradition upon tradition has been heaped up, with the modern teaching hardly resembling the Apostle's doctrine. Of course, those of us who hold only the Bible as our final authority are better anchored than Catholics. But, it cannot be denied that theology has evolved even among non-Catholics. People still bring their preconceived philosophical ideas to their interpretation of Scripture.
At times, the evolution of theology has been checked by a revolution. This was clearly demonstrated in the Reformation. Over a millennia of Roman Catholic tradition was thrown off and Christians again began to search the Scriptures. As the masses became familiar with the written Word of God, they began to shed the false and cumbersome doctrines they had been fed. Most of the "new" doctrines the Protestants embraced were explicitly taught in the Scriptures, and in the writings of the early Church, so were not actually "new," just rediscovered.
It is obvious, that the closer we can trace a doctrine back to the time of the Apostles, the more likely it is to actually be doctrine taught by the Apostles. This is especially true if a doctrine can be shown to be contiguous to the time of the Apostles. For example, widely accepted doctrines taught by Church leaders from the later decades of the first century, while the Apostle John was still alive and overseeing the local churches of Asia Minor, are more likely to have met with John's approval. If such doctrines can be shown to have been widely or universally accepted by faithful early Christian leaders who had ties to the Apostles, the likelihood is much greater that they are orthodox. Conversely, if a particular doctrine has no support in the early Church, and is even opposite the universally held view, then such doctrine is highly suspect! While we do not consider linkage to the early Church to be proof of a doctrine's correctness, it does provide weighty supporting evidence. The essence of the post-trib argument against pre-tribulationism on historical grounds is that any new doctrine is false doctrine. If it cannot be traced back to the inspired biblical writers, it is not "the faith once delivered to the saints," and we should not be "contending" for it!
Of course, some false doctrines were developed even in the first century, and were then passed to succeeding generations, so that they can be traced very far back in Christian history. However, in the early Church, this could not, and did not, occur without a strong reaction from orthodox believers. When serious false doctrines were developed, the large number of orthodox believers trained by the Apostles were a natural deterrent to the spread of these false doctrines, and sounded the alarm against them. The writings of the early Christians display ferocious attacks on new and false doctrines, and valiant defenses of the orthodox Faith. The five books of Irenaeus Against Heresies are a catalogue of the false teachings of the day and Irenaeus' refutation of them, based on the teaching of Scripture, and oral tradition passed down by the Apostles. In fact, much of the writings of the early Ante-Nicene Fathers are refutations of heresies. One of Irenaeus' arguments against these early heresies was that they had no traceable linkage to the Apostles. Irenaeus argued that the orthodox Faith could be traced back through the succession of ordained local Bishops in the local churches founded by the Apostles. These local churches were entrusted with both the original New Testament manuscripts as well as the oral teaching of the Apostles who founded and originally pastored them.
Since the early Christians who knew both the Scriptures and the
Apostolic oral tradition were unanimously post-trib, it seems difficult
to believe that they all had departed from the teaching of the Apostles
without a single writer challenging them! Furthermore, it seems almost
impossible to imagine that if pre-tribulationism was indeed taught by
the Apostles, there should be no trace of it left in the very next
generation of believers! The claim, that these early Christians were
not theologically sophisticated, is utter nonsense, as anyone who has
read their discourses can easily see. They quoted Scripture
extensively, and brought together a well developed eschatology that
depended on a literal interpretation of prophecy, and was
pre-millennial, futurist, and post-tribulational.
The story of the development of pre-tribulationism is a tangled one. From its inception in the early 1800s, there has been a deliberate attempt to cover up its origins. This has been perpetrated along two lines of 'revisionism.' One was to hide the real origin of pre-tribulationism in 19th century Scotland, and attribute it to John Nelson Darby (NJ), and the Plymouth Brethren. The other has been a recent attempt to selectively quote and misrepresent ancient Christian documents to make it appear early Christians were pre-trib. The purpose of this article is to document a timeline of the major events in the development of this relatively new prophetic viewpoint.
In Eschatology of the Early Church, we demonstrated the fact that the early Church was unquestionably "post-tribulational," seeing a single future coming of Christ to rescue the Church from Antichrist, judge the wicked, and set up His earthly Kingdom. They were also "futurists," seeing the events of Revelation as being fulfilled within a short period of seven years at the end of this age.
From the rise of Roman Catholicism (4th century), the predominant view was a-millennial. The Church not only allegorized the Old Testament prophecies of the Millennial Kingdom, but also began to allegorize the tribulation. Yet, they remained post-trib, seeing only a single future coming of Christ.
During and after the Protestant Reformation (16th century), Protestant Christians held to what is called "Historicism," a view of prophecy that considers the events of Revelation as occurring all throughout the Church's history. This was accomplished by employing the "year-day" theory — that the 1260, 1290, & 1335 days mentioned in Daniel and Revelation should be interpreted as years. It was common for Protestants to identify the Roman Catholic Church with Mystery Babylon, and the papacy with the Antichrist. Since historicists considered the tribulation as encompassing most of the Church age, and viewed themselves as being in the tribulation, they were necessarily post-tribulationists. This view lent itself to a flurry of date-setting in the first half of the 19th century, where the 1260, 1290, & 1335 days (years) were calculated from the Roman Church's rise to supreme power under the Roman Emperors, until the second coming.
Morgan Edwards was a Baptist minister in Pennsylvania in the mid-late 1700s. As a teenager and seminary student, Morgan wrote a hypothetical essay as part of his seminary training. Morgan was assigned the task, by his tutor, to write an essay on the Millennium using literal interpretation. In Morgan's hypothetical scenario, he separated the rapture from the second coming by at least 3.5 years. His work seems to be a mixture of "futurism" and "historicism." And, Morgan contradicted himself and made many obvious errors. Yet, his work appears to be the very first time the rapture was seen as a separate coming of Christ. Many years later (1788), Morgan published his essay in a book. While Morgan Edwards is sometimes cited as a pre-tribulationist, his work indicates that he did not wish to be seen as a "literalist;" he was content with the typical "historicist" view of the times; and that his work was hypothetical. Furthermore, there is no apparent connection between Morgan Edwards' essay and modern pre-tribulationism. And Morgan's other works do not display pre-trib thinking. We must look elsewhere for the origins of modern pre-tribulationism.
Father Manuel de Lacunza
Fr. Manuel de Lacunza was a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, born in Chili in 1731, and sent to Spain at the young age of 15 to become a Jesuit priest. When the Jesuits were expelled from Spain in 1767, Fr. de Lacunza moved to Italy. In 1790, he wrote a book on prophecy, called The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty, which was published in Spain in 1812. Fr. de Lacunza wrote under the pen name, Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra (a converted Jew), allegedly to avoid detection since his book ended up on Rome's banned books list.
Fr. de Lacunza's book promoted a return to the literal interpretation of prophecy, and the primitive "futurist" view of Revelation. He rejected the "year-day" theory of the historicists. Consequently, he saw a personal Antichrist and future tribulation of 1260 days, followed by the coming of the Lord. He did not espouse a pre-trib rapture, as has been claimed.
In the 1820s, Edward Irving (NJ), pastored a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) congregation in London. Irving became aware of Father de Lacunza's book, and was so impressed with it, he took it upon himself to translate it into English, adding a "preliminary discourse" of his own. Irving's English translation was published in 1827. Some of Irving's early prophetic views can be discerned from his "preliminary discourse," including, surprisingly, all the key elements of dispensationalism that later showed up in Darby's writings. Irving, in his "preliminary discourse," indicated that he had been teaching these things to his congregation beginning Christmas 1825, years before Darby is alleged to have arrived at his dispensational ideas .
Irving had been preaching that God would restore Apostles and prophets to the Church, and a great Pentecostal outpouring would come just before the soon return of Jesus Christ. Right on schedule, rumors of healings, tongues, visions, and other manifestations began circulating in Port Glasgow, Scotland, from the home of James and George MacDonald, and their sister Margaret. People came from England, Ireland, and parts of Scotland to observe the supernatural manifestations in the "prayer meetings" held by the MacDonalds.
The "revival" soon spread to Irving's church, with "tongues" and other "manifestations" breaking out, especially among the women. Due to the strange goings on in Irving's church, and his heretical views on the person of Christ, Irving was eventually defrocked by the Church of Scotland, and moved his congregation to a rented hall, forming the Catholic Apostolic Church. (Irving taught that Jesus had a fallen sinful nature and only kept from sinning by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is similar to the teachings of some modern Charismatics, who see Jesus as the "proto-type Christian"). Not only were prophetic revelations and other alleged miracles occurring in Irving's congregation, but such "revelations" seemed to focus on end-time prophecy concerning the coming of the Lord.
Out of the spectacle of alleged latter-day Holy Spirit outpouring in Scotland and England, and the eschatological influence of de Lacunza's futurist/dispensationalism, emerged the very first documented evidence of a pre-tribulation rapture. This was first articulated in the form of a letter written by Margaret MacDonald, sister of James and George MacDonald of Port Glasgow. In March or April of 1830, after being ill and bed-ridden for about 18 months, Margaret claimed to have seen a series of visions of the coming of the Lord. She wrote down these visions and sent a copy to Edward Irving. A month later (June), Irving claimed in a private letter (NJ), that Margaret's visions had a huge impact on him. "the substance of Mary Campbell's and Margaret MacDonald's visions or revelations, given in their papers, carry to me a spiritual conviction and a spiritual reproof which I cannot express."
The outstanding feature of Margaret's visions was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a elite group within the Church, combined with a secret rapture before the revealing of the Antichrist. She saw only these "Spirit filled" Christians "taken" to be with the Lord, while the rest of the Church without this experience would be left to be purged in the tribulation. .
The official quarterly publication of the Irvingites, "The Morning Watch," had promoted a post-trib coming exclusively through mid-1830. But, the September 1830 issue featured part two of an article by "Fidus" describing the theory that the seven letters in Revelation actually describe seven consecutive "Church ages." In this article, "Fidus" clearly articulated the new idea of a partial pre-trib rapture. "Fidus" saw the Philedelphian church being raptured prior to the tribulation, and the Laodicean church representing the less fortunate Christians. This article in The Morning Watch is the first (known) publication of a pre-tribulation rapture in Great Britain, several years before Darby mentioned a pre-trib rapture.
In the June issue of The Morning Watch, Edward Irving made crystal clear his pre-trib teaching. The biblical basis of the Spirit-filled Church being raptured before the tribulation was the catching up of the "man-child" in Revelation 12. Irving argued that the body of Christ has been "united to Him by regeneration of the Holy Ghost, 'born of God, sons of God,' (Rev. ii. 27; xii. 5). And therefore we with him are called Christ (1 Cor. xii. 12)." Irving went on to say that, "with this key [that the mention of 'Christ' includes Spirit-filled believers] the Old Testament prophecies which speak of Christ must be interpreted, ... and especially those prophecies which speak of the pregnant woman: to all which an explicet key is given to us in the xiith chapter of Revelation; where, though the child is spoken of as one (ver. 5), it is also described as many (ver. 11), who overcame the acuser; and when that number is accomplished, there are still a remnant of her seed, whom the dragon doth persecute and seek to destroy (ver. 17). This two-fold company -- the one gathered before, and the other after the travailing woman is cast out into the wilderness, ... -- do together constitute the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, which cometh doen from heaven." (The Morning Warch, June, 1831, pp. 301-302).
CENTURY INDEPENDENT WITNESSES CONFIRM MacDONALD/IRVINGITE ORIGIN
The Morning Watch (1832)
An anonymous writer, in the December 1832 (p. 249) issue of The Morning Watch, likely referred to Margaret MacDonald's letters (and probably her friend Mary Campbell & Emily Cardale of London) with the following words; "The Spirit of God has caused several young women, in different parts of Great Britain, to condense into a few broken sentences more and deeper theology than ever Vaughan, Chalmers, or Irving uttered in their longest sermons; and therefore more than all the rest of the Evangelical pulpits ever put forth in the whole course of their existence."
Robert Baxter (1833)
British Lawyer, Robert Baxter, was an early member of the Irvingites. Baxter had previously been post-trib, but eventually adopted the pre-trib rapture views of Irving. He was involved with the supernatural manifestations, even giving his own prophecies. He later became disillusioned with the whole movement, and abandoned Irvingism (and pre-tribulationism). Upon his departure, he wrote an expose of Irvingism, called "Narrative of Facts, Characterizing the Supernatural Manifestations in Members of Mr. Irving's Congregation" (1833) (NJ). In this book, Baxter spoke of Irving's early pre-trib teachings. "An opinion had been advanced in some of Mr. Irving's writings, that before the second coming of Christ, and before the setting in upon the world of the day of vengeance, emphatically so called in the Scriptures, the saints would be caught up to heaven like Enoch and Elijah; and would be thus saved from the destruction of this world, as Noah was saved in the ark, and Lot was saved from Sodom." Baxter wrote that the coming of the Lord was the main topic of the prophetic utterances in Irving's congregation. Looking back, he thought they had all been deceived by lying spirits pretending to be the Holy Ghost.
Robert Norton (1861)
Robert Norton was the author of "The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets; In the Catholic Apostolic Church" (1861). Norton took a favorable view of the Irvingite movement, writing in the preface that his book was offered "as proofs or illustrations of its heavenly origin and character." Norton credited Margaret MacDonald (NJ) as the first to proclaim the "new doctrine" of a pre-trib rapture, which was picked up by Edward Irving.
Samuel P. Tregelles
Samuel P. Tregelles was the most eminent Plymouth Brethren scholar of the 19th century. After Darby borrowed and modified the pre-trib concept from the Irvingites, Tregelles openly opposed Darby's emphatic pre-trib stance. In an 1855 article in The Christian Annotator, Tregelles wrote that the true Christian hope is the final "advent" and "not some secret advent, or secret rapture to the Lord, as Judaizers supposed might be the case..." . Nine years later, Tregelles published "The Hope of Christ's Second Coming." Here he identified the "Judaizers" who first taught the pre-trib view. "The theory of a secret coming...first brought forward...an utterance in Mr. Irving's Church...about the year 1832" . A later Plymouth Brethren writer, William Kelly, also identified the Irvingites as "Judaizers." He defined "Judaizing" as Christians adopting "Jewish elements." Kelly added, "nowhere is this so patent as in Irvingism" .
NELSON DARBY & THE PLYMOUTH BRETHREN
The Irish preacher, John Nelson Darby (NJ), one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren, wrote his first prophecy paper (NJ) in 1829 . In this paper, Darby argued that unfulfilled Old Testament prophecy concerning the restoration of Israel should be applied to the Church. He also placed the Church on earth until the Revelation 19 coming at Armageddon. While he may have hinted at some dispensational ideas, such ideas were already fully developed in Irving's 1826 "preliminary discourse." Furthermore, on pages 6-10 & 19-21, Darby referred to Irving, de Lacunza, The Morning Watch, and even quoted some of Irving's works, including his "preliminary discourse!" So, while dispensationalism may have been evolving in Darby's own mind, clearly, these ideas were not original with him! He was reading them in Irving's and de Lacunza's works!
In 1830, Darby was still defending "historicism" against "futurism" three months after the clear pre-trib "Fidus" article appeared in The Morning Watch. In the December 1830 issue of The Christian Herald, Darby published an article entitled, "On 'Days' Signifying 'Years' in Prophetic Language" (NJ) . Darby defended the standard "historicist" view, that the 1260 day tribulation meant 1260 years. Consequently, he saw the tribulation as largely past, and could not possibly have been expecting a pre-trib rapture, which requires a "futurist" viewpoint.
In 1830, J. N. Darby also visited the MacDonald's in Port Glasgow, and observed the "manifestations" in their prayer meetings, as Darby later recalled. Darby described the sequence of events — who prayed, who spoke in tongues, etc. . But, while he noted Margaret's speaking, he failed to mention the subject of her prophesying. However, John Cardale, who was also present, wrote that Margaret "commenced also speaking ... gave testimony to the judgments coming on the earth; but also directed the church to the coming of the Lord as her hope of deliverance," and was heard speaking in a loud voice "denouncing the coming judgments." . Therefore, we can conclude that Darby was fully aware that the "pre-tribulation rapture" was a subject of the prophecies among the Irvingite Charismatics. It was nine more years before Darby clearly espoused a pre-trib rapture in his published works.
We have tried to be fair in this short article, attempting to avoid over-reaching the facts or drawing unwarranted conclusions. We should put to rest the rumor that the pre-trib rapture originated in an utterance of "tongues" in Irving's church. While, it appears that such utterances of prophetic revelation were common in Irving's church, the secret pre-trib rapture was first seen by Margaret MacDonald in her "visions," months before she spoke in tongues. It was published in the September 1830 issue of The Morning Watch, and only afterwards became the subject of the "prophetic utterances" in Irving's church. It is clear that Darby was fully aware of the goings on among the MacDonalds and Irvingites, as well as de Lacunza's and Irving's "dispensationalism." Darby cannot rightly be credited with either dispensationalism or pre-tribulationism.
This is not to imply that Darby's pre-trib development owes its existence exclusively to MacDonald, de Lacunza, or Irving. The evidence supports a connection between these, and that Darby was influenced (perhaps strongly) by the Irvingites. There may very well have been others who influenced Darby, too.
The Irvingite pre-trib (gathering of the elite) rapture was not as much the result of the outworkings of Irving's dispensational leanings, but rather grew out of alleged gifts of prophecy among Scottish / English Charismania. Darby seems to have given the whole theory a facelift, and fine-tuned a theological system whereby a full pre-trib rapture could be sold to the public, who would naturally be skeptical of the excesses of the Irvingites. So, while Darby did not originate the pre-trib rapture idea, he gave it some respectability. As it turns out, Darby became its greatest salesman.
Throughout the centuries of Church history, various views of the Millennium have dominated Christian thinking. The earliest was called "chilaism" which was the ancient word for "pre-millennialism" (meaning, upon Jesus' return, He would set up a literal kingdom on earth for 1,000 years). From the fourth century until after the Reformation, a-millennialism (no-millennium) dominated Christian thinking. Post-millennialism also became popular for a time after the Reformation, as well as a large number of Protestants returning to pre-millennialism. However, despite the various views of the Millennium throughout Church history, Christians were solidly post-trib regarding the resurrection / rapture, seeing only a single future coming of Jesus after the tribulation. Only within modern pre-millennialism do we find the idea of a 'rapture' as a separate event from the second coming.
To my knowledge, the first to separate the rapture from the second coming was a Baptist minister named Morgan Edwards [1722-1795]. He wrote a paper while in seminary that outlined a hypothetical form of 'mid-tribulationism,' and years later published his thesis. Within forty years of his death, Edward Irving (Catholic Apostolic Church), and shortly thereafter John N. Darby (Plymouth Brethren), both of England, were teaching pre-tribulationism.
It is fair and accurate to say that, regardless of their views on the Millennium, the vast majority of those who have called themselves Christians held to a post-trib rapture / resurrection view all down through Church history. They saw only a single future coming of Christ both to judge the "Man of Sin" and his followers, and to rescue the Church.
THE RAPTURE QUESTION IN MODERN TIMES
In many parts of the western world, especially the USA and western Europe, the pre-trib view supplanted the post-trib view in the last two centuries. This was due largely to the Christian seminary movement, with large schools like Dallas Theological Seminary leading the way in promoting this view. But, probably the single most important reason for the widespread acceptance of the pre-trib view was the Scofield Reference Bible, which incorporated the dispensational / pre-trib scheme in the reference notes.
However, in the last several decades, there has been a considerable trend away from pre-tribulationism. I believe this trend is mostly due to individual Christians studying the Scriptures on their own and coming to the conclusion that the pre-trib view is simply not biblical. Another reason is the historical argument that post-tribbers have been increasingly advancing, that the post-trib view was exclusively the view of the early Church. Also, pre-tribulationism's recent roots have been exposed by the research of men like George Ladd, Robert Gundry, and especially Dave MacPherson.
The pre-trib establishment is taking this thinning out of their ranks very seriously. The Pre-trib Research Center was founded by Tim LaHaye, and is currently headed by Thomas Ice, as an attempt to counter this trend and deal with the powerful historical evidence that post-tribbers have put forward. Pre-tribbers are also responding with a blitz of propaganda in the form of fictional novels and prophecy films, like LaHaye's 'Left Behind' series, etc., in order to shore up their base. But, despite this effort, thousands of Christians are abandoning the pre-trib view.
GraceWatcher Outreach is devoted to providing religious leaders and laypeople with the biblical and historical reasons for adopting the ancient rapture view of the Church, the view held by the martyrs of the Roman persecutions, the view handed down by the Apostles to the next generation of Christians. It is our contention that the pre-trib view is not explicitly taught anywhere in Scripture, and is based solely on incorrect inferences and a faulty version of the dispensational system. It was not what Jesus commanded to be preached in all the world until the end of the age. Neither was it the view handed down by the Apostles to the next generation of Christians. The view presented on this website is essentially the same as what was held by the early Church as evidenced in their writings. We are not suggesting that anyone should hold to the post-trib view simply because of its history or antiquity. We aim to show that it is also the only biblical view of the rapture timing.
WHY IT MATTERS WHAT YOU BELIEVE
In contemporary western Christianity, post-tribbers are looked upon with pity and suspicion. Some think we have a "martyr complex." Others think we are just troublemakers, wanting to rock the boat. Post-tribulationism just doesn't seem to fit in with the prosperous lifestyles of contemporary western Christianity. The lack of real persecution and hardship has led many to assume that this is the normal Christian life. But, according to Scripture, persecution, tribulation, and hardship, is the real "normal" Christian experience. The comfort western Christians have enjoyed for the last few generations is an anomaly that will soon come to an end. The theological "comfort zones" we have constructed around this anomaly are about to come crashing down.
For those who are honestly considering the various views of the rapture timing, and are open to God's leading regarding this issue, there is plenty of opposition ahead for you. The "rapture question" has been a hot potato issue in the recent past. In some cases, splitting churches. Christians who have abandoned the pre-trib view and been the least bit vocal about it have often found themselves being offered the "right foot of fellowship." Many pastors who have abandoned pre-trib have lost their churches, and missionaries have been abandoned by their mission boards and supporting churches because of their switch to the post-trib view. So, if you have no tolerance for hardship, you had better stop here. If you've got the guts to face the truth head on no matter what it is, then please continue.
Some say it really doesn't matter if Jesus is coming before or after the tribulation, as long as we are "ready." They think we should all just agree to disagree, and love one another. But, "ready" is a relative term! It begs the question, "ready for what?" There is a huge difference between being ready to be gently whisked away to heaven on a pillow, and being ready to become a martyr at the hands of Antichrist! Is surface harmony worth the risk of huge numbers of believers being caught totally unprepared spiritually, emotionally, and physically? What about the "many" believers whom Jesus mentioned in Matt. 24:9-13 who would fall away when the deception and persecution of the last days arrives? If Jesus' coming is several decades away, then perhaps the rapture debate is not all that critical. But, if Jesus is coming soon as the signs seem to indicate, one's views on the timing of the rapture are crucial to being prepared to be an overcomer in the difficult days before His coming.
Knowledge of what lies ahead motivates people to prepare. A rookie soldier, who knows he is about to be shipped to the front lines in a brutal war, will have a much different attitude about basic training than a new recruit who joined up to get a free education and a pension! The soldier who is about to engage the enemy knows his training may mean the difference between life and death. He learns survival techniques; he gets physically fit; he learns his weapons inside and out; he makes sure his weapons are in good working order; through countless hours of practice he becomes a marksman. He also prepares himself mentally for combat and the possibility of being a POW. His objective is clear; he is fully equipped; and he is mentally focused on getting the job done and coming home in one piece! On the other hand, the new peace-time novice, with big ideas of a comfortable career, could have a ho-hum attitude about basic training. If he is unexpectedly thrust into a fierce battle, he will find himself woefully unprepared. While staring down the barrel of the enemy's rifle is not the time to be fumbling around for your weapon's instruction manual. He might just conclude that this is not what he signed up for!
If it really doesn't matter what we believe about the last days, why did God devote such a large portion of His Word to end-time prophecy? Is it just filler material? Is it for intellectual entertainment? The answer is really quite simple. Prophecy was intended to provide the kind of motivation needed to turn flabby pew-potatoes into Christian soldiers. This website is an introduction to "basic training" for Christians, alerting them of the coming trials we will soon face in time to prepare themselves and their families spiritually and emotionally, and perhaps even physically at the proper time. And don't kid yourselves about your own or your family's ability to easily digest the emotional implications. Without strong spiritual character first, Christians who live at relative ease in the western world often react badly to the idea that they may soon face the Antichrist, and all the venom that hell can dish out on God's children.
IN BUILDING OUR BIBLICAL CASE
The Bible is the progressive revelation of God to mankind. All of the information available to us in Scripture was not available to everyone in history. Some things were revealed through Moses, others through the prophets many generations later. More was revealed by Jesus, and still more through the writings of the Apostles. Finally, Revelation was given through John as the capstone of prophetic truth. The totality of biblical prophetic truth was progressively given over thousands of years.
Because of the progressive nature of Bible prophecy, when interpreting a given passage, we cannot assume things (that we know from later prophecy) that had not yet been revealed to mankind when that particular prophecy was written or spoken. For example, when examining what Jesus taught His disciples about His coming and the end of the age, we need to place ourselves in their shoes. We should take into account what they already knew from their Jewish training in the Old Testament Scriptures. They were certainly not aware of later prophecy, such as the book of Revelation given six decades later! When Jesus taught His disciples, He was quite aware that their understanding was limited to PAST revelation. Jesus built on and added to their current foundational understanding with more detailed revelation. This is clear in the Olivet Discourse, where Jesus referred the disciples to what Daniel had written about the "Abomination of Desolation" [Matt. 24:15]. Many other passages could be cited in the New Testament, where the writer or speaker quoted or alluded to Old Testament prophecy when teaching about eschatology.
In our study, we will not hop-scotch all over the Bible in order to interpret a passage. We will try our best to understand a passage in the way the original audience would have understood it given their current level of learning. This assumes that Bible prophecy was first and foremost intended for the audience to whom it was first given. Of course, all Bible prophecy is beneficial to us who live thousands of years later. But, it was not originally written specifically to us. Therefore, we need to resist the temptation to interpret earlier prophecy in light of later revelation. The original hearers of that prophecy did not have the benefit of later revelation. When giving new revelation, which was obviously meant to be properly comprehended by the intended audience, we assume the writer was fully aware of what his audience knew and did not know. He expected his hearers or readers to interpret the prophecies correctly, given their limited understanding. This approach to interpretation is called the "historical" method.
We will also pay close attention to the grammar. It is important to understand that the mechanism for God's transferring knowledge to people is the use of nouns, pronouns, articles, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, and prepositions. The use of language has certain rules which must be followed if we expect to properly understand the original intent of the speaker or writer. And after all, original intent is the goal we are striving for in our study. Therefore, we will try our best not to violate the rules of grammar with our interpretations of Scripture. This approach is called the "grammatical" method.
Because we intend to follow the grammatical - historical methodology, and recognize the progressive nature of Bible prophecy, we will build our case for the post-trib rapture progressively, avoiding logical fallacies. We will assume that the original hearers were aware of older revelation, never newer revelation. Let me give a couple of examples of sequential fallacies to illustrate the point, one fallacy made by some post-tribbers and one made by some pre-tribbers.
Post-trib fallacy: Some claim that when Paul wrote to the Corinthians of Jesus' coming at the "last trumpet," he meant the seventh trumpet in Revelation. The problem with this reasoning is Paul wrote in such a way that his readers would know what he was talking about. They had no idea of the seven trumpets in Revelation, because that was not revealed until several decades later. We should look backward in the prophetic record for "trumpets" with which to identify or compare the "last trumpet," rather than forward, because that is what the original audience was expected top do. Otherwise, we assume things that the original audience could not possibly know, and therefore would certainly not understand. Our assumption is that the original audience was expected to understand.
Pre-trib fallacy: Some claim that Jesus taught a pre-trib rapture in John 14:1-3. Yet, nothing in that passage specifically indicates the "coming" is pre-trib, or is separate from the "second coming." Jesus had just told the same disciples to be watching for the signs of His coming "immediately after the tribulation" in Matt. 24. The only "coming" Jesus spoke of prior to this (and the only one in the Old Testament) is post-tribulational. Some pre-tribbers try to superimpose a pre-trib rapture in John 14, claiming that the passage fits the pre-trib scenario better, and conclude it is new revelation about the rapture. But, what would the disciples think of such an interpretation given their current understanding? Would they think Jesus was speaking of a new and different coming before the tribulation after He had just told them to watch for His post-trib coming two days earlier? Hardly!
These two examples illustrate the absolute necessity of keeping the original audience in view at all times in their particular historical setting. By doing this, we will guard ourselves against the typical fallacies committed by many Bible prophecy students.
As you read the following articles, you will notice that they follow a sequential path through the New Testament. It is beyond the scope of this website to do the same with Old Testament prophecy. However, when appropriate, we will look at Old Testament prophecy and consider its implications regarding the knowledge of the original audience of the New Testament prophetic Scriptures. By using this format, we will build our case sequentially, and demonstrate the level of reliance on previous prophecy, as well as examine new revelation when given. By default, we will assume that prophetic details given have a foundation in past prophecy. Where unique details are given that have no apparent basis in past prophecy, we can assume that this is new revelation. Often, the text itself tells us when new revelation is being given and when old revelation is being reiterated. For example, when Paul wrote, "behold I show you a mystery" (1 Cor. 15:54), we can conclude he was about to reveal something not previously understood. But, when Peter wrote that he was reminding his readers of the "words of the prophets" (2 Peter 3:1,2), we can conclude he was about to speak about previous prophecy.
Pre-tribbers often claim to be the champions of the "literal"
method of interpretation. While literalism necessarily leads to a
pre-millennial understanding of prophecy, it does not favor the
pre-trib rapture view within the pre-millennial camp. I realize that
this is a radical statement in today's eschatological climate. But, we
mean to prove our assertion in the following articles. It is
pre-tribbers themselves who frequently appeal to non-literal
interpretations as the primary support for their view. Some examples of
a) John's being caught up to heaven in Rev. 4:1 represents the rapture
b) the 24 elders in heaven represent the whole Church in heaven
c) the 7 letters in Revelation represent 7 consecutive "church ages"
d) Enoch's and Elijah's catching up are "types" of a pre-trib rapture
The articles on this website will prove conclusively that post-tribbers can surpass pre-tribbers in holding to a consistent "grammatical - historical" or "literal" methodology. And a consistent literal methodology will necessarily lead to a post-trib rapture (within a pre-millennial framework).
The second major section of this website presents our historical argument from the post-Apostolic early Church. We do not claim perfection for the post-Apostolic Church, nor any of the early Christian writers. However, our intent is to demonstrate that the second generation early Church was solidly post-trib, and that no hint of pre-tribulationism can be found in their writings. While this is a secondary argument, and does not carry the weight of the Biblical arguments, it is the natural extension of our premise. Since we are viewing prophecy progressively, always building on previous revelation, it is logical to conclude that students (or disciples) of the Apostles would reflect the view handed down to them by Apostolic oral tradition. The second generation Church was the product of the lifetime teaching ministries of Jesus' Apostles. The early Church not only possessed the written documents of the New Testament, but also a considerable body of oral personal instruction from their mentors, the Apostles. We will demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the second generation Church was unanimously post-trib regarding the rapture. The implications of this fact are enormous. If the pre-trib view is correct, the Apostles of Jesus were miserable failures in transmitting sound doctrine to the very next generation of Christians, and grounding them in the Word, since no hint of pre-tribulationism can be found in the post-Apostolic Church. That means, the entire Church succumbed to a false view of the rapture virtually overnight, and no record can be found of any kind of resistance or rebuttal of this alleged post-trib error. All this despite the fact that the early Christian apologists, like Justin, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus, wrote volumes against the contemporary heresies that threatened the Church, appealing to the Scriptures and Apostolic oral tradition. If pre-tribulationism is true, we are forced to conclude that as soon as the Apostles died (actually while John was still alive), the whole Christian Church abandoned the Apostles' doctrine and substituted a false eschatology that required them to go through the tribulation.
The third section of this website addresses the arguments advanced by the pre-trib side. Post-tribbers in the past have been accused of arguing our case by merely tearing down pre-trib, rather than advancing a positive presentation of the Biblical basis for our view. Unfortunately, this is a fair analysis in many cases. At The Last Trumpet - Post-Trib Research Center, we intend to take the high road by first building our case from Scripture alone, then dealing with the historical arguments, and lastly providing our rebuttal of the pre-trib arguments.
The process of developing our eschatology first and foremost from a progressive handling of Scripture using the grammatical - historical (literal) method, and then adding the testimony of the early Church, leads firmly to a post-trib understanding of the rapture. One of the reasons the pre-trib view cannot be correct is because it is derived from reading many ideas (some biblical and some not) into the text that the original hearers could not possibly know. Pre-tribulationism is the result of a long series of post-hoc arguments, and largely ignores the historical setting and progressive nature of prophecy. It is "reverse engineered" and forced onto the Scriptures rather than built progressively on a proper foundation.
CHALLENGE TO PRE-TRIBBERS
If you are pre-trib, all we ask of you is to give us a fair hearing. As you consider our arguments from Scripture with an open mind, ask yourself the following questions. "If the pre-trib rapture is true, where was it introduced in the progressive revelation of Biblical prophecy?" Such a major event, that is not to be found in Old Testament prophecy or even in Jesus' own teaching, must have been unveiled to the Christian world at some point in time. When? Where? What passage of Scripture indicates this new radical departure from the rest of Bible prophecy? As you contemplate the historical evidence provided on this site, ask yourself this question. "Why was the pre-trib rapture view only discovered, and documented in the history of Christianity, many centuries after the founding of Jesus' Church?" If it is truely part of the "Faith once delivered to the saints," why did the early Church know nothing of it?