Summary: An exposition of the dangers of this new theology of a pre-trib rapture. A response to the growing popularity of the "Left Behind" series, even among secular audiences and the danger of deception that its widespread acceptance holds.
As a young Christian, I was raised on “dispensationalism”, a term which comes from the Bible referring to God’s timing and how He works in different ways at different times. We had it all figured out, just like the Jews of Jesus’ day. (But wait, they missed it! Are we?) According to what is known in theological circles as “pre-tribulational, post-Apostolic, literal Israel dispensationalism”, evil will increase until the end of the age when a seven year “great tribulation” will occur where a man possessed by Satan and known as the anti-Christ will come to power. According to this view, before this time, Christians will be secretly raptured up to heaven and escape this time of tribulation. The “Left Behind” series is based upon this scenario which is believed by the authors, LaHaye and Jenkins. We shouldn’t attempt to put God in a box of our own making. We could end up disappointed like the Jews of Jesus’ day.
Interestingly, the oldest or classical interpretation of Christ’s second coming teaches that the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the catching up of all believers to meet Him in the air will be immediately followed by His return to earth to rule for a millenium. (see W. Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1111)
Jesus spoke of the “Great Tribulation” in the Olivet discourse and He referenced Daniel the prophet. Many have correctly interpreted this tribulation to be a fulfillment of another prophecy by Jeremiah of a time known as “Jacob’s trouble” in which the people of Jacob (Jews?) would experience great tribulation. In Daniel chapter 9 we have the record of an interpretation of a vision that Daniel received. He is told that the vision applies to “his people.” Obviously, that would be the Jews. But, if this time of great tribulation that Jesus was speaking of is for Jews, when did it or will it occur? That is the key question.
According to the “literal Israel dispensation” view, the Jews in Israel will reestablish temple worship and sacrifices in a rebuilt temple in accordance with a pact with the anti-Christ who will break that pact after three and one-half years. As in the “Left Behind” scenario, many people, including many Jews, will turn to Christ during this great tribulation and suffer great persecution including martyrdom.
Theologians who subscribe to this view interpret the Book of Revelation as a chronological account of the great tribulation. They believe that God has ordered separate dispensations for the Jew and for the Gentile. They see the Church age or age of grace as the times of Gentiles since Calvary. They believe that the Old Testament is the account of God’s dealings with the Jews, but believe that this dispensation is yet unfinished, and that a seven year tribulation remains for the Jews.
It must be noted that this dispensational view is a relatively new doctrine. Its earliest roots can be traced to post reformation Catholic theologians who developed this theology in order to oppose the teaching of the reformers, including Luther, Calvin and Knox, that associated the institution of the papacy with the anti-Christ of scripture. Dispensational doctrine did not gain acceptance among Protestants until after 1830 as a result of a prophecy by a woman named Margaret McDonald which spoke of a secret coming of Christ for His church before the tribulation.
The doctrine was spread by Charles Darby [Plymouth Brethren] and popularized by Scofield He also popularized the doctrine of a separate Apostolic dispensation which ended when the original Apostles died and after which the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit as enumerated in 1Corinthians 12 ceased to function. This doctrine of ceasationism lacks any serious biblical justification and is refuted by church history to the present day. Curiously, in this day and age, even Pentecostals and charismatics have embraced Scofield’s pre-tribulation theology.
Scofield and the dispensationalists see the tribulation as a fulfillment of Dan 9:24-27 with a 2,000 year gap between the 69th and 70th week. According to them, Jesus has a bride which is the church and then a separate relationship with the Jews. But the Bible says that Jesus has removed the dividing wall, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but rather one new man (Colossians 3:10-11). Jesus’ prayer was not that we would be taken out of world but that we would be kept from evil (Jn 17:15)
The word “rapture” is not used in scripture at all. It is derived from the term “caught up” from 1Thessalonians 4:17, which is a scripture referring to the resurrection of the dead who are in Christ. Even that section of scripture refutes a secret rapture in referring to “a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” A trumpet call is not a secret thing. In biblical culture, the trumpet call was sounded to proclaim a public feast, to sound the alarm for battle or to announce the coming of the King, all of which are done publicly and openly, not secretly. In fact, Jesus warned us no to believe any reports that He had come in secret. “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ !’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.” (Mark 13:21) The Bible says that “every eye will see Him.” (Revelation 1:7)