Summary: Message analyzes strengths and weakness of the Partial Rapture Position. Exhortations to be prepared for Christ's coming are in focus.
We are in a study of biblical prophecy. In this study we are seeking an answer to one question: Will Christians go through the tribulation period? We have laid three essential foundational concepts in the previous two messages. The diversity on the way Christians understand biblical prophecy is immense. This is partially due to the complexity of the subject and the challenges in understanding the vast volume of material involved. But it is also due to the different methods of interpretation being used in the process. We briefly discussed the two primary methods of interpretation: allegorical and literal. In our first message we found the literal method to be more reliable and objective than the allegorical method.
Last week we analyzed Daniel 9:24-27 in detail. That is the key passage that tells us the tribulation period will last for seven years. That seven-year period will begin with the Antichrist signing a peace treaty with Israel which he will break in the middle of the seven-year period. For hundreds of years such a treaty seemed impossible since there was no nation of Israel that could sign the agreement. But in our generation Israel became a nation in 1948, and with that the possibility of a literal fulfillment became a reality before our eyes. Daniel 9:27 predicted this treaty thousands of years ago.
The book of Revelation expands our understanding of that seven-year period prophesied in Daniel 9:27. It is the most extensive document of Bible prophecy in the New Testament. The way we interpret that book significantly affects our understanding of Bible prophecy. For that reason I want to quickly share with you the four basic approaches to INTERPRETING the book of REVELATION.
(1) One is the preterist approach. This approach sees most of the prophecies in Revelation as already fulfilled during the first century. In order to support this approach, one must reject the generally accepted timeframe in which John wrote Revelation. For good reason most scholars date the writing of Revelation to be about 95 A.D. Since preterists see in Revelation a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., they argue a date for this book to be before 70 A.D. Without that earlier date, their approach breaks down. However, the evidence for the latter date is overwhelming.i
(2) The historicists believe Revelation is “describing a long chain of events from Patmos to the end of history.” They emphasize Revelation as a prediction of major events in church history to the present time. It takes a lot of allegorical interpretation to support this approach.
(3) The idealists view the book “as symbolic pictures of timeless truths.” They do not try to connect the message with any particular reference to time. They see it as depicting the “ongoing struggle between good and evil.” This approach also relies heavily on the allegorical method of interpretation.
(4) We are in the futurist camp. We interpret most of Revelation 4-22 as prophecy to be fulfilled in the future.
Of course, there are many variations within each of these camps. And some even add a fifth school of thought: the eclectics who combine pieces from the four major approaches.ii Whatever approach an interpreter takes to the book of Revelation is typically consistent with the way he or she is approaching biblical prophecy in general.iii
With the internet and the increased availability of viewpoints on Bible prophecy, it is more important for believers to understand what I have just shared than it used to be. In the past, believers were almost exclusively taught doctrine by the church they attended. They did not access the other approaches. The negative side of that was that they did not get their thinking challenged by other theories. But the positive side was they did not encounter the possible confusion inherent in hearing a little from one school of thought, then a little from another, then trying to make sense of it all. You need to know at least the basic approaches you are encountering if you’re searching these things out on the internet.
Back to our central question: Will Christians go through the tribulation period. There are three different theories held by futurists as to when the rapture will occur in relationship to the tribulation period: (1) The Pre-tribulation position is that Christians will be raptured before that period begins. (2) The Mid-tribulation theory is that the rapture will occur at midpoint in the seven-year period. (3) The Post-tribulation position, as the name implies, expects the rapture to occur at the end of the tribulation period.
Before critiquing each of those positions, we want to consider a variation that is perhaps exclusively associated with the Pre-tribulation theory. And that is a PARTIAL RAPTURE position. It is also called the Split rapture theory. The position in this camp is that some of the church will be raptured before the tribulation period begins, and the rest will go through the tribulation period. Those who are ready will be raptured and will not have to go through the tribulation period. God will use the tribulation period to refine those who were not ready. Among others, the godly Englishman Austin Sparks held this view.