Summary: Mid-tribulation position (Prewrath) is analyzed in light of Scripture and Scholarship. Strengths and weaknesses of this eschatology are examined.
Will Christians go through the tribulation period? That is the question we are engaging in this study. The futurist camp which we are a part of entertains three possible answers: pretribulationists believe the rapture of the church will occur before the tribulation period begins. Posttribulationists say it will happen at the end of the tribulation period. And between those two positions is the midtribulation theory. That is the one we will examine today. We will begin with:
I. Brief SUMMARY of the Midtribulation Position.
This camp believes the rapture will occur half-way through the seven-year tribulation period.
1) Norman Harrison identifies the rapture with the catching up of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:12. “And they [the two witnesses] heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.”i To take this position Harrison assumes “the two witnesses are symbolic of ‘a larger company of witnesses.’” He sees these men as representing two classes of Christians: “Moses” represents dead Christians being resurrected, and “Elijah” represents living Christians being raptured.ii However, there is nothing in the passage that identifies these two witnesses as groups of people. Sound exegesis would see them as two men anointed by God at that time.
Harrison attempts to bolster his position by identifying the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:15 with the last trump of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16.iii However, he probably has the structure of the book of Revelation wrong. Posttribulationist place Revelation 11:15 at the end of the tribulation period because of the declaration in that verse that says, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”iv If that’s the case Harrison has inadvertently supported the posttribulation position.v However, most scholars see no relationship between the trumpet series in Revelation and Paul’s mention of the last trumpet.vi Gordon Fee says the trumpet reference “is such common imagery for heralding of the End, it may carry no metaphorical freight whatever in this instance [1 Cor. 15:52].vii Bottom line, there is too much supposition in the interpretation of the trumpet references to support a position on the timing of the rapture.viii
2) Midtribulationist Gleason Archer later rejects Harrison’s position that the two men in Revelation 11 represent groups in the rapture/resurrection. Instead he prefers identifying the rapture with “events following the sounding of the seventh trumpet,” especially in conjunction with the flight of Israel into the dessert in 12:13-17. But Archer admits “there are too many obscurities and difficulties to make out a convincing case for this identification.”ix The lack of consensus on this pivotal matter says something about the
weakness of the midtribulation theory.
3) Alan Hultberg revises the midtribulation theory and renames it the Prewrath Rapture. Drawing on his analysis of Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3, he places the rapture sometime after the abomination of desolation but before the final outpouring of wrath.x He moves the position closer to the posttribulation position, but contends for the church’s rapture out of the earth before the outpouring of God’s wrath during the second half of the seven-year period. Hultberg identifies the rapture with Revelation 7:9: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes. . . .” Seeing a parallel between Revelation 7-8 and 14-16, Hultberg understands the heavenly group in Revelation 15:2 to be the same as the multitude in 7:9.xi So these Christians are raptured before the outpouring of God’s wrath is announced in 15:1 and its release in 16:1.
Like his predecessors Hultberg must base his interpretation on assumptions about the symbolism in Revelation. But his interpretation is not actually stated in the text. The prewrath position is stronger than the traditional midtribulation theory. But the heavy reliance on the allegorical method of interpretation is troubling. Both the prewrath and midtribulation theories generally place the rapture near the middle of the seven-year tribulation period. For that reason we will use the terms interchangeably in this study. We will first address some of the strengths in this position. Then we will expose some weaknesses and conclude with a summary of our observations.
II. STRENGTHS of the Midtribulation or Prewrath Position.
1) Like the posttribulation theory, the Prewrath position is more consistent with 2 Thessalonians 2 than the pretribulation theory. In that passage Paul writes, “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:1-4). We will limit our discussion of this passage since we dealt with it in the last message. The likely scenario here is the misinformation that has these Thessalonians disturbed is that the tribulation period has begun, and they have missed the rapture. If that is correct, then Paul seems to be assuring them that two signs would precede the rapture: a great apostasy or rebellion and the manifestation of the Antichrist in the abomination of desolation. Of course, such a teaching would argue against the pretribulation position.