This has got to be one of the most common questions people ask me. In fact, just the other week a couple of board members from a nearby church met with me to examine my beliefs about prophecy and about the Gospel. (They had become concerned when hearing me preach on Matthew 24 one Sunday in 2008.) And the very first question they asked, once we were sitting down with coffee and juice, was, “Are you saying you think Christians will have to go through the Great Tribulation?” This was followed-up a little later with, “Don’t you believe in the Rapture?”
To the first question, I answered, “Yes, that’s what I’m saying. But can you show me any Scripture passage that says Christians will not ‘go through the Great Tribulation’?” The gentleman who asked the question sat there for a moment, in silence, and then, looking a little uncomfortable replied, “Well… not off the top of my head… but can you think of any passage of Scripture that says Christians will go through the Tribulation?” And so, of course, I said, “Loads! Would you like to hear them?”
We spent the next couple of hours turning from Scripture passage to Scripture passage while I gradually built a case for a traditional Protestant understanding of end times events–as opposed to the Dispensational/Pre-Trib view. We started with Daniel 2, to provide a historical context and overview. We then moved on to Daniel 7, identified the 11th horn which the KJV says was “stouter than its fellows”, and established that the persecution of the saints for “a time, two times and a half a time” was fulfilled under the tyranny of the Popes of Rome between the 7th and 19th centuries.
Now, what will we say to the second question? If by “the Rapture” we mean what the Latin word “rapiemur” meant when it was used to translate 1 Thessalonians 4:17 in the old Vulgate Bible, then yes, I believe in “the Rapture”. All it means in that passage is that Christians, dead and alive at the coming of Christ, will be resurrected, transformed and “caught up” to meet Christ in the air as He comes to Earth. After all, verse 15 identifies this great event as “the coming of the Lord”. Verse 16 says that the resurrection will happen as the Lord “will descend”. So the “Rapture” will happen when Christ is “coming” to Earth (obviously His “Second Coming”), immediately after Christ begins His descent. Therefore, when verse 17 says, “and so we will always be with the Lord”, the context demands that our residence with Christ “always” will be on the Earth, in Christ’s Kingdom, and ultimately in the New Heavens and the New Earth.