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  • Writer's pictureMichael Filipek

Is There a Post-Rapture Gap Period?

Updated: Jan 27


The Antichrist First Seal of Revelation

In a previous article, we detailed a number of reasons that strongly point towards the generalized timing of the Rapture as being pretribulational (meaning it takes place prior to the Tribulation, or Daniel’s seventieth week – the final seven-year “week” of the Daniel 9:24-27 prophetic outline). While that appears certain in scripture, what is not certain is the length of time by which the Rapture precedes the Tribulation. In other words, does the Rapture take place immediately prior to the beginning of the Tribulation, or is there a period of time in between? And if the latter is true, is it a long time (a number of years or even decades) or a short time (a period of weeks or months)? We will examine these questions in this article.


The notion of the Rapture taking place immediately prior to – or at the beginning of – the Tribulation does not appear to be a Biblically sustainable view, most simply due to the fact that the Rapture fundamentally is an imminent and unpredictable event, while the Tribulation has a definite beginning point that clearly relies upon at least one Biblically-prominent prerequisite sign or event. Logically, if God’s whole idea for the Rapture is to be an imminent event of unknown timing, ready to befall at any moment, why would He tether it to the beginning of the Tribulation, which does have a well-identified beginning point, and seems to follow at very least one definite preceding sign? Since the fundamental makeup of these two events are in opposition to one another, it does not make much sense to conjoin them.


What prerequisite sign or event does the Bible seem to describe as preceding the Tribulation? We will discuss that shortly. But first, before delving deeper, our first order of business must be to identify the definitive beginning point of the Tribulation.


The Beginning Point of the Tribulation


At the outset, let's keep in mind that the Tribulation is a subset within the broad Day of the Lord (the broad Day begins with the Rapture, ends with the Millennial Kingdom, and includes everything in between, such as the Tribulation and the post-Rapture gap period – see chart).

The End Times Chronology Chart

What is the Scriptural marker for the beginning of the Tribulation? The Bible tells us clearly that the beginning of the Tribulation, or Daniel’s final (seventieth) week, is initiated by the confirmation of a covenant by the Antichrist (presumably with Israel). This is made clear in Daniel 9, as the angel introduces to Daniel the prophetic scaffolding for God’s future program concerning Israel – the prophecy outlining seventy weeks of years. Dispensationalists agree that in this prophecy, each “week” describes a period of seven years.


After detailing the first sixty-nine weeks, the angel then specifies the marker that will initiate the final seventieth week (which we often call the Tribulation).


And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate. -Daniel 9:27

The identification of the pronoun “he” in this verse has been the topic of much debate. While some believe it refers to the “Messiah the Prince” originally mentioned in Verse 25, most dispensationalists believe it refers to the “prince that shall come” mentioned toward the end of Verse 26. In normal laws of reference in language, a pronoun refers back to the last preceding person mentioned (the antecedent). In this case, the antecedent is “the prince that shall come” in Verse 26 (See a previous article for more information). Pentecost summarizes this as follows.


It is evident from Daniel 9:27 that the seventieth week begins with a covenant that is made with "many" for one week, or for seven years. This "one week," following the method of interpretation established for the sixty-nine weeks, demonstrates the fact that the period in question will be of seven years duration. The question that must be faced is the identity of the one who makes the covenant that marks the inception of this seven year period. Daniel identifies him as "he" in 9:27. This must refer back to the "prince that shall come" in the previous verse. McClain, identifying this individual, writes: … there are two different princes mentioned: first, "Messiah the Prince"; and second, "the prince that shall come." The expression "prince that shall come" cannot possibly refer to "Messiah the Prince" for the simple reason that it is "the people of the prince that shall come" who are to destroy Jerusalem after the death of Messiah. And since it is now a matter of history that Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Roman people, not by the Jewish people, it follows that "the prince that shall come" cannot be the Jewish Messiah but is some great prince who will arise out of the Roman Empire.
Concerning this individual, Arno Gaebelein says: "Out of the Roman empire there shall arise in the future a prince. This prince or chief of the fourth empire is identical with the little horn of Daniel 7." He is further to be identified with the "king of fierce countenance" of Daniel 8:23, with the "wilful king" of Daniel 11:36, with the "man of sin" of 2 Thessalonians 2, and with the "beast out of the sea" of Revelation 13:1-10. … This covenant deceives many in Israel into believing that this "man of sin" is God (2 Thess. 2:3). It is the proclamation of this false covenant that marks the beginning of the seventieth week. [1]

As mentioned, the identification of this confirmation of a covenant by the Antichrist is a well-established marker among dispensationalists. Does this give us any clues concerning the potential for a post-Rapture gap period?

The Day of the Lord Events that Precede the Tribulation


We will now pick up with our earlier question concerning the existence of a prerequisite sign or event that the Bible seems to describe as preceding the Tribulation, yet taking place during the broad Day of the Lord (necessarily locating it as a post-Rapture/pre-Tribulation event). In this subsection, we will show that there of necessity must be a post-Rapture gap of time in which at least one such event will occur that helps to set the stage for the beginning of the Tribulation period. While we will focus our attention on the one event that we consider scripturally conclusive, we will follow our discussion of that event with a number of additional potential events that may also fall into this gap.


The Antichrist’s Emergence


The arrival of the Man of Sin onto the world scene clearly takes place after the Rapture, but before the Tribulation – yet during the Day of the Lord. This convincing point illustrates one of the most fundamental and obvious reasons why a gap must occur. Consider the logical conclusion demanded by the following facts (each of which are commonly accepted in dispensational thought):


  • The emergence of the Antichrist can only take place after the removal of the “Restrainer” of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 (when the indwelling presence of the Spirit in the hearts of Christians is removed from the world at the Rapture).

  • The emergence of the Antichrist onto the world scene and his subsequent rise to power is pictured in the going forth of the white horseman of the First Seal Judgment in Revelation 6:1-2.

  • These Seal Judgments are events that take place during the broad Day of the Lord, and not the Church Age – confirming the first bullet point.

  • The emergence of the Antichrist (the First Seal) must precede the beginning of the Tribulation (his confirmation of a covenant), since the confirmation of that covenant logically requires the Antichrist to already exist in a position of power necessary to perform this confirmation.

The logical conclusion demanded by the sum of these facts yields the following chronological chart:

End Times Chronology Antichrist

The conclusion of these facts demands that since the emergence of the Antichrist takes place after the Rapture but before the Tribulation, there must be a gap period that intervenes between these two points – and this gap must be within the broad Day of the Lord. For a logical walk through the above bullet points, consider the following review.


Since the Antichrist’s confirmation of the Daniel 9:27 covenant is the marker that begins the Tribulation, then the Antichrist’s emergence onto the global scene and his legendary rise to world power must precede this marker. The Antichrist of course does not confirm this covenant on “Day 1” of his political career. He instead must be given sufficient time to ascend to the position necessary to wield the influence required to be the authority looked to by the parties of this covenant. This rise is pictured in the First Seal. Walvoord affirms the likelihood that the Antichrist’s rise will take place prior to the Tribulation.


It is probable that the person who heads the revived Roman Empire [the Antichrist] comes into power before the beginning of the entire seven-year period of Daniel 9:27, and as such, enters into covenant with the Jewish people. [2]

This is indicated by the text of Revelation 6:1-2 (the opening of the First Seal), which, as discussed earlier in this study, most dispensationalists agree pictures the emergence of the Antichrist onto the world scene and his rise to power. Of course, this is not an instantaneous event, but rather depicts a protracted period of time, as is made evident in the text.


And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. -Revelation 6:1-2

The phrase “he went forth conquering, and to conquer” describes the Antichrist embarking upon his infamous rise to power (a protracted period), which eventually places him into the position to confirm the covenant that marks the beginning of the Tribulation. Obviously then, this opening of the First Seal must precede the Tribulation, but must take place during the Day of the Lord, since it is part of the unleashing of the wrath of God on the earth. Revelation describes Jesus Christ in heaven opening the sealed scroll, releasing these judgments – and the Church is pictured as being there with Him as He’s doing so (represented by imagery including John, the Golden Lampstands, and the Twenty-Four Elders) – another confirmation that this follows the Rapture.


Another reason why this First Seal could not take place prior to the Rapture centers on “the Restrainer” of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8. Paul teaches the Thessalonians about the present unnamed force in the earth that currently restrains the emergence of the Antichrist – and will do so until He is “taken out of the way.”


And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: -2 Thessalonians 2:6-8

As discussed in an earlier chapter, dispensational scholars normally identify this “Restrainer” as the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of Christians (or in other words, the current presence of the Church on earth). When the Church is removed at the Rapture, the restraining activity of this force will also be removed, thereby allowing the subsequent rise of the Antichrist.


If we understand Paul’s words, then we must recognize the impossibility of the Day of the Lord’s onset while the Church (along with the Spirit’s indwelling presence) is still present on the earth. In order for the end times scenario to kick off, allowing the commencement of the broad Day and the emergence of the Antichrist (the First Seal), the Church must first be removed. Hence, Paul described this as yet another reason that the Thessalonians could rest in the assurance of his earlier teachings that this dark period would not overtake them (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4).


So, scripture makes it obvious that the emergence of the Antichrist onto the world scene and his subsequent rise to power is a protracted occurrence that must take place after the Rapture but before the beginning of the Tribulation. Therefore, there must be an intervening gap period between the Rapture and the Tribulation where the Antichrist’s emergence and ascendance to world power transpires. And since the Antichrist’s emergence is the First Seal Judgment (a Day of the Lord event), then this gap period must also be a subset within the broad Day of the Lord.


So, we are confident that the emergence of the Antichrist is one of the necessary prerequisite signs or events that must take place prior to the Tribulation. However, there are a number of others that also will likely (or at least potentially) take place during this intervening period. While we are less dogmatic on these points (to follow), we will list several more, and provide a brief description of each.


The Rise of the Final World Kingdom


In Daniel Chapter 7, we are given a glimpse into the development of the world’s final kingdom (commonly recognized by dispensationalists as a revived Roman Empire) before the Second Coming. This fourth and final Gentile kingdom will initially emerge as a global government that will “devour the whole earth” (Verse 23). We are then told that “ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise” (Verse 24). This verse continues on to tell us that these ten kings will then be followed by the Antichrist (“and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings”). Let’s read through this passage.


Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. -Daniel 7:23-26

It seems clear from this excerpt (cf. Revelation 13 and 17) that the Antichrist emerges out of this final one-world kingdom. If the Antichrist can’t rise to prominence until this final kingdom is in place, but the Antichrist arises prior to the confirmation of the covenant, then that is potentially another indicator of a gap period. In other words, the Antichrist will not be in a position to confirm the covenant with Israel until after the establishment of this world system, and after he uses this system to rise to prominence. All of this will take time to develop. The question is, how much of this final world empire can come into existence prior to the Rapture?


The Rise of the Harlot World Religious System


Another development that may begin during the post-Rapture gap is the rise of the Harlot world religious system, which is described as “riding” the beast (or Antichrist) to the height of its power. In Revelation 17:3, we find the Harlot sitting on the beast (the Antichrist). In Revelation 17:7, we find the Antichrist carrying the Harlot. This suggests that the Antichrist, prior to his time as the supreme world ruler, plays somewhat of complimentary or even subservient role to the Harlot.


In other words, the Antichrist and Harlot appear to have somewhat of a symbiotic relationship as they both climb to the heights of their power. At some stage, the Antichrist and the ten kings of the final world empire will turn on the Harlot and consume her, and will then assume full power over the world under the supreme rule of the Antichrist (Revelation 17:16-17). While some of this will likely play out during the Tribulation, there is a good chance that its beginning and formative stages will take place during the gap period. Again, this entire scenario will take some time to develop and much of it could certainly precede the Antichrist’s confirmation of the covenant.


Bill Salus gives a good summary of our conclusions.


Revelation 6:2 says that the Antichrist goes forth "conquering and to conquer." The dual usage of the word conquer implies that the Antichrist embarks upon a process, which eventually over an unspecified time-period, accomplishes his three-fold career. This conclusion is further supported by Revelation 17:3, 7, which predicts that at the initial stages of the Antichrist’s career, he forms an unholy alliance with the Harlot world religion. These verses denote that the Antichrist allows the Harlot to "sit" on him, while he "carries" her to the heights of her position of the predominant world religion. The Antichrist plays a subservient role to the Harlot, until he is ready to exert his dominance over the world. As the Antichrist ascends to the heights of his political career, at some point along the way he earns the respect of Israel and the other party to the false covenant. They entrust him with the important responsibility of "confirming" the covenant between them. It is not until then, that the seven-years of tribulation begins. [3]

Some Other Potential Gap Events


For your further consideration, several other events that could potentially take place within the post-Rapture gap period may include the following:


  • The Psalm 83 war (if it is in fact a prophecy and not just an imprecatory prayer)

  • The Isaiah 17 conflict with its destruction of Damascus

  • The Iran disaster of Jeremiah 49:34-39

  • The Magog invasion of Ezekiel 38

  • The rebuilding of the Third Temple in Jerusalem

  • The potential rebuilding of the literal city of Babylon on the Euphrates River and the beginning of its rise to end time prominence

  • The sealing and beginning of the ministry of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists

  • The Second Seal Judgment

  • The Third Seal Judgment

  • The Fourth Seal Judgment

  • The martyrdom of the Fifth Seal saints (who are apparently unaware of any covenant being confirmed, as is evident in their “How long, O Lord” question in Revelation 6:10)


Though not taking a dogmatic position on any of these, we mention them as additional Biblical events that could potentially take place within this gap period. It would seem unreasonable to propose that all or many of these events, in addition to the later events of Revelation (later Seal, Trumpet, and Bowl judgments), could all be squeezed into the seven-year Tribulation. Many of these are portrayed in Scripture as clearly requiring some time to develop. Hence, the consideration of a gap period provides a more realistic timeframe for these events to play out.


How Long Could the Gap Last?


What could be the duration of this post-Rapture/pre-Tribulation gap period? Will it last for just a few months, or could it last a number of years? While we can’t be sure of its exact length, an educated guess would seem to suggest that it could last for years, or potentially even decades, since it will likely take some time for world events to unfold, preparing the way for the events of the seventieth week. While we can’t be certain of this timing, Scripture does seem to give us a solid bookend to the upper limits of this period’s potential duration.


If we look at Jesus’s Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, we see how in the first half of the chapter, Jesus extensively detailed the sequence of signs that would characterize the chronology of the judgment phase of the broad Day of the Lord (His Parousia, or “coming”), from its inception until its climax at His Second Coming to the earth. After concluding His description of this protracted series of signs, Jesus then gave the following overview that provided the answer to the disciples’ “what will be the sign of your coming” question in verse 3.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. -Matthew 24:32-34 (ESV)

Jesus used the parabolic figure of a fig tree’s seasonal maturation to communicate to His disciples that once this designated sequence of signs begins, its concluding event (Christ's Second Coming to the earth in glory) is not far off. He specifies that the same generation that witnesses the beginning of these signs will also be there to witness their conclusion (Jesus says this terminal generation will see “all” these signs). By saying this, He is limiting the duration of this period to less than one generation. Therefore, since all of the signs Jesus spoke of take place after the Rapture and during the broad Day of the Lord, then we may confidently conclude that the post-Rapture gap plus the seven-year Tribulation will last for less than one generation of time. Darryl Bock writes:


The generation that sees the beginning of the end, also sees its end. When the signs come, they will proceed quickly; they will not drag on for many generations. It will happen within a generation. [4]

How long then is a generation? The Bible provides several different intervals to define a generation, depending on the context (typically forty years, but may be as many as eighty). It may be interesting to note that the period between the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 (the beginning of the Church Age) and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was about forty years. Some may consider this historical period to act as a one-generation transition or overlap period between the beginning of the Church Age and the final closing of the previous dispensation under the Mosaic Law (the final destruction of the Temple system, etc.). If this idea is valid, could a similar period take place marking the transition from the Church Age back to Israel’s final week of that former dispensation? Could this period also involve the rebuilding of the Temple-based system of Judaism, just as the aforementioned period involved its dismantling?


While these are only interesting speculations, they may provide us with an educated guess as to the upper limits of this total period (the post-Rapture gap plus the Tribulation), eliminating any conjecture that this period could last for hundreds or thousands of years. The total potential duration between the Rapture and Second Coming will be less than a generation.

 

[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1964, pp. 249-250.

[2] John Walvoord, Revelation, rev. and ed. by Philip E. Rawley and Mark Hitchcock, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011, p. 207.

[3] Bill Salus, The Next Prophecies, La Quinta, CA: Prophecy Depot Publishing, 2018, p. 53.

[4] Darryl L. Bock, “Luke Vol. 2, 9:51-24:53,” in Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Baker Academic, 1996, pp. 1691-1692.


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