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  • Writer's pictureMichael Filipek

When Is the Rapture?

Updated: Jan 27


When is the Rapture?

One of the most controversial issues related to the Rapture has to do with its timing. Within Christian circles, there is great disagreement over when the Rapture will take place in relation to the eschatological events the Bible foretells. Most of this discussion is related the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation (the final seven-year period of God's wrath), resulting in three main views: the pretribulational view, the midtribulational view, and the posttribulational view.


  • The pretribulational view advocates that the Church will be raptured sometime prior to the seven-year Tribulation period, also called the seventieth week of the Daniel 9:24-27 prophecy (the future, remaining, final week of Israel’s seventy prophetic weeks that were revealed to Daniel).

  • The midtribulational view holds that the Church will be raptured around the midpoint of the Tribulation period.

  • The posttribulational view teaches that the Church will be raptured immediately after the ending of the Tribulation period when Christ returns at the Second Coming.


There have also arisen other variations, such as the prewrath view, which, like pretribulationists, teach that the Rapture takes place prior to the wrath of God. However, the pre-wrath view differs by maintaining that the wrath doesn’t begin (and therefore the Rapture doesn’t take place) until sometime between the middle and end of the Tribulation (in other words, around three quarters of the way through).


It is important to understand that one’s view of the timing of the Rapture is generally an outworking of the method of interpretation they use to understand the Bible – or, as the well-known Bible teacher Chuck Missler used to say, your hermeneutics will determine your eschatology. [1]


Dispensationalism and the Timing of the Rapture


At this point, we need to define another key term that, if embraced, is of great influence on one's view of the Rapture's timing. This term is dispensationalism, or premillennial dispensationalism.


Premillennial dispensationalism is the name given to the belief system that results from a consistent literal-grammatical-historical-contextual, or plain interpretation of the Bible. The label “premillennial” derives from the fact that when one interprets the Bible in this way (without trying to allegorize the meaning of the text), the end-result is the recognition of a future literal Millennium of time in which Christ will physically rule the earth from Jerusalem, as the scriptures plainly foretell.


The name “dispensationalism” comes from the scriptural recognition that God has dealt with mankind in a number of different ways throughout history. We call these different periods “dispensations,” meaning different ages or economies, characterized by, among other things, the different covenants God has made with man throughout history. In other words, dispensationalism is the understanding that God administers His plan for mankind in various stages, or dispensations. It recognizes how God has done so as He brings His ultimate plan for the redemption of mankind and the earth to completion.


Two of the essentials of dispensationalism, as noted by scholar Charles Ryrie, [2] are as follows:


  • Consistent Literal Interpretation


This means consistently interpreting the Bible using the normal or plain meanings that the text is communicating, instead of spiritualizing or allegorizing the meanings.


  • Israel and the Church are Distinct


Dispensationalists recognize that the Bible teaches that God’s single program for human history includes a distinct plan for national Israel and a distinct plan for the Church. The Church is not Israel, and Israel is not the Church. The Church Age is an intercalation in Israel’s seventy-week prophetic timeline.


Why is all of this relevant to our examination of the Rapture? It’s relevant because this fundamental recognition of the correct method of interpreting scripture has a direct impact on one’s understanding of the timing of the Rapture. We believe that a consistent application of a careful, sound, and literal exposition of the scriptures will always ultimately result in a pretribulational view of the timing of the Rapture.


When one views the scriptures through a lens of consistent, literal interpretation, it results in the understanding that Israel and the Church are two distinct entities in God’s plan. It brings to light the recognition that the seventy prophetic “weeks” (or heptads of years) in Daniel 9:24-27 were specifically prophesied for the Jews (or Israel) and Jerusalem, and have nothing at all to do with the Church. Therefore, if the Tribulation is the seventieth week, it is completely antithetical to the Church. Just as the Church was not present on the earth for the first sixty-nine weeks of this prophetic calendar, it also cannot be on the earth for the seventieth. The Church must then be removed prior to this final week (pretribulationalism).


Premillennial dispensationalists recognize that when Israel as a nation rejected their promised King Messiah, Jesus Christ, their promised Messianic Kingdom then had to be postponed. You cannot have the Kingdom without the King. At that time, the seventy-week prophetic timeline for Israel was paused. When this took place, God then introduced His interim plan for humanity: the Church. If this is true, then the Tribulation, which is the seventieth week – the future, remaining, final week of this prophetic timeline – clearly has nothing to do with the Church. In fact, the Tribulation and the Church are mutually exclusive. They are scripturally antithetical concepts.


Many Christians are dispensationalists without even knowing it. Put simply, if you consistently interpret the Bible literally and believe Israel has a future, you view the Bible dispensationally.

But for those who are unfamiliar with all of this, we will undertake a brief jog through the premillennial/dispensational understanding of eschatology (the study of the end times).


A Dispensational Overview of Eschatology


Correctly understanding the timeline for eschatology goes hand-in-hand with understanding God’s future program for Israel, as well as understanding how God has operated within the theater of humanity for the past four thousand years of human history. As we’ve already mentioned, our basic outline for this understanding is given in Daniel 9. This chapter records how in the mid-500s BC, the prophet Daniel was given the seventy-weeks prophecy, which declared seventy weeks of years that would take place for Israel and Jerusalem. This refers to a total of four hundred ninety years (seventy times seven). A beginning point and ending point are provided for marking the first through the sixty-ninth weeks of years (which was a prophetic countdown to the Messiah's First Coming).


The sixty-ninth week ended with the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in 33 AD, just days prior to His crucifixion. According to the prophecy, it is clear that the time-clock stopped with the completion of the sixty-ninth week, leaving one future week – the seventieth week – to still be completed. After Israel killed her Messiah, rejecting His offer of the Messianic Kingdom (which had been prophesied of throughout the Old Testament), this prophetic program for Israel was postponed (Matthew 23:37-39), and God instead introduced an interim program called the Church, as the Holy Spirit would be poured out around fifty days later on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).


Daniel's 70 Weeks Chronology Chart

So, at the Triumphal Entry, the time-clock for Israel’s seventy-week countdown was paused and a gap period we call the Church Age was inserted. Subsequently, the gospel was to be spread to all nations, and God’s focus temporarily shifted from that of national Israel to His new work called the Church, which focused mainly on the Gentile nations. In 70 AD, the final harbinger of this shift took place as Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jews, over the next century, were scattered to the uttermost parts of the earth in what is termed the Diaspora.


Dispensationalists understand that God’s time clock for the Church will stop with the Rapture, and either immediately or soon after, His time clock for Israel will again restart, as there remains one final week of years – the seventieth week – to be completed (as prophesied in Daniel 9:26-27 and expounded upon throughout the Old and New Testaments). During this time, Israel will once again become the primary focus of God’s plan during their final seven-year “week.”


In this way, God’s programs for Israel and the Church are operating similar to a chess clock. In formal chess matches, there is a clock for each of the two players. When one player’s clock is running, the other’s is automatically stopped – and vice versa. This is exactly what scripture implies is happening with Israel and the Church (Romans 11:25-29, et al.).

chess clock
Chess-clock

This final week for Israel, the Tribulation, will be a time of unprecedented trouble for the world as a whole, as God’s wrath is poured out. Scripture says that the Tribulation begins with the Antichrist enforcing a covenant. Around midway through the seven years, he perpetrates an event known as the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15). After this midpoint abomination, the latter three and a half years of the Tribulation will be a time of unparalleled distress in human history, particularly for the Jews (Jeremiah 30:7; Zechariah 13:8). In fact, Jesus calls it the Great Tribulation in Matthew 24:21-22.


One of the primary purposes of the Tribulation is to drive the nation of Israel to repentance through great affliction. Sometimes God has to knock us down in order to get us to look up at Him – and that’s exactly what happens to Israel during the Tribulation. Through this experience of unimaginable distress, a remnant of Israel will finally be brought to faith (Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:25). Scripture informs us that Israel turning toward her true Messiah – Jesus Christ – acknowledging Him as such, and petitioning His return, is actually a precondition for the next event – the Second Coming of Christ, which will end the Tribulation, or the seventieth week (Hosea 5:15; Matthew 23:39).


When Christ does return to the earth at the end of the Tribulation, Israel will finally be ready to receive Him as their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10). This now-righteous remnant of Israel will be rescued from the nations that have gathered to destroy her, and Christ will set up His Millennial or Messianic Kingdom on earth (Zechariah 12:2-3; 14). The Church will have returned with Christ at the Second Coming (Revelation 19:14) and will then rule and reign with Him as His bride for a literal thousand years, along with the other First Resurrection believers (Revelation 1:5-6; 20:6; et al.).


Strong support for a future literal Millennium is found in the clear teaching of Revelation 20:1-7, where it says six times that Christ’s Kingdom will last for one thousand years. Scripture tells us that during this thousand-year period, the Lord will establish His physical Kingdom on this earth with Jerusalem as its capital. With Christ reigning as King, Israel will be the prominent nation on earth, after being restored spiritually and physically. Representatives from all nations will come to Jerusalem to honor and worship the King – Jesus Christ – who will reign on the throne of David, fulfilling a multitude of Old Testament “Kingdom prophecies” (Isaiah 60; Zechariah 8; Micah 4:2; et al.). Then, following the Millennium will come the Eternal State, as God’s dispensational plan for the redemption of mankind will have been realized (Revelation 21-22).


Both the Old Testament and the New Testament support a premillennial/dispensational understanding of God’s plan for Israel. It is essential to understand that the Church has not replaced Israel in God’s plan. The two entities are distinct. The Church’s role is to be the beloved bride of Christ! Believing Jews who are saved between Pentecost and the Rapture are of course part of the Church, in which there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 3:1-6)


While God’s time clock has temporarily shifted to focus on the Church for the past two thousand years (the Church Age), He has not forgotten Israel and will one day restore them to His intended role as the nation He has chosen (Romans 11). God’s attention will turn back to Israel for their final week, but only after He removes His Church from the earth at the pretribulational Rapture!


Maranatha!


 

[1] Chuck Missler, “The Seven Myths of Eschatology,” Koinonia House. (https://www.khouse.org/articles/2012/1072/print/ - Retrieved 4/02/22)

[2] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, rev. and exp. ed., Chicago: Moody, 2007, pp. 46-48.


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