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The Pre-Tribulation Rapture - A Flow of End Time Events

The Pre-Tribulation Rapture - A Flow of End Time Events

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The purpose of the following study is to scripturally show that the rapture of the Church will take place before the 7-year Tribulation. The rapture is the event that will take place when Jesus calls the Church to meet Him in the air. The Church will return to His Father's house as His Bride, having been transformed into glorified, incorruptible, eternal bodies:

John 14:1-3 - "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."
1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 - But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:51-53 - Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

It has been my observation, with regard to determining the timing of the rapture, that it is easy to take things out of context. This approach can lead to a different view of the timing of the rapture. In the same regard, it is also easy to get lost in a sea of Scripture, which can lead to frustration and avoidance of prophetic Scripture. Both approaches can miss out on the blessings promised from studying prophetic Scripture:

Revelation 1:3 - Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.

Instead of tackling each issue separately, I have attempted to put together the defense of the Pre-Tribulation rapture in light of the flow of end time events; that is, from the time of the cross until eternity begins. This way, we can look at the rapture in context of the rest of end time events. Hopefully, by looking at the flow of end time events, you will see that the rapture of the Church before the Tribulation is the only timing that makes sense scripturally.

There are a few sections in this study that do not necessarily tie in with the rapture directly. Nevertheless, they are important to connect the timeline of events that support the rapture occurring before the Tribulation begins. Also, I cover some of the same topics in "The Olivet Discourse" study, but I expand on them in this study. I hope that you will not only come away from this study assured of our "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) in a Pre-Tribulation rapture, but also that you will gain a better understanding of prophetic Scripture and how it fits together. So let's get started!

The Cross

Christ is the first fruits of our resurrection:

"Firstfruits" are the first ripe fruits of the harvest Israel gave to the Lord as a worship offering:

Deuteronomy 26:1-3,10 - "And it shall be, when you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide.... I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O LORD, have given me. Then you shall set it before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God."

The word "firstfruit" implies that the rest of the harvest will follow later. Christ's resurrection to eternal life is the first fruit of a later harvest, the resurrection of believers in Christ, or the Church:

1 Corinthians 15:20-24 - But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.

In the passage above, Paul shows that the Church's resurrection is at some point between Christ's resurrection and the beginning of the Kingdom Age, when Christ rules on Earth. We will narrow down the timing of the Church's resurrection later in the study.

The Church Age

Dispensation of grace:

Throughout the Bible, God deals with different groups of people in different ways. In order to fully understand how God deals with each group, we need to first discuss one of the most important concepts in the study of prophetic Scripture - the doctrine of dispensations. A dispensationalist believes that God treats different groups of people differently at different times in history. In other words, He has different sets of rules for different times and different people groups. Paul taught about the "dispensation of grace" in Ephesians:

Ephesians 2:4-9 - But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Ephesians 3:1-7 - For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles - if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.

It is clear in the passages above that God dealt with Israel differently under the Law than how He deals with the Church under the "dispensation of grace," which is a time in human history where God has chosen to pour out His mercy and grace without the burden of the Law. The "dispensation of grace" began at the cross, where the "dispensation of the Law" ended:

Colossians 2:13-14 - And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
At the beginning of the "dispensation of grace," God's focus shifted to the Church after Israel rejected Christ. In a future dispensation, God will again shift His focus back to Israel:

Romans 9:22-26 - What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: "I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved." "And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the living God."

God will turn back to Israel during a dispensation of judgment and wrath:

Jeremiah 30 - Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. 'For it shall come to pass in that day, says the Lord of hosts, 'That I will break his yoke from your neck, and will burst your bonds; foreigners shall no more enslave them. But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. 'Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,' says the Lord, 'Nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,' says the Lord, 'to save you; though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished.'

There has not yet been a dispensation characterized by God's judgement, though God has judged nations in all dispensations. As shown throughout the Old Testament, God first chastises nations through "tribulations," such as drought, famine, and the sword to bring them to repentance (Deuteronomy 11). When chastisement doesn't work, God turns the people over to their reprobate minds (Romans 1). When the nation's iniquity is complete, God pours out His wrath, destroying and removing the people from the land to cleanse it (Genesis 15:16, Jeremiah 25:12). This pattern can be found across the dispensations in both the Old and New Testament and for people who are under and not under the Law of Moses (Leviticus 18, 20, Romans 1). However, during the 7-year Tribulation God will not judge separate nations, He will judge the world. Thus, the "dispensation of judgment" is a period of global judgment.

In the next several sections, we will discuss the differences between the dispensations of Law, grace, and judgment. This discussion of dispensations will lay the groundwork to understand why the rapture of the Church must occur before the Tribulation begins.

For a chart on the dispensations since the creation, click here.

Christ reconciled and sanctified the Church:

Hebrews 13:12 - Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.
1 John 1:7 - ...the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Ephesians 5:25-27 - Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
Philippians 3:9 - ...not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.

The blood of Christ reconciled and sanctified the Church, making the Church righteous before God under the "dispensation of grace." During the "dispensation of the Law," Israel had to sacrifice to atone for their iniquity until Jesus died on the cross (Isaiah 53), but Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah and will go through a period of judgment before they corporately accept Christ's work of atonement:

Isaiah 64:6-7, 9-10 - But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities.... Do not be furious, O Lord, nor remember iniquity forever; indeed, please look - we all are Your people! Your holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.
Zechariah 12:9-10 - It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. "And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced."
By accepting Jesus as Messiah, Israel will "make reconciliation for iniquity," which is one of the purposes of the Tribulation, or "dispensation of judgment," also known as "Daniel's 70th Week," which we will discuss later:
Daniel 9:24 - "Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy."

The Church is not under the Law:

Galatians 3:10-14 - For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." Yet the law is not of faith, but "the man who does them shall live by them." Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Galatians 5:18 - But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Romans 6:14 - For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

The Church is under grace. Christ became a curse for us and redeemed us from the Law. Judgment will replace grace in the next dispensation, as shown throughout the book of Revelation and other prophetic Scripture.

The Church is not in darkness:

1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 - But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.
John 8:12 - Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."
1 Peter 2:9-10 - But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
Colossians 1:9-14 - For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus is the light of the world. His Church is in the light and not of darkness. During the "dispensation of grace," the Church is the light of the world (Philippians 2:15). Israel apparently couldn't behold the divine light. They feared God and asked for Moses to speak to them, instead of God (Exodus 20:18-21). Also, we see that God hid Himself in a cloud of darkness from Israel during the "dispensation of the Law" (Exodus 20:21, Deuteronomy 4:11, 5:22-23, Psalm 18:11, Psalm 97:2). Similarly, the "dispensation of judgment" is a time of darkness (Joel 2:1-2, Zephaniah 1:14-15, Amos 5:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). This would support the Church not being present during the "dispensation of judgment" because the Church is not of darkness.

The Church prevails against evil:

Matthew 16:18-19 - "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Ephesians 6:10-13 - Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Ephesians 6:14-20 - Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints - and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

The Church has dominion and prevails over evil with the help of the Holy Spirit. God has also controlled evil under the dispensations of the Law and grace by instituting governing authorities to maintain order (Romans 13:1-7). As discussed further in the next section, in the "dispensation of judgment" evil will go unrestrained and the believers at that time will be overcome by Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:7, Daniel 7:21, Revelation 13:7).

The work of the Holy Spirit restrains evil:

Isaiah 59:19 - ...When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him.
John 16:7-8 - Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.
1 John 3:4-9 - Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
1 John 3:24 - Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

We see in the passages above, that in the "dispensation of grace," the Holy Spirit restrains evil through conviction of sin. In the "dispensation of the Law," God restrained evil through the Law and the Holy Spirit convicting people of sin through the prophets (Zechariah 7:12). In the "dispensation of judgment," evil will go unrestrained (2 Thessalonians 2:5-10). Therefore, the restraining work of the Holy Spirit will be suspended during the "dispensation of judgment":

2 Thessalonians 2:5-10 - Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

Christ seals the Church with the Holy Spirit:

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 - Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
Ephesians 1:13-14 - In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

Only in the "dispensation of grace" do we find assurance of eternal security by the Holy Spirit. That said, salvation has and always will be a faith issue for all dispensations:

Romans 9:30-32 - What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.
Hebrews 11:6 - But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Romans 4:13-16 - For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

In the "dispensation of grace," the Church is given the Holy Spirit as a pledge from Christ for the promise of salvation; those under the Law had no such assurance. During the "dispensation of the Law," the Holy Spirit did dwell in select people: the judges, the prophets, and others for His purpose (Judges 3:10, 1 Samuel 16:13, Nehemiah 9:30, Zechariah 7:12). However, these people were not sealed and they had no assurance that the Holy Spirit would stay with them (1 Samuel 16:14, Psalm 51:11-12, Isaiah 63:10). This did not mean that they could lose their salvation, as salvation has always been based on a covenant relationship; just that they had no assurance of their salvation, as we do under the "dispensation of grace."

We see in 1 Samuel 16:14 that the Holy Spirit departed from King Saul. But right before his death, Samuel's spirit told Saul that he would die and join him the next day (1 Samuel 28:19). I think it's safe to assume that Samuel died as a saved person. So, if Saul joined Samuel when he died, Saul was also saved, even though the Holy Spirit had left him. In fact, most of the Old Testament saints never had the Holy Spirit dwell in them, yet they were still saved. Again, salvation is a covenant relationship based on faith. During the "dispensation of grace," the Holy Spirit gives us assurance of our salvation; we know He will never leave us because He has sealed us.

In the "dispensation of judgment," the only saved people who are sealed are the 144,000 servants (Revelation 7). While the context shows that these servants are supernaturally protected through their ministry, as just shown above, being "sealed" is also a guarantee of salvation from the Holy Spirit who dwells in those who are sealed. In other words, the mark shows protection (Revelation 7:3), but the sealing shows indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This suggests that the Holy Spirit will work similar to the way He did during the "dispensation of the Law," in that He will dwell in a select few for a specific purpose.

Unlike the Old Testament Saints, the 144,000 sealed servants will also have the assurance of their salvation like believers in the Church. In other words, the Holy Spirit is not there as a comforter to all believers during the "dispensation of judgment," but only for the 144,000 servants, in addition to protection for the difficult task they are given to accomplish. Being a believer during the Tribulation will be exceptionally difficult, especially without the comfort and assurance of the Holy Spirit.

There is further evidence that the Holy Spirit does not dwell in all believers during the Tribulation like He does today. We see a transition at the end of the "dispensation of judgment," where God will again pour out the Holy Spirit on Israel and all flesh, as He did at Pentecost at the birth of the Church (Acts 2):

Joel 2:28-29 - "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days."
Ezekiel 39:29 - "And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,' says the Lord GOD."
Zechariah 12:10 - "And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication..."

There wouldn't be a second outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the end of the Tribulation if all believers were already in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit during the Tribulation, which supports the Church's absence on Earth during the Tribulation because the Church is in-dwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit.

Birth pangs:

As the "dispensation of grace" comes to a close, Jesus told us that the world would experience "sorrows," or "birth pangs" leading up to the "dispensation of judgment" and His return:

Matthew 24:6-8 - And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.

In the natural birthing process, there are birth pangs before the baby arrives. The birth pangs usually begin slow and manageable, but become more intense, closer together, and less manageable approaching the delivery of the baby.

As the birth pangs described by Jesus, become greater and greater, we will know that the end is getting closer and closer. It is obvious that the world has experienced these "birth pangs" for some time. For the most part, they have been manageable, however anybody can see they are getting worse, but we are definitely not in the Tribulation yet.

As many mothers will tell you, most birth pangs are manageable up until a certain point called transition. This is basically the "point-of-no-return," where the birth pangs become almost unbearable, usually for a short period, right before the baby is born.

Likewise, there will be a "transition" to specific judgments given by Christ Himself in the Tribulation that will become unbearable to those receiving them. These birth pangs are the physical manifestations of the earth and people groaning under the increasing sin in the world, anticipating redemption when Christ returns:

Romans 8:22-23 - For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

Notice the parallel of the birth pangs in Jesus' "Olivet Discourse" to the Seal judgments in Revelation 6. The birth pangs will start in the last days on a regional scale and increase and culminate into specific judgments from God with global consequences during the Tribulation.

Regional Birth PangsGlobal Seal Judgments
Many false christs
Matthew 24:4-5,11, Mark 13:5-6, Luke 21:8
1st Seal
One ultimate false christ, the Antichrist
Revelation 6:1-2
Wars and rumors of wars
Matthew 24:6-7, Mark 13:7-8, Luke 21:9
2nd Seal
Global war
Revelation 6:3-4
Famine, pestilence and troubles in various places
Matthew 24:7-8, Mark 13:8, Luke 21:11
3rd & 4th Seal
Global scarcity. 1/4th Earth subject to death
Revelation 6:5-8
Persecution and martyr of some saints
Matthew 24:9,13 & Mark 13:9-13
5th Seal
Martyr of saints unrestrained
Revelation 6:9-11
Earthquakes in various places
Matthew 24:7, Mark 13:8, Luke 21:11
6th Seal
Wrath of the Lamb worldwide earthquake
Revelation 6:12-17

Though similar, there are some major differences between the birth pangs before the Tribulation and the judgments during the Tribulation. One difference already pointed out, is that today the birth pangs are regional, but in the "dispensation of judgment" they will have global consequences.

An observation I've made in the past several years, is that many of these birth pangs are starting to have some worldwide effects, especially economic ones, but not to the point that nations have scrapped their economies for one global currency yet. In other words, the birth pangs are not only increasing in frequency and intensity, but they are also affecting larger parts of the world than before. This is a sign that we are rapidly approaching the Tribulation period because the recent larger scale birth pangs will eventually lead to the global political and economic system of the antichrist, who will rule over the world (Revelation 13).

Another difference between the birth pangs and Seal judgments is that, during the "dispensation of judgment," there is no restraint on evil. As if the consequences of unrestrained evil weren't enough for humans to destroy themselves, God will also pour out His Wrath on them (Revelation 6:17). The situation will become unbearable to the point that most people who enter the Tribulation period will not survive.

During the "dispensation of grace," evil is still being restrained and God is controlling the birth pangs. That said, the consequences of sin and natural disasters fall on the just and the unjust, just like the blessings of the rain do (Matthew 5:45). However, we find that when catastrophic events take place today, God shows His grace and mercy in the outpouring of aid and the Gospel to those places that cannot recover on their own. In some cases, without these disasters, the Gospel would never get in, especially to dictatorial type countries.

Also, the birth pang events are the wake-up call some need before they decide to accept Christ as Savior. However, in just the past few years, the outpouring of aid is becoming less and less because of "disaster fatigue." This is due to the increase of the natural disaster birth pangs, in addition to the economic birth pangs that have struck most parts of the world, as of late. This is another sign that we are rapidly approaching the Tribulation period. During the Tribulation, rampant evil and increasing despair will trump compassion for most that are in the midst of the turmoil of God's judgment.

Rapture of the Church

The rapture of the Church:

Now that we've concluded our study on dispensations, we can begin to discuss the resurrection and rapture of the Church. Remember that after the cross, Christ became the "first fruits" of our resurrection, which means that our resurrection will occur the same way as Christ's resurrection. The Church's resurrection, widely known as the rapture of the Church, is the transition event between the dispensations of grace and judgment. The following verses describe this event:

1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 - For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:51-53 - Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

What is the purpose of the rapture of the Church? Many believe the rapture is an escape from God's Wrath. This has led to all sorts of opinions on when God's Wrath starts in the Tribulation, which has led to various views on the timing of the rapture itself. While it is true that God has promised that the Church is not subject to His Wrath (Romans 5:8-9, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 5:9-10), escape from God's Wrath is not the main purpose of the rapture.

Think about the horrible persecutions and torture experienced by millions of Christians since the time of Christ. Those stoned to death by unbelieving Jews, torn apart by lions under Nero, or hacked to death by Muslims in this present day, can attest that their experience was not any less severe than what believers will physically endure in the Tribulation. Again the difference between now and the Tribulation is that God will be pouring out His Wrath on top of unrestrained evil, while today God is pouring out grace while keeping evil in check through the restraining work of the Holy Spirit.

That said, God has promised the Tribulation saints that the Holy Spirit will speak for them if they get arrested (Mark 13:9-11). The instances that the Holy Spirit helps the Tribulation saints, appears limited and for a purpose, similar to the Old Testament, as discussed a few sections back.

We see today that the evil present, while still restrained, is still awful and destructive. This evil along with the natural consequences of our sin, the Bible calls "tribulations." The following passage shows that the "tribulations" the Church will endure under grace are different from the wrath God will pour out on His enemies during the Tribulation:

2 Thessalonians 1:4-10 - ...so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.

The purpose of the rapture really goes back to the doctrine of dispensations. Grace and judgment unto wrath cannot work concurrently. Scripture clearly shows that the Tribulation will be a curse and a punishment for Israel's iniquity and God's enemies in preparation for the Kingdom:

Jeremiah 30:4-8 - Now these are the words that the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah. "For thus says the LORD: 'We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, whether a man is ever in labor with child? So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor, and all faces turned pale? Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. ' For it shall come to pass in that day,' Says the LORD of hosts, 'That I will break his yoke from your neck, and will burst your bonds; foreigners shall no more enslave them."
Jeremiah 30:9-11 - But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. 'Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,' says the LORD, 'Nor be dismayed, O Israel; For behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,' says the LORD, 'to save you; Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished.'
Daniel 9:24 - "Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy."
Micah 7:8-9 - Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me forth to the light; I will see His righteousness.
Isaiah 26:21 - For behold, the LORD comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will also disclose her blood, and will no more cover her slain.

In other words, God will be cleansing the earth of His enemies, to begin the Kingdom with only believers. We will see this again later when we touch on the "Sheep and Goat Judgment," which is at the end of the Tribulation.

God is going to bring Israel through the Tribulation as a punishment for their iniquity. God will also use the Tribulation to turn the Jewish people back to Him, as He will be turning His focus back to them:

Zechariah 13:8-9 - "And it shall come to pass in all the land," Says the LORD, "That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one-third shall be left in it: I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'This is My people'; And each one will say, 'The LORD is my God.'"

Though God will be pouring out His Wrath and destroying His enemies, He will still offer salvation to people. We see in the passage above, that one-third of the Jews will get saved during the Tribulation, accepting Jesus as Messiah. In a few sections, we will see that even during judgment, God will continue to spread the Gospel message throughout the Tribulation.

In Revelation 7, a multitude of people from all nations will come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ during the Tribulation. However, being in the "dispensation of judgment," these people will not receive the blessings and promises that the Church has been given during the "dispensation of grace," including the seal of the Holy Spirit. We will discuss this in more detail in the "5th Seal martyrs."

Previously, we discussed that Christ has reconciled and sanctified the Church, making us righteous. Also, we saw that the Church is not under the Law because Jesus became a curse for us. If the Church will be under God's curse during the Tribulation, then Jesus being made a curse for us becomes null and void. Neither will the Church be punished for its iniquity, as will be the case for Israel. It is clear that God has to remove the Church before the "dispensation of judgment" begins because the blood of Christ has already made reconciliation for our iniquity, when He became a curse for us.

Restrainer taken with the Church:

A few sections back, we discussed that the "restrainer" in the following passage is the Holy Spirit:

2 Thessalonians 2:5-10 - Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

The Holy Spirit has sealed believers until the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14). If the Holy Spirit is "taken out of the way," so must the Church. The saying goes: "If you take the restrainer, you take the container." The rapture event will take the restrainer "out of the way." For a more thorough discussion on the passages above in 2 Thessalonians, I recommend my pastor's commentary here.

The Church's work of spreading the Gospel given to others:

The great commission to spread the Gospel was originally given to Jesus' disciples. Paul tells us that the great commission found fulfillment in his day:

Colossians 1:5-6, 23 - ...the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth... the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Like many prophecies, there is a partial fulfillment in the near term, with the complete fulfillment later. Paul partially fulfilled Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10. The end did not come in Paul's day and more generations have been born that need to hear the Gospel. Therefore, the complete fulfillment of these passages will come right before the end, when Jesus returns.

The Church has continued to spread the Gospel for the last couple millennia. The apostle John is a member of the Church and among those who were directly instructed to spread the Gospel. Interestingly, before the Tribulation begins, a voice like a trumpet calls John up to Heaven:

Revelation 4:1 - After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here."

Many believe that John being called to Heaven by the voice of a trumpet is a picture of the rapture of the Church because it parallels the trumpet call of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53). Also, the Church is not directly mentioned again after Revelation 3. Instead, as we will see in a few sections, the elders in Heaven represent the Church during the Tribulation period. After the Tribulation, the Wife of Christ, who is clearly the Church, will come out of Heaven at the end of the Tribulation, among the armies of Heaven (Revelation 19:7-8, 14).

If the Church goes to Heaven before the Tribulation, then who will continue the work of the great commission? We saw a few sections back that a great multitude will find salvation during the Tribulation. Who will share the Gospel with them? Scripture shows that 144,000 sealed servants, the two witnesses, and an angel will fulfill the great commission. The passage below in Isaiah indicates that these "servants of God," like Christ (Luke 4:18-19), will preach "good tidings," which is the good news of the Gospel:

Isaiah 61:1-6 - "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified." And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the foreigner shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be named the priests of the LORD, they shall call you the servants of our God.
Revelation 7:2-4 - Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
Revelation 11:3-7 - "And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth." These are the two olive trees and the two lamp stands standing before the God of the earth. When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.
Zechariah 4:11-14 - Then I answered and said to him, "What are these two olive trees - at the right of the lamp stand and at its left?" And I further answered and said to him, "What are these two olive branches that drip into the receptacles of the two gold pipes from which the golden oil drains?" Then he answered me and said, "Do you not know what these are?" And I said, "No, my lord." So he said, "These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth."
Revelation 14:6-7 - Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth-to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people - saying with a loud voice, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water."

It appears that these servants, the two witnesses, and an angel will be replacing the Church in their role of spreading the Gospel during the Tribulation period.

All believers will go in the rapture:

The rapture is an event for those who are "in Christ" (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17) and "counted worthy":

Luke 21:36 - "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."

So what does it mean to "be counted worthy to escape" the Tribulation? The following verses show that salvation will save you from God's Wrath. In other words, praying to escape the Tribulation is to pray for salvation, which will, in effect, save you from God's Wrath:

Romans 5:8-9 - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 - For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 - For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.

Clearly, we don't have to do anything to make ourselves worthy, outside of praying for salvation. For somebody to have to "do" something, other than accepting the free gift of salvation, would be "works." Our salvation is by grace through faith; not works:

Ephesians 2:8-9 - For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Interestingly, Paul wrote the following to the church of Corinth, which at the time was a carnal or backsliding church:

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 - Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

When God's Word says the "dead in Christ will rise" (1 Thessalonians 4:16), it only makes sense that all in Christ will resurrect in the rapture, carnal or not. All of us have a tendency to wander off in our spiritual walk with Christ. None of us are good enough to get to Heaven, either in death or the rapture. As discussed in a few sections, believers will appear at the "Judgment Seat of Christ" after the rapture. Believers will gain or lose rewards based on what they did and did not do for Christ during their life. This is where Christ will judge the spiritual walk of believers. Note in the passage below that salvation is safe in this judgment:

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 - According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

For an excellent article by Jack Kelley about the qualifications for being taken at the rapture click here.

The innocent taken in the rapture with believers:

As we have just seen, it is clear that all born again Christians will go to Heaven in the rapture. But what about those people who cannot comprehend the Gospel? Children and many mentally handicapped people are not capable of making a personal decision for or against Christ, yet they are born with a sin nature (Psalm 58:3, Romans 3:10). However, these people are still innocent in God's eyes because they can't differentiate right from wrong. The passage below shows us that there is an "age of accountability," where children have no knowledge of good and evil:

Deuteronomy 1:35,39 - 'Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see that good land of which I swore to give to your fathers....' 'Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.'

Paul tells us in the passage below that only those who know or can grasp an understanding of the Law, God considers unrighteous. Those who understand the Law become responsible to it, but then willingly break it anyway. Paul also points out that he "was alive once" before he knew the Law, but then he died when he understood what sin and the Law were. This is evidence that those who cannot comprehend these things are not dead in their sin until they can understand what sin is. Obviously children under the age of accountability do not understand what sin is, as well as many who are mentally handicapped:

Romans 7:7-12 - What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

Paul was under the Mosaic Law because he was a Jew. But Gentiles come under the natural law when they reach the age of accountability, when their conscience shows them what is right and wrong through nature:

Romans 2:12-16 - For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

So we see that only people under the age of accountability have no law, either Mosaic or natural. Paul tells us that sin is not imputed or made accountable when there is no law:

Romans 5:13 - For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

We also see that God considered Adam and Eve innocent until they ate of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 3). The tree served the same purpose as the Law, in that when God's commandment was deliberately broken, innocence was gone and they understood the difference between good and evil. At the point Adam and Eve lost their innocence; they became dead in their sin.

At some point in a person's life, if they reject Christ, instead of repenting of their sin and accepting Him as Savior, they get blotted out of the Lamb's book of life. It goes to reason, that everybody is initially included in the Lamb's book of life, if they can later be blotted out. It only makes sense that a person gets blotted out only after they reach the age of accountability, if they choose to reject Christ. Scripture is clear that only those not blotted out of the Lamb's book of life will be able to enter the New Jerusalem in Heaven:

Revelation 3:5 - He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
Revelation 21:27 - But there shall by no means enter it (the New Jerusalem) anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.

Jesus told us we have to become like children to enter the Kingdom. By this He meant that we should have faith like a child. Jesus also told us not to forbid the children from coming to Him; meaning we shouldn't do anything that would prevent them from accepting Him by the time they reach the age of accountability. So why then would Jesus forbid any child below the age of accountability from entering into Heaven? He says that children are of the Kingdom of Heaven:

Matthew 18:1-5 - At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me."
Matthew 19:13-15 - Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.

It seems pretty straightforward that children are not held accountable for their sin, and they will go to Heaven if they die before reaching that age of accountability. David believed without a doubt that he would join his dead child in Heaven some day:

2 Samuel 12:19-23 - When David saw that his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Therefore David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" And they said, "He is dead." So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, "What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food." And he said, "While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?' But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."

We are also told in the story of Jeroboam that God took his son because God found something good in him. I believe that means that if Jeroboam's son had lived out his life on Earth, his evil father's influence would have led to his rejection of God, so God took the child before he reached the age of accountability:

1 Kings 14:13 - And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he is the only one of Jeroboam who shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something good toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.

Does this mean that all children and the mentally handicapped will go to Heaven in the rapture? Children were not spared in the flood or other judgments of God in the Old Testament, so why would they be taken in the rapture? Because Scripture shows that being kept from the Wrath of God in the "dispensation of grace" is a salvation issue:

1 Thessalonians 5:9 - God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since we have determined that God considers children under the age of accountability innocent, then being in the "dispensation of grace," all these children would be kept from the Wrath of God, along with the Church.

There is support for children being taken with the Church in Joel. The book of Joel is all about the "Day of the Lord," which is widely believed to begin with the rapture of the Church. We see a parallel passage below to the throne room in Heaven in Revelation 4-5. There is an assembly of elders, priests, and the Bride in the throne room. The Church is the Bride of Christ, also represented by the elders who are also priests. Interestingly, both children and babies are in this assembly:

Joel 2:16-17 - Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, "Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ' Where is their God?'"

That being said, we must recognize that there will be children born during the Tribulation period:

Matthew 24:15-19 - "Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!

It is interesting that Jesus specifically mentions nursing babies in Matthew, but not children, yet both are found in Joel. The average weaning age in the world is three years old and even older in some third world countries. I believe it is safe to assume that the entire world will be in worse shape than even third world countries are today.

Assuming the rapture happens within a year or so of the beginning of the 7-year Tribulation, most children at the time of the "abomination of desolation" would be younger than age three to four, no older than the average weaning age. Though this doesn't prove that all children go to Heaven at the rapture, it certainly supports it.

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