On when the rapture will occur, we do not assert our opinion in the main, nor do we seek to persuade in this area in general. But as so many have asked, it may be edifying to put forth an answer.
Our only real concern is with those who teach "imminency": that Jesus could come at any time. Clearly this directly contradicts the teachings of Jesus and the scriptures in general; and yet, oddly, it is very popular.
2 The 2:1-5 (Wey) But with respect to the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to meet Him, [what we term "the rapture"] we entreat you, brethren... Let no one in any way deceive you, for that day cannot come without the coming of the apostasy first, and the appearing of the man of sin, the son of perdition, who sets himself against, and exalts himself above, every so-called 'god' or object of worship, and goes the length of taking his seat in the very temple of God, giving it out that he himself is God... Do you not remember that while I was still with you I used to tell you all this?To be sure, it is possible to hold the pretribulational (pretrib) position and also agree with God on this point. As for me, while I cannot see the veracity of the pretrib position, I still hold out the possibility of being surprised to find out that the pretrib believers were right--after the man of sin has been revealed, of course. Let us not call our God a liar.
As for us, we are either posttribulational (posttrib) (Dean) or mid-posttrib (Laura, "except those days be shortened..."). The pretrib view does not fit the Olivette discourse at all--which is clearly described in time sequence ("then", "when") and all three accounts are in the same basic order. Pretrib people still claim, against all this, that Jesus did not really mean to say the order of things was important; he was just throwing all these elements out. <Hmmm...>
It seems to be more honest to read it just like the "perfect Word" said it. Which is clearly posttrib as described in all three accounts. Yes, we have heard all the rationalizations trying to get around this. But we have to ask the question why we are unwilling to accept the plain sense meaning in the discourse from the Mount of Olives and the other places in scripture that say the same? Why are we so desperate to explain this away by going through all these textual acrobatics? Here, I think, lies the answer to the "dispute", and I think you will find it edifying.
First, "the tribulation". Tribulation is not some special, reserved word in scripture, as we have made it in English. It just means "trouble". And a "great trouble" is coming, to be sure.
Acts 8:34 (NIV) The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?"This is the basic problem of interpreting prophecy. In Psalm 22 David says "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me..." all the way to "For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face... but has listened to his cry for help." Now consider the original context and meaning of this psalm. David was surrounded by enemies and it seemed like there was no recourse but to count on God for vindication. If David had anything else in view it is not discernible from the text itself.
And yet was this not a prophetic foreshadowing of a later event upon which the whole universe would turn?
"Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" indeed!
And we are now the "body of Christ", if his name dwells in us. And we will do "greater works than these..." in a sort of "post-shadow" of fulfillment.
Will we not really follow Jesus? Are we opposed in advance to the prospect of it?
Consider Jesus' first sermon (a rebuke, actually) to the disciples after his resurrection:
Luke 24:25-26 (NIV) He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"Is God going to change his pattern, his way? Have we taken seriously "all that the prophets have spoken", or bent the meaning of the prophecies into a pretzel of doctrine more to our liking?
Let us take another run at this, to make sure I am being clear. Jesus came and died, one man in one place with one demon-possessed mob mocking him. This was the central event of all history, God's ultimate and final revelation of his love for those with eyes to see it. It "pleased the Lord to see him suffer..." (Isa 53:10). This was foreshadowed by David's real life experience. And in post-shadow reflection, the whole body of Christ will suffer in every city and nation and family. If we will but listen to the prophets, including Jesus himself, he has shown us "how much we need suffer for his name's sake" in advance. He told us to count the cost, not meditate on a cop-out.
For God has yet to reveal his wrath (Rom 1:18), although we have plenty of prophetic expectation that it is coming. And will this not be poured out on the elect first (1 Pet 4:17-18)? Is this a matter of human opinion, or has God spoken clearly about it?
I was traveling one day listening to a pretrib teacher on the radio go on and on why this modern pretrib doctrine must be so, and rolling it over in my mind for the 1000th time trying to give it a fair chance--as I am really at heart a pan-tribulationalist, believing it will all pan out in the end. <har--old joke> And then it struck me that this whole doctrine was an 11th hour
"pretribulational vignette"... just like Jesus experienced in the garden. "Father," he must have thought, "You never change. There is no changing with you, you are always the same. And you know I am willing, just as Isaac and Abraham were when you stopped the knife in the air. Surely, then--you will rescue your chosen in the last moment? For you never change..." Was Jesus tempted by a sort of "systematic theology" that would have made it seem--against what he knew all along and by direct prophetic confirmation--that he might be spared the "great tribulation" in store for him at the last moment? Might even this be being repeated in post-shadow?
"Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done." Might not the pretrib among us take this same attitude of submission, even if they are unable to bear the meaning of it?
So here comes my real challenge. Are we hankering after a comforting doctrinal diversion? Or are we sweating blood? Will we really follow Jesus?
Nonetheless, I could be wrong in this. If I hear a trumpet shout--then I will indeed look up! In surprise, to be sure, but in joy to find a knife suspended in the air.
In any case, it will get very, very dark and bad up to this point--the likes of which the world has never seen. Worse than the holocaust, worse than when giant meteors hit the earth in the past, worse than the dividing of the continents. (Mat 24:21) The sun and moon and heavenly bodies will be "shaken" from their places, and the earth will reel like a drunkard (Isa 24:20).
In the meantime, and regardless of guesses of when our Lover will come and snatch us away, there is oil to gather for a long night.
Preparation should thus be our emphasis: 1) for our Lord and 2) against deception of any type. And one deception is to get all caught up in charts and graphs and such and forget that he is coming for an intimate union with us--his bride! Let us prepare ourselves for our wedding night and dinner, and not get caught up in trivia.
Zeph 2:3 (NIV) Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord's anger.