Typically, Evangelicals who have believed in a Pre-Trib Rapture have considered something the Bible calls “the great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14) to be a period of time synonymous with the seven year treaty made by the anti-Christ written about by Daniel in Daniel 9:27. That verse also speaks of an event which will occur at the midway point of the seven years called the “abomination of desolation.” That event is also referenced by Jesus in Matthew 24:15-21, by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, and by John in Revelation 12-13.
In Matthew 24:15-21, Jesus told His disciples that when the abomination of desolation occurs (which from Daniel we know will happen at the midway point of this seven year “treaty”) THEN there will be great distress like the world has never seen nor will ever see again–the “great tribulation.”
Fast forward to Revelation chapter seven where John sees a great multitude that cannot be numbered. He is told that that vast multitude is comprised of those who have come out of the great tribulation (Revelation 7:14). Modern Pre-Trib Evangelicalism has taught us that these are those who missed the Rapture but made it out of the tribulation period without taking the mark of the beast. I find five difficulties with that interpretation of Revelation 7 and the multitude we see there.
One>A Wrongly Defined Great Tribulation
As shown above, the Bible refers to the Great Tribulation as a time of unparalleled trouble that will come upon the earth at the midway point of the seven year treaty. So, it is a mistake to say that the Great Tribulation mentioned in Revelation 7 is a reference to the seven year treaty period which the modern Evangelical Pre-Trib church calls the Great Tribulation but which the Bible does not. Why does this matter? It matters because when the modern Evangelical Pre-Trib church declares that the Church won’t go through the Great Tribulation, it means it won’t go through any part of the seven year treaty period that it calls the Great Tribulation. But, if the Bible declares that the Church will not go through the unparalleled time of distress that it calls the great tribulation, it means that the Church will not experience the last three and a half years of the treaty period!
Two>The Size of the Multitude
If the multitude of Revelation 7 is comprised of those who have missed the Rapture, isn’t it odd that there are so many? In the Matthew 24 passage mentioned above, Jesus said that if the days of the terrible time of trouble were not cut short even the very elect would be deceived! Does it seem, then, that an innumerable host of people would survive the great tribulation after having missed the Rapture? Should we not more reasonably expect that those times will be so difficult that only a small amount of people who were not found faithful at the time of the Rapture would be so successful at resisting the anti-Christ?
Three>The Celebration of Revelation 7
Revelation 7 speaks in such victorious tones concerning this great multitude.
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16 Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
In fact, it seems pretty glorious to be a part of this crowd. Are we to believe that the Bible makes no reference to what would be an even more innumerable crowd of believers caught away by the Rapture, but makes a glorious reference to those who have missed the Rapture?
Four>Out of Sequence
If the book of revelation beginning at chapter four or even from chapter six on is meant to be taken chronologically (which perhaps it shouldn’t be), then the modern Evangelical Pre-Trib believer would have us believe that the multitude of Revelation chapter seven is mentioned there six chapters before we read about the anti-Christ, the mark of the beast, and the punishment for not receiving the mark of the beast.
In Revelation 15:2-4, we get the account of those who were “victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name (Revelation 20:4-6 tells us they were beheaded).” There is no reference to a vast multitude, no focus on their faith in the blood of the Lamb (see Rev. 7:14), but rather a sober praise of God’s greatness and holiness and righteous acts:
Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the ages.
4 Who will not fear you, O Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
So, if those who have survived the beast’s image and number are mentioned in Revelation 15 (chronologically sensible with the flow of Revelation), then who is this innumerable multitude in Revelation 7?
One of the demands of the modern Evangelical Pre-Trib believer is that Christians not go through the great tribulation because that would mean that they experienced the wrath of God and the Bible declares that we are not appointed to wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9). True enough. But the problem here is that the modern Evangelical Pre-Trib believer equates the full seven year period with the great tribulation. Therefore, in their view, the Church cannot go through that period without violating Scripture. But Scripture does not refer to the full seven year period as the great tribulation. If we line up our expectations with the Bible’s timing of the great tribulation, then the Church can be present on the earth right up until the time of the abomination of desolation, three and a half years into the seven year period.
One last issue that arises with this subject is the idea fostered by the modern Evangelical Pre-Trib believer that the Rapture must be a surprise. However, the 1 Thessalonians 5 passage says differently:
4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, the idea that a Rapture that does not take place until sometime after the beginning of Daniel’s seven year treaty period violates the “no wrath/no surprise” expectations of the modern Evangelical Pre-Trib believer is actually not the case when we look closely at Scripture.
Can the Rapture take place right now? Today? I believe it can. In fact it might! But Scripture does not nail down a Pre-Trib view of the Rapture definitively.
I have come to see Revelation 5- the opening of the scrolls- to indicate a view similar to yours, that the four horsemen are being released in our time- before the rapture. I hope your article spurs a lot of discussion!
It looks like it’s just you and me Rich. Looking again at Revelation today I cannot see any other way to read it other than chronologically. That puts the typical view of ch. 7 at odds with ch. 15.
Really gives me food for thought having been taught the Pre- Trib. and never really looked into Revelation. Thank you Pastor Scott.
Your welcomed Fred! It is always good to be honest about what Scripture actually says and what it actually does NOT say, which is my goal. Tim LaHaye, in his book The Rapture, gives as his chief reason for defending the pre-trib view of the Rapture the fact that it has been a comfort to so many over the years. That is, of course, not a good reason to defend a doctrine.
Well, Pastor Scott, you have “done me in!” Now, instead of praying for the rapture to happen in my lifetime, I must switch gears and pray for a divine protection during those 3 1/2 years …. or… a quick home-going to Jesus!!!
Yea Chris! You found me! Well, remember: my point is that we must be prepared for a scenario different than traditional Pre-Trib, but it could happen at any moment. However, the more I consider Revelation 7, the more strongly I expect a Mid-Trib scenario! Sorry! 🙂