"For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" - 1 Corinthians 14:8
It never ceases to amaze me the way the pretribulational rapture teaching can make such fantastic conclusions out of such straightforward Bible passages. As one commits to an honest and objective study of the interpretations presented by pretribulation advocates, one cannot help but notice the gross discrepancies which inescapably arise between the supposed doctrine and the inspired Scriptures. A prominent German theologian put it rather bluntly: "[Pretribulationism] must be refuted as a dangerous distortion of New Testament eschatology."
It is my object in this article to cover a few of the most obvious Scriptural discrepancies that arise from holding to a pretribulational position, in the hopes that those who read the following few words would consider the strangeness and error of this 19th century doctrine.
A SECOND COMING BEFORE THE SECOND COMING
"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." (Hebrews 9:28)
The term "Second Coming" is actually never found in the Bible, although the concept most certainly is, just like the word "trinity" is not found in the Bible but the concept is unmistakably there. Though the verse above is the only mention of the word "second" in connection with the future coming of the Lord, the belief that Jesus will once again return to earth a second time saturates the Old and New Testaments. Jesus announced to His disciples the night before He was crucified, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:3) Likewise the angel announced to them also on the Mount of Olives just after Christ ascended, that "this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11) The expectation of the apostles was that Jesus will return a second time to earth in the same manner that He ascended. This is shown by their continual unanimous testimony concerning Christ's coming:
Paul - "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
Peter - "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?" (2 Peter 3:10-12)
John - "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen." (Revelation 1:7)
Notice the apostolic expectation is simply the full and glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus and that no dual distinctions are made. The reason why there are no distinctions ever made between the "second coming" and a "secret pretribulational coming" is because no duality of "comings" existed in their doctrine. The apostles purely preached that Jesus Christ would come again, plain and simple.
On the other hand, pretribulationists, if they are to remain consistent with their theology, must believe in three comings of Christ, a notion utterly foreign to the teaching of the New Testament. Neither Jesus, nor the apostles, ever taught such a thing. To save themselves the embarrassment of such a conclusion, pretribulationists attempt to maintain the expression "the Second Coming of Christ" while at the same time believe in a coming prior to it. They cannot have it both ways. If they say the "secret rapture" is NOT a "coming", then they disqualify all the verses they have since used to support a pretribulational rapture which utilize the word "coming" (see 1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Thessalonians 4:15, for instance). If they say then that the "secret rapture" IS a "coming", then they must believe in three comings, and therefore maintaining the expression "the Second Coming of Christ" as the final glorious appearing of Christ makes no logical sense.
A LAST TRUMPET BEFORE THE LAST TRUMPET
"Behold, I show 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
One of the most popular pretribulational verses in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, quoted above, and yet this Scripture is in fact one of the most strongest arguments AGAINST pretribulationism!
The context of this verse is speaking about the resurrection of the dead when Jesus comes. Paul says in verse 22 and 23, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." (Notice again that there is no distinction between a second coming and a pretribulational coming... just "His coming"). The key to interpreting when this transformation occurs (if it wasn't already obvious) is the pronouncement, "at the last trump." But what is the last trump and where is it found in Scripture?
It is not difficult to discover that the final trumpet spoken of in the Bible occurs at the very end of the age when Jesus returns to earth in great power and glory with all His holy angels. In our Lord's own words spoken to the apostles in the Olivet Discourse, it is stated: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:29-31) The last trumpet and the gathering of the saints are synonymous. When the trumpet is blown, it signals the reapers to go and separate the wheat from the tares. A simple comparison of Matthew 24:29-31, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 clearly reveals the timing and nature of the last trump: it's timing is when Christ comes at the end of the great tribulation; it's nature is that it instigates the rapture, or gathering, of the saints. After the event described in Matthew 24:29-31, there is never another trumpet prophesied to come.
Therefore, if the pretribulationists are using 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 to support a rapture prior to the glorious appearing of Matthew 24:29-31, they run into an irreconcilable dilemma. How can an earlier rapture feature the last trump if there is yet another trumpet to be sounded at the end of the great tribulation? How could 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 be speaking of anything else but the final coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as it's context clearly shows? Either verse 52 is truly talking about the last trumpet, or Paul was terribly mistaken.
A FIRST RESURRECTION BEFORE THE FIRST RESURRECTION
"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." (Revelation 20:4-6)
The last discrepancy we will examine involves the resurrection of the dead, which doctrine is an elementary principle according to Hebrews 6:1-2. Our text above clearly reveals that the first resurrection takes place at the end of the great tribulation when Jesus returns in glory. Christ returns to earth and destroys antichrist at the end of chapter 19 and those who are resurrected suffered greatly under the wrath of the beast. But notice also that the first resurrection is not exclusive to only those who passed through the great tribulation; no, it includes all the saints of God from all generations. John sees all those who had suffered for the Word's sake, and states in verse 6, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." This is written for all believers, for we are all "kings and priests unto God" because He "loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood." (Revelation 1:5-6) "And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed men to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made them unto our God kings and priests: and they shall reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:9-10) The requirement for the second death to have no power over you is for you to take part in the first resurrection. To this all believers will attain by the grace of God.
Throughout the Bible there is only this one resurrection that Christians are promised to receive. We have already looked at 1 Corinthians 15:23. Jesus said in John 6:54, "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." He repeats this expression, "on the last day" four times in chapter 6 so that no one would be confused as to when the resurrection will occur. If we are to believe in a secret resurrection that takes place before the last day then we are not following the plain teaching of Jesus Christ, our Cornerstone.
Either John was correct in saying this is the first resurrection or the pretribulationists are right in saying it is not, and that there is a prior resurrection at the secret coming before the tribulation. What folly! Not one Scripture supports such an idea.
THE TRUTH OR CONJECTURE: YOU DECIDE
In this cursory article we have briefly examined how the pretribulation theory requires 1) a coming, 2) a rapture and 3) a resurrection all prior to the prescribed time clearly set forth in the Holy Scriptures. It is up to pretribulationists to decide whether or not they are going to continue attempting to squeeze the Word of God through the filter of prejudicial conjecture or simply believe the Bible for what it says. In the words of the late W.J. Erdman, the third pastor of Moody Church in Chicago who was once a pretribulationist and an editor of the Scofield Reference Bible before a "further searching of the Scriptures" convinced him otherwise: "Better the disappointment of truth than the fair but false promises of error."
"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)