In our last lesson, we discussed the seven seals of Revelation. After the sixth seal in John’s vision, a large multitude of people—too many to count—arrived suddenly in Heaven. If you believe this signifies the rapture, then there is still a question of timing. Where in the timeline does the breaking of the sixth seal take place? Does it matter?
One of the reasons I have avoided leading a group on Revelation is because of the many opinions such a study can stir within a group. The United Methodist Church addresses this on the church website by saying such speculation is not “central to our approach to discipleship and our theological framework.” In fact, rapture teaching is not central to the theology of most Christian denominations and is not widely taught outside of evangelical churches in the United States. Do you recall being taught about the rapture in church when you were young?
In eschatology, there are three main views regarding the millennium or the 1000 year reign of Christ.
Premillennial- In this view, Christ comes before the millennium, binds Satan, and rules for 1000 years on earth. In this belief system, there are two traditions: dispensational premillennialism and historical premillennialism. These views are fairly similar with the distinction being the role of the church in God’s plan and the establishment of the kingdom. In the dispensational view, God has spoken to humans through a series of covenants, the church is almost an afterthought and Christ failed to establish his kingdom the first time he came. He will come again and rule for a literal 1000 years. In the historical view (the oldest view), the church has always been the goal of God’s plan—even through the old testament—and the kingdom of God was established at Pentecost—spiritually—and can be experienced in spirit now and will be physically manifested at the millennium, which may or may not be a literal 1000 years.
Postmillennial- In this view, Christ returns after 1000 years of peace. Satan has been bound since the cross. The role of the church is to establish the kingdom of God through teaching and spreading the word. This will be accomplished, ushering in the second coming. This belief was dominant until the 20th century when two world wars discouraged the belief that mankind can usher in peace and pave the way for Christ to return.
Amillennial- This view holds that there is no literal 1000 year period on earth for Christ’s literal kingdom. Satan has been bound since the cross and most of Revelation has already happened. Instead, the kingdom of God was established at Pentecost and has been available throughout history to believers. In this view, evil still exists, the antichrist is figurative and Christ will return at some point to bring peace.
A fourth view, the preterist view, says that all of Revelation took place in the first century. Jesus never meant that the world would literally end but, rather, the old Jewish views of the world were to be transformed into an understanding of God’s kingdom.
In your view, what is the most reasonable view of the study of end times?
The 4 Main Rapture Theories
Chances are, if you believe in a rapture, you are a premillennialist of some sort. The other views have some beliefs on the matter, but most evangelicals fall into the premillennial category somewhere. Chances are also very good, if you grew up in the United States (particularly the South) as an evangelical you believe in what is known as a pre-trib rapture. However, a belief in a particular rapture view—or belief in a rapture at all—is not essential to salvation and many Christians may be surprised that there are actually several theories on the matter. In the postmillennial and amillennial views, a rapture happens at the end of days at the second coming of Christ. So, again, only a premillennial view allows any debate on the time frame.
Pre-Tribulation Rapture – In this theory, believers are snatched away at the beginning of a seven-year tribulation period also representative of Daniel’s 70th week. This theory is fairly new and, among Christians, is limited mostly to American evangelicals although some others accept it. There is disagreement over who first taught the pre-trib theory, but it is typically credited to John Nelson Darby, who founded a denomination called the Exclusive Brethren now known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
Post-Tribulation Rapture – The belief held by most orthodox churches. Jesus comes once, at the end of the tribulation period, and begins his earthly reign. The church must endure the entire time of the antichrist.
Mid-Tribulation Rapture – In this view, the church endures the first 4 bowl judgments and the rise of the antichrist—who brings a covenant of peace—but is raptured after the abomination of desolation when the antichrist breaks his covenant and claims to be God. Many people would argue that a mid-trib view is actually pre-trib since the Great Tribulation begins at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week (the seven year period).
Pre-Wrath Rapture – Similar to the mid-trib view in that Christians enter into the seven year end-times period and are taken before the wrath of God that puts an end to the Great Tribulation (final 3.5 years*). The pre-wrath view teaches that God’s wrath begins with the breaking of the sixth seal in Revelation.*Matthew 24:22
Although it doesn’t matter which view you hold, do you see any problems or dangers with any of the theories? What about setting dates, for example, might cause you to misinterpret world events? Here’s a link to an article I wrote several years ago on this subject.
Some criticize pre-trib beliefs for creating a bit of complacency among Christians. Do you see this as valid criticism?
Here are some scripture passages related to rapture beliefs. Use these to form your own opinion on the timing. Keep in mind that your mission, your purpose, in life is to live the Golden Rule and perform the Great Commission. The rapture is not important to what you are here to accomplish. Do not let it become a distraction to your ministry.