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Paul J. Bucknell
There are two major parts of the seven seals that needed an expanded discussion, as John himself allotted in chapter 7:
(1) The 144,000 (7:1-8) and
(2) The martyrs (7:9-17).
To my dismay those holding to the pre-tribulationist viewpoint missed the point on both of these important topics. So after looking at why they would dismiss the clear interpretation for a favored pre-tribulational one, I sought out their support for the pre-tribulationist’s viewpoint in the Book of Revelation.
The Christian church as a whole accepts the coming of Jesus for His people by a rapture as stated in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18. Upon Jesus’ return the church will be caught up to Him and be with Him forever. This is a teaching fit to comfort the saints as it often is during funerals.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 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, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 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. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess 4:14-18 NASB).
The issue with those who love the scriptures is not if there is a rapture but when it will take place. Others accept either a mid-tribulation, post-tribulation rapture or others prefer to simply identify it as the time of Jesus return and not relate it to the tribulation. Our issue here is not to debate the timing but to examine the support the pre-tribulationists find from Revelation for their viewpoint. In doing so, they reinterpret key Revelation teaching points to fit their prophetic scheme.
What follows, then, is an examination of their three most definitive arguments to insert the rapture before the tribulation period from the Book of Revelation. Study questions are also provided.
Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth. (Rev 3:10) (NASB)
This “keep you from the hour of testing” is a promise to keep the church from tribulation.
Pre-tribulationalists assert that the phrase “keep you from the hour of testing” is a promise to keep the church from the trials of the Great Tribulation. The underlying and still popular viewpoint can be summarized: Because God loves the church, He will not allow His people to go through the tribulation. Not a few sincere Christians have sincerely told me that God would never allow His people to suffer! This interpretation is not only inaccurate but dangerous, and goes counter to the very first things we find in chapters 5-6 from the seven seals and indeed in the whole Book of Revelation. Many of God’s chosen people do go through trials.
First, let us examine what is being said here. Who is the promise given to? It is given to those in the church at Philadelphia. Philadelphia was then a city in modern day Turkey. The saints, there, due to the way they faced certain difficult conditions received this promise to “keep you from the hour of testing”. Clearly not all the churches received this promise but only the church at Philadelphia. Would the church in the comfortable West receive this promise? No, because they have not like the Philadelphians received and endured great pressures upon their faith. If the rapture was for all the faithful saints before the tribulation, then should not all seven of the churches have received this promise?
This promise obviously was only written to the church at Philadelphia who alone persevered through hardships, namely: (8) “kept My word, and have not denied My name”; (10) “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance”. It counters the Lord’s words to say what was true for the church in Philadelphia as a reward for their specific perseverance to be applied to all the saints. One might extend the application to all saints who suffer difficult trials, but even this is not true as we will later see. But more is at stake.
For anyone to assert that God will not allow the saints to go through the tribulation is obvious maltreatment of the scriptures including this very passage. Does the Lord not say in verse 10 that He will allow other saints go through the tribulation? It is to “come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth” (3:10).
How is it possible to claim that God would, by virtue of being a loving God, have some escape but not others? Is this argument based on God’s love or fair treatment really justifiable? No, not at all. For God will clearly bring others through the tribulation to test them.
Besides this, the powerful fifth seal in chapter 6 demonstrates that God will allow many martyrs to fall to the ground before the wicked. What happened to the loving God in these cases, if indeed, we are to prematurely preclude a loving God wouldn’t do such a thing?
“And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev 6:9).
The opposite conclusion is found here. Here again, God allows the saints to go through fiery trials even the point of death.
Note that the lives of these martyrs were considered honorable, and yet the Lord allowed them to suffer martyrdom. Should we not rather conclude from God’s treatment of the saints at Philadelphia that God will in some circumstances, though not all, make it so that the saints will not need to go through excessive testing because they already have? Sure, this is the clear meaning of Revelation 3:10.
The clearest testimony for God to permit His beloved ones to suffer trials and testings for greater purposes is seen in all four Gospels where He sends His beloved Son Jesus Christ to die for sinners. We might wonder why God would do such a thing, but surely He did it, and we must not assert a loving God does not do such things because God’s point is that a loving God does do such things! This is the Gospel truth! Jesus, His Son, died.
The way pre-tribulationists apply this teaching to all the saints creates a dangerous portrait of a God who does not exist. By stating or insinuating that a loving God does not categorically allow His people to suffer totally denies the main point of the Book of Revelation, throws presently suffering saints into confusion, and blatantly counters the truth even revealed in verse 3:10.
God does test His people and allows some to die a martyrs’s death, but He always in His great love (Rom 8:28-39) carefully watches over them by sealing them (chapter 7) and so protects their spiritual faith–not from harm–but from pressure that they cannot endure.
Due to a proliferation of these false assumptions about what God would or would not do in certain difficult situations, a large number of believers–and non-believers– believe distorted things about God. I even have atheists tell me a loving God doesn’t hurt people. They have lost the fear of God. The Book of Revelation reveals such dramatic events to strengthen the saints.
Instead of strong saints, confident of God’s love, we have believers who are not prepared for suffering, being falsely convinced that God would never allow them to suffer. Would it not be biblical to state that God will at times allow some to suffer but will–when His wisdom deems best due to what they already faithfully experienced and His purposes–such as with the church at Philadelphia, to escape testings, whether through the rapture or some other means?
We should refuse to use such fallacious arguments which distort man’s viewpoint of God and assert what He will do for the saints when God only says that He, through some unknown means, will keep some saints from facing the degree of suffering other saints will need to endure. He did not state the rapture at all!
The church in America–and wherever this teaching has gone–has welcomed this misinterpretation not because it is supported in Revelation, but because their interpretation of a pre-tribulation rapture, a key part of their prophetic picture, needs to fit somewhere into the scheme of prophetic time. The poor argumentation inadvertently has led to perverted notions of God.
There is no statement of a rapture in Revelation 3:10. The idea that the escape refers to a rapture is not mentioned. Adding it forces a scripturally incompatible interpretation bringing about a whole reinterpretation of Revelation by making the church leave the scene before the second seal is opened. There are some serious hermeneutical mistakes made here, and for some, created a false notion of God and dangerously misled many of God’s people.
Who did Jesus address in Revelation 3:10?
Is there any hint that the whole church will escape this testing? If so, explain.
What does Jesus promise this church? Is there any clue as to how Jesus will implement this ‘escape’?
Should we conclude from this verse that because God is loving, Jesus will not allow any of His church to suffer the tribulations of the world? Explain.
BFF Bible articles teach with a clear purpose of training us in righteous so that we might be those men of God ready for the tasks God has set before us, including training others to follow Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted:
(C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988