There is a new book out, written by two well known Biblical scholars. Its thesis is that there is no solid Biblical evidence for a Pretribulation Rapture. The book’s title is Not Afraid of the Antichrist, Why We Do Not Believe in a Pretribulation Rapture.
The authors are Dr. Michael L. Brown and Dr. Craig S. Keener. They both have impeccable academic credentials and there is no doubt in my mind that they are both very serious and committed believers in Yeshua the Messiah. I’ve met Dr. Brown and as a Jewish believer in Jesus I’m personally grateful to him for his five volume work Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus. It is an incredible resource and I have referred to it many times over the years. In addition, several years ago, Dr. Brown made himself available at my request, following the premature death of a prominent member of Charleston’s Jewish community, to address a gathering at The Center for Jewish Studies of The College of Charleston to explain what the Scriptures say about death. Unfortunately an invitation for Dr. Brown to speak at this gathering was not extended by The College but I was and am very grateful that he was willing to come to South Carolina even on short notice.
However, I do not agree with the thesis of Not Afraid and that is the reason for this series of blog posts. Not Afraid does not make the case that there is no solid Biblical evidence for The Pretribulation Rapture of the Church.
Before we get into the details of the arguments presented in this response we need to define certain terms.
Definition of Terms
I will refer to the seven year tribulation as The Tribulation. This period of time is the same as Daniel’s 70th week. The second half of this 7 year period begins with the abomination of desolation. It is 3.5 years long. As many authors do I will refer to this second half of Daniel’s 70th week as The Great Tribulation or The Time of Jacob’s Trouble. The Great Tribulation and The Time of Jacob’s Trouble are different names for the same period of time. When I am referring to tribulation that does not involve The Tribulation or The Great Tribulation I will use the term tribulation with no capitalization.
In this response to Not Afraid of the Antichrist, Why We Do Not Believe in a Pretribulation Rapture I will use Not Afraid to refer to the book instead of the entire book title. When I am quoting from portions of Not Afraid, whether written by Dr. Brown or written by Dr. Keener, I will simply identify Not Afraid as the source of the quote and the quoted text will be in italics.
Not Afraid states that not a single Bible text explicitly affirms the The Pretribulation Rapture. Here is a quote from Not Afraid:
Since explicit biblical justification for pre-Tribulational claims is missing, the best that pre-Tribulationalism can do is construct secondary arguments for why the doctrine is true even though not a single text explicitly affirms it.
Brown, Michael L. Not Afraid of the Antichrist (p. 36). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Not Afraid also has other objections to The Pretribulation Rapture and we will cover the major ones in subsequent posts. But in this post we will address the objection that there is no explicit biblical justification for pre-Tribulational claims.
Please bear with me as I tell you a few things that I learned in my 46 years of practicing medicine that are relevant to this discussion. My specialty was diagnosis. How does one make the correct diagnosis for a particular patient? It’s important that we have some knowledge of that because the way we deal with uncertainties in making the right diagnosis for a patient with a medical problem is similar to the way we deal with uncertainties in interpreting Bible prophecies involving end time events such as The Pretribulation Rapture.
Let me give you an example of a very common medical situation. A 60 year old man comes to the emergency room with severe pain in the center of his chest that began 30 minutes before he arrived. He feels as if there is an elephant sitting on his chest. The ER doctor immediately considers a diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). An EKG is performed and shows the classic signs of an acute myocardial infarction. Blood tests for cardiac enzymes are abnormal and the pattern of abnormality is specific for an acute myocardial infarction. The clinical picture, the abnormal EKG, and the abnormal cardiac enzymes rule in an acute myocardial infarction. Because this condition is the result of an acute occlusion or blockage of a coronary artery, an attempt to restore blood flow must be made immediately. A cardiologist is consulted and takes the patient to the heart catheterization laboratory to determine if the patient needs a coronary artery stent or possibly even bypass surgery to restore blood flow to the area of blood-deprived heart muscle. The diagnosis, acute myocardial infarction, is established in this patient beyond any doubt and points the way to what needs to be done next which is to restore blood flow as quickly as possible to avoid irreversible death of heart muscle. The evidence for acute myocardial infarction in this case is explicit and very clear right from the beginning. There is little room for controversy.
Let’s now get back to The Pretribulation Rapture. Imagine if this passage was in the New Testament:
Jesus descends from heaven, where He has been since He ascended to heaven 40 days after His resurrection, but He does not descend all the way to earth. He stops in the clouds and resurrects all the dead members of the Church from their graves to meet Him in the air. Less than a fraction of a second later He raptures or catches up all living Church members to meet Him in the air. Thus the Church, His bride, is with Him in the clouds. He then takes the Church immediately back to heaven with Him to His Father’s house and each Church member is assigned a glorious dwelling place. For reasons that we do not yet fully know or understand in addition to the fact that Messiah’s bride is now safe and no longer at risk of suffering horrible things on earth, things that will wipe out a substantial part of the human race, Jesus begins to open the seals of the scroll that will trigger horrible judgements on earth which will last for 7 years. Jesus will even allow someone called the Antichrist to rise up and orchestrate an attack on Israel and the Jews that is worse than even Hitler’s holocaust and this period, The Great Tribulation, will last 3.5 years. More will be written about all this by the apostle John in a book he will yet be inspired to write, a book called Revelation.
If there was a passage in the New Testament like the fictitious one above then all who believe the Bible could agree that The Pretribulation Rapture will occur beyond any doubt.
Now let me present you with a different clinical scenario based on an actual patient who saw me a few years ago.
A 69 year old man, Mr. X, comes to see me complaining of dull abdominal pain when he walks. He gets the pain at no other time, only when walking. He has seen several doctors including a gastroenterologist and none of these doctors were able to make a diagnosis. Physical examination revealed two abnormalities: absent arterial pulses in both feet and a loud noise (a bruit) heard with the stethoscope placed over the right carotid artery (in the neck). Both of these findings suggested the presence of atherosclerotic disease (arteries blocked due to cholesterol build up). Additional information included a long term history of cigarette smoking, which is a definite risk factor for atherosclerosis.
When a pain comes on with physical exertion, such as walking, a doctor should consider reduced blood flow, ischemia, as a cause of the pain. Typically when there is poor blood flow to the legs, as this patient likely had (no pulses in the feet on physical examination), walking produces pain in the calf muscles, thighs, or buttocks, but not in the abdomen. On the other hand abdominal pain due to poor circulation to the gut (the stomach and intestines) usually comes on after a meal, at a time when the gut requires higher blood flow to digest recently eaten food. But abdominal pain with walking? I’d never heard of that.
But Mr. X’s abdominal pain was brought on by walking and was relieved by rest, and that sounded like ischemia due to a blocked artery to the stomach and/or intestines. Perhaps there are collateral vascular pathways between the gut and the legs in Mr. X which allow for diverting of blood to the legs that is intended to supply the gut. Walking increases the demand for blood flow to the legs. The increased blood flow “stolen” by the patient’s leg muscles when he walked left his gut without adequate blood flow thereby causing abdominal pain.
What to do next? I sent the patient back to his primary care physician with a request that an MRI angiogram of his abdominal circulation be done. The angiogram showed a severely narrowed artery to the intestines. A vascular surgeon placed a stent in this artery restoring blood flow to normal.
Guess what? No more abdominal pain with walking! The patient was thrilled. The diagnosis was subtotal occlusion of the superior mesenteric artery. I called the pain Abdominal Angina Brought on by Walking. The fact that opening the culprit artery with a stent brought relief of pain ruled in the diagnosis of Abdominal Angina Brought on by Walking.
In Mr. X, there was not just one test or one abnormal physical finding that provided the diagnosis. A whole series of pieces of information beginning with the clinical history of abdominal pain brought on by walking and ending with the response to treatment with a stent to normalize blood flow confirmed the diagnosis of a blocked artery to the gut beyond any doubt.
I could find no report of another case like this in the medical literature and every doctor I personally queried had never heard of a patient with this problem and one of the doctors looked at me with a facial expression suggesting that he thought I was crazy. Because nobody had heard of this condition I thought it would be worthwhile to publish this case in a major medical journal. The patient gave me his permission to do so. The journal refused to accept my article. I don’t know why. Maybe the editor thought that this case was just too fantastic to believe.
The Pretribulation Rapture is like this patient’s case with an important exception: it has not occurred yet. So we cannot say that The Pretribulation Rapture will occur beyond any doubt. But I do believe that if we analyze the evidence in the Bible for the Pretribulation Rapture we will see that we can say that it will occur beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a pretty high standard of evidence and for me that evidence, mixed with faith, places The Pretribulation Rapture into the category of sound doctrine.
There are numerous passages in the Bible that talk about the The Pretribulation Rapture. If we use them in a sequential and cumulative manner, as a good student of inductive Bible study methods would do, I believe that they provide compelling evidence that the Rapture occurs before The Tribulation and, in my opinion, this is beyond a reasonable doubt. Do I have evidence to back this up? Yes. But before I give you that evidence, in the posts that will follow this one, I want to quote something that Dr. Brown wrote in another book:
1. Messianic prophecies are not clearly identified as such. There is not a single verse in the entire Hebrew Bible that is specifically identified as a Messianic prophecy.
Brown, Michael L.. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus : Volume 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections (p. 189). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
I don’t believe that prophecies about the The Pretribulation Rapture are any different than prophecies about the Messiah.
Please stay tuned for the next post in this series.
Thanks for reading.
Arthur P. Wolinsky, MD
For those interested in the three part series, The Rapture, originally published on this blog, please click below.