We all believe in the "rapture" — the event by which living Christians will be caught up into the air ("raptured") to meet Christ as he descends to the earth at his Coming (1 Thess. 4:13-18). However, in the 1830s a brand new view of the Second Coming arose. It was suggested by some of the Brethren (Plymouth Brethren) that the Second Coming will happen in two distinct stages:
1) Christ will arrive to take away (rapture) the church for seven years.2) Christ will arrive seven years later with the church to punish the world and set up the Kingdom of God on earth.From the start this new view of the Second Coming caused sharp division. Over the past 150 years it has created a great deal of conflict. The chief exponents of the so-called "pre-tribulation rapture" are the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary. The teaching has spread into many American fundamentalist churches.
A number of scholars have written books to refute the pre-tribulation rapture which they were taught as children. Since the question has to do with God’s timetable, it is important. We are urged to speak with one mind on these issues (1 Cor. 1:10).
When the pre-trib rapture was introduced into the Brethren movement in England in the nineteenth century, it must not be supposed that all the Brethren accepted the new views. The following extract from the writings of George Muller, the "apostle" of faith and founder of orphanages in England, is significant. Asked shortly before his death whether Christians are to expect our Lord’s return at any moment, or whether certain events must be fulfilled before he comes again, Muller replied as follows:
"I know that on this subject there is great diversity of judgment, and I do not wish to force on other persons the light I have myself. The subject, however, is not new to me; for having been a careful, diligent student of the Bible for fifty years, my mind has long been settled on this point, and I have not the shadow of a doubt about it. The Scriptures declare plainly that the Lord Jesus will not come until the Apostasy shall have taken place and the Man of Sin (the Antichrist) shall have been revealed, as seen in 2Thess. 2:1-5. Many other portions of the word of God distinctly teach that certain events are to be fulfilled before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ" (cited in The Approaching Advent of Christ, by Alexander Reese, Grand Rapids: International Publications, p. 27).A leading London preacher, Cambell Morgan, the "Dwight Moody" of England, was asked the following question during a course of public lectures:
"After your long study and extensive expositions of the Bible, Dr. Morgan, do you find any warrant for the distinctions which many Bible teachers draw between the second coming of the Lord for his own (The Rapture) and the coming of the Lord with his own (The Revelation), with a time period of three and a half or seven years between these two events?"
"Emphatically not!" Dr. Morgan replied. "I know that view very well, for in earlier years of my ministry I taught it and incorporated it into one of my books entitled God’s Method with Man. But further study so convinced me of the error of this teaching that I actually went to the expense of buying the plates of that book from my own publisher and destroying them. The idea of a separate and secret coming of Christ to remove the church prior to his coming in power and glory is a vagary of prophetic interpretation without any biblical basis whatever" (Background to Dispensationalism, by Clarence Bass, Baker Book House, p. 17, emphasis added).No student of Scripture need be in any doubt about the order of events described by Paul:
1) The Apostasy (falling away from the faith) (2 Thess. 2:1-3).2) The Man of Sin (Antichrist) revealed (2 Thess. 2:3-4).Contradicting Paul, Dispensationalism and the pre-trib rapture theory since 1830 teaches:
3) Christ arrives to gather the church (2 Thess. 2:1, 8).
1) Christ arrives secretly to gather church.2) Man of Sin is revealed.Paul specifically warned against teachers who promised that the Day of the Lord and our gathering together to Jesus would come before the Antichrist and the tribulation (see 2 Thess. 2:1-3). In the interests of a clear understanding of the Bible, the reader is urged to reread Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10:
3) Christ arrives publicly with the church.
First the Antichrist and the tribulation (Matt. 24:15-22)After the great tribulation, the arrival of Jesus to gather the saints (Matt. 24:29-31).Note also: Christians will continue to undergo trouble until the public, spectacular arrival of Jesus to punish the world. Paul could hardly have written 2 Thessalonians 1:7 if he had believed in a prior "coming." In that verse he states that Christians will be granted relief from suffering "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not obey the Gospel." Until Christ comes in power to set up the Kingdom of God on earth, believers must endure the hardships which accompany life as a Christian. There is no relief from trouble seven years before the public arrival of Jesus.
None of us can claim to have escaped all of the many doctrinal traps which Satan lays for the
unwary or uninstructed. The writer was for many years a "sincere" believer in the Trinity, but
prolonged study changed everything. He was also a "sincere" Sabbath-keeper until he realized
that Paul taught otherwise (Col. 2:16, 17).
Many a sincere preacher has been trapped by the remarkable notion, now being widely
canvassed in America, that seven years before Jesus comes to establish the Kingdom of God on
earth, He will arrive silently and secretly to snatch away the faithful to heaven. This event will
leave airplanes pilotless and cause driverless cars to lurch off the highway.
Few know that leading theologians, amongst them leading exponents of pre-millennialism, have
felt the need to write whole books in refutation of the fantastic theory of a second and third
coming of Jesus. George Ladd’s The Blessed Hope, Alexander Reese’s The Approaching Advent
of Christ, and Robert Gundry’s The Church and the Tribulation are classics in the field of
eschatology and should be examined by those seeking the Truth of the Bible.
There is no text in the New Testament to support the idea that Jesus will come back in two stages
separated by seven years. This teaching is unknown in theology before the 1830s, where it was
launched by members of a small denomination called the Brethren, in England. Note carefully,
however, that many leading Brethren disagreed with the new discovery and denounced the
doctrine as unbiblical.
The verdict of Campbell Morgan, a leading London evangelical preacher, is significant. He had
been taught to believe in a double second coming, once for the church and then with the church,
but later examination of the theory changed his mind. A letter published in Christianity Today
(Aug. 31st, 1959) tells the story:
"During a Boston pastorate, I was privileged to attend a course of lectures given by Dr. Morgan
at Gordon College. At the end of one session, I ventured to ask him, ‘After your long study and
extensive exposition of the Bible, Dr. Morgan, do you find any warrant for the distinction which
many Bible teachers draw between the second coming of the Lord for His own (the Rapture) and
the coming of the Lord with His own (the Revelation) with a time period of 3½ or 7 years
between these two events?’
"‘Emphatically not!’ Dr. Morgan replied. ‘I know that view very well, for in the earlier years of
my ministry I taught it and incorporated it in one of my books entitled God’s Method with Man.
But further study so convinced me of the error of this teaching that I actually went to the expense
of buying the plates of that book from my own publisher and destroying them. The idea of a
separate and secret coming of Christ to remove the church prior to his coming in power and
glory is a vagary of prophetic interpretation without any biblical basis whatever.’"
Preachers of Campbell Morgan’s reputation are not prone to making such forceful statements
unless there is massive evidence for doing so. The convictions of Alexander Reese in The
Approaching Advent of Christ are no less clear. Both men felt the need to speak out against what
they saw as a trick being played with the Bible, by which the resurrection of the dead and their
transformation to immortality along with the living Christians was being moved to a point of
time separate and distinct from the coming of Jesus in glory. Such a radical interference with the
biblical program should not be allowed to gain ground amongst Bible students without a strong
The carelessness of popular handling of the Bible is shown by the fact that many will quote the
verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 about the "thief in the night" almost as if they have never bothered
to look it up in its context. Inspection of the context will reveal immediately that this text says
nothing about a secret coming of Jesus seven years before His public manifestation. The verse
carries in fact the very opposite sense from the one given it by the pre-trib theory: The coming
like a thief is supposed, according to pretribulationism, to affect the Church only and not the
unbelieving world. But let us see what 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 actually says:
"Now brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you for you know very well that
the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. For while people are saying ‘Peace and
safety’ destruction will come upon them suddenly . . . and they will not escape."
The coming of Christ like a thief, Paul says, will take the unbelieving world by surprise. It will
not be a secret event affecting the church only: "But you, brethren, are not in darkness so that
this day should surprise you like a thief" (1 Thess. 5:4).
It is all perfectly straightforward. The thief-like coming will affect the non-Christians adversely
because they will be unprepared. It is almost beyond belief that these simple verses should have
been used to invent a prior event -- a secret coming seven years earlier.
Equally remarkable is the fact that Paul had just previously described the catching up of the
saints to meet Jesus in the sky, an event accompanied by a "loud command, with the voice of the
archangel and the trumpet call of God" (1 Thess. 4:16). It is in connection with this event that
Paul goes on to explain that the world will be overtaken as by a thief. One has only to read the
biblical text as one unit from 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 5:6 to grasp Paul’s message. One coming
new to the Scriptures has no difficulty understanding it. Tragically, those who should be more
experienced isolate verses to support the two-stage coming.
Pre-tribs are fond of quoting 1 Thessalonians 4:14 as a text to support a prior coming for the
church. The text however says that "God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep."
Jesus, in other words, is seen here coming with the church, having raised the dead and assembled
them with the surviving Christians.
Pre-tribs have invented the theory which divides the second coming (as well as churches). They
speak of the rapture as an event not to be confused with the Revelation. The latter, they say, is
the public revelation of Jesus, but they expect to be raptured seven years earlier. What they are
waiting for in hopeful anticipation is the rapture, not the revelation. But the New Testament
Church was expecting the Revelation. Once again the theory puts its adherents on a collision
course with the Bible: "Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for the
Revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:7).
The theory proposes that Christians will find relief from the tribulations of this life when Jesus
comes secretly to take away His church seven years before His arrival to punish the world. Paul
taught nothing of the sort. He tells us when the church will be relieved from the tribulation:
"God will give relief to you who are troubled and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord
Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his holy angels, taking vengeance on those
who do not know God. . ." (2 Thess. 1:7, 8).
Just as Paul described the gathering of the faithful and associated this event with the glorious
public arrival of Jesus (2 Thess. 2:1-2) so Jesus also gives us a simple outline of God’s program
for the end of the present age:
"When you see in the holy place the abomination which causes desolation, spoken of through the
prophet Daniel -- let the reader understand -- then let those who are in Judea flee to the
mountains...for then will be great distress unequaled from the beginning of the world until now --
and never to be equaled again...Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be
darkened...and the heavenly bodies will be shaken...At that time the sign of the Son of Man will
appear in the sky and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man
coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory, and He will send His angels with a
loud trumpet call [cp. the Lord will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the
voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God -- 1 Thess. 4:16] and they will gather his elect
from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other" (Matt. 24:15, 16, 21, 29-31).
Perhaps the most daring of all attempts to divide the Second Coming into two events separated
by seven years is the use of Matthew 24:40: "Then there shall be two men in the field; one will
be taken, one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the
But when is this? The previous verse (39) explains: it is when the Son of Man comes to a
heedless world just as the flood overwhelmed the unbelieving civilization in Noah’s day. It is
when Jesus comes to punish the world that "one is taken and one left."
The separate "second coming" seven years early is revealed as an illusion. As Campbell Morgan
said: "It is without any biblical basis whatever."
What else have you accepted as truth from the Bible without examining it carefully? The
Scriptures warn us that belief in what is false will lead to our ruin (2 Thess. 2:11). Make Bible
study your first priority. You cannot afford not to.
Return to Articles by Sir Anthony Buzzard.