Most Christians believe that Jesus will one day return in power, glory, and judgment to reward His followers and to punish those who have rejected God. But the question that divides the hearts and minds of many believers—and sometimes even divides Christians into separate camps and denominations—is whether believers will experience some or all of the tough times described in the book of Revelation and other prophetic scriptures.
For many years I preached that Christians would not have to endure the horrors of the Tribulation, that Jesus would return and take His people out of this world. Admittedly, most of my thoughts on the matter were not original, nor were my views based on years of studying the Scriptures and reaching valid biblically based conclusions. For the most part, I simply believed what I had heard sincere men and women of God teach, namely, that Jesus was coming back before the seven-year Tribulation in an event called the Rapture.
Although the word rapture does not appear in the Bible, we based our ideas on a passage from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The apostle encouraged believers with these words:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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 (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, nkjv).
Although this passage does indeed describe the Second Coming, we drew some unwarranted conclusions about when and how this event would occur. This “catching away” of the saints, which is what the word rapture means, was to take place secretly, as far as unbelievers were concerned. Only believers, it was thought, would be able to experience and witness the appearing of the Lord. Suddenly, Jesus was to appear in the air, and in the twinkling of an eye we would be gone, whisked off the ground to meet the Lord in the sky. The dead in Christ, believers who had died prior to His coming, would rise first, and together we would all meet Him in the air. From there He would take us to live with Him eternally. Later, Christ would return again, this time in power and glory to judge the world and set up His eternal kingdom. The Rapture was to happen, of course, before any events of the Tribulation began to pummel the earth.
One of my favorite prophetic Scripture verses is, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36, nkjv). I placed a heavy emphasis on the word escape, because I was convinced it went against God’s loving nature to allow His people to go through the horrors of the Tribulation.
My thinking on the subject changed when, in prison, I searched out the passages that described the Rapture that precedes the Tribulation. To my amazement, I could not find any. I found certain scriptures that other preachers .and I twisted and conveniently interpreted to fit my “prosperity” messages, but when I allowed the Bible to speak for itself, I realized that my notions of a pre-Tribulation Rapture were not based in scripture.
(Excerpt from “Time Has Come”)