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Most respectable Bible scholars hold one word as the backbone of their eschatological endeavors: context. When one views the context of certain Bible verses, it’s much easier to understand both the intention and the implications on our lives today.
Those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture often quote one verse as their final chess move to prove their point. It’s Matthew 24:36 where Jesus Christ makes it very clear that nobody but God Himself knows when the Son of God is to come a second time. This concept is held as proof of a pre-tribulation rapture because if Jesus is to come during or after the tribulation, then we will be able to know the time.
When viewed in context, it can be seen how most have intentionally or inadvertently twisted the chapter to point to a pre-tribulation rapture when in fact it does the exact opposite. Let’s look at the entire chapter from the King James Version with my own notes highlights next to the important verses. Please do not skip through. Even if you’ve read through the entire chapter before, I encourage you to read the whole thing and the notes so that you can understand what is being said within the complete context of the chapter.
Matthew 24 (KJV)
24 – And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
One thing that is often missed about this verse is that there were three questions. Jesus answers them all separately, but as with so many aspects of the Bible, He is talking about parallel events that were coming, some in less than 40 years from the time of the sermon and others that would not come to pass until the end times.
4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
Verses 4-14 refer to the prolonged period, what some like to call the church age (though that has no scriptural backing), from the time of Christ’s resurrection through to the end times. It was a message meant for those hearing it then and it continues straight through as a warning until now.
15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
This section, from verses 15-22, is the most potentially confusing and up for debate. On one hand, it’s pretty clear that Jesus is speaking of the abomination of desolation by Titus in 70AD when his prophecy from verse 2 came true, but then it draws to question what he meant by the great tribulation and the shortening of days that are to occur at the end times. Which is it?
A theory that we believe may be true is that to address the Jewish mindset of the audience at the time while maintaining a simultaneous message to those in the future, He was describing both events within the same passages. With this theory, there would be three abominations of desolation: 168BC by Antiochus Epiphanes, 70AD by Titus, and potentially a future one by the antichrist.
This is a subject that deserves much more commentary than I would want to put into this article so as to not get distracted from the intent of discussing the pre-tribulation rapture. Still, it’s worth noting.
23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.
24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
25 Behold, I have told you before.
26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
It won’t be subtle. There will not need to be any convincing or evidence presented. When Jesus returns, the whole world will know. Since this did not happen after the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD, we know that he is talking of the end times. That’s the point of verses 23-28. Now, let’s get into some of the important verses that deal with the tribulation of the end times.
29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
This is arguably the most clear description from Jesus Himself that we are not raptured before the tribulation, ironically placed in context above one of the most popular supporting verses for a pre-tribulation rapture. Note in verse 29 that He says “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…” and then He continues into verse 30 by saying, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven…”
It can’t be more direct. It’s this verse that compels pre-tribulation rapture proponents to discuss the “secret rapture”, stating that this refers to those who are still on the earth and that an unspoken harpázō of the believers had already taken place. This is adding to the text and generating a perception that misleads the masses in mainstream churches. The Bible doesn’t say it. Jesus didn’t say it. Nothing says it other than the 19th-century Bible “scholars” who, for whatever reason, concocted the idea to mislead the church.
31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
There are a few different theories about verse 31-34, particular the last of them. One theory is that “This generation” refers not to His audience at the time but the people of the future end times of which He was speaking. In other words, once it all starts, the events of the end times will be fulfilled in a single generation. This makes sense.
Another theory is that the generation He’s speaking of is actually the age itself, the post-resurrection age up to His return. This, too, would make sense. Either way, it’s a powerful set of verses that tell us to be watchful for the things He is describing in order to know that the end is nigh.
35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
There it is. This is a key verse in the doctrine of the secret pre-tribulation rapture. It’s worth noting that most modern translations omit that He included Himself in the list of those who do not know the day and hour. It’s speculated that the early translators such as those for King James did not want to dampen His divinity by asserting that He has limits. If this is the case, they were misguided.
Jesus Christ, the man before His death and resurrection, did not know the day or the hour. Jesus Christ, the resurrected God, does now know when He is returning. That’s all a discussion for another study. Here, let’s look at three different interpretations of this verse, none of which point to a secret pre-tribulation rapture.
First, there’s the obvious one. He’s describing the event from the previous verse when “Heaven and earth shall pass away.”
Second, He’s describing the great tribulation. This is the belief of pre-tribulation rapture proponents because it means that there is a distinct start date, which means that we can extrapolate through other prophecies exactly what day and hour He will return. I would be able to consider buying this theory if somewhere it said that we would clearly know the moment that it all starts, but nothing in scripture supports this. It’s so obscure that there are very learned people who believe based upon the Bible that the tribulation has already started. I don’t hold to that theory, but it demonstrates how ambiguous the descriptions in Daniel, the Gospels, and Revelation are when it comes to the end times.
The third theory is that we will not know the exact day and hour but we will recognize the season and be able to prepare accordingly.
All of these theories have legs. None of them are only applicable with a pre-tribulation rapture. The tribulation will start. Believers and non-believers alike will go through it There’s nothing we can do to change it, regardless of how hopeful we are that we’ll be pulled away before it begins.
37 But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
Verses 40-42 are often used by pre-tribulation rapture proponents to talk of the harpázō. It is particularly popular in modern Christian pop culture due to the Left Behind series. This makes no sense whatsoever if you read the previous verses.
In verse 39, talking of the wicked on the earth, “the flood came, and took them all away…” Then in the verses used to promote the secret rapture, one in the field and one grinding at the mill were removed in the same fashion with Jesus saying “one shall be taken…”
How did the secret rapture proponents not see that being taken away is clearly a bad thing that Jesus likens to those wicked on the earth who were taken away by the flood? It was the verse right before. He even says, “so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” to make absolutely certain that nobody would believe these were completely separate concepts. It’s crystal clear, but it has been taken out of context and butchered by most mainstream churches, Bible “scholars”, and Hollywood.
43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Verse 43-51 detail the final warnings on this point. Jesus has already told them to be watchful because nobody knows when all of this will come about. Now, He is making certain that they understand one extremely important concept that the pre-tribulation rapture theory utterly denounces.
We will not be given another chance. We’re already on our second and final chance. Jesus died to give us all the grace that we never deserved but that the Father offers nonetheless. He left this world and we do not know when He is coming back, but we must be fully prepared regardless of when it happens. In the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture, there is a third chance offered. In other words, those who are not taken with the first batch have seven years to get their acts together for the next round. This is a false teaching that puts believers in jeopardy of their souls.
If you have any questions pertaining to this study, please feel free to contact me.
The Lord is coming back and we must be prepared today. That does not mean that there will be a pre-tribulation rapture. It means that as faithful servants we must act as if our service can end at any moment.
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