Historical Pre-Millennial vs Pre-Tribulation.
By Pastor Carl Gallups
Please understand my ultimate position in this matter. Eschatology (primarily the study of last things and, often, the "timing" of the rapture of the church), in my opinion, is not a teaching that should cause any of us to divide fellowship with our fellow brothers and sisters who are genuinely born again, and serious seekers of biblical truth. I have had several Christians part fellowship with me because my view is different than theirs, but that has never been the case on my part. So, why am I a proponent of historical premillennialism, and not a pre-tribulation rapture believer? The short answer is simple:
"Because the historical pre-millennial view (henceforth referred to as the HPM view) was the prevailing view (almost exclusively) of the first 300 years of Christian scholarship, and demonstrably remained so for the next 1,600+ years. And, because the pre-trib view is not what Jesus taught."
I will thoroughly, and contextually, demonstrate both of those assertions in what follows. The Historical View?
The plain truth of the matter is that the PT (pre-tribulation) doctrine is a relatively new teaching, especially in its current pervasive form. The advent of certain books (i.e., Left Behind series), movies, and internet video and blog platforms have gone a long way in making the PT teaching even more popular. But, it was not the prevalent historical view, nor is it what the Bible actually says - within its most literal context. First, let's settle the matter of which view has the preponderance of historical and biblical evidence behind it. The answer is best addressed, believe it or not, by one of the most renowned and staunchest of the PT teachers in America today - Dr. David Reagan.
I know Dr. Reagan personally. I have been on many of his television broadcasts. He wrote the Foreword to one of my bestselling books "The Rabbi Who Found Messiah," and I have subsequently spent many hours of personal time with him. The very first day we met, in the DFW airport, I told him exactly where I stood on eschatology. I told him, because it was one of the first questions he asked me that day. From there, we went on to do several years of ministry and interviews together. He was fine with my "non-pretrib" stance - at the time.
I am using Dr. Reagan's quotes to demonstrate that regardless of the number of people who continually insist that the PT doctrine was taught by "numerous" early scholars - and that the rest of us are simply ill-informed for thinking and saying otherwise - they first need to settle this issue with one of their most widely known PT teachers, who flatly disagrees with them.
A number of PT teachers will often contend that to interpret the Bible in any other way, other than the PT view, is to interpret the Bible in a non-literal fashion. Some of those of the PT persuasion will even go so far as to call any other idea to be downright heresy. Again, Dr. Reagan disagrees with those who say these things. In fact, what he writes about this issue may shock you - especially if you've been dogmatically holding to the PT view. Prepare yourself.
The following quotes are from Dr. David Reagan's book - "Wrath and Glory" pp. 112 and 113.
"The oldest viewpoint [about the doctrine of the rapture] is called historic premillennialism (Post Tribulation). It is termed "historic" for two reasons: to differentiate it from modern premillennialism and to indicate that it was the historic position of the early church … This view is based on a literal interpretation of what the Bible says will happen in the End Times. One of its distinctive features is that it places the Rapture of the Church at the end of the Tribulation, combining it with the Second Coming as one event."
"This is the only systematic view of end-time events that existed during the first 300 years of the Church. … Justin Martyr, who was born in A.D. 100, went so far in his writings on the subject as to suggest that anyone with a different viewpoint was heretical."
"Those today who disagree with this view [HPM view] respond to the near unanimity of the early Church Fathers by saying they [the early church fathers] were simply wrong in their interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures."
"Yet their concept of end-time events should not be dismissed out of hand as crude or primitive, for anyone who has studied the prophetic Scriptures will have to admit that the Church Father's viewpoint presents a plain sense summary of the Bible's teachings about the end times." (The bold emphasis is mine. The brackets are mine. The parenthesis are in the original text)
Additionally, in a public venue, Dr. Reagan is reported to have made yet another emphatic statement along these same lines. The event was a prophecy conference in Athens, Georgia. The claims are made by a man named Richard H. Perry. Mr Perry, reportedly, was at the conference and recorded Dr. Reagan's words. Following is what Mr. Perry asserts at his website:
"Some time ago, I attended a Prophecy Conference at the Hebron Christian Church near Athens, GA. The church hosted Dr. David Reagan from the Lion and Lamb Ministries of Dallas, Texas."
"Dr. Reagan made a shocking admission during one of his presentations. He said, "There is not one verse in the Bible which states that the Rapture will take place before the Tribulation." Dr. Reagan, however, continuously proclaims a pre-tribulation rapture even though he admits there is no verse which states this position."
By the way, I categorically agree with Dr. Reagan's supposed claim. There truly is not one verse in the Bible which states that the rapture will take place before the Tribulation. For many years, I have asked PT believers to provide that one verse for me. They can't do it.
And, I don't mean verses wherein one must "read into" the verse to "make" it say that. I mean, show me the verse that clearly says, in no uncertain terms, that the rapture will take place before the days of Antichrist and the tribulation period. It simply is not there. Apparently, Dr. Reagan is also keenly aware of this inconvenient fact. Obviously, the early church knew this truth as well. Not only did they know this truth - but they also knew why the verse wasn't to be found - because it simply wasn't the position of the early church. If it was their position, it would have been easy enough to clearly spell it out in the scriptures.
However, regardless of Mr. Perry's claim, if we simply take the most emphatic points that Dr. Reagan pens in his own book, we can factually conclude that his overall position is as follows:
· HPM is the oldest viewpoint of Christianity concerning eschatology. [It therefore began with those people who were closest to Jesus himself, and the first generations that came from the time of Jesus. This would include Peter, James, and John - the first pastors of the first church, and collectively the writers of seven New Testament documents.]
· HPM is based upon a literal interpretation of what the scriptures actually say in the matter of eschatology. [It is therefore not based upon a "symbolic" interpretation - as is often accused by those of the PT persuasion.]
· HPM was the only systematic view of eschatology for at least the first 300 years of the early church. [Much longer than the United States of America has been in existence.]
· HPM was the nearly unanimous version of eschatology of the early church. [There were only a very few of the earliest scholars who even came close to saying something like the PT teaching of today. They were summarily dismissed by the vast majority of those early scholars. Again, these early church "fathers" were the people who were the very closest to the original teachings of Jesus, and the original disciples, on matters of eschatology.] (All bracketed words are mine)
To be fair to the true context of Dr. Reagan's book "Wrath and Glory," we do have to admit that Dr. Reagan ultimately falls into the camp of those claiming that the early church fathers, "were simply wrong in their interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures." Dr. Reagan is a wholesale pre-tribulation rapture proponent, and his book makes this point crystal clear.
However, I choose to stick with what those who were the closest to Jesus, as well as His disciples and the generations after them, believed and taught. I prefer to hold the view that does indeed have several very pointed verses declaring it as a fact, is the literal and historic view, and was clearly taught by Jesus. Certainly the original Church fathers would have learned their foundational understanding of doctrine and eschatology from Jesus himself - right? How could this not be so? (See these scriptures to hear the disciples say so themselves: 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 2 Peter 1:12-16, 2 Peter 3:2, 1 John 1:1-3.)
Therefore, to go forward almost 1,900 years from the time of Jesus and the first disciples and then introduce a relatively new (and "strange") teaching, and then further proclaim that the PT doctrine is the only "real" understanding of eschatology, and that the early disciples and scholars were "simply mistaken" - is absolutely nonsensical. And, biblically dangerous as well.
The Simple, Contextual Truth
I won't bore you with a lengthy verse-by-verse discourse on the matter. Rather, I will simply present a single, very straightforward, and contextually-biblical rationale for holding the historical premillennialist view - just like the earliest disciples did.
The bottom line is this - it's what Jesus plainly declared.
Luke 17:26-28, 30
"Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed."
"It will be just like this." This is a huge clue.
Matthew Poole's Commentary
In the days of those men, neither the men of the old world, nor the men of Sodom, would hearken either to Noah or Lot, who were preachers of righteousness to them, and gave them examples of sober and holy lives; but gave up themselves to luxury, and lived in a careless regard of any thing God was doing, until the very day that Noah went into the ark, with his family [yet while living IN the midst of the days of "great tribulation" of his time], and the flood destroyed all the rest; and till the day that Lot went out of Sodom [yet while living IN the midst of the days of "great tribulation" of his time], and fire and brimstone came down and destroyed all those who were left in Sodom. So it would be before the final ruin of the world [the outpouring of God's wrath]. (Brackets are mine) See Luke 17:26, "Commentaries" Biblehub.com, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/poole/luke/17.htm
In Luke 17, Jesus says we can know the "pattern" of the last days, and of His ultimate return, by referring to the biblical/historical blueprint of the days of Noah and of Lot. Jesus said that the days of His return would be "just like this." There really is no room to parse His words, or to adjust the very obvious biblical pattern of both Noah's and Lot's day.
So, what was the pattern? As a matter of fact - both patterns are identical. There's simply no way around it.
Have a look:
1. Noah and Lot both lived in the midst of the "great tribulation" of their day. In both times, the days were so exceedingly wicked that God pushed the reset button on their cultures and utterly destroyed the civilizations involved. In Noah's day, the judgment/wrath was the global flood. In Lot's day it was the megalopolis of Sodom and Gomorrah being buried alive by fire and brimstone raining down upon them. Neither Noah nor Lot (and their families) were "taken out" of the great tribulation of their days. Instead, they were left to live in the midst of it as witnesses. And God not only used them as witnesses of the coming judgment of the Lord, but he also protected them in the midst of the days of "great tribulation."
2. Both Noah and Lot, however, were indeed "taken out" just before the wrath of God came upon their worlds. Noah was "lifted up" in the ark. Lot was "taken out" by two angels who were sent to collect God's people, before His wrath fell upon the city.
3. After Noah and Lot were "raptured," the wrath of God fell upon those "left behind." The objects of God's wrath were the unbelievers and the tormentors of God's witnesses during the days of "great tribulation." Those during the days of Noah's and Lot's great tribulation had no excuse. God's faithful witnesses had lived among them, right up until God brought His wrath.
Peter actually used the days of Noah and Lot as an example to every generation of Christians living within the tribulation and persecution of their own times. 2 Peter 2:5-9.
5 ...if God did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)- 9if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.
Yet, there are those who will still argue: "But Noah and his family were taken inside the ark for seven days before the flood came. This represents the "rapture" - out of the great tribulation." (Genesis 7:1-10)
There are several major contextual problems with this position.
First, there is no such corresponding position with regard to Lot and his family. And Jesus said that His coming would be just like both the days of Noah and Lot. He did not say His coming would be just like Noah's day, but only similar to Lot's.
Also, when we read the text of Genesis 7 closely, we discover that they were sent to the ark for a very specific purpose: to collect and care for the animals that God was now bringing to them. There was work to be done. This was not a matter of a safety-escape for Noah's family (they were always in mortal danger) - it was a matter of completing the kingdom work of God before God's wrath fell.
However, they were still living in the midst of the terrible tribulation of their day. God was protecting them, as He had always done, but they were not yet "taken out." That would happen on the day the flood waters "raised" them up safely in the ark. Also, we are told in Genesis 7:7 that: "And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood."
Do not miss this point. To say that being in the ark for those seven days "represents" the "rapture" - is flatly admitting that the PT version of interpretation, using this argument, is using an argument of symbolism - and not the literal, plain sense meaning of the passage. After all, doesn't the Genesis 7 account actually say that they were to go into the ark for a very specific logistical purpose? Yes it does. Yet, there is no mention of going to the ark to "escape the tribulation." Not even a hint.
Exactly. They were in the ark completing the work of preparing the animals, and to eventually escape the wrath of God, poured out through the vehicle of the global flood. That's literally what the scripture says. Surely, during those days, they must have even gone in and out of the ark - as they were making final preparations and adjustments, and caring for the animals? They were not in the ark to escape the tribulation of the world they lived in. Noah and his family were not "hiding" in the ark - they were working - preparing to be "raptured out" just before the flood.
So, once again, the pattern of Noah and Lot is as follows:
1. The world and culture grew increasingly evil.
2. Finally, the wickedness and perversion reached an apex. The great tribulation period of their day had arrived, and God's judgment was about to fall.
3. Both Noah and Lot were not "taken out" during those days of evil (tribulation). They lived in the midst of those days, but protected - - as the Lord's witnesses to the world of His coming judgment.
4. But, before God's wrath fell upon the world of Noah and Lot, God "raptured them." He "delivered them." He "took them out."
5. Then, the wrath of God fell … Noah's flood - and the utter inhalation of Sodom and Gomorrah. But, God's people were gone.
And don't forget. Jesus said that the last days would be "just like this." This is a huge reason (but far from the only one) why I am not a PT follower. Because, Jesus wasn't. Neither was the early church - for over 300 years. And their position was because of what Jesus clearly proclaimed. Neither have the majority of serious scholars been pretribulation rapture believers - for the last 1,900 years. Even Dr. Reagan clearly understands these facts.
The PT Argument
There are those who will argue against everything I have stated thus far, by saying something like this: "Yes, but Jesus was talking to the Jews when he said those things. He wasn't talking to the church."
This position is nothing short of sloppy contextual interpretation. But, I understand why they say it. The ardent PT crowd has to say something like this, otherwise the PT position goes out the window, based upon the contextual biblical facts I have already stated.
However, here's the truth. Jesus was, of course, talking to the "Jews." His original disciples were Jews. But they would also become the first pastors and "fathers" of the church. Peter, James, and John were the co-pastors of the first church at Jerusalem. The Gentiles were not brought into the church for years, after Paul received his call to aggressively take the Gospel to the Gentiles.
To make this particularly out of context PT argument would actually mean that practically everything Jesus said was "only" for the Jews, because practically everything He said was delivered to a primarily Jewish audience. Including practically everything He said about the salvation that He was affecting. Was that only for the Jews as well?
Simply put, the Gentiles have no "special" claims to the "church." Read Ephesians 2-3, and Romans 11. The "one new man" is both Jew and Gentile, under the blood of Jesus - becoming the "real church," the new "temple" of the last days. There is "no Jew, or Gentile" under Jesus Christ. We are all a part of the "same body" with the "same Holy Spirit." There is not one view of eschatology for the Jews and another one for the Gentiles.
What Jesus said in Luke 17 was for the church. Everyone who is under the blood during the days of the return of Jesus are the ultimate recipients of these truths that Jesus laid out. Those days, Jesus said, would be like the days of Noah and of Lot. His words were the blueprints for the church, in order that they might understand how the last days events would unfold. Jesus could not have been any plainer in his speech.
Yet Another Example Pattern
By the way, the children of Israel being brought out of Egypt, and eventually into the Promised Land, also follows the very same pattern of Noah and Lot. They were in slavery. Their world, and the persecution of that world, continually railed against them. And it grew increasingly horrid. They lived right in the midst of their day of "great tribulation." God only "took them out" just before His wrath fell - the death of all firstborn in Egypt. How did God's people escape? They had to get under the blood of the lamb. But, on the night of God's wrath, the children of Israel were "taken out." Interestingly, the Children of Israel were "protected in the midst of " their time of great tribulation - in the land of Goshen (Genesis 45:9-10). While the plagues were falling upon Egypt - God's people still lived in the midst of Egypt - but none of the plagues effected them. Yet - when the final one came (God's Wrath), the death of the first born - that's when God "took them out" (raptured). But, only those who were under the "blood of the lamb." See the pattern? It's everywhere. But pre-tribulation rapture is ... well ... nowhere.
Additionally, the Children of Israel were actually "taken out" again at the parting of the Red Sea - just before Pharaoh's armies descended upon them. God's people escaped with their lives - the Egyptians fell under God's hand of judgment and died. The patterns are there, if we care to see them. That's why Jesus told us "just how it would be" before His ultimate return. Conclusion
So, why do I believe the historic pre-millennial view? Because I believe what the early church believed. Apparently, they believed exactly what Jesus and the disciples taught them. The scriptures plainly tell us that the church of our day will live under increasing persecution and times of sorrow and tribulation. Tribulation is what the world brings, not God. Do not confuse "tribulation" with "God's wrath." They are two very different things.
We have been left here as witnesses and ambassadors of the soon coming Kingdom. We are also to be "prophets" and "preachers" of the quickly approaching wrath of God. But, just before His wrath falls, we will be "taken out" and then we will return with Jesus Christ to rule and reign with Him - forever.
For these reasons, and dozens more contextual biblical reasons like them - I am a historic premillennialist - and not a follower of the pre-tribulation teaching. I am willing to be proven incorrect. But, the "proving" of it must be done contextually - and thoroughly. And the "proving" must (for starters) take into account what Jesus said concerning the days of Noah and Lot - contextually.
I follow the words of Jesus, and the contextually connected Word of God (from Genesis to Revelation) and not the clever inventions of "teachers" who often are guilty of distorting the Word of God to fit their own selfish agendas. My only agenda is truth, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient that truth may be. My goal is not to "work out a way" that I and/or the church won't have to "go through tribulation." Jesus said, "In this world you will have tribulation." (John 16:33) Again, His words cannot be parsed.
In the meantime, it would be nice if I were wrong. In fact, this is the only issue of doctrine that I actually hope I am wrong about, regarding my interpretation of it. It would be wonderful that if during the days of tribulation, the Antichrist, and the evil days of the very last time period just before God pours out his wrath, the church could "escape" from having to live in those evil days. The problem is, most of today's "church" is living tribulation-like day, right now. And Jesus said they would be doing so, throughout the last days (i.e. Noah and Lot).
In our day - think Arab Spring. Think of the extinction of entire Christian populations throughout the Middle East. Think of the parents that were forced to watch the raping and mutilating of their tortured children.
Think China - and the unspeakable atrocities against the church that consistently flow out of that country on a weekly basis. And, don't forget North Korea, or the 57 Islamic nations of the world. Do a little research on the statistics concerning the tribulation-status persecution of the church in those nations. And, it's going to get worse. A lot worse.
Consider what's happening in the United States right now. Just because your favorite football team is playing, and the corner coffee shop is open, doesn't mean all is right with the world. There has never been as much persecution and tribulation of the Church - in the history of the Church - as there is right this very moment.
So, where's the rapture that supposed to "take us out" of those tribulation days? According to the literal interpretation of God's Word, it's coming! But - not yet. It will happen (like Egypt, Noah, and Lot), but it will happen just before God pours out his wrath on that great and terrible Day of The Lord. The early disciples and church fathers knew all this. They knew it because Jesus told them about it. That's why they stood in what we now call the historic premillennial position of eschatology.
And, that's where I stand. So, by the words of Jesus, and even Dr. Reagan - I'm not a "heretic," unless one wants to call the earliest disciples, Jesus himself, Dr. Reagan, and the early church scholars heretics. Nor am I theologically off-base, or "interpreting the Bible symbolically."
Nevertheless, I will not argue or fight with anyone concerning where I stand in this matter. I have only laid out a very small sample of my overall case. I could write an entire book on this topic with a dozen more examples like I have already laid out. (That book may be in the works soon, by the way). But my words here (and Jesus' words), speak for themselves.
Now, let us faithfully advance the Kingdom of Jesus together. Let us be faithful where we are. We have been raised up for such a time as this. Esther said it best, when faced with her own days of tribulation, "If I perish - I perish."
Never doubt, God will provide for His faithful ones - even in the midst of great tribulation - and afterwards, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
May the Lord bless you and keep you - always.
Fight the fight, finish the race, keep the faith.