We had a really good discussion at our church gathering yesterday on the subject of the timing of the Rapture relative to Jesus’ future bodily return to earth. Two views were represented: the Pre-Tribulation Rapture position and the understanding that the Rapture coincides with the Lord’s bodily return; that is, the Post-Tribulation view! (We were careful to ensure that the Mid-Tribulation and A-Millenial views got a mention as well, even though none of us hold to them.) Perhaps not surprisingly no-one was persuaded by an opposing view to their own, but it was, as usual, a joy to be able to talk about it together with mutual respect and honour, plus the freedom to be able to agree to differ, relationships being thereby strengthened, instead of, as is so often the case with Christians, being put at risk.
It is of great sadness to me that so many such secondary matters become the cause of Christians falling out with each other and even saying unpleasant things about each other, and both as a brother in the Lord and because of my function as a Bible teacher, I have always crawled over broken glass in order to try to help folk understand how wrong it is for such things to happen. I have further become aware over the last two or three years that a veritable war of words has broken out over end times issues specifically between believers who hold to either the Pre-Tribulation or Mid-Tribulation positions, some of whom I have known personally and who were previously at one in both fellowship and ministry. But I now hear the language of ‘heretic’ and ‘leaven’ being used of people simply because they have a different understanding of the timing of the Rapture relative to the Lord’s bodily return. There are some things which I think really do need to said about this.
Firstly, it is simply a fact that no-one knows when the Great Tribulation is going to start. There are Christians who think they know, of course, but they are as deceived as were those who similarly predicted that it would happen within a particular time-frame now actually gone and in the past. And should any such prediction of a particular time-frame end up being proved correct, then it will simply be in the same way that broken clocks tell the right time twice a day. Let us be clear, these events might begin tomorrow, or they might not happen for another hundred years…or even longer! The only thing we can now with certainty is that these events are closer now than when scripture was written! So here, I would argue, is the deal!
If the Great Tribulation and Rapture don’t happen in our lifetime, and they might well not (they hasn’t happened for the last two thousand years, so what are the odds of it being us who are alive when it does?), then the issue as to whether or not the Church goes through the Great Tribulation is a bit irrelevant as far as we are concerned. So in the light of that simple fact the idea that Christians should end up falling out over it becomes just ludicrously ridiculous! But say it does happen in ur lifetime, what then? Well, if I am right and it turns out that the Rapture does come first, then those Christians who currently believe that the Church goes through the Great Tribulation will be absolutely delighted, to say nothing of extremely relieved, to be Raptured instead. (No losers there then!) But if it’s me who’s wrong and I wake up one morning to find that the Great Tribulation has started and that I was therefore, by definition, completely wrong about the order in which it’s all going to happen, then I will look to the Lord for grace and mercy to endure tribulation and difficulty just as I do every day anyway and have always done! (So no losers there either!) And even if that means I have to then face the worst tribulation I have ever known, then how would that be any different to the many Christians suffering imprisonment, torture and martyrdom in various parts of the world even as I write?
Don’t get me wrong here though: I make no claim to being anything other than a fully rehearsed coward, and I may well fail the Lord in being willing to die for Him. (One of my favourite verses in the whole Bible is when Jesus says that if we’re persecuted then we should flee, and I shall have little trouble being a good example and leading the way on that one! If you’re unsure what to do just follow that trail of dust; it’ll be me taking the lead like a good elder should and running away faster than anybody else!) But whether the Church goes through the Great Tribulation or not is absolutely irrelevant to the simple fact that any believer could be persecuted at any time, and that we have no guarantee of immunity from such ever happening to us. All we can do is to trust that the Lord will give us the grace we need to go through whatever we have to at any one time, persecution included. Just remember that whatever happens to us we are going to end up with the Lord in glory! So absolutely no losers there either!
May we be mature enough not to let such secondary matters divide us, and to learn respect for honourably held differing understandings regarding issues that just aren’t as clear cut in scripture as some like to imagine they are. I heard it put well by someone recently who said that belief in the future bodily return of the Lord is a camel, but the order of events leading up to it, the Rapture included, are gnats in comparison. And of course the conclusion is obvious: when believers who are united in their belief that the Lord is going to return one day end up separating from each other over the secondary issue of the timing of the Rapture, then they are indeed straining at gnat’s and swallowing camels. The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is biblically just so much more important than having to have agreement concerning things such as the timing of the Rapture, and there is no legitimate reason for believers breaking fellowship and separating over such. There needs to be separation over unrepentant sin, of course! And for serious heresy too, by which I mean denial of the basic tenets of the Christian faith! But separating over the order of end time events and rupturing over the Rapture? Man, it’s time to get serious!