history of the rapture is of necessity a history of pretribulationism, since
most other views do not distinguish between the two phases of Christ's
return- the rapture and second advent. The partial rapture and
midtribulationism have been developed only within the past 100 years.
The Post Apostolic Church
the earliest documents (in addition to the New Testament canon) of the ancient
church reflect a clear premillennialism is generally conceded, but great
controversy surrounds their understanding of the rapture in relation to the
tribulation. Pretribulationists point to the early church's clear belief in
imminency and a few passages from a couple of documents as evidence that
pretribulationism was held by at least a few from the earliest times.
was typical of every area of the early church's theology, their views of
prophecy were undeveloped and sometimes contradictory, containing a seedbed out
of which could develop various and diverse theological viewpoints. While it is
hard to find clear pretribulationism spelled out in the fathers, there are also
found clear pre-trib elements which if systematized with their other prophetic
views contradict posttribulationism but support pretribulationism.
imminency is considered to be a crucial feature of pretribulationism by
scholars such as John Walvoord, it is significant that the Apostolic
Fathers, though posttribulational, at the same time just as clearly taught the
pretribulational feature of imminence. Since it was common in the early
church to hold contradictory positions without even an awareness of
inconsistency, it would not be surprising to learn that their era supports both
views. Larry Crutchfield notes, "This belief in the imminent return of
Christ within the context of ongoing persecution has prompted us to broadly
label the views of the earliest fathers, 'imminent intratribulationism.'"
of imminency abound in the Apostolic Fathers. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of
Antioch, The Didache, The
Epistle of Barnabas, and The
Shepherd of Hermas all speak of
imminency. Furthermore, The Shepherd of
Hermas speaks of the
pretribulational concept of escaping the tribulation.
You have escaped from great tribulation on account
of your faith, and because you did not doubt in the presence of such a beast.
Go, therefore, and tell the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds, and say to them
that this beast is a type of the great tribulation that is coming. If then ye
prepare yourselves, and repent with all your heart, and turn to the Lord, it
will be possible for you to escape it, if your heart be pure and spotless, and
ye spend the rest of the days of your life in serving the Lord blamelessly.
of pretribulationism surfaces during the early medieval period in a sermon some
attribute to Ephraem the Syrian entitled Sermon on The Last Times, The
Antichrist, and The End of the World.
The sermon was written some time between the fourth and sixth century. The
rapture statement reads as follows:
Why therefore do we
not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare ourselves for the meeting
of the Lord Christ, so that he may draw us from the confusion, which overwhelms
all the world? . . . For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to
the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the
confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.
statement evidences a clear belief that all Christians will escape the
tribulation through a gathering to the Lord. How else can this be understood
other than as pretribulational? The later second coming of Christ to the earth
with the saints is mentioned at the end of the sermon.
The Medieval Church
By the fifth century a.d., the amillennialism of Origen and
Augustine had won the day in the established Church- East and West. It is
probable that there was always some forms of premillennialism throughout the
Middle Ages, but it existed primarily underground. Dorothy deF. Abrahamse
By medieval times
the belief in an imminent apocalypse had officially been relegated to the role
of symbolic theory by the Church; as early as the fourth century, Augustine had
declared that the Revelation of John was to be interpreted symbolically rather
than literally, and for most of the Middle Ages Church councils and theologians
considered only abstract eschatology to be acceptable speculation. Since the
nineteenth century, however, historians have recognized that literal
apocalypses did continue to circulate in the medieval world and that they played a fundamental role in the
creation of important strains of thought and legend [emphasis added].
It is believed that sects like the Albigenses, Lombards, and the
Waldenses were attracted to premillennialism, but little is know of the details
of their beliefs since the Catholics destroyed their works when they were
It must be noted at this point that
it is extremely unlikely for the Middle Ages to produce advocates of a pretrib
rapture when the more foundational belief of premillennialism is all but
absent. Thus, the rapture question is likewise absent. This continued until
the time of the Reformation, when many things within Christendom began to be
Premillennialism began to be revived
as a result of at least three factors. First, the Reformers went back to the
sources, which for them was the Bible and Apostolic Fathers. This exposed them
to an orthodox premillennialism. Specifically significant was the reappearance
of the full text of Irenaeus' Against Heresies, which included the last five chapters that
espouse a consistent futurism and cast the 70th week of Daniel into the future.
Second, they repudiated much, not
all, of the allegorization that dominated mediaeval hermeneutics by adopting a
more literal approach, especially in the area of the historical exegesis.
Third, many of the Protestants came
into contact with Jews and learned Hebrew. This raised concerns over whether
passages that speak of national Israel were to be taken historically or
continued to be allegorized within the tradition of the Middle Ages. The more
the Reformers took them as historical, the more they were awakened to
premillennial interpretations, in spite of the fact that they were often
By the late 1500's and the early
1600' s, premillennialism began to return as a factor within the mainstream
church after more than a 1,000 year reign of amillennialism. With the
flowering of biblical interpretation during the late Reformation Period,
premillennial interpreters began to abound throughout Protestantism and so did
the development of sub-issues like the rapture.
It has been claimed that some
separated the rapture from the second coming as early as Joseph Mede in his
seminal work Clavis Apocalyptica
(1627), who is considered the father of English premillennialism. Paul Boyer
says that Increase Mather proved "that the saints would 'be caught up
into the Air' beforehand,
thereby escaping the final conflagration- an early formulation of the Rapture
doctrine more fully elaborated in the nineteenth century."
Whatever these men were saying, it is clear that the application of a more
literal hermeneutic was leading to a distinction between the rapture and the
second coming as separate events.
Others began to speak of the rapture.
Paul Benware notes:
Peter Jurieu in
his book Approaching Deliverance of the Church (1687) taught that Christ would come in the air
to rapture the saints and return to heaven before the battle of Armageddon. He
spoke of a secret Rapture prior to His coming in glory and judgment at
Armageddon. Philip Doddridge's commentary on the New Testament (1738) and John
Gill's commentary on the New Testament (1748) both use the term rapture and speak of it as imminent. It is clear that
these men believed that this coming will precede Christ's descent to the earth
and the time of judgment. The purpose was to preserve believers from the time
of judgment. James Macknight (1763) and Thomas Scott (1792) taught that the
righteous will be carried to heaven, where they will be secure until the time
of judgment is over.
Frank Marotta, a brethren researcher,
believes that Thomas Collier in 1674 makes reference to a pretribulational
rapture, but rejects the view, thus showing his awareness that such
a view was being taught. Perhaps the clearest reference to a pretrib rapture
before Darby comes from Baptist Morgan Edwards (founder of Brown University) in
1742-44 who saw a distinct rapture three and a half years before the start of
As futurism began to replace
historicism within premillennial circles in the 1820's, the modern proponent of
dispensational pretribulationism arrives on the scene. J.N. Darby claims to
have first understood his view of the rapture as the result of Bible study
during a convalescence from December 1826 until January 1827. He
is the fountainhead for the modern version of the doctrine.
The doctrine of the rapture spread
around the world through the Brethren movement with which Darby and other
like-minded Christians were associated. It appears that either through their
writings or personal visits to North America, this version of pretribulationism
was spread throughout American Evangelicalism. Two early proponents of the
view include Presbyterian James H. Brookes and Baptist J. R. Graves.
The rapture was further spread
through annual Bible conferences such as the Niagara Bible Conference
(1878-1909); turn of the century publications like The Truth and Our Hope; popular books like Brookes' Maranatha, William Blackstone's Jesus Is Coming, and The Scofield Reference Bible (1909). Many of the greatest Bible teachers of
the first-half of the twentieth century help spread the doctrine such as Arno
Gaebelein, C.I Scofield, A.J. Gordon, James M. Gray, R.A. Torrey, Harry
Ironside, and Lewis S. Chafer.
virtually every major metropolitan area in North America a Bible Institute,
Bible College, or Seminary was founded that expounded dispensational pretribulationism.
Schools like Moody Bible Institute, The Philadelphia Bible College, Bible
Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA), and Dallas Theological Seminary taught and
defended these views. These teachings were found primarily in independent
churches, Bible churches, Baptists, and a significant number of Presbyterian
churches. Around 1925, pretribulationism was adopted by many Pentecostal
denominations such as the Assemblies of God and The Four-Square Gospel
denomination. Pretribulationism was dominate among Charismatics in the 1960s
and '70s. Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth (1970) furthered the spread of the pretrib
rapture as it exerted great influence throughout popular American culture and
then around the world. Many radio and T. V. programs taught pretribulationism
still widely popular among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, dominance of
pretribulationism began to wane first in some academic circles in the 1950s and
'60s. A decline among Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Evangelicals began in
the 1980s as the result of a shift toward greater social concern emerged.
Pretribulationism is still the most widely held view of the day, but it cannot
be taken for granted in many Evangelical, Charismatic, and Fundamentalist
circles as it was a generation ago.
doctrine of the rapture has not been the most visible teaching in the history
of the church. However, it has had significant advocates throughout the last
2,000 years. It has surfaced wherever premillennialism is taught, especially
when literal interpretation, futurism, dispensationalism, and a distinction
between Israel and the church. Regardless of its history, belief in the
rapture has been supported primarily by those who attempt a faithful exposition
of the biblical text.
Recent Challenges to Pre-Trib Origins
few years ago, pre-wrath advocate Marvin Rosenthal wrote that the pre-trib
rapture was of Satanic origin and unheard of before 1830. " To thwart the
Lord' s warning to His children, in 1830," proclaims Rosenthal, " Satan, the
' father of lies,' gave to a fifteen-year-old girl named Margaret McDonald a
lengthy vision."  Rosenthal gives no documentation,
he merely asserts that this is true. However, he is wrong. He is undoubtedly
relying upon the questionable work of Dave MacPherson.
thing amazing about Rosenthal' s declaration is that a few paragraphs later in
the article he characterizes his opposition as those who " did not deal with the
issues, misrepresented the facts, or attempted character assassination." 
This description is exactly what he has done in his characterization of
pre-trib rapture origins. Why would Rosenthal make such outlandish and
unsubstantiated charges about the pre-trib rapture?
Be Continued . . .)