The Shout Heard Around the World Overview of the Rapture

by Thomas Ice

Some opponents of pretribulationism have insisted that it has human rather than biblical origins. Some say that if pretrib is taught in the Bible, then it is a view that should also be found throughout the history of the church. In the past few years more voices from the Church's past testifying either to some form of pretribulationism, some form of a two-stage advent of Christ, or to statements containing various pretrib elements have been discovered.

I believe that pretribulationism is our "blessed hope" spoken of in the New Testament. Regardless of when a significant group of believers began to realize that the Bible teaches pretribulationism, that teaching has been part of God's Word all along. Many Christians throughout the church's history have believed many important elements that compose the pretrib doctrine without necessarily understanding it to the extent that others have come to understand it in the last 200 years. Nevertheless, hosts of believers down through the centuries have understood many key pretrib elements: that Christ could return at any moment without signs preceding; that Christians will not go through the time of wrath known as the tribulation; that there are two stages involved in Christ's return. In the last few years, a number of discoveries have been brought to light and presented to the Christian public. But what guidelines should we follow in finding examples of a pretrib rapture and pretrib elements from historical documents?

Criteria for Finding Pretribulationism

Pretrib rapture critic William Bell has formulated three criteria for establishing the validity of a historical citation regarding the rapture. If any of his three criteria are met, then he acknowledges it is "of crucial importance, if found, whether by direct statement or clear inference." I believe that at least two of Bell's standards have been met by some of the examples I will supply below. The standards are as follows: 1) "Any mention that Christ's second coming was to consist of more than one phase, separated by an interval of years," and 2) "any mention that Christ was to remove the church from the earth before the tribulation period."'

The Early And Medieval Church

The early church was clearly premillennial in its view of prophecy, with only a few dissenters. Irenaeus (circa A.D. 202) stated in the strongest possible terms that premillennialism was traditional orthodoxy (Against Heresies 5.32.1).' Pretribulationism is not clearly represented within the extant writings of these early fathers. However, before one draws the conclusion that it is totally absent, it is possible that a few ancient statements do represent elements of a fuzzy form of pretribulationism.

The early church was often subjected to persecution for its faith, and as a result, tended to confuse Church Age trials and tribulation with the specialized tribulation of the seventieth week of Daniel. At the same time, they often spoke of a belief in an "any moment" return of the Lord. Expressions 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.'

Early church historian, 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."" Crutchfield notes concerning Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 120--ca. A.D. 202):

He seems to have believed that there would be an interval between the rapture of the saints and the final venting of the Antichrist's wrath upon earth. His reference to the church being "suddenly caught up" and to the Antichrist's "sudden coming" provide at least some... sense of imminency (Against Heresies 5.29.1-2). While the evidence is not conclusive, it suggests at least the possibility that Irenaeus held to, a remote/imminent, intratribulational rapture of the church.'

There appear, scattered throughout the church fathers of the first three centuries, statements that are not only strongly premillennial but which also reflect a possible undeveloped belief in pretribulationism or a two-stage coming. For example, Frank Marotta has noted the following statement from the Apocalypse of Elijah, an extra-biblical writing (A.D. 150-275):

Now those upon whose forehead the name of Christ is written and upon whose hand is the seal, both small and the great, will be taken up upon their [angels'] wings and lifted up before his wrath.'

Marotta adds, "Even the editor of this work (almost certainly a liberal) heads verses two through six with 'the removal of the righteous' and verses seven through fourteen with 'Natural disasters which follow the removal of the righteous.""

Victorinus (died A.D. 304), Bishop of Petau, who wrote an early commentary on the book of Revelation, gives an explanation of Revelation 6:14 which includes his belief that "the Church shall be taken away" sometime in the future when the passage is fulfilled. Again, regarding Revelation 15:1, he says, "these shall be in the last time, when the Church shall have gone out of the midst." Here he speaks of something that will have happened previously, apparently looking back to his statement in Revelation 6:14. This could reflect elements of pretribulationism. It seems even more likely in light of the fact that Victorinus was said by the anti-Chiliast Jerome to have been a known premillennialist; yet his commentary was clearly amended in the passage regarding Revelation 20 to read as if he were Augustinian (i.e., amillennial). An American editor of Victorinus has concluded:

This confirms the corruption of the manuscripts. Indeed, if the Victorinus mentioned by Jerome be the same as our author, the mention of Genseric proves the subsequent interpolation of his works .... It is evident that the fragment which is here preserved .... is full of the corrections of some pious disciple of St. Augustine who lived much later.'

After Augustine (died A.D. 430), there were clear efforts to redact premillennialism out of earlier church writings on the part of some copyists- Victorinus being an established example of such attempts-in a sincere but misguided attempt to bring these writings in line with what they thought should be the orthodoxy of the day. There can be no doubt that some during the Middle Ages either destroyed texts or changed them from their original autographs.

Another example is seen in the fact that during the Middle Ages, the last five chapters of Irenaeus' Against Heresies were lost. It just so happens that those were the ones that contained the heart of his eschatological thought. Wilber Wallis explains:

The premillennial scheme seems to have disappeared completely after it was condemned as heretical at the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431. This disappearance was probably aided by the suppression of the last five chapters of Irenaeus' Against Heresies after the rejection of premillennialism and the loss of the Greek original. The reappearance of the full text of this ancient presentation of premillennialism in 1571 (later reconstructed from the Armenian and Syriac manuscripts) may have had something to do with the reemergence of premillennialism in the seventeenth century."'

In light of such revision and suppression, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that the early church could have had clearer and more numerous pretribulational statements in their writings. Such a supposition is strengthened in light of the recent rediscovery by North American Evangelicals of Pseudo-Ephraem (fourth through seventh century) and his sermon known as On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World or Sermon on the End of the World. Latin copies of these texts were compiled and edited by C. P. Caspari" and have more recently received attention from the late Cal Berkeley Professor, Paul J. Alexander." PseudoEphraem's sermon contains a clear statement about the church's removal before the tribulation as part of a two-stage coming."

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 in order lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins."

Pseudo-Ephraem demonstrates that a belief in the rapture was understood very early in the history of the church, assuring us that others had a similar understanding, since the sermon had to have had some circulation to have been preserved to our day, and that some of the previously vague statements could also have been expressions of an early and undeveloped pretribulationism that was under attack and censorship. The tribulation for Pseudo-Ephraem was three and a half years instead of seven, but in spite of this, it should be viewed as pretrib because the sermon viewed the entire tribulation as 42 months, three and a half years, and 1,260 days. This is a gathering (rapture) to the Lord that is said to occur "prior to the tribulation" (Section 2), while the sermon proceeds in a chronological manner so that the final paragraph (Section 10) speaks of the second coming at the end of the tribulation. "And when the three and a half years have been completed,... will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and majesty .... and also even with all the powers of the heavens with the whole chorus of the saints

Further, in the previous paragraph (Section 9) the sermon reads as follows when commenting on the two witnesses who "are the servants for the heralding of the second coming of Christ." Here we have a clear reference, as demanded by William Bell's pretrib rapture criterion, of the promise of removal of all believers before the tribulation (the rapture), which is then clearly separated by an interval of time (three and a half years), followed by the second coming at the end of the sermon.

The Reformation

Once premillennialism began to be revived in the early seventeenth century within various Reformed traditions, there was a corresponding increase of statements that some believe reflect pretribulational views, in spite of the fact that historicism was the near-unanimous approach to prophecy. As many Reformed scholars adopted premillennialism, some began to see the rapture as a distinct event from the return of Christ to the earth.

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. Scholar 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. Suffering under the disadvantage of a historicist prophetic framework, they appear to be struggling with how to coordinate these different events into a prophetic scheme. About 200 years ago, a clearer understanding of a pretrib rapture came about by casting off historicism and adopting futurism. When that occurred, blended with a revived premillennialism, a belief and understanding of pretribulationism exploded across Christian circles.

However, even before the 1800s, others began to speak of the rapture. Paul Benware provides the following summary: 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. 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 believes that Thomas Collier in 1674 makes reference to a two- stage coming, but rejects the view, thus revealing his awareness that such a view was in circulation hundreds of years ago. Marotta writes of Collier: Because he raised the question of the saints being raised at Christ's "first appearing in the clouds of heaven," instead of later on "at the entrance of the thousand years," it is apparent that Collier certainly considered the idea of a pretribulation rapture."

It would not be long after Collier's day that pretribulationism would become much more well-known.

Morgan Edwards

Morgan Edwards, an important early American Baptist scholar, clearly taught some form of pretribulationism. Edwards founded the first Baptist college in the Colonies, Rhode Island College, which we know today as Brown University of the Ivy League. It was during his student days at Bristol Baptist Seminary in England (1742-44), that Edwards wrote an essay for eschatology class on his views of Bible prophecy. This essay was later published in Philadelphia (1788) under the following title: Two Academical Exercises on Subjects Bearing the following Titles; Millennium, Last-Novelties." Upon reading the 56-page work, it is evident that Edwards published it with only minor changes from his student days, thus, we can date Edwards' pretribulationism as originating in the early 1740s. The pretribulationism of Morgan Edwards can be seen in the following statement from his book: The distance between the first and second resurrection will be somewhat more than a thousand years.

I say, somewhat more because the dead saints will be raised, and the living changed at Christ's "appearing in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:17); and this will be about three years and a half before the millennium, as we shall see hereafter: but will he and they abide in the air all that time? No: they will ascend to paradise, or to some one of those many "mansions in the father's house" (John 14:2), and so disappear during the foresaid period of time. The design of this retreat and disappearing will be to judge the risen and changed saints; for "now the time is come that judgment must begin," and that will be "at the house of God" (1 Peter 4:17)... " [p. 7; emphasis added; the spelling of all Edwards' quotes have been modernized.]

What has Edwards said? Note the following: He believes that at least 1,003.5 years will transpire between resurrections. He associates the first resurrection with the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, occurring at least 3.5 years before the start of the millennium (i.e., at least 3.5 years before the second coming of Christ at the start of the millennium). He associates the meeting of believers with Christ in the air and returning to the Father's house with John 14:2, as do modern pretribulationists. He sees believers disappearing during the time of the tribulation, which he goes on to describe in the rest of the section from which the rapture statement is taken.

He, like modern pretribulationists, links the time in heaven, during the tribulation, with the "bema" judgment of believers. The only difference, at least in light of the above statements, between current pretribulationism and Edwards is the time interval of 3.5 years instead of 7.

Edwards says in his introduction that his views are not those normally held in his day and because he was approaching eschatology with a literal hermeneutic. Such an approach is said by modern pretribulationists to be the primary determinate factor leading to pretribulationism. Edwards explains: I will do my possible: and in the attempt will work by a rule you have often recommended, viz. "to take the scriptures in a literal sense, except when that leads to contradiction or absurdity." Very able men have already handled the subject in a mystical, or allegorical, or spiritual way.

It is clear from the above comment that Edwards was taught literal interpretation by his teachers, but they did not apply it consistently throughout the whole Bible. Edwards was determined to apply in practice what he had been taught in theory, even though it contradicted the common practices of his day in the area of the study of Bible prophecy.

Edwards expands on and repeats his earlier rapture statement later when he says, Another event previous to the millennium will be the appearing of the son of man in the clouds, coming to raise the dead saints and change the living, and to catch them up to himself, and then withdraw with them, as observed before [p. 7]. This event will come to pass when Antichrist be arrived at Jerusalem in his conquest of the world; and about three years and a half before his killing the witnesses and assumption of godhead....

Edwards clearly separates the rapture and the second coming, as is evident from the following statements: The last event, and the event that will usher in the millennium, will be, the coming of Christ from paradise to earth, with all the saints he had taken up thither (about three years and a half before)... [p. 241 millions and millions of saints will have been on earth from the days of the first Adam, to the coming of the second Adam. All these will Christ bring with him. The place where they will alight is the "Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east." Zechariah 14:4.

Of interest is the fact that Edwards wrote 42 volumes of sermons, about 12 sermons per volume, that were never published. Other than his historical writings and ecclesiastical helps, his essay on Bible prophecy was his only other published work. It is significant that this essay, from his youth, was published and not something else. This indicates that there was some interest in his views on this subject. Such an interest would have surely risen out of his bringing it to the attention of those to whom he ministered. Yet, on the other hand, the book only went through one printing, showing that it could not have been a widely held view. It could also reflect the fact that Baptists were not a large denomination at this time in America. Nevertheless, Edwards' work on Bible prophecy did have some circulation, and it exposed early Americans to many of the ideas that would come to dominate Evangelicalism a century later.

J. N. Darby and the Rapture

In spite of earlier developments of pretribulationism, there can be no doubt that Brethren scholar John Nelson Darby is the fountainhead of the modern formulation. However, the last few decades have seen several attempts by anti-pretribulationists to say that Darby clandestinely pilfered at least part of his pretrib ideas from questionable sources. These claims cannot be sustained.

The Lacunza Theory

Baptist evangelist John Bray of Florida contends that Darby got his idea of a two-staged coming from the Jesuit priest Emmanuel Lacunza, who wrote The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty in 1790. Lacunza's book was first published in Spanish in 1812 and then translated into English and published around the middle of 1827. Supposedly, Darby read this book and then thought up pretribulationism. There are a few problems with such speculation. As will be noted below, the idea of a pretrib rapture first came to Darby in December 1826. Edward Irving says he wrote the foreword to his English translation of Lacunza on Christmas Day, 1826, before it was released in printed form later in 1827. Neither Bray nor other Lacunza theorists have been able to show any historical

evidence that Darby was influenced by this source. Finally, if Lacunza's view of a 45-day interval between some events relating to the second coming constitutes a two-stage coming and thus an element of pretribulationism, then why not make the case that amillennialists such as Jerome (A.D. 342-420) or The Venerable Bede (A.D. 673-735) of England were also pretrib sources, since they held a similar view on the 45-day interval from Daniel 12:12?

The Irvingite Influence Theory

Anti-pretribulationist Dave MacPherson has developed and disseminated the false notion that Darby was involved in a plot in which he secretly got his idea of the rapture from the Irvingites and more specifically from the prophecy of a 15-year-old girl named Margaret Macdonald." Dr. John Walvoord has noted concerning MacPherson's attempt at historical research:

The whole controversy as aroused by Dave MacPherson's claims has so little supporting evidence, despite his careful research, that one wonders how he can write his book with a straight face. Pretribulationalists should be indebted to Dave MacPherson for exposing the facts, namely, that there is no proof that MacDonald or Irving originated the pretribulation rapture teaching."

There are at least four major reasons why MacPherson's speculations are not true: First, it is doubtful that Margaret Macdonald's "prophecy" contains any elements related to the pre-trib rapture." Second, no one has ever demonstrated from actual facts of history that Darby was influenced by Macdonald's "prophecy" even if it had (which it did not) contained pre-trib elements." Third, Darby clearly held to an early form of the pretrib rapture by December 1826 or January 1827, as will be shown below. These are a full three years before MacPherson's claim of 1830. Fourth, there is no evidence that Irving or any of the early Irvingites ever held to pretrib views. This has been noted recently by Columba G. Flegg, who has produced one of the most extensive critical analysis ever on Irvingite doctrine. He declares that Irvingites were still primarily historicist, while Darby and the Brethren had become futurist. Further, Flegg notes that the Brethren teaching on the rapture and the present invisible and spiritual nature of the church were in sharp contrast to Catholic Apostolic teaching... There were thus very significant differences between the two eschatologies, and attempts to see any direct influence of one upon the other seem unlikely to succeedthey had a number of common roots, but are much more notable for their points of disagreement. Several writers [referring specifically to MacPherson] have attempted to trace Darby's secret rapture theory to a prophetic statement associated with Irving, but their arguments do not stand up to serious criticism .24

The Development of Darby's Views

Brethren writer Roy A. Huebner claims and documents his belief that J.N. Darby first began to believe in the pretrib rapture and develop his dispensational thinking while convalescing from a riding accident during December 1826 and January 1827. If this is true, then all of the origin-of-the- rapture conspiracy theories fall to the ground in a heap of speculative rubble. Darby would have at least a three-year jump on any who would have supposedly influenced his thought, making it impossible for all the "influence" theories to have any credibility.

Huebner provides clarification and evidence that Darby was not influenced by Margaret Macdonald, Lacunza, Edward Irving, or the Irvingites. These are all said by the detractors of Darby and the pretrib rapture to have been bridges which led to Darby's thought. Instead, he demonstrates that Darby's understanding of pretribulationism was the product of the development of his personal interactive thought with the text of Scripture as he, his friends, and dispensationalists have long contended.

Darby's pretrib and dispensational thoughts, says Huebner, were developed from the following factors:

1. "he saw from Isaiah 32 that there was a different dispensation coming ... that Israel and the Church were distinct. 1121

2. "During his convalescence JND learned that he ought daily to expect his Lord's return. 1121

3. "In 1827 JND understood 'the ruin of the Church.' 1128

4. Darby also was beginning to see a gap of time between the 21 rapture and the second coming by 1827.

5. Darby, himself, said in 1857 that he first started understanding things relating to the pre-trib Rapture "thirty years ago." "With that fixed point of reference, January 31, 1827," declares Huebner, we can see that Darby "had already understood those truths upon which the pre-tribulation rapture hinges. 1131

German author Max S. Weremchuk has produced a major new biography on Darby entitled John Nelson Darby: A Biography. He agrees with Huebner's conclusions concerning the matter. "Having read MacPherson's book..." says Weremchuk, "I find it impossible to make a just comparison between what Miss MacDonald 'prophesied' and what Darby taught. It appears that the wish was the father of the idea. 1131

When reading Darby's earliest published essay on biblical prophecy (1829), it is clear that while it still has elements of historicism, it also reflects the fact that for Darby, the rapture was to be the church's focus and hope Even in this earliest of essays, Darby expounds upon the rapture as the church's hope."

F. F. Bruce, who was part of the Brethren movement his entire life, but one who did not agree with the pre-trib rapture, commented on the validity of MacPherson's thesis:

Where did he [Darby] get it? The reviewer's answer would be that it was in the air in the 1820s and 1830s among eager students of unfulfilled prophecy ... direct dependence by Darby on Margaret Macdonald is unlikely.

John Walvoord's assessment is likely close to the truth: any careful student of Darby soon discovers that he did not get his eschatological views from men, but rather from his doctrine of the church as the body of Christ, a concept no one claims was revealed supernaturally to Irving or Macdonald. Darby's views undoubtedly were gradually formed, but they were theologically and biblically based rather than derived from Irving's pre-Pentecostal group.


Detractors of pretribulationism often want to say or imply that our view cannot be found in the pages of the Bible and must have come from a deviant source. Of course, we strongly object to such a notion, and have taken great pains over the years to show that the New Testament not only teaches pretribulationism, but holds it forth as our "blessed hope," a central focus of faith. It is also clear to me that when the church recognizes the four biblical foundations supporting pretribulationism (consistent literal interpretation, premillennialism, futurism, and a distinction between Israel and the church), that the biblical view of pretribulationism is recognized.

As believers in the imminent return of Christ, we need to let this precious truth and hope impact our daily lives as we anticipate our Lord's return. We, like those who have gone before us, need to realize that such a blessed hope should teach us that we should live chaste lives, giving ourselves to evangelism and world missions until the bride hears her groom shout, "come up here!" Church historian Kurt Aland characterizes the impact that belief in an imminent coming of our Lord (a key element of pretribulationism) had in the life of the early church:

Up until the middle of the second century, and even later, Christians did not live in and for the present, but they lived in and for the future; and this was in such a way that the future flowed into the present, that future and present became one-a future which obviously stood under the sign of the Lord's presence. It was the confident expectation of the first generations that the end of the world was not only near, but that it had really already come. It was the definite conviction not only of Paul, but of all Christians of that time, that they themselves would experience the return of the Lord."

Aland then contrasts it with the condition of the church in our own day and at another time when she is not motivated by the imminent return of Christ: At first, people looked at it as only a brief postponement, as the Shepherd of Hermas clearly expresses. But soon, as the end of the world did not occur, it was conceived of as a longer and longer period, until finally-this is today's situation-nothing but the thought of a postponement exists in people's consciousness. Hardly any longer is there the thought of the possibility of an imminent

Parousia. Today we live with the presumption - I would almost say from the presumption-that this world is going to continue; it dominates our consciousness. Practically, we no longer speak about a postponement, but only seldom does the idea of the end of the world and the Lord's return for judgment even occur to us; rather, it is pushed aside as annoying and disturbing-in contrast to the times when faith was alive. It is very characteristic that in ages when the church flourishes, the expectation of the end revives-we think of Luther; we think of Pietism. If we judge our present time by its expectation of the future, our judgment can only be a very negative one.

... Only when the imminent expectation of the Parousia diminishes, only when life is no longer lived in constant reference to the Last Day and no longer takes its direction from the Last Day was an organization of the church as an institution even possible or necessary. This took place in the second half of the second century."

While Brethren theologian J.N. Darby may have restored the pretribulational rapture doctrine into the life of the church, he did not originate it. Pretribulationism is found first in the New Testament and at times throughout the history of the church. Oh that we would recapture for the church in our day this "blessed hope" which would help stir her to life with the mighty implications of such a truth. This cannot be accomplished when there are those who are disturbing the faith of some by the misuse of the history of the rapture. Maranatha!