My view on the timing of the rapture, which I refer to as the “imminent pre-wrath view,” has sometimes been mischaracterized as a modified form of Rosenthal’s pre-wrath view; I would like to say emphatically that nothing could be further from the truth. The imminent pre-wrath view is an imminent view, and thus bears a much closer resemblance to pretribulationism than to any other view. In fact, the only substantial difference between the view I have proposed and pretribulationism is that while pretribulationists regard the entire tribulation as divine wrath, I think that is an assumption rather than a biblically or theologically demonstrable fact. To be perfectly clear, while the pretribulational assumption regarding the extent of divine wrath during the tribulation might ultimately be seen to be true, apart from additional divine revelation there is insufficient evidence to know in advance that it must be true. As I have shown in my book, Toward a Biblical View of the Rapture (2011), pretribulationists have, accidentally I’m sure, decimated the argument from imminency, leaving the wrath argument as the only remaining “heavy” argument, and that argument depends entirely on being able to demonstrate that the entire tribulation is divine wrath, thus necessitating the removal of the church prior to the beginning of the tribulation. The problem is that there is no biblical support to prove that the entire tribulation is divine wrath, and no effective theological argument has ever been adduced for such.
Having said that, I would like to point out that in explaining my own view I clearly stated that the most likely timing for the rapture is that it will occur before the tribulation begins; in other words, while I believe that a pretribulational rapture is likely (an opinion), I do not believe it is certain (a demonstrable fact). I don’t think anyone holding to any form of Rosenthal’s view could make such a statement. Those readers that are more theologically astute might be wondering how one could believe in imminency, as I do, and believe that the rapture could, potentially, be anything other than pretribulational. After all, imminency was the original argument for pretribulationism. Posttribulationism, then mid-tribulationism, and finally Rosenthal’s view all specified when the rapture would occur, and none of those positions was compatible with imminency, since they made the rapture contingent to other prophesied events; thus imminency served as an effective refutation of those views. However, there was one possibility that apparently no one considered: that the timing of the rapture being unspecified, as it is in the New Testament, it could occur anytime irrespective of any other prophesied events. When understood in this way, even if the rapture were not pretribulational it would still be imminent from the present perspective, since there would be no way of knowing when it would occur. What this demonstrates is that while imminency refutes views that make the rapture contingent upon other prophesied events (i.e., mid-tribulationism, Rosenthal’s view, and posttribulationism), it does not prove pretribulationism.
Since the wrath argument rests on an unprovable assumption regarding the extent of divine wrath during the tribulation, and since the imminency of the rapture does not preclude it happening after the tribulation begins, as long as it is not made contingent to any tribulation events, the two key arguments for pretribulationism are seen to be more assumptions than proof. While the hope of a pretribulation rapture is fine, I think that teaching it as a biblical or theological fact is unwarranted and likely to be dangerous if things turn out differently. Incidentally, should it turn out differently I have presented arguments in my book that the rapture could not occur in the second half of the tribulation period, but you’ll have to read the book for those arguments; it’s free: (click or tap here to download a free abridged PDF edition, or here to order a print or Kindle edition).
My own view is that pretribulationism is the result of two errors: 1) a logical error in thinking that imminency precludes all non-pretribulational possibilities for the rapture, when in fact it only precludes those that make the rapture contingent to other prophetic events; and, 2) a complete lack of biblical support for belief that the entire tribulation is divine wrath—a belief with which even the early pretribulationists (like C.I. Scofield) would have disagreed.
Sam A. Smith, 2017
8 thoughts on “A Note Regarding My View on the Timing of the Rapture of the Church”
Clearly the rapture could not have been a possibility until sometime after Pentecost A.D. 33, which was the beginning of the Church, and as such it could not have been imminent prior to that time. As you pointed out there are a couple of possible prophetic hints that the rapture would not occur in the early apostolic age. Of course once it became imminent it has remained so; that is not to say that it has been practical at all times. From the divine perspective the rapture has never been imminent, since God knows all events that will precede it. It is only imminent from the human perspective. The reference in Daniel is interesting; however, we must bear in mind that the future existence of the church (the body of Christ) was not revealed in the OT, and as such it would be difficult to directly apply any passage in Daniel to the church or the church age (prophetically). I think the passage properly applies to Israel in the Day of the LORD.
Hey Sam, I got another one for you. Jesus prophesied to Peter that he would die an old man in John 21:18-19. Would this not be something that HAD to occur prior to the Rapture? The same with Paul’s response to the Thessalonians in 2 Thess 2. Maybe even Paul did not have as clear a picture of the Rapture’s timing as we do today? Had he known that the Rapture was the next event on the Eschatological Calendar, would he have not just said that?
I’m wondering if the Rapture is imminent today, but has not always been. As you study what most have taught concerning the Lord’s return, prior to the 1800s nobody really talked about the Rapture at all. This seems to be new phenomena. Everyone just assumed that there would be future judgement/resurrection some time in the future.
I’m wondering if Daniel 12:4 can give us insight into this? If the words of the prophecy are shut up/sealed until the time of the end, would it not make sense that as the end gets nearer, as knowledge increases, that the prophecy would be “opened” and “unsealed” in such a way that spiritual men would have a better understanding of end time events.
Just as orthodox believers made the transition from covenantalism to dispensationalism? Not trying to teach a “new revelation” but an unsealing of an existing revelation that God gives us insight into as we get closer to that Day.
I don’t think that Revelation 6 is a parallel to Matthew 24 or 1Thessalonians 4:13-18. Matthew 24:32-25:30 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 describe the rapture. Revelation 6 describes the first seals (time periods) of the tribulation. If the Day of the Lord begins sometime after the midpoint of the tribulation, as 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 seems to indicate, then the rapture need not be pretribulational in order for the church to avoid the wrath of God at the Day of the Lord. Now, if one were to state that the rapture was going to happen at some point in the tribulation it could not be imminent from the present perspective. However, if one were to state that the time of the rapture could be anytime between the present and the Day of the Lord, it would still be imminent since no preceding events are necessitated by such a view. The imminent pre-wrath view does not make the rapture contingent upon any future event as does the midtribulation view and Rosenthal’s pre-wrath view. Stated another way, the rapture only becomes contingent (non-imminent) when we we say that some future event “must” precede it. I find that this is a difficult concept to communication, but logically it is different saying that the rapture “will” happen at a certain point in the tribulation than saying that it “could” happen at a certain point. The difference is that once we peg a specific location on the timeline (and no other possible time) the rapture becomes contingent to any preceding events on that timeline, but if we simply say that it “could” happen at some point we have not made it contingent because it could just as well happen at some other time, including before the tribulation even begins, thus it is imminent. So, even if the rapture were to happen sometime after the covenant is made it would still be imminent from the present perspective as long as we do not claim to know when it will happen.
One final illustration, suppose you say to a friend in April, “I’m coming to see you sometime before this coming November.” Is your coming imminent? Yes, because you haven’t specified when you’re coming. Okay, suppose you don’t show up until October, was your coming still imminent in April? Yes, because based on what you said, your coming could have been anytime between April and the beginning of November. On the other hand if you had said to your friend that your were coming in October, your coming would not have been imminent in April.
Hope this helps.
Ok, I’ve read The Imminent Pre-wrath Rapture of The Church a couple of times. I have always bounced back and forth between a Pre-trib view (because of Imminency) and a Pre-Wrath view because of 2 Thess 2.
It would seem that 2 Thess 2 makes a pretrib rapture impossible. Or why would Paul respond in the way he did. I actually came to that conclusion a day or two before I read The Imminent Pre-wrath
Rapture of The Church. It would seem that these believers would see events after the midpoint of the tribulation…then The Day of the Lord would come.
Now if Matt 24, 1 Thess 4:13-5:9 and Rev 6 parallel one another, how do the first 4 seals OR at least the covenant with many (Daniel 9:27) not precede the Rapture? Once we see some sort of 7 year treaty with the Jews, then Seals 1-4, then Abomination of Desolation…wouldn’t all of these things be prophetic events that have to precede the Rapture and thus destroy immanency?
Thanks for the comment. You brought up two important issues: 1) If a tribulation event were to precede the rapture, wouldn’t that destroy imminency, since one would then know that the rapture must happen within seven years, and 2) where does the rapture fit in regard to the “card stack” analogy. These are both excellent questions. With regard to the first question I don’t see that knowing the terminal point of the rapture window would make the event non-imminent. If the tribulation covenant were made today the rapture would still be imminent as long as it is not contingent upon any future event (meaning that no future event is known to precede it). As to the question about the “card stack” analogy, you probably did read that in one of my other papers or books. Since the Bible nowhere links the rapture to the tribulation timeline, I think it is best to view it as not part of the “stack” of tribulation events, and thus it is always imminent until it happens. Incidentally, while I allow that the Bible does not teach pretribulationism, I continue to believe that a pretribulational rapture is the likeliest scenario. There is, however, a vast difference between something being “likely” and something being biblically demonstrable, which ought to be the standard for doctrine.
First of all, thank you for your works which I have read in the past. They have convinced me to the pre-trib rapture side, even if they weren’t meant to convince someone to pre-trib.
However, I’m not sure I understand completely what you are saying. If you said that the Rapture does not need to be conditioned on any particular point of prophecy, doesn’t that give us a problem with imminency?
The moment we see any future prophetic event occur, we could then conclude the Rapture will occur in at most 7 years. There is still that time factor, damaging imminency. The only way around it I could see would be to say we’re not sure end time events will span only 7 years. To me, you would have to modify both the timing of the Rapture and the length of the tribulation to some indeterminate time.
Maybe I’m missing something, but I think you may have been the one who introduced me to the card stack analogy. If not, I’m not sure I remember where I got it from. If I have a stack of 52 cards which is really a stack of 52 cards each with a prophetic future event happening on it. If I scour the Word of God to put these cards in their proper order, but I’m not sure what to do with the Rapture – if I am going with an imminent Rapture, don’t I need to stack it at the top of the deck?
Then at some indeterminate time, God will turn over that top card, the Rapture card. I don’t know when that is going to happen. To me, that is truly imminent.
But if I put the rapture card in any other place other than sequence #1, or if I leave it out of the deck and decide God will turn it over when He wants to – doesn’t that destroy imminency? The moment I recognize and understand that a future prophetic event has occurred, don’t I then know the timing of the Rapture will be 7 years of less?
What am I not seeing?
Sanity in the camp! Thank you, Sam Smith. Imminency has long been the reason for us to “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” I had thought that the building of the third Temple was a prerequisite to the rapture, but that is nonsense in the face of the above Scripture and others like it. There is so much concerning the ‘last days’ that is yet to be opened to us, but one thing is certain, for a believer to ‘not watch’ for the imminent return of our Lord for His Church is gross unbelief.
Excellent article. Great website!
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