Guys like Greg Koukl are good guys. They are wrong on some doctrines and teachings but their motivation is still good. One writer describes men like Koukl as “pop apologists” and that term is very correct and accurate. Unlike Michael Heiser and Mark Ward, whose motivation is to get people to buy their and their company’s material, Koukl wants to “equip Christians with knowledge, wisdom, and character”. His book “Tactics” is a little bit on the soft side, but a classic book that Bible Believers need to read, study deeply, and apply.
But he is flat out wrong on some of his doctrine. Foremost of course, is his use of modern Bible (per)versions. But that isn’t the topic for today. Today we look at his article about the Rapture. He is against the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church and advocates a Post-Tribulation Rapture. We will look at the mistaken thinking that leads him here. The purpose here is to help people who have taken his good teachings from “Tactics” and help them to not get messed up from his bad doctrine on the Rapture. Hopefully this will equip Christians with knowledge, wisdom and character.
As usual, my comments are in bold.
What is the apocalyptic event described in First Thessalonians 4 and First Corinthians 15? Perhaps not exactly what you think it is.
The Old Testament doesn’t talk about the Rapture. False. It doesn’t talk about the Rapture of the Church. The Rapture (of Israel) is found in Song of Solomon 2 and Isaiah 26:20,21. The failure to accept that there is a difference between the Rapture of the Church and the Rapture at the end of the Tribulation will be the theme of this article and is a main cause of Koukl’s mistaken theology on this point. The New Testament just makes casual references to it. “Casual” is just his opinion. They seem clear enough to me. Some might suggest details like Daniel 9 and the missing week of Daniel’s prophecy. These comments make me wonder if he has really studied the doctrine properly.
I was raised in a strong pre-tribulation rapture environment. I was raised in a church that was not only not Pre-Trib, but also against the idea of the Millenium altogether. I changed because of the Bible. To put it simply, I was raised at the feet of Hal Lindsey, spiritually speaking. The first three years I studied at his Bible training center in Westwood Village, called the Jesus Christ Light and Power House. Those names should sound the warning bells… I got a lot of good teaching there, but the eschatological teaching we got was this teaching, so I am very familiar with the point of view. I actually accepted it somewhat uncritically because that was my background, until I began to do some study and I made a couple of observations.
The first observation I made was that this doctrine, the disappearance of the church seven years prior to the return of Christ, is not a doctrine that anyone in the history of the church ever held to until about 150 years ago. That was the first red flag. To this I respond with: TO BLAZES WITH THE CHURCH FATHERS. They ought to be called the Church “babies”. The question that really matters is “What saith the Scriptures?” If it’s in the Scriptures, then who cares what the “babies” said? And vice versa. The Catholics and Orthodox want you to ask this. They don’t want you to stick to the Bible. They are the people who controlled the list of Church “babies”. There have always been Pre-Trib Rapture believers. Their books never made it into the list of official Church “babies” books. There might be justifiable explanations for that and some people make those explanations. But my question is, if the Bible teaches this, why didn’t anybody see it for almost 2000 years? All of the church fathers expected to see the Antichrist which would leave at least a mid-trib rapture. No. We just have to admit that the Antichrist will come before the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church as 2 Thess 2:3 clearly states. The problem here is with bad doctrine on the part of most Pre-Tribbers. Belief that the Church will “see the Antichrist” doesn’t preclude the Pre-Trib Rapture. My suspicion was, the reason the church didn’t see it for 2000 years is because it wasn’t there. The information about the rapture actually came from a prophecy that was external to the Scriptures, the Plymouth Brethren prophecy. With that prophecy in place, people went back to the Scriptures and then began to see what they saw as hints of this doctrine in different passages. Koukl is walking on thin ice here. We saw the path taken by another “pop apologist”, Hank Hanegraaf and he ended up full blown Orthodox. Stick to the Scriptures, people. Also not that many church babies were Amillennial. Should Koukl be Post-Trib if the church babies are so important?
The second observation is something that people said on a regular basis. He seems to know this is a questionable observation. People say all kinds of nonsense and there is no way to prove anything based on “hearsay”. (BTW “hearsay” is one of my favorite words in the English language. I love it.) They would say, regarding this issue of the rapture, that it’s not really clear when. Is the timing of the Post-Trib Rapture “really clear”? Of course not. There are no direct Scriptures that specifically teach when. They maintained that we have to draw simple inferences from the Scriptures and this is why you see these kind of convoluted systems meant to infer the pre-trib rapture or the mid-trib rapture from the text. I saw something entirely different when I actually went to the text itself. If you think that the dispensational teaching of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church is a “convoluted system”, then you should watch how people deal with the fact that you cannot lose your salvation in the Church and that you can lose your salvation in the Tribulation. That system is really “convoluted”, friends. Or how works play a part in salvation in the Tribulation. “Convoluted”.
We have to have a procedural question that is answered first. What is the foundation from which we approach any issue of theology? In a broad sense, it’s going to be the Bible. In order to understand inferences best, we are safest when we proceed from an explicit Biblical teaching. If we have an explicit Biblical teaching, then the rule of Analogy of Faith is applied. That is, we interpret the unclear in light of the clear. Agreed. The question is, do we have some clear statements in the Scripture about the timing of the event that is commonly called the rapture? This is a problem because there are more than one Rapture in the Bible. I think we do. We have two very explicit statements that clearly describe the event that most people call the rapture. The Rapture of the Church. 1 Thessalonians 4 and then 1 Corinthians 15. There are other verses that some say refer to the rapture, but these are the only two I know of that explicitly describe this event.
What is interesting about both of these passages, is that both passages say exactly when it’s going to happen. There is no ambiguity. 1 Thessalonians 4 says, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with a voice of the archangel, with a trumpet of God and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” Then the next verse talks about being caught up with the Lord in the air. When does this happen? It happens at the coming of the Lord, according to verse 15. Then Paul says the dead in Christ shall rise first. Paul doesn’t call this event the rapture, which is our popular word. The word exists in the Latin Bible, which is where we get the term. He calls it a resurrection. This is the resurrection that happens at the coming of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15 gives another description of what most people would acknowledge to be the same event, where in a moment, or the twinkling of the eye at the last trumpet, the dead will be raised imperishable and the living shall be changed and the mortal will put on immortality. We see some of the same language used in this passage and we see some more details about this event. Notice that in 1 Thessalonians 4 he was talking about a resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15, the entire chapter is about resurrection. But he tells the timing of it in verse 23. It says, “but each in his own order, Christ at the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at his coming and then comes the end.” He is using the verse that proves there are multiple parts to the Resurrection. It just doesn’t register. The one resurrection is made up of 3 parts. Rapture of Christ + Rapture of Church + Rapture of Tribulation Saints = 1 resurrection. There may be another way to count that, but there are still going to be 3 parts to 1 resurrection. Just like with the harvest. Firstfruits + Main Harvest + Gleanings = 1 harvest. He can’t see it because he’s mistakenly only looking for 1 Rapture. There are more than 1.
We can’t start with a prophecy from the Plymouth Brethren and then try to read all this new doctrine we got from outside of the Bible into our Bible. To blazes with the prophecies of the Plymouth Brethren. What saith the Scripture? I’m just trying to start with the text and see what it says. Yet, his point #1 was about the Church “babies”… The text says that the resurrection that we call the rapture happens at the coming at Christ. It says it very clearly in verse 23. First Christ, then those that are his at his coming, and then comes the end. It EXPLICITLY says there are 3 parts. It couldn’t be plainer that the resurrection, this event that is called the rapture, described by these verses, happens at the coming of the Lord. That is foundational and it’s explicitly taught in the text. Also note that there are multiple parts to Christ’s 1 coming. He came as a baby to a select few. Some might even call this a “secret” coming. And then he was publicly manifest to Israel. So both comings of Christ have multiple parts to them.
Let’s try to pull this together. It is very important for us to start from a foundation of an explicit Biblical teaching on this issue so that we can build from there and take what is really clear and then answer the other objections based on what we know to be true from the clear text. We have two passages that give, by all counts, an explicit description of what has been called the rapture. Both accounts tell when it is going to happen. They say it is going to happen at the coming of the Lord. That is our explicit foundation. Both describe it, both tell when. Now the question becomes, which coming of the Lord does the author here, Paul, have in mind?
Here is my answer. The second coming. Not the third coming, not the one-and-a-half coming. The passages call it the coming of the Lord. Not a coming. True, but applied incorrectly. There are 2 comings. Each coming has multiple parts to it, as we can clearly see EXPLICITLY. They call it the coming of the Lord. I don’t know how it can be made more clear. It is very straight-forward. What some want to do is bring a lot of theology from the outside and twist the plain sense of those words. They say, “Well, he’s coming in the air.” What does that have to do with anything? In both cases, Paul calls it the coming of the Lord. And he says, right after that, then comes the end. That’s the order. The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 9 “In as much as Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin to those who eagerly await him.” My point is that there are only two comings. The coming when Jesus accomplished the work of the cross, and the second coming.
We read about the second coming in Matthew 24. We read about a part of the second coming in Matt 24. Notice the trouble you get into putting Matt 24 on the Church. You have no eternal security in vs 13. You have a different Gospel being preached in vs 14. And you have the Sabbath being observed in vs 20. Strange place to put a Gospel (1 Cor 15: 3,4) preaching, eternally secure (Rom 8:38,39), Christian who doesn’t observe the Sabbath (Col 2:16). Or we can be honest and say that Matt 24 is for a Tribulation Saint after the Rapture of the Church. It is the third part of the Second Coming of Christ. That is a visible, powerful and conclusive coming. He says everyone will be able to see Him, right? Paul says these events that are called the rapture happen at the coming of the Lord and the coming of the Lord, according to Jesus, is visible and there is only one second coming. This falls together so neatly, I don’t know why it isn’t more obvious to more people.
That leaves room for only one point of view, as far as I can see, from what the Scripture teaches. What is called the post-tribulation rapture. I don’t even like the term. I think we should teach what the text teaches and what the church has taught for 2000 years, that the resurrection happens when Jesus returns. It’s that simple.
It’s always easy to call something simple when you leave out part of the story. Kind of like how playing basketball is simple. Just throw a ball in a hoop. Or we could be honest and admit that there is much more to it. I hope that this article has proven to you that Koukl is mistaken on the Rapture. Hopefully, the errors in thinking made by Koukl won’t be made by others.
In the end, read “Tactics” but observe the errors made in this article and don’t make the same mistake. Clear thinking will help you win the lost.