Many harbor the hope that because they are Christians, God will translate them from great tribulation and disaster, just as He saved Noah and Lot in the judgments of their day. What a rude awakening awaits so many! First of all, almost all who name the Name of Jesus Christ aren’t Christians. That would eliminate most hopefuls, if there were such a thing as physical rapture out of tribulation. But more to the point, the preachers and believers who seek substantiation for the escapist doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture have a tenuous foundation in the Scriptures.
Who can argue that God doesn’t deliver us out of trouble? He’s done it for me many times. Yes, He’s faithful and, as the apostle Paul declares, won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we’re able to bear, but will show us a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Yes, He delivered Noah, Lot, and many others.
But on the other hand, consider Job. Could things get much worse for anyone? Where was his rapture? Then there are the suffering saints of Hebrews 11. While one group conquered and had great exploits, the Scriptures plainly declare another category of the faithful who didn’t escape tribulation:
Hebrews 11:36-40 MKJV
(36) And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings; yes, more, of bonds and imprisonments.
(37) They were stoned, they were sawed in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented.
(38) The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains and dens and caves of the earth.
(39) And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, did not receive the promise,
(40) for God had provided some better thing for us, that they should not be made perfect without us.
Escapists may point out the words of the last verse as proof of the rapture, which they consider the “some better thing.” But the words don’t expressly promise escape from suffering. Consider that about the time those words were written and thereafter, all the apostles were martyred, except one who was exiled to Patmos, and many believers suffered severe and horrific persecution at the hands of the Jews and of the Roman Empire. Christians were imprisoned, tortured, fed to the lions in amphitheaters full of mad and bloodthirsty spectators, and oiled as live human lanterns to light up garden parties. The latter will have ascended all right, but in a blaze of glory or martyrdom, not in life-saving rapture.
The point is that God does according to His purposes, and not as we may expect or desire. While some of His chosen are appointed to external victory, others are appointed to death. How wise is it to count on escape? How shall one rightly assume escape is guaranteed for true Christians? In fact, is it not clear that persecutions and tribulations await true Christians?
Isn’t that what we hear in Matthew 24, in Jesus’ discourse on the sequence of events at the end of Israel’s age, when the Temple was destroyed and Israel was dispersed, no more a nation in their own land? The believers, who were warned to flee, weren’t raptured, even though the Lord said it would be the time of greatest tribulation ever:
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21 KJV).
And even at the end when all things are consummated, there’s no mention of a rapture. Instead there’s the promise of a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness:
2 Peter 3:10-14 MKJV
(10) But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a rushing noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat. And the earth and the works in it will be burned up.
(11) Then, all these things being about to be dissolved, what sort ought you to be in holy behavior and godliness,
(12) looking for and rushing the coming of the Day of God, on account of which the heavens, being on fire, will melt away, and the elements will melt, burning with heat?
(13) But according to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
(14) Therefore, beloved, looking for these things, be diligent, spotless, and without blemish, to be found by Him in peace.
So we’re looking for His miraculous transformation, not a miraculous evacuation and escape.
That is what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians 15, verses held by many to speak of a rapture:
1 Corinthians 15:51-58 MKJV
(51) Behold, I speak a mystery to you; we shall not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed;
(52) in a moment, in a glance of an eye, at the last trumpet. For a trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.
(53) For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
(54) But when this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and when this mortal shall put on immortality, then will take place the word that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.
(55) O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”
(56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law.
(57) But thanks be to God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(58) So that, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not without fruit in the Lord.
Realize that those words apply to all saints, including Stephen, who was stoned to death, the apostle James, who was beheaded, and all Christian martyrs since. None of those escaped a violent death, but are nonetheless benefactors of the promises Paul expressed.
Also, Paul asks, “And why are we also in danger every hour?” (1 Corinthians 15:30 MKJV)
It is apparent he wasn’t necessarily expecting a rapture out of danger. Here’s another passage of Paul’s that’s a favorite of the “rapturists”:
1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 MKJV
(14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will also bring with Him all those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.
(15) For we say this to you by the Word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall not go before those who are asleep.
(16) For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first.
(17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And so we shall ever be with the Lord.
(18) Therefore comfort one another with these words.
There is nothing there to make us believe we will escape suffering and martyrdom. There is promise of the resurrection of the dead and of the mortal putting on immortality, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, giving comfort and sure hope to all believers who endure to the end in Christ. And the end isn’t a single moment in history, but is rather a personal experience of God’s work of salvation through the cross by which He forms another son or daughter in His image.
Many are the teachers offering false hope, deceiving those who shy away from the cross of Christ, encouraging them to read into the Scriptures what they want to believe, but what isn’t there.
In my flesh, I would also prefer a literal, physical rapture away from trouble. Didn’t David in Psalms express a similar wish?
“Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest” (Psalms 55:5-6).
Did God deliver him out of his problems? No. That’s right, the answer is “No.” God delivered him in and through his problems. And that’s the secret.
Many saints in times past have suffered terrible atrocities. Many prophets of God were tortured and murdered. There were those of His whom the Lord delivered, and others for whom He chose suffering. Truly, at one time or another, every one of His people is called to suffer. Strengthen yourselves in Him, therefore, and not in hope that may not be fulfilled as expected.
Consider the alternative to believing this false hope doctrine: Isn’t it better to prepare for the day of adversity than to believe in an escape and be caught by surprise? If God should choose to spare us, wonderful! We have lost nothing, but gained a godly preparation in which we say, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”