Saturday, June 7, 2008

Why is the Pre-Tribulation View So Popular?

As an attorney, I like to make sure that I at least understand the other side's view. I have found this also serves me well in understanding difficult issues contained in the Bible. In taking a look at the different ways of understanding the End-Times and Jesus' Second Coming, I have found it helpful to try and summarize the other side (I am an Amillennialist, and so the other side is the Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Millennial view). I believe this is useful so that I am not dismissing or being condescending of what other Christians believe. And given that there are so many great Christians who hold the Pre-Trib view (like John MacArthur, Tim LaHaye, and Chuck Swindoll), it makes sense to me that when there is a majority Christian view, like the Pre-Trib view currently is, then a good Christian should at least understand what the majority understand and why they believe what they do.


So first, let me do a quick summary of what the Pre-Tribulation / Pre-Millennial view is (I will use 'Pre-Trib' as my shorthand for this end-times view.) The Pre-Trib Christian generally believes the following:


  • Pre-Tribbers believe there is a Rapture of the Elect to heaven before the 7 year period of Tribulation. The End-Times sequence of events is as follows:
  • A Secret Rapture of Believers from the Earth to go with Jesus to heaven;
  • The Great Tribulation, 7 Years in length;
  • Israel Accepts Christ as their Lord and Messiah during the Tribulation;
  • Return of Christ;
  • The 1,000 Year Millennium where Jesus and His saints reign on earth (Rev. 20:1-:6);
  • Falling away led by Satan, resulting in the Final Battle, and Judgment upon the World.


So why is the Pre-Trib view so popular? It is the End-times view which is being taught in most seminaries. It is the view taught in the wildly popular Christian book series 'Left Behind' by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Those who hold this view are vocal, and dominating most Church discussions on the return of Jesus. Locally, there is a Pre-Trib radio program hosted by Jan Markell (AM 980, 10:00 on Saturday mornings). There are Christian magazines devoted to the Pre-Trib viewpoint (Prophecy in the News), and we will see its continued growth as a new 'Left Behind' movie is released in the near future. So why has the Pre-Trib view become so popular? In my thinking about the subject, there are good reasons for their position. Here is why I think that Pre-Trib is so popular:


  1. Return of Israel; A big part of the Pre-Trib theology is that God is primarily focused on Israel, and that the period of the Church is only a "parenthesis" in His dealing with Israel. And so, when the nation of Israel was reformed in the Holy Land after World War II (1948), and took back most of Jerusalem in 1967, it looks to most of us as though something supernatural is going on here. There are prophecies in both the Old and New Testaments about Israel (Here are a few verses contained in the New Nave's Topical Bible on the Restoration of Israel - Of blessing and restoration: Isa. 1:25–27; 2:1–5; 4:2–6; 11:11–13; 25; 26:1, 2, 12–19; 27:13; 29:18–24; 30:18–26; 32:15–20; 33:13–24; 35; 37:31, 32; 40:2, 9; 41:27; 44; 49:13–23; 51; 52:1–12; 60; 61:4–9; 62; 66:5–22; Jer. 3:14–18; 4:3–18; 12:14–16; 23:3; 24:1–7; 29:1–14; 30:3–22; 32:36–44; 33; 44:28; Ezek. 14:22, 23; 16:60–63; 20:40, 41; 36:1–38; 37:12, 21; Dan. 11:30–45; 12:1; Joel 3; Amos 9:9–15; Obad. 17–21; Mic. 2:12, 13; 5:3; Zeph. 2:7; Zech. 1:14–21; 2; 8; 10:5–12; 12:1–14; 13; 14:3–21; Mal. 3:4; Rom. 11; 2 Cor. 3:16; Rev. 7:5.) One great verse is Luke 21:24, that speaks of there being a time when Gentiles trample upon Jerusalem, and implying that Israel would return this time is fulfilled. And so, the Pre-Trib view has ascended along with Israel, because it has placed such a strong emphasis on the importance of Israel during the Last Days. And it continues to draw attention, especially as Israel has become more and more the target of the leaders of the nations of Islam.


  1. Old Testament Descriptions of the Millennium; Revelation 20:1-6 describes a 1,000 year period when Christ and the saints reign on earth, which Pre-Tribbers understand as taking place after the 7 years of Tribulation. Although there is not much of a description in Revelation of what this 1,000 years will be like, most Christians believe the details are filled in by some Old Testament prophecies. If you look at the prophecies contained in Isaiah, some extra detail is provided as to what the Millennium could look like. The prophecies speak of such things as the Lion laying with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6, and especially Isaiah 65:17-25), and a young man dying when he is 100 years old, no more sound of weeping in Jerusalem, lions eating straw like an ox, etc. These prophecies flesh out what Christians understand what the Millennium will be like: it will be a time of unprecedented peace and blessing. And so, the Pre-Trib view does a nice job of bringing together of the prophecies of Isaiah and the Millennium prophecy of Revelation 20:1-6;


  1. Jesus and the New Testament writers warning that Jesus' return is imminent; I think this is one of the main reasons (along with the return of national Israel) that the Pre-Trib view has become so popular. I also think this holds one of the problem areas for those holding a Mid-Trib or Post-Trib view, and to a lesser extent even the Amillennial view. First, let me go over some of the many verses that speak of Jesus' return being at hand:


Romans 13:11-12 – Now it's high time to awake out of sleep; The night is far spent the day is at hand.

Phil. 4:5 – The Lord is at hand.

James 5:8-9 – The coming of the Lord is at hand… Behold the Judge is standing at the door.

1 Peter 4:7 – The end of all things is at hand.

1 John 2:18 – It is the last hour… we know that it is the last hour.


And in case you think you can dismiss all of these verses because within one generation's time of these writings, Jerusalem would be destroyed (in 70 AD), let me ask you to think about these same references in the Book of Revelation:


Rev. 1:1 – The Revelation of Jesus Christ… (shows the) things which must shortly take place.

Rev. 1:3 – The time is near.

Rev. 3:11, 22:7, 22:12 – Behold, I come quickly!

Rev. 22:10 – The time is at hand.

Rev. 22:20 – Surely I am coming quickly.


My point in asking us to consider the same verses speaking of Jesus' imminent return in both Revelation and throughout the Epistles is this – Revelation seems fairly clearly to have been written in 96 AD, which is after the fall of Jerusalem (70 AD). And so, if all of these verses say that we are to live as though Jesus could return at any moment, this is something that strongly supports the Pre-Trib position. The imminent return of Jesus verses support the Pre-Trib view because they believe that the Rapture could virtually take place at any time. And no other end-times view can say this – for example, with the Mid-Trib view Christians know that exactly 3 and one-half years after the Tribulation starts, they will be raptured up to heaven with Jesus. Same goes for the Post-Trib view (except it is 7 years). And so, these verses are one of the strongest reasons for having a Pre-Trib end-times view, and for its growth.


  1. The Signs of Jesus' Return. This is a fun one. I enjoy reading about news stories about the threats increasing against Israel, because I know God will faithfully protect His chosen people. But the stories of famine in our day, earthquakes, increasingly violent storms, etc. are more terrifying, and seem to be reported increasingly each week. All of these are the relied upon those with the Pre-Trib view as "signs" of the times, showing Jesus' return could take place shortly. I have a list of over 50 "signs" the Pre-Tribbers believe show that Jesus' return could take place at any time. This list includes the following (and I'm not kidding):


  • Unemployment;
  • Financial unrest;
  • Oil supply / price;
  • Debt;
  • Growing spread of knowledge / speed of knowledge;
  • 200 million man army in China;
  • Redevelopment of the Roman / European empire, and many, many more.


So because we all pray for Jesus' return, I think one of the best selling points for those with a Pre-Trib view is their constantly telling us of the signs that happened recently that show Jesus could return any time now. I'm not saying that I agree with them, I'm just pointing out that its' something that grabs the attention of most people, even a hardened Amillennialist like me.


So I hope I have done a fair job explaining why the Pre-Tribulation / Pre-Millennial Rapture view has become so popular. I would like to hear from anyone else out there if you think there are other reasons why the Pre-Trib view has become so popular. Otherwise, may God bless you with health, peace and provision as you go through this next week using your gifts and talents to serve others. In Christ, /s/Tom.


Patricia Burns said...

The tribulation occurs PRIOR TO the Seventh TRUMPET (1 Cor.15:52, Re.10:7, 1 Thess.4:16-17).

The tribulation occurs between the Sixth SEAL (Re.6:12-17) and the Seventh TRUMPET.

Patricia © Bible Prophecy on the Web
Author of the self-study aid, The Book of Revelation Explained © 1982

tom wolff said...

Thank you Patricia Burns for your additions. I am impressed by those who are able to bring together what is described in Revelation with other parts of the New Testament, like the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24/Mark 13/Luke 21).

edward oleander said...

Shouldn't the real question not be about which of two paths of prophecy is correct, but about why are there two paths at all?

Why isn't the Bible more clear? It IS a rather important subject after all...

It is these inconsistencies which cause us non-believers to lump the Bible in with any other major religious text.

I mean no disrespect by this, but can you understand why we on the outside have trouble seeing why Christianity should be thought of any differently than religions commonly thought to be myth-based? Or why smaller, simpler religions like Wicca or Gaia worship have just as much, if not more appeal to millions of people worldwide?

Sorry to go off-topic with the followup paragraphs... The original question still stands, though... Why isn't prophecy more clear?

tom wolff said...

So Ed you ask why isn’t Bible prophecy clearer? And because of this, you claim that you don’t trust the Bible.

On the topic of whether or not anyone should trust the Bible just because there are two main methods of interpreting the prophecies of Jesus’ return, let me say this is partly my fault. I like to bring up areas of disagreement in Christian views because I find them interesting. And I hope to bring clarity to help us understand why people believe what they believe. But allow me to show that the areas of agreement between the two views are minor compared with the areas where there is agreement:

Both end-times views agree on all of the following:

Mankind’s sinfulness, which is resulting in more and more people being hurt, is causing God’s anger to come to a boiling point;

Jesus the Messiah will return one day to set the world back in order – where the Elect will be rewarded, and the unbelieving will be judged;

There will be increasing signs of God’s anger expressed through natural catastrophes; what is described as ‘evil’ in the Bible will grow, and cause difficulty / tribulation for the Elect;

Satan will be released to deceive the nations, and to cause apostasy, where there will be many who abandon their Christian faith;

There will be a resurrection of all the dead who will face judgment along with those living at Jesus’ return;

The only way to escape God’s judgment is through unmerited receipt of God’s Grace, through belief in the sacrifice made by Jesus on the Cross in full payment of the world’s sins, and repentance.

And so, the two areas of disagreement I have brought, being at what point will the Elect will be caught up to meet Jesus, and whether or not the 1,000 year Millennium is a future time period, seem to me to be very minor compared with the much more important areas in which there is agreement. Especially, the agreement that there will be a Judgment Day, and that salvation through God’s grace alone, through faith in Jesus alone, and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). So yes, I believe the Bible is clear on the majors, with room for disagreement on the minors. That is what makes the Bible the great Book that it is, worth spending a lifetime to study.

edward oleander said...

Thanks for the response... I know that non-believers spend a lot of time dwelling on the inconsistencies in the Bible. Cumulatively, they are indeed what make some of us wonder if the Bible isn't just a collection of ancient tales, bound up with a central narrative.

But the End Times prophecy issue stands out for me anyway. I mean... this is the Big One... If ANY of the prophecies need to EXACT, this is the one... Getting it right would be that big piece of evidence a lot of people need to convert. If the early events play out exactly as predicted, then it would stand to reason that so will the later ones.

Having multiple prophecies, even if only in the details, just leads to more opportunities to mistrust what we read.

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