5. How the Pretribulational Rapture Denies the Gospel
We have discussed the fact that the dispensationalist’s understanding of ‘dispensation’ invalidates the reality of grace in any age, how the dispensational ‘Kingdom Offer’ impugns the honesty of God and makes the gospel nothing more than an afterthought, and how presumed distinctions between Israel and the church deny the New Covenant to either. We will now examine how the peculiarly dispensational doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture of the Church makes manifest these errors.
The novel doctrine of the pretribulational rapture is central to dispensational teaching. The removal of the church to heaven preceding the Tribulation period, when the stopped prophetic clock begins ticking for Israel again with the ‘Seventieth Week of Daniel’, was Darby’s innovation.
Darby broke not only from previous millenarian teaching but from all of church history by asserting that Christ’s second coming would occur in two stages. The first, an invisible ‘secret rapture’ of true believers could happen at any moment, ending the great ‘parenthesis’ or church age which began when the Jews rejected Christ. 24
Scofield also taught this doctrine along with Chafer, Ryrie, Walvoord, etc. At dispensational schools, failure to hold steadfastly to the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture may have dire consequences.
…the doctrine of a pretribulational rapture of the church seems to be a litmus test of orthodoxy. To ‘outsiders,’ including classic premillennialists, this doctrine is not crucial, if it is believed at all. But not only is it vigorously maintained in Dallas Dispensationalism, but deviation from it causes a person to be suspect and institutions to shake and sometimes split.25
It is unfortunate that ‘outsiders’ – historic premillennialists, postmillennialists, and amillennialists – have not taken this distinctively dispensational doctrine more seriously, for it is here that dispensational theology stands or falls. It is the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture that proves conclusively that Dispensationalism is not, as dispensationalists claim, a return to Biblical theology – but a pseudo Christian cult.
Most arguments against pretribulationism have focused upon showing that the doctrine is a new development in theology and can not be found in the scriptures. Various orthodox commentators and theologians, from the ranks of each of the millennial views26, have presented this case with considerable skill. We will therefore take a different tack, and show that the doctrine is in direct opposition to the everlasting Gospel of Christ Jesus.
Most earlier dispensational theologians allowed that the Old Testament saints would be resurrected along with the church in the pretribulational rapture. Alexander Reese, a classic premillennialist, utterly destroyed this position with convincing scriptural arguments locating the resurrection of the Old Testament saints at the Day of the Lord at the end of the Tribulation.27
‘At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. -Daniel 12:1-2
Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the end of these things?’ And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. ‘Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand. ‘And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. ‘Blessed is he who waits, and comes to the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days. ‘But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.’ -Daniel 12:8-13
No dispensationalist would argue that the ‘time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation’, the ‘abomination of desolation’, and the taking away of the daily sacrifice is not a reference to the time of the Tribulation. Yet, Daniel is told that the resurrection follows these events.
Dispensationalists then, for the most part, amended their position to separate the resurrection of the Old Testament saints from the rapture.
…many careful students of premillennial truth have come to the conclusion that the opinion that Israel’s resurrection occurred at the time of the rapture was a hasty one and without proper Scriptural foundation. It seems far more preferable to regard the resurrection of Daniel 12:2 as a literal one following the tribulation, but not to be identified with the pretribulational rapture of the church… The church will be raised at the time of the rapture before the tribulation, and the Old Testament saints, including Israel, at the beginning of the millennial reign of Christ. 28
On this point the dispensationalist has jumped from the frying pan into the fire. In order to preserve the precious doctrine of the pretribulational rapture of the church, they raise the Old Testament saints apart from the saints of the church age. We note that this is consistent with the dispensational understanding of ‘dispensations’ and with their distinction between Israel and the church. It also reveals that the longstanding charge made by orthodox Christianity that dispensationalism teaches multiple methods of salvation is absolutely true. Let us look at some of the texts concerning the resurrection of the saints –
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed–in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ -1 Cor 15:50-55
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 will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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 thus we shall always be with the Lord. -1 Thes 4:15-17
In these classic dispensational proof texts of the pretribulational rapture, we see that the righteous dead are raised first, and then those who are alive and remain are translated into incorruptable bodies and gathered to Christ. How, then, can the dispensationalist justify the concept of the Old Testament saints being raised at some later point in time?
Some people are startled by the thought that the Old Testament saints will not be resurrected until the end of the Tribulation. But keep in mind that the rapture is a promise to the Church, and the Church only.29
We see that the dispensationally imposed distinction between Israel and the church is at the root of this argument. The Old Testament saints are not ‘in Christ’ and therefore will not arise to everlasting life at the same time as the church saints.
According to dispensationalists, the Old Testament people are not the heirs of the Holy Spirit, are not regenerated by Him, and are not grafted by Him into Christ in the same way that the New Testament people are.30
…the verse simply says that the dead in Christ will precede the living in Christ in the rapture. If you are saying that Daniel would be included in ‘the dead’, then you have to show that Daniel is ‘in Christ’. If you will study the NT you will see that ‘in Christ’ refers to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. ‘For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink’…There is no way that Daniel was part of the body of Christ. This verse in 1 Thess 4:16 simply does not apply to him. The Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell believers in the OT. It is not really people or time period that delineates the church–it is the Holy Spirit. Personal faith in Jesus Christ–which is what the passage is referring to–was not an option for OT saints. They are not in view in this passage. It is referring to people who do have the option of this personal faith in Jesus…OT saints are ‘in Christ’ in that sense that the death of Jesus is the basis for the salvation of anyone–past, present, future. However, they were not part of the body of Christ, in the sense of being permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 31
The technical term for the Church is those who are ‘in Christ.’ 1 Thess. speaks of those who have died ‘in Christ’ being resurrected at the time of His coming IN THE AIR. The context has ONLY the Church in mind. 32
This dispensational distinction between the OT & NT saints, the church & Israel, is in fact what denies dispensationalism any claim to Christianity at all, for in that very distinction dispensationalism teaches multiple methods of salvation. By excluding the OT saint from the ekklesia (church) the dispensationalist is required to produce some means, other than partaking of the New Covenant in Christ, for one or the other of the groups to be granted eternal life. The teaching of the church for the last 2,000 yrs precludes this, as does our Lord.
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. ‘ – John 6:53-56 33
Notice these points which contradict Dispensational doctrine –
- No one has life who does not partake of the New Covenant in Christ’s Blood. The OT saint must partake, as does the NT & tribulation saint, in order to have life.
- ALL who partake are raised at the LAST DAY. That day is the ‘end of the days’ prophesied to Daniel –
‘But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.’- Daniel 12:13
- ALL who partake are ‘in Christ’ and He in they.
- ALL THE SAINTS are promised the same resurrection, by the same Blood, at the same time!
And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. -Hebrews 9:15
By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. -Hebrews 11:9-10
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth…But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. -Hebrews 11:13,16
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. -Hebrews 11:39-40
The dispensationalist, ignoring the clear teaching of scripture and the historic church, denies the existence of the general assembly, and falls back to perdition by advocating shadows as the means of salvation for the OT & Tribulation saint, all in order to preserve the delusion of the pretribulational rapture!
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’ Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. -Hebrews 12:22-29
The dispensational argument that proclaims that the OT saint is somehow saved because of Christ – rather than being ‘in Christ’ by partaking of the New Covenant in His Blood – is opposed to orthodox Christian soteriology.
The truth will inevitably manifest itself. It has in dispensational soteriology. The truth is that another way of salvation which is somehow connected with Christ but not resting on Christ is a DIFFERENT way. The dispensationalist at this point is, unconsciously perhaps, consistent with himself. He does not regard the Old Testament people of God as second, third, or fourth class citizens of the Kingdom of God. They simply are not citizens at all. While dispensationalists roundly assert that Old Testament people were saved by Christ, there is NO WAY IN THEIR THEOLOGICAL SYSTEM they could be.34
6. Questions for Dispensationalists
If the dispensationalist will simply answer these honestly presented queries, we will be able to discern whether the accusations against dispensationalism are true –
1. Has the OT saint partaken of the blood of Christ shed for sins?
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’ -John 6:53-54
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’ -Matthew 26:26-28
2. Does the Spirit of Christ dwell in the OT saint?
‘He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.’ -John 6:56
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. -Romans 8:9
3. Are ALL the saints of ALL the ages ONE BODY, drinking of the SAME Spirit?
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. -1 Cor 10:16-17
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. -1 Cor 12:13
If one answers in the affirmative the above queries, one has abandoned Dispensationalism. Congratulations, brother, welcome to orthodox Christianity! If one answers any of the above in the negative, then the accusations against dispensationalism are true, and we would ask that person to produce the means of the OT saints salvation!
Soli Deo Gloria !
- Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), 41-45
- Darby introduced into discussion at Powerscourt (1833) the ideas of a secret rapture of the church and of a parenthesis in prophetic fulfillment between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel. These two concepts constituted the basic tenets of the system of theology since referred to as dispensationalism… E.R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism 1800-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970)
- The End Times: A Study on Eschatology and Millennialism, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations LCMS, Sept. 1989, p.3
- C.I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible, 1909,1917(notes on John 1:17 sec.2) p.1115
- Ibid., p.5
- Though claiming Calvinist roots, on this point the dispensationalist apparently agrees with Zwingli and Pelagius rather than Calvin or Luther
- The Augsburg Confession, Article II [ Original Sin ]
- New Scofield Reference Bible, p.3
- Quoted in Jon Zens, Dispensationalism, p.12
- L.S. Chafer, ‘Dispensationalism,’ Bibliotheca Sacra 93 (1936):93
- L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 7:219
- D.G. Barnhouse, He Came Unto His Own (New York: Revell, 1933), p.17
- Scofield, ‘Scofield Bible Correspondence Course’, pp. 23-25, cited in Zens, Dispensationalism, p.17
- Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pp.137-140
- J.N. Darby, The Hopes of the Church of God (London: G. Morrish, n.d.), p.106
- Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pp.44-45
- Ryrie, THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE NEW COVENANT TO PREMILLENNIALISM (unpublished Master’s thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary 1947), p. 31
- Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, VII, 98.
- Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, p. 218.
- John F. Walvoord, ‘The New Covenant With Israel,’ Bibliotheca Sacra, 103:24, 25, January, 1946.
- Albertus Pieters, The Seed of Abraham, p. 71-76
- W.A. Hoffecker, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ‘Darby, John Nelson,’ pp. 292-3.
- John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), 47.
- Alexander Reese (premill.), O.T. Allis (amill.), W.E. Cox (amill.), Greg Bahnsen & Kenneth Gentry (postmill.) are notable among others
- Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ (Marshall, Morgan and Scott, London, 1937; reprint, Grand Rapids MI: Grand Rapids International Publications, 1975), 328 p.
- John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophesy (1962; reprint, Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1977), 116, 118.
- David R. Reagan, The Master Plan: Making Sense of the Controversies Surrounding Bible Prophecy Today (Eugene OR: Harvest House, 1993), 123.
- John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood TN:Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), 206.
- ‘Resurrection Apart from Christ?’ Bill Barton, Armageddon, FamilyNet, 10/21/93.
- ‘Rapture,’ Gary Nystrom, Armageddon, FamilyNet, 5/28/94.
- Here we also note the grievous error of many Christians in viewing the Lord’s Supper as a memorial rather than the Sacrament that it is.
- John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), 169.
- E.W. Bullinger, Foundations of Dispensational Truth (London: Eyre and Spottiswood, 1931), 34.
- Ibid., p.219.
- Harry Ironside, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth (New York: Loizeaux, n.d.), 11.
- John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood TN:Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), 204-5.