Let’s make this simple.
There are 3 main events in end-time prophecy that we all see in crystal clarity, and discerning the order of these 3 events seems to be what has us all cross-armed in our various different clubs of eschatology.
NUMBER 1: The Rapture
1 Thess. 4:16-17 — “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” We all agree that this is going to happen; the dispute is whether or not this is the same as Christ’s coming at Armageddon or a separate and previous event.
NUMBER 2: God’s Wrath
Revelation 16:1 — “And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.” Grievous plague of sores, oceans and rivers turned to blood, the sun scorching people, cities everywhere destroyed in an earthquake, 70-pound hailstones… Leading up to the Battle of Armageddon is a long series of terrible events that can only be described as God’s wrath against a sinful, unrepentant world.
NUMBER 3: Armageddon
Revelation 19:19 — “And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.” This is without a doubt the full earthly return of Christ, and at His coming are all the armies destroyed who gathered in the Valley of Megiddo to fight against Him.
Okay, so… it’s simple. To discern whether or not the rapture described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 happens separate from Christ’s return at Armageddon, we must determine whether it occurs before the period of God’s wrath; after all, we are perfectly clear that the process of God’s wrath begins a long while before and leading up to Armageddon. Consider the locust demons who arise from the Abyss in Revelation 9 — “And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months.” That judgment alone takes 5 months, let alone the rest of God’s wrath. Proving the “pre-tribulational” rapture is as easy as determining that the Church is saved before these many horrible wrath judgments, not after.
Most “a-millennial” and “a-rapture” views state that the rapture takes place at the time of Christ’s return at Armageddon, which means the Church, purchased by the blood of Christ, goes through every single one of God’s wrath punishments before being redeemed at the final resurrection… which is at the Battle of Armageddon… Convenient, two birds one stone. Get it all done at once. It does, however, pose one very large dilemma — the Scriptures are clear that the Church is not appointed to experience God’s wrath. Not in any capacity. Not whatsoever.
That means that the rapture described 1 Thessalonians 4 must occur before the commencement of God’s wrath, which we know is entirely poured out by the time of Armageddon. In fact, Armageddon is the great coup de grâce in the final act of God’s glorious vengeance.
Rapture, Wrath, Armageddon
1 2 3
If we are indeed spared from even a single drop of God’s wrath, then that is the only chronological order to conclude.
To prove that we are, without a doubt, spared from experiencing that time of God’s wrath so vividly illustrated throughout Revelation 6 to 19, let’s turn to Scripture. Here are 7 proof texts to show that we are saved prior to wrath, and therefore much more prior to Christ’s return at Armageddon.
“For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”
Strange that the Church isn’t given any instructions in the Scriptures on how to survive bloody oceans, scorching sunlight, or worldwide earthquakes. Maybe it’s because we are told that we should strive to “escape all these things that shall come to pass”, not go through them. It comes as a snare to “all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth”… so if it’s not a snare to the Church, it must be because the Church is not anywhere on the earth when this time begins, since the text literally says that absolutely everyone located everywhere on earth will be caught by surprise in this snare.
“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
In this passage, Christ promises those who faithfully endure that they will be kept from an hour that’s coming in history. He’s saying they will not experience something that is going to effect everyone who dwells upon the earth! What could that mean, but that the Church is in heaven during this coming “hour of temptation”. We’re either on earth or in heaven. One or the other. Can’t be both, so which is it?
1 THESSALONIANS 1:10
“And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
Well, we know what that word “wrath” is referring to. Revelation gave us a long and thorough description. And apparently, according to this passage, one of the things that Christ’s sacrifice accomplished was that we would be spared from “the wrath to come”. It ensured that we would never experience God’s wrath, because Christ endured it for us on the cross. That means that no Christian can be present on the earth during that long, gruelling, horrific period of time that’s coming at the end of the age.
1 THESSALONIANS 5:9
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Let’s remember, the wrath of God is not just one single judgment poured out all at once during the Battle of Armageddon. It is described in multiple phases of trumpet judgments and vials of wrath executed by various different angels. Every bit of it is considered “wrath”. The Church is not appointed to any of it, which forces us to believe that the “salvation by out Lord Jesus Christ” occurs before the start of wrath—certainly not at Armageddon, after the judgments have all been executed.
“Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”
A foreboding message to sleeping Christians—sleeping in regard to seeing the signs of Christ’s coming. This text begs the question: if not watching results in being unaware of the timing of His return, will watching result in being aware of that hour? Logic would conclude, I suppose. Only those who don’t watch are caught by surprise, as by a thief. Fascinating choice of words, “as a thief”. That’s exactly how passages elsewhere described the sudden and calamitous start of God’s wrath — “… the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” (1 Thess. 5:2-4) Taking these two passages hand in hand, we learn that not only will faithful Christians be aware of the timing of the destructive Day of the Lord, but also of the timing of Christ’s coming. Perhaps this is because the timing of these two events are one in the same, salvation coming just before wrath, not just after. We are also clearly told that this day is only a trap for the unbelieving world, not the Church, so why should we expect to go through this period of time?
“Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.”
Ah, the good Ol’ Testament! I bet you thought I’d never go there. How could I not? It contains what may be the clearest and most vivid chronology of the eschatological events in question. First, a resurrection is described; secondly, those who are resurrected are hidden in chambers, presumably heavenly chambers, since what they’re hiding from is a punishment on “the inhabitants of the earth”. So, “the earth shall cast out the dead”, who “awake and sing”, and then these resurrected people of God hide in heaven while the Lord’s indignation (a fancy word for wrath) punishes all earth-dwellers. The order here presented makes it clear that the resurrection/rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4 occurs prior to God’s wrath.
“And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.”
In this chapter, Jesus goes on to describe what the rapture event of 1 Thessalonians 4 will be like for those who are still alive at that time — “I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” Earlier in the very same chapter, the two historical examples that Jesus compares this event to are those of Noah and Lot… both of whom were saved prior to the outpouring of God’s wrath. Noah entered the Ark, and then God destroyed the wicked. Lot fled Sodom, and then the city was devoured by fire. Luke 17 is a real “rapture chapter”. If you want to know what the rapture will be like, most of the information we’re given about it is right here. The only two past examples that Jesus gives, like two witnesses, confirm that the salvation of the Church is chronologically placed before the wrath of God begins—that means before Armageddon, and before the vials of wrath and trumpet judgments that come before Armageddon.
Clearly, there is a rapture before the Day of the Lord—that is, the Day of the Lord’s indignation, wrath, vengeance; that great day when God takes back His world and gives it to His people.
The only way an amillennial argument could be made for a post-wrath rapture is if you said that the Church is represented by the 144,000 who are sealed during the Day of the Lord in Revelation 7. Obviously, there are more than 144,000 Christians in world history, so this number would have to be symbolic, poetic, or “spiritualized”, kind of like when I say, “I couldn’t cross the highway, there were 64,000 cars”, which you will, of course, take take to mean “a great uncountable multitude”. So, obviously, 144,000 is just a term for the vast number of the Church…
That would be a resounding no.
Revelation 7 has the 144,000 categorized as 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. It also specifies the names of the tribes: Juda, Reuben, Gad, Aser, Nephthalim, Manasses, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zabulon, Joseph, Benjamin. That is impossible to spiritualize as the Church. The Church in no way categorized into 12 groups anywhere in Scripture, nor is it specifically associated with these Israelite tribes. Revelation has the Church divided into 7, with the 7 spirits of God dwelling in the 7 churches—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea—but nowhere is the Church assigned a spiritualized division into 12 tribes. Because of the specificity of the 12 Israelite tribes, we can be sure that the 144,000 sealed in Revelation 7 are from corporate Israel (Jews), not spiritual Israel (the Church).
If the Church is not the 144,000, and its salvation comes prior to the wrath of God, then it is a total fallacy to see the timing of the rapture at Armageddon; and it is borderline blasphemous to say that the Church is on earth while the world is being utterly devastated from one end to the other by the wrath of God, as if to say the wrath cast upon Jesus at the crucifixion wasn’t enough to fully purchase the Church.
May God bless our discernment on these matters. Being so clearly in the end times, we need to understand these things now. These prophecies were largely written for us, the last generation. If we don’t solidly come to understand these prophecies soon, then they will have meant very little to us, and to read them all as encrypted literary and poetic phrases that require interpretation is to surrender to the impossibility of ever actually understanding them. No interpretation, no matter how scholarly, will ever be certainly and confidently the true interpretation. Unless the Word means what it says, the prophecies were given to us in vain.
Thankfully, discerning the order and sequence of prophetic events is not a matter that even requires interpretation. Revelation lists 7 seals, the last of which unlocks the 7 trumpet judgments, the last of which unlocks the 7 vials of God’s wrath. That’s called a sequence. Not only is each set numbered 1 to 7, but each set is initiated by the one that comes before it. This gives us a timeline.
And guess what?
The Church appears in heaven during the first set of 7,
between the 6th and the 7th seal.
“After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”
Who else could this group be, gathered in heaven from every nation, kindred, people, and tongue, if not the Church? This is written just after the 144,000 are sealed, immediately contrasting the very precise “144,000” with the considerably less precise “great multitude, which no man could number”, again showing the clear difference between corporate Israel and spiritual Israel.
It’s also worthy of note that the Church’s appearance here in Revelation 7 is perfectly timed just after the 6th seal of Revelation 6, when God’s wrath is first announced — “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.” (Rev. 6:16) It’s no coincidence that the Church is celebrating in heaven in the very next chapter, just before the 7th seal.