We start with our critique of the pretribulational rapture by reminding ourselves once again of its relation to the dispensational view of the church:
If the term church includes saints of all ages, then it is self-evident that the church will go through the Tribulation, as all agree that there will be saints in this time of trouble. If, however, the term church applies only to a certain body of saints, namely, the saints of this present dispensation, then the possibility of the translation of the church before the Tribulation is possible and even probable. 110
This is an amazing concession by a leading apologist of classic dispensationalism. Walvoord is saying, in effect:
- If the body of Jesus (the church) includes saints of all ages, then it is self evident that the church will go through the tribulation. (Recall the discussion of tribulation saints).
- If the term church refers only to saints of this age, then the pretribulation rapture is possible and even probable (but not certain).
So before will look at explicit arguments against the pretribulation rapture, we look for scriptural evidence that the body of Christ refers to the saints of all ages. If that can be established, according to non-dispensationalists, then by Walvoord's own words the pretribulation rapture is refuted.
Unity of Believers
The counter doctrine of the dispensational distinction between Old and New Testament saints is called the Unity of Believers, which teaches that saints of all ages comprise a single, unified body of Christ.
We first turn to Paul's epistle to the Romans:
17If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. (Rom. 11:17-18)
Here we have the famous olive tree metaphor. Mathison points out111:
- From the context it is clear that the natural olive tree is Israel.
- The natural branches broken off are unbelieving Israelites.
- The good branches that remain are believing Israelites.
- The wild branches grafted in are believing Gentiles.
Mathison goes on to tell us to note that there is only one good tree. It consists of Old and New Testament saints. (In fact, the root, or the Jewish patriarchs, support the tree.) Jews who convert are grafted back onto this single tree. The metaphor appropriate for dispensationalism would be for an entirely new tree to have been planted.
From the letter to the Ephesians we read:
11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)-- 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Eph. 2:11-12)
Mathison lists the five things that verse 12 teaches were true about Gentiles before they came to Christ:
- Separated from Christ
- Excluded from Citizenship with Israel
- Foreigners to the covenant of promise
- Without hope
- Without God
Mathison points out 112 that if Paul teaches that Gentiles are without these prior to accepting Christ, then the only reasonable conclusion is that after accepting Christ, all five deficiencies are remedied. That would include that now Gentiles are citizens of Israel, and are partakers of the covenantal promises, two positions rejected by dispensationalism.
Now consider the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11. For about the first 38 verses, the writer is commending Old Testament saints including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab. After this hall-of-fame recount, we read:
39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Heb. 11:39-40)
The Old Testament saints are to be made perfect together with us, not apart from us.
Finally we look in the book of Revelation:
9One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev 21:9-14)
Mathison analyzes this passage as follows. 113 The city is the bride of Christ, at metaphor repeatedly used for the church. If the New Jerusalem is the bride of Christ, and the bride of Christ is the church, then it follows that the New Jerusalem is the church. 114
On the gates of the city (the church) are written the twelve tribes of Israel. On the wall, the names of the twelve apostles are on the foundations. The symbolism of a unified body, according to critics of dispensationalism, is obvious.
To finish this discussion of the unity of believers, we look at the question of saints who are converted after the Parousia (the real Second Coming). In a criticism of premillennialism in general, opponents say that there is no such thing. They bible, according to these critics, teaches that there is no basis for an expectation that there will be conversions after Jesus returns.
20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Cor. 15:20-23)
Note that in verse 20, Christ's resurrection is identified as the firstfruits. Then in verse 23, a timeline is provided:
- The firstfruits (Christ's resurrection)
- Those who belong to him when He comes
There is no mention of another resurrection of those who come to Him after He comes, i.e., during a millennium. Dispensationalism holds that there will be one or maybe two additional resurrections: one (possibly) involving the dead tribulation saints and Old Testament saints at the time of the real Second Coming and another (uncontested) at the end of the millennium.
Then there is Peter's discussion of the Second Coming:
4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:4-9)
According to non-dispensationalists, the Lord delays His coming so that more will repent. The implication being that once He comes there is no further opportunity.
Consider too, the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. Hoekema provides this analysis:
The story describes a Jewish wedding feast in which ten virgins are waiting for the bridegroom so that they may go in with him to the marriage feast. While the bridegroom delays, all the virgins fall asleep. But when the bridegroom finally comes, the wise virgins, who had taken oil for their lamps with them, go in with him to the marriage feast. The foolish virgins, however, who had taken no oil with them, are not permitted to go into the marriage feast for, after the others had entered, the door is shut. When the foolish virgins try later to enter the marriage feast, the bridegroom says to them “Truly I say to you that I do not know you”.
…we may say that the obvious lesson of the parable is that all who are not ready for Christ when He returns will not enjoy [salvation], and will have no later opportunity to be saved since the door is shut. The parable therefore clearly leaves no room for people to come to salvation after Christ returns.115
This is but a summary of the arguments against the dispensational doctrine that the church, consisting only of those believers fromt Pentecost to the rapture, is distinct from the saints of other ages.
110 John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, rev. ed., (Zondervan), 1979, p. 21.
111 Mathison, Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God?, p. 33.
112 Ibid., p. 34.
113 Ibid. pp. 35-36.
114 This is the so-called Transitive Property, an axiom of algebra: if a=b and b=c, then a=c.
115 Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p. 219.