This is a summery of the various views of the end times, and how they view Isreal, the Church, and Salvation History in general. This summery shows my view, Dispensational/Pre-Millennial/Pre-Tribulational, and how I came to some of the conclusions why I believe this position to be correct for now.
Christians should be familiar with the main elements of the end-times. There is a tremendous amount of material devoted to this subject in both Old Testament and New Testament (as much as 25%?). This alone suggests its importance. Even though Paul was only in Thessalonica for a few weeks before he was booted out, he spent part of that time grounding them in this area so that he could say 1 Thess. 5:1,2. The better we understand this area, the more motivated we can be to serve the Lord with hope. We can read the end of the book and see that we're on the winning side! Plus, many passages about the end of the age and the next life explain how these promises should motivate us in this life.
All orthodox views agree on the essentials:
They disagree on the meaning of things like the role of Israel and the nature of the "millennium."
There are really only 2 basic positions--Covenantalism and Dispensationalism. The terms "Covenantal Theology" and "Dispensational Theology" refer to two different ways of interpreting the biblical record of salvation history.
Covenantal Theology is typical of Reformed theologians. This includes the Reformed and Christian Reformed, the Presbyterian, the Anglican (or Episcopal), and to some extent, the Lutheran. Classical Roman Catholicism also recognizes the same approximate divisions of scriptural history, while differing on the question of man's responsibility in the covenant of grace. Taken together then, the Covenantal view must be considered by far the predominant view.
"Covenants" are contracts between two parties. Covenant Theology normally speaks of three main covenants in salvation history. While both views acknowledge the important role of covenants in salvation history, covenant theology tends to emphasize the unity of God's working with mankind.
One of the strengths of the Covenantal position is that it stresses that people have always been saved by grace through faith. One of the big problems is that it lumps everything between the Fall and the Second Advent together and tends to minimize some of the important differences in the way God works within that period. For example, it refers to the church as beginning with the first believers in the Old Testament, rather than seeing it as a distinct phase of God's redemptive program beginning on the Day of Pentecost. This is why some churches feel the freedom to incorporate Old Testament practices like a liturgical worship service with an altar and priestly vestments.
Clarence Larkin believed the biblical interpreter "cannot intelligently do his work without a plan. He must have drawings and specifications." To that end, the mechanical-engineer-turned-preacher wrote and illustrated Dispensational Truth, or God's Plan and Purpose in the Ages (1919), a 180-page book that contains 90 charts. These charts, he wrote, must be tested against the Bible itself. Diagramming Bible books and salvation history is characteristic of dispensationalism. It divides history into different "dispensations" or spiritual eras. In each dispensation, God reveals a new aspect of his will, and according to C. I. Scofield, each dispensation is "a new test of the natural man, and each ends in judgment--marking his utter failure in every dispensation." Though others have divided history into spiritual eras, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), an early leader of the Plymouth Brethren in England, was the first to create a full-blown dispensational system. He promoted his ideas in America during a preaching tour in the 1870s. Scofield, one of many pastors and teachers taken with his ideas, eventually published a Bible with dispensationalist notes (in 1909) that became the standard Bible for fundamentalists. Dispensationalists are known for their premillennialism: because the world is corrupt, Christ must return before the millennial kingdom is established. This view directly challenged the postmillennialism of liberals, who believed human effort would eventually create the kingdom of God on earth. Interpretive disagreements (such as whether believers would be raptured by Christ before or after the rebulation) have split dispensationalists into different camps.
The Dispensational view is of more recent origin, arising from the evangelical awakening in America and England. Through the work of Jesse Penn-Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, T. Austin Sparks, J. N. Darby (who is given credit for formally bringing the view to light), Dwight Moody, C. I. Scofield (who included it in the Scofield Bible), Watchman Nee, Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, C.C. Ryrie, and Hal Lindsey, this view has become widespread and popular today. It is the view of most Pentecostals, Brethren, many Baptists, and most independent Bible churches.
"Dispensations" (Greek: oikonomia) refer to economies, or different ways in which God works with man in salvation history (see Eph. 1:10; 3:2; 1 Tim. 1:4). In the classic Dispensational scheme, each dispensation begins with an offer by God and ends with failure by man and a period of divine judgment. Dispensational theology tends to emphasize the diversity of ways in which God works with mankind.
Some of the early dispensations seem to be forced. Paul seems to lump everything from Adam to Moses together (Rom. 5:14). More recent Dispensationalists (Progressive Dispensationalism) have moved away from these rigid distinctions. Some Dispensationalists have also given this view a bad name by getting overly dogmatic about how certain passages must be fulfilled (LINDSEY SAYING REV. 9:7-10 REFERS TO MILITARY HELICOPTERS), setting dates for Christ's return ("88 REASONS WHY CHRIST MUST RETURN BY 1988"), etc.
It has a negative cast (judgments ending each dispensation) when in fact God is progressively accomplishing his redemptive plan. But in several key areas, this view is superior to Covenantalism.
1. How does the Covenantal-Dispensational view affect Ecclesiology (the study of church practices)?
2. How does the Covenant-Dispensational view affect Soteriology (the study of salvation)?
3. How does the Covenant-Dispensational view affect Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit)?
4. How does the Covenantal-Dispensational view affect Eschatology (the study of the end times)?
Key Millennial Kingdom Passages
What is the millennial kingdom? There are many biblical passages, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, that describe a future period of human history in which God substantially reconciles the world to himself and reigns over the world through the Messiah and his people Israel.
[Psa. 2:6,8,9] Messiah rules a worldwide theocracy centered in Jerusalem.
[Dan. 7:13,14] Messiah rules over all peoples. His kingdom is "everlasting" in the sense that it will not be replaced by other kingdoms (like the human kingdoms). God begins his rule in the millennial kingdom and continues it in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:1).
[Isa. 65:17-25] "New heavens and new earth" here refer (according to the following context) to the millennial kingdom rather than the new universe of Rev. 20,21. This is a time of joy, peace, and economic prosperity. Jerusalem is exalted. The curse on nature (including human sickness) will be substantially (though not entirely) removed.
[Zeph. 3:11-13] The wicked will be separated from the righteous, who enjoy unending ("never again") peace and security.
[Zech. 14:16-21] The Messiah rules in Jerusalem and executes swift justice on those who oppose him. There is some observance of the Jewish religious calendar. The sacrificial system is observed (see also Ezek. 40-48; probably commemorative).
[Rev. 20:4-10] This is the only passage that specifies the duration as 1000 years. Some of the saints are resurrected at the beginning, and they play a priestly and governing role in this kingdom. "First resurrection" refers in context to the first resurrection described in this passage—the resurrection of the tribulational martyrs. The second resurrection is the resurrection of the damned at the Great White Throne.
Realize that the above passages are only a small minority of the biblical material on this subject. There are hundreds of passages in the Old Testament alone devoted to this kingdom, which (along with Messiah) is the hope of Israel.
As you read these passages, how should you interpret them—literally or
figuratively? This is one of the crucial differences between Covenantalism and
Amillennialists believe that God's promises regarding the end-times are figurative and will not be literally fulfilled, particularly the 1000 year reign
of Christ on the earth. This view is usually traced back to Augustine (354-430 AD); however, Origen (185-254 AD) from Alexandria Egypt, who was greatly influenced by Greek philosophy, taught that the kingdom was non-physical and spiritual. It is interesting to note that all the other early church fathers were premillennial. A basic teaching of amillennialism is that the kingdom began with Christ's first coming and will continue until His second coming. They teach that there is no 1000 year kingdom on earth. They use an allegorical system of interpretation of prophetic events. The Olivet Discourse and the greater part of the book of Revelation are largely viewed as past historical events or are spiritualized out of existence. They do believe in a second coming of Christ for His own which takes place at the end which is immediately followed by the judgment of the wicked and the eternal state. They believe that conditions in this world will continue to deteriorate up until the time of the coming of Christ. This view holds that because Israel rejected her Messiah, the Church has inherited the promises that were originally given to Israel. This means that Israel no longer has any special place in the plan of God. The Old Testament millennial kingdom promises have been fulfilled by the church in a spiritualized rather than literal way. The amillennial position is that the millennial kingdom will never appear in any literal way. Instead, it is already being fulfilled through the Church Age in a spiritual sense. The Church is "spiritual Israel" (Romans 2:28,29; Philippians 3:3; Galatians 6:16) which has inherited all of God's unfulfilled promises to Israel.
Satan is already bound as predicted in Revelation 20:2. The kingdom is "in our midst" (Luke 17:21). Often, the amillennialist believes in a final intensification of evil (although not usually of seven literal years) preceding the Second Advent. This view has its roots in the early church fathers (Origen and Augustine) after Constantine "Christianized" the Roman Empire. They were predisposed to view the millennial kingdom as synonymous to the Holy Roman Empire, and their allegorical method of interpretation opened the door for this kind of understanding. Anti-Semitism was also a factor driving this interpretation, although present-day Amillennialists are not usually anti-Semitic.
It was accepted as the official position at the Council of Ephesus in 431, at which time belief in a literal millennium was condemned as superstitious. The Reformers accepted the millennialist framework without essential change.
Today, it has become the dominant view in the Protestant and Catholic Church. This view is held by such famous Bible teachers as Hank Hannagraff, R.C. Sproll, John Schuler, Chuck Smith, Michael Card, and James D. Kennedy.
Postmillennialists found their view's beginnings in England and was first taught by Unitarian minister Daniel Whitby (1638-1726). This view basically teaches that the return of Christ takes place at the end of the millennium. They do not take the 1000 years in Revelation 20 literally but suggest it is speaking of a long period of time. Loraine Boettner, a postmillennialist, in his book "The Millennium" states, "The millennium to which the postmillennialist looks forward is thus a golden age of spiritual prosperity during this present dispensation, that is, the Church Age. This is to be brought about through forces now active in the world. . . . The changed character of individuals will be reflected in an uplifted social, economic, political and cultural life of mankind. The world at large will enjoy a state of righteousness which up until now has been seen only in relatively small and isolated groups: for example, some family circles, and some local church groups and kindred organizations. This does not mean there will be a time on earth when every person will be a Christian or that all sin will be abolished. But it does mean that evil in all its many forms eventually will be reduced to negligible proportions, that Christian principles will be the rule, not the exception, and that Christ will return to a truly Christianized world." Post-millennialism, like amillennialism, holds that the church has inherited a spiritualized fulfillment of Israel's kingdom promises. In the post-millennial view, the Church will rogressively "Christianize" the world (meaning Christianity will hold influence over society) for an unspecified period of time. This is the so-called millennial kingdom, but it is not 1000 years and does not literally fulfill the Old Testament passages like the ones above. After this period, Christ will return (according to some versions) to judge the world and usher in the eternal state. This view is not widely held today. The only period when the view was widespread was the 18th and 19th centuries, corresponding to the ascendancy of optimistic humanism. Subsequent historical events (WW I, WW II, Cold War, Marxism, etc.) have dashed hopes for a period of world peace apart from God's supernatural intervention. This view also finds important theological precedent in the early and medieval Roman Catholic church, when they identified themselves with the kingdom of God.
This view was held by such Bible teachers as C.S.Lewis, Francis Schafer, Keith Green, D.L. Moody, John Calvin, Johnathan Edwards, and Rodger Williams.
There is a new form of postmillennialism known as "Reconstuctionism" which teaches how the world will eventually be Christianized. David Chilton writes in his book, "Paradise Restored", "Our goal is world dominion under Christ's Lordship, a world takeover if you will; but our strategy begins with reformation, reconstruction of the church. From that will flow social and political reconstruction, indeed a flowering of Christian civilization." There are other similar forms of postmillennialism such as "Dominion Theology" and "Kingdom Now Theology." With the advent of the fall of the Soviet Union, the formation of the European Union, and NAFDA & GAT trade treaties, this view has picked up in popularity, as they see these events as laying the ground work for a Christian take over of the earth.
This view is held but such men as Watchman Nee, and many of the so called “word of faith“ charismatic prophets, such as Benny Hinn, Bob Jones, Rick Joyner, Kenneth Copland, John Hagan, and Rodney Howard Brown.
Critique of Post- & Amillennialism
Both critiques center on the importance of a consistently literal hermeneutic for eschatological passages.
1. Post- and amillennialism interpret the Old Testament prophecies of the first Advent literally, but they interpret the Old Testament prophecies of the second Advent figuratively.
[Read Zech. 14:1-7]
Matthew Henry's commentary on Zech. 14:1-7 (1-Volume Commentary on the Whole Bible [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961], p. 1191.) Verse 2: "Many of the Jews shall receive the gospel, and so shall prevent their being cut off from the city of God, his church upon earth." Verses 4,5: " . . . the Gentiles (will be) made one with the Jews by the breaking down of this middle wall of partition (Eph. 2:14). A great mountain of the ceremonial law was in the way of the Jews' conversion, yet before Christ and his gospel it was made plain . . . The mountain being divided, one-half towards the north and the other half towards the south, there shall be a very great valley (means) a broad way of communication between Jerusalem and the Gentile world, by which the Gentiles shall have free admission into the gospel . . . The valley of the mountains is the gospel-church, to which are added of the Jews daily such as should be saved . . . "
This hermeneutic leaves the interpreter in authority over the scripture. In addition, vast portions of scripture become unintelligible and therefore useless.
2. Both the Old and New Testaments explicitly state that God will fulfill all of this promises to Israel.
[Jer. 31:31-37] God will no more revoke his covenant with Israel than he will revoke his decree to make the sun and moon shine. In other words, this covenant is in force for as long as this world lasts.
[Isa. 54:9-17] In the same way that God will be faithful to keep the covenant to Noah (never to destroy the world again by flood), he will be just as faithful to keep his covenant promises to Israel.
[Matt. 19:27,28] Note that Jesus assumes a literal fulfillment of the millennial kingdom as the Old Testament describes it.
[Rom. 9:3-5]Notice that Paul uses the present tense ("is" and "are") rather than the past tense ("was" and "were") to describe Jews' covenant privileges.
[Rom. 11:25-29] Paul is crystal clear here that God will never revoke his calling of Israel or their role in the millennial kingdom.
Why not Post- or Amillennial?
1. There will be a literal 7-year Tribulation. The last half will be the Great Tribulation. History has shown that God reveals his prophesies literally. Examples of literally fulfilled prophesies include the rise and fall of the Media-Persian and Greek empires, the destruction of the city of Tyre, the temple being destroyed and rebuilt several times, dozens of events in Jesus' life, and many other trophesies. There will also be a literal Tribulation of seven years on earth. In Daniel 9:24-27, Gabriel tells Daniel that from the time the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem is given, to the arrival of the Messiah will be 69 weeks of years. Since God expressed this prophesy in years of 360 days, this is 69 times 7, or 483 years of 360 days 173,880 days). The commandment Gabriel spoke of was given by King Artaxerxes about 100 years later in 445 BC (Nehemiah 2:1-6). Exactly 173,880 days later, Jesus rode into Jerusalem as King of the Jews on Palm Sunday 32 AD. Gabriel said the 70th week would begin when the Antichrist makes his seven-year treaty with Israel, and that the Antichrist would break the covenant at the midpoint of the seven years. The last three and one half years are called the Great Tribulation. Its length is one half of a seven year period (Dan 9:27), and "a time, times, and an half" Daniel 12:7). Taking a time to be a year and times to be two years, this gives three and one half years. Revelation further describes the length to the Great Tribulation as 1260 days (Rev 12:6) and 42 months (Rev 13:5). Since God gave us the duration in four different units (days, months, years, and weeks of years), can there be any doubt how long it will last? Also, since God fulfilled the first 69 weeks literally to the exact day, we know that he will do the same with the 70th week.
2. There will be a literal 1000-year kingdom of Christ on the earth. Isaiah 65:20-25 tells us that in God's kingdom on the earth, life spans will be greatly increased, just like before the flood. People will have children, build houses, and plant crops. There will also be physical death. We know from this that the kingdom must last a long time (in human terms), but the Old Testament does not tell us how long it will last. In Revelation 20:2-7 we are told that it will last 1000 years. Jesus, as if wanting to make it abundantly clear, tells us six times that it will last 1000 years. After this, the heaven and earth are destroyed, the last judgments are given, and the new heaven and earth are created. Some amillennialists try to support their belief with 2 Peter 3:10. They say the earth is destroyed immediately after the rapture in one day. However, they fail to check the context of the passage. Just read two verses before 2 Peter 3:8). Therefore, Peter does not contradict Revelation's description of the thousand year kingdom or Isaiah's prophesies.
Premillennialists (Dispensational & some covanental)
Premillennialists believe that Christ will return to the earth prior to His literal reign on the earth for 1000 years. This view is the view of the early church fathers which takes a literal approach to the scriptures. It teaches that after the seventieth week of Daniel is completed, Christ will establish His kingdom here on earth and reign for 1000 years. The primary subjects of this kingdom will be the surviving remnant of Israel that will eventually turn to Christ as their true Messiah and King just after the completion of the seventieth week. There will also be a remnant from among the surviving Gentile nations, especially from Egypt and Assyria, none of which will have taken the mark or worshiped the beast or his image. Premillennialists have various views on the timing of the Rapture, but they all place that momentous event before the 1000 year reign of Christ and His kingdom. This view holds that the present age is preceding the literal theocratic rule of Christ on earth as foretold in the Old Testament. The Church, it is claimed, partakes partially in the promises given to Israel, by virtue of the fact that we are "spiritual Israel," but the literal and complete fulfillment of those promises are still to be expected at a later date. Premillennialists claim that prophecies concerning the second Advent can be and should be interpreted according to the same hermeneutical restrictions as applied to the predictions of the First Advent. As a result of this literal interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy, premillennialism has a much more detailed doctrine of the end-times. The early post-apostolic church, as evidenced by the writings of early church leaders, was pre-millennial. However, as G. E. Ladd and amillennialists have repeatedly pointed out, their end-times scenario was not well developed. Even if this point is granted, it still cannot be argued that they were amillennial. After going into eclipse after the time of Augustine (along with a literal hermeneutic), this view reappeared in the early 19th century in connection with the Plymouth Brethren and the rise of dispensationalism. Since then, it has been popularized by authors such as C. I. Scofield, L. S. Chafer, C. C. Ryrie, John McArthur Jr., Chuck Swindall, and J. Vernan MaGee.
Critique of Premillennialists
There are clear instances in which the New Testament authors say that the Church has received a spiritual fulfillment of promises originally intended for the nation of Israel (Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:16ff.; Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 10:16,17). This does not prove that there is no literal fulfillment of those same passages. Dispensationalists respond that these are examples of partial fulfillment, and that the partial fulfillment pointed out in the Church Age does not negate the literal fulfillment at the 2nd Advent (see Rom. 9-11). Premillennialists have difficulty presenting a consistent interpretation of all predictive prophecies. The differing views on Ezek 37,38 are cited. Since the amount of passages involved does make it difficult to harmonize all of them, it is unlikely that we will understand how they all fit together until that time (Dan. 12:4,8-10). For this reason, we should stick with the main and clear features of the end-times and avoid dogmatism about many of the details. But at least Dispensationalists try; they don't just relegate vast portions of the Old Testament to the junk pile!! Amillennialists hold that the millennium cannot be literal, since it involves animal sacrifice (see Ezekiel 40-48), which allegedly contradicts the argument of Hebrews. Dispensationalists view these sacrifices as commemorative of Jesus Christ's sacrifice, just as the Last Supper is for the Church. Thus, animal sacrifice functions as a foreshadowing of Christ’s death under the Old Covenant, while it functions as a commemoration under the New Covenant.
Pre-Millenialist Rapture Views
Post-Tribulationists believe that the Body of Christ will not be raptured until the end of the seven year Tribulation, just prior to the beginning of the millennial kingdom. There are a number of views in the posttribulation camp. Some posttribulationalists see the church in tribulation since its beginnings and do not view the seven year period as futuristic. The most prevalent view today is that the seven year period is yet in the future and the Church will experience this time of tribulation before the second coming. George Ladd in his book "The Blessed Hope" and Robert Gundry in his book "The Church and The tribulation" both teach that the church will experience the seven year period which will conclude with the rapture of the church.
Several Bible teachers have popularized this view, such as Pat Robertson, Hadden Robertson, John Hutchings, and some independent Pentecostal groups like The Prophecy Club.
Why not post-Tribulational?
1. The conquered saints: In 1 Thessalonians 5:9 tells of wrath, but at the midpoint of the tribulation, Revelation 12:12 tells of Satan's wrath. Revelation 13:7 says of the Antichrist. His authority lasts for 42 months (Rev 13:5). Also, Daniel 7:25 says the Antichrist "...shall wear out (oppress) the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. 3 and 1/2 years in Daniel 8:24. And finished in Dan 12:7. The Antichrist can only destroy if the tribulation saints are not members of the Body of Christ.
2. Sheep and Goats: We know from Matthew 25:31-33 that Jesus will divide the sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left after he returns. But if all the believers were raptured just before Jesus returned, there would be no sheep left on earth to divide, only goats.
3. Who would populate the millennial kingdom? We know that mortal believers will live in the kingdom. But if all the believers would have been raptured, thus immortal, and all the unbelievers would have been killed. There would be no more mortal believers left to populate the kingdom.
4. Resurrection of tribulation saints: After Jesus' return in Revelation 19:11-16, Revelation 20:4 tells us about the resurrection of martyred Tribulation saints who did not receive the mark of the beast. If the rapture had occurred just before Christ's return, they would have already been resurrected, and could not be resurrected again. (See pre-Tribulational, below, for other reasons why the rapture cannot be post- Tribulational)
Mid-Tribulationists believe that the Body of Christ will be raptured three and one half years into the Tribulation, at beginning of the three and one half year Great Tribulation. This view emerged in 1941 with the publication of the book, "The End: Rethinking the Revelation" by Norman B. Harrison. They believe that the Rapture of the Church will occur at the mid-point of the seventieth week of Daniel. They see the second half of the seventieth week as the wrath of God and as a result the church will not be here when God pours out His wrath on the earth.
The Prewrath position teaches that the true church will be raptured when the great tribulation by Antichrist, inspired by Satan, is cut short by God's day-of-the-Lord wrath, which will occur between the sixth and seventh seals of Revelation, sometime during the second half of the seventieth week. The persecution associated with the great tribulation of Antichrist is viewed as the wrath of Satan, whereas the events that follow, beginning with the seventh seal, are considered the wrath of God. This view was expressed in Rosenthall’s book "The Pre-Wrath Rapture". In it, the author tries to say that, "historical premillennialism," which refers back to the teaching of the early church fathers before 325 A.D. who believed that the church would face the persecution of Antichrist and Christ would then reign for 1000 years upon the earth. With the exception of two, Origen and Clement of Alexandria, who were allegorist, they all taught this view. However, there is not evidence as to if they held to a pre-wrath view or a pre-tribulational view. This view fails the same tests that the Mid-Tribulational view fails.
Why not Pre-Wrath or Mid-Tribulational?
Mid-Tribulationists have no problem with the dividing of the sheep and the goats, the populating of the millennial kingdom, or the resurrection of tribulation saints. And by claiming that most of the worst plagues occur in the second half of the Tribulation, they say their view is not in conflict with 1 Thes 5:9 "For God hath not appointed us to wrath,...". But they are hard-pressed to defend their position against the following argument. Who will the Antichrist wage war on? As explained under "The conquered saints", above, the antichrist will wage war on the believers immediately after the second half of the Tribulation (the Great Tribulation) begins. If all the believers had just been raptured, there would be no saints left upon which to wage war.
Pre-Tribulationists believe that the Body of Christ will be raptured prior to the seven year Tribulation. This view was first known as "the secret" or "any moment rapture." It is a relatively new position which was first taught by the founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church, Edward Irving in the late 1820's. It was then picked up by Plymouth Brethren pastor John Nelson Darby, and he first preached on it in 1843. It came to America in the late 1800's and was popularized by C.I. Schofield when he revised his Bible notes in 1917. Pretribulationists teach that the return of Christ has been imminent since the days of the early church and that the church will be raptured sometime before the seventieth week begins. They teach that there are no signs and the rapture could take place at any moment. The seventieth week of Daniel is therefore considered to be a seven-year period of God's judgmental "tribulation" (hence the term pretribulation). This position views the seventieth week as the day of the Lord's wrath from which the church is excluded.
Unfortunately, this view has received a bad reputation as many writers have used this view as a launch pad for making predictions about when and how Christ will return. Examples include such authors as Jack Van Impe, Hal Lindsey, John Heggie, and the 7th Day Adventist movement and it’s spin-off groups. The recent movies “Omega Code” and “Megedo” have also given it a bad name due to their associating it with the heretical Bible Codes; a form of Jewish numerology, that some Christians have bought into, that uses the Hebrew text as a mystery code source for “new revelation” that only a computer program can find.
Recently, Tim LeHaye and Jeremy Jenkins wrote a series of “Left Behind” novels, a work of fiction, that some have misunderstood as their prediction of the future. However, LeHaye has stated on many occasions that it is a work of fiction, and even though he holds to the dispensational pre-tribulational pre-millennial model of eschatology, the fictional story is not his prediction of that future. But unfortunately some people have taken it as such.
Many respected Bible teachers hold to this view such as J. Carl Laney, C.C. Ryrie, Earl Rodmocker, John McArthur Jr., L.S. Chafer, C.I. Schofield, J. Vernan Magee, J.I. Packer, John R. W. Stott, and Chuck Swindall.
Merely by process of elimination?, not hardly. There are many reasons why the Body of Christ cannot be on earth during the Tribulation.
1. The Church is not mentioned in the prophesies of the Tribulation: The book of Revelation is divided into three parts. Jesus tells John in Revelation 1:19 to "Write the things which thou hast seen (chapter 1), and the things which are (chapters 2 & 3), and the things which shall be hereafter; (chapters 4-22)". The word 'church' is used 7 times in Revelation, 'churches' 12 times, and the 'bride' or 'wife' of the Lamb 5 times, for a total of 24. None of these occur at all in chapters 4-18 which reveal the Tribulation. The Church, bride of Christ, is finally seen again in chapter 19 returning with Jesus at the end of the Tribulation.
2. We do not know the day of the rapture. We will not know the date, but we are told to watch (1 Thes 5:2) and know the general time of the end. There is no warning for the rapture. It could literally happen at any time. This is called the doctrine of Immanency. The other views cannot hold to this core doctrine without playing gymnastics with what Jesus taught (Matt. 24:36). For the Bible teaches specific signs that will happen during the Tribulation and Millennium kingdom. Prophesy tells us that the second coming is seven years after the Antichrist signs his treaty with Israel and three and a half years after he breaks the treaty. Christians cannot be left on earth during the whole tribulation or even the first half, because we would know the exact date of the rapture, contradicting scripture. If the post-Tribulationist or mid-Tribulationist were correct, we would have a seven year or three and one half year notification of the rapture.
3. The wrath of God: All three premillennial views, post-Tribulationists, mid- Tribulationists, and pre-Tribulationists agree that Christians will not suffer the wrath of God as explained in 1 Thes 5:9. The plaques of the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls are on a global scale. Remember also the verses about the conquered saints back in the post-Tribulational discussion. Since the church is not appointed to wrath, it cannot be present when these global plaques come upon all those that dwell on the earth.
4. Shaken Thessalonians: The church of Thessalonica was shaken/frightened that the Day of the Lord had already begun. This would not have made sense unless Paul had taught them a pre-Tribulational rapture. In 2 Thes 2:6-7 what do the Thessalonians know is the power that holds back Satan? This must be the restraining work of the Holy Spirit through believers whom He indwells, which must be removed from the earth before the Antichrist is revealed.
5. Believers pleading for vengeance: The slain saints of the Tribulation plead for vengeance in Revelation 6:10. Compared to Stephen's last words in Acts 7:60. This attitude of vengeance is not a characteristic of those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That is because these believers are not part of the Body of Christ which had been previously raptured. They, like the Old Testament saints, are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
6. The Church age cannot be mixed with a time period when God's focus is Israel.
6a. During the Church age there are three classes of people: Jews, Gentiles, and the Church (1 Cor 10:32), with all believers being in the Body of Christ which does not differentiate between Jew and Gentile. During the Tribulation however, Israel, not the Body of Christ, will be God's primary focus. God will deal with Israel as Gabriel said in Daniel 9:24. That is, Daniel's people, the Jews. As discussed under the amillennial topic, the first 69 weeks have passed and one remains. In Revelation chapter 7, the 144,000 which are chosen are all Jews, and their tribes are listed. In chapter 11:7-8 the two witnesses are martyred in Jerusalem. In Revelation 12:6, the woman that flees into the wilderness for 1260 days represents Israel in the Great Tribulation. These are just some of the reasons we know Israel is at the center of God's plan. The age of grace, however, requires the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers. But the Holy Spirit must be removed from the earth (and all Christians with him) before the Antichrist can take over (2 Thes 2:7-8). Since the Body of Christ was a mystery unknown to the Jews through the first 69 weeks, it must be removed prior to the beginning of the 70th week.
6b. Jesus tells us that the gospel will be preach in all the world in Matthew 24:14 Galations 1:8 tells us about this gospel. Thus we know that the Body of Christ must be removed to allow the preaching of a gospel that Paul did not preach, just as Jesus prophesied.
6c. Referring to Peter's visit to the house of Cornelius, James talks in Acts 15:14-16. After what? After God takes out of the Gentiles "a people for his name" (Christians). Of course there are some Jews mixed in, for there is no difference within the Body of Christ. Thus, the filling of the Body of Christ must be completed prior to the rebuilding of the temple, which is prior to the midpoint of the Tribulation (Dan 9:27 and 2 Thes 2:4). Also, we see that once God is through building his Church, he turns his attention back to the Jews, rebuilding the temple.
6d. After discussing the analogy of the good olive tree and the wild olive tree, Paul reveals the mystery in Romans 11:25-26. Once again we see that it is not until after the last Gentile becomes a Christian that God resumes his program with the nation of Israel.
The whole point is; Be ready! The doctrine of Immanency. Jesus is coming.