The rapture debate has raised the question of whether the references to a trumpet that sounds after the tribulation (Mt 24:31; Rev 10:7; 11:15) should be identified with, or distinguished from Paul’s ‘last trump’ (1Cor 15:52; 1Thes 4:16)? Where we locate the day of the Lord will be decisive for this question. Consider the following evidence that the seventh trumpet is indeed the time of the church’s rapture.
A comparison of Rev 8:12-13 with Rev 11:13-15 will show that the three woes are also the last three trumpets. The public ascension of the two witnesses takes place at the time of the second woe, which is also the sixth trumpet (Rev 11:12-14). At this point Christ has not yet returned. The announcement of the imminence of the third woe is followed by the sounding of the seventh trumpet, which finishes the mystery of God with Christ’s return to raise the dead and judge the nations (Rev 10:7; 11:14-15, 18).
Although the later revelation of the seven trumpets was not yet written at the time of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, it is most unlikely that Paul would have used the term ‘last’ to speak of a trumpet that is earlier than the well known trumpet that the prophets mention in connection with Israel’s deliverance at the day of the Lord (Isa 27:13; Joel 2:1, 15; Zeph 1:14, 16). Clearly, this is the trumpet that Jesus has in mind when speaking of His return after the tribulation to “gather together” His elect (Mt 24:31). [Compare also the Lord’s language, ‘great sound of a trumpet’, with Isaiah’s ‘the great trumpet shall be blown’ (Isa 27:13).]
Pretribulationists believe that the trumpet mentioned by Jesus is a different trumpet than the one mentioned by Paul, different trumpets for different comings. But a trumpet that sounds seven years earlier than the trumpet associated with Christ’s post-tribulational return would hardly be called ‘last’.
If Paul intended the kind of distinction that pretribulationists want us to find between comings and trumpets, it is surprising that he did not more clearly distinguish and qualify his meaning. Consider the following:
Paul was aware that many would know the prophets, if not also the circulating tradition of the Lord’s Olivet Discourse (Mt 24-25). Many would certainly have occasion to be aware of a trumpet that sounds at the end of the tribulation.
Surely a pre-tribulational Paul would have anticipated the ease with which many would naturally associate his mention of a resurrection trumpet with the trumpet that was expected to sound in climactic conjunction with the deliverance of the last day.
A pre-tribulational Paul becomes even more misleading when he says “then shall be brought to pass the saying which is written …” (1Cor 15:52). The ‘saying’ is written in Isa 25:8. Paul declares the time of the ‘last trump’ to be the time that Isa 25:8 is fulfilled.
This becomes very significant for the rapture debate when we examine the surrounding context in Isaiah chapters 24-27 (known as “Isaiah’s little apocalypse”). The entire context is clearly post-tribulational. The resurrection mentioned in Isa 25:8, which includes Isaiah’s personal resurrection (Isa 26:19), stands in indivisible connection with the deliverance of Israel at the post-tribulational day of the Lord (Isa 24:21; 25:9; 26:1; 27:12). “That day” is significantly heralded by the blowing of ‘the great trumpet’ (Isa 27:13).
The connection is clear. If “then” means then, then Paul’s mention of the last trump in connection with the Isaiah passage is further confirmation that he has in mind the same eschatological trumpet that Jesus associates with His return to ‘gather together’ His elect (Mt 24:31). It should not pass notice that Paul applies this very language to the rapture of the church in 2Thes 2:1 (“our gathering together unto Him”). Such similarity of terms make it most unlikely that Paul has a different coming in mind, much less that he would expect others to distinguish between comings that are described in such similar language.
Whether understood literally or metaphorically, it was well known that the resurrection of the penitent nation awaited the post-tribulational deliverance of God (Isa 25:8;Hos 6:1-2; Eze 37:12-13). This would also be the time of the personal resurrection of such OT worthies as Job (Job 19:25-26), Isaiah (Isa 26:19), and Daniel (Dan 12:1-2). This gave rise to the term, “the resurrection at the ‘last day’,” as used by Jesus and His Jewish contemporaries (Jn 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48).
This is why pre-tribulationists, in order to maintain their view, are forced to conclude that the OT saints continue to “sleep in the dust of the earth” (Dan 12:2) for an additional seven years after the church has been raptured to heaven to participate in the marriage supper of the Lamb.
For such a notion to be seriously entertained, a number of presuppositions have to be brought to the text, some of which have no recorded precedent in the history of Christian doctrine. The view that the saints of the tribulation period are not part of the body of Christ was first introduced by John Nelson Darby around 1832 (“Until brought to the fore through the writings and preaching and teaching of a distinguished ex-clergyman, Mr J. N. Darby, in the early part of the last century, it is scarcely to be found in a single book or sermon through a period of sixteen hundred years”. (Harry Ironside, The Mysteries Of God, 1908).
Until the advent of modern pretribulationism, the day of the Lord was the OT term for the salvation of the ‘last day’. The NT would reveal this to be the time of Christ’s return to raise the dead, destroy the Antichrist, and judge the nations (Jn 6:39-40, 44, 54;11:24; 12:48; 2Thes 2:3, 8; Rev 11:15, 18). However, the modern adaptation of the term to the concept of an any moment rapture has greatly obscured its original context and use.
Both sides of the debate understand that the rapture question is primarily decided by where we see the day of the Lord on the time-line of last day’s events. For reasons we will show, the pretribulational view of the rapture cannot be defended unless the day of the Lord is interpreted to include the entire seven years, which pretribulationists see as continuous tribulation.
[Note: For pretribulationists, the day of the Lord is synonymous with the tribulation. They see the entire seven years as tribulation, and often represent the period as a continuous ‘day’ of wrath. This is incorrect. The first half of the tribulation is false peace, at least for Israel (Isa 28:15, 18, Eze 38:8, 11, 14; 39:26; Dan 8:25; 11:23-24;1Thes 5:3). The ‘great tribulation’ is only the last half of the seven year week (Dan 7:25; 9:27; 12:7, 11; Mt 24:15, 21; Rev 11:2-3; 12:6, 14; 13:5, 7).]
So where does the day of the Lord come in relation to the events of the end? Scripture clearly pin points the time. Very simply and plainly, it comes AFTER the darkness that comes AFTER the tribulation (compare Mt 24:29 with Acts 2:20). If we carefully observe the preposition, AFTER, in Mt 24:29, and the preposition, BEFORE, in Acts 2:20, it becomes clear that the great stellar darkness that comes AFTER the tribulation in Mt 24:29, is shown in Acts 2:20 to come BEFORE the day of the Lord.
While the precise term, ‘day of the Lord’, does not appear in the Lord’s Olivet prophecy, the term, ‘that day’ (Mt 24:36) is certainly used in clear reference to the Lord’s return after the tribulation (see Mt 24:27, 29-30, with Mt 24:36-37, 39). It is important to note that it is the coming of ‘that day’ (i.e., the day “immediately after” the tribulation; Mt 24:29) that Jesus compares to a thief in Mt 24:43.
[Note: Among pretribulationists there is sharp difference of opinion whether or not the thief-like coming mentioned by Jesus in Mt 24:43 should be interpreted to refer to Christ’s post-tribulational return. Prophecy expert, Hal Lindsey, breaks rank with many leading pretribulational scholars when he applies the Lord’s reference to ‘that day and hour’ in Mt 24:36, not to the Lord’s return after the tribulation in Mt 24:29, but to an earlier coming before the tribulation, one that has received no mention in the narrative until this late point. Other notable defenders of the pretribulational view, such as John F. Walvoord, point out that Lindsey’s view is seriously inconsistent with the larger context, as any fair examination will confirm (compare Mt 24:27, 29-30, 36, 37, 39,42-43).]
So Peter and Paul’s common use of the phrase, ‘thief in the night’, clearly has in view the Lord’s thief-like return that is specifically at the end of the tribulation. A day of the Lord that comes after the tribulation certainly makes better sense of why Paul can say that “that day” cannot come until after the Antichrist has come first (2Thes 2:3).
[Of course we know that ‘that day’ does not come on believers as a thief, but only the unwary “children of darkness” (compare Dan 12:10; Lk 21:34; 1Thes 5:4;Rev 3:10; 16:15). The reason is clear. Believers will recognize the well defined events that signal the end (Mt 24:15; Dan 11:23-31). Paul fully expects the Thessalonians to be able to recognize the Antichrist in association with his abominable act in the temple of God at Jerusalem (2Thes 2:3-6).]
Whereas Jesus uses the language of Joel 2:31 to describe the phenomena that attends His return after the tribulation (Mt 24:29), Peter cites the same passage in Joel to describe the phenomena that precedes the day of the Lord (Acts 2:20). Certainly for Peter, ‘that great and notable day of the Lord’ intends the post-tribulational return of Jesus. That is why Peter can identify the thief-like day of the Lord with the “day of God” (2Pet 3:10, 12), which Rev 16:14-15 will show comes at the very end of the tribulation, also like a thief, as it is manifestly the same day.
If we grant that the day of the Lord and the day of God are the same day, then it becomes clear that Rev 16:14-17 locates the day of the Lord / day of God at the seventh bowl. A comparison of Rev 16:17 with Eze 39:8 leaves no question that the great day of God is the OT day of the Lord that brings the renewal of Israel (Eze 39:22-29).
Now if we come to the book of Revelation with the knowledge that the day of the Lord is also called the day of God (Peter makes this clear in 2Pet 3:10, 12), we are helped to see that both the seventh trumpet and the seventh bowl arrive at the same point, namely, “that great day of God Almighty” (Rev 11:15, 18; 16:12-14).
We understand this, because the sixth bowl is only final preparation for “that great day of God Almighty” (Rev 16:12-14). At this point, Christ has not returned. It is important to note that the announcement of the imminence of the day of God also announces the imminence of Christ’s thief-like return (Rev 16:14-15). The day arrives with the pouring out of the seventh bowl. This is conclusive evidence that Christ’s return at the seventh trumpet is the catalyst for the final outpouring of wrath at the seventh bowl.
This is not splitting hairs, because, as we shall see, the question of where we locate the day of the Lord is decisive for the rapture question. To locate the day of the Lord at the end of the tribulation is fatal to a pre-tribulation view of the rapture. Here’s why.
In 1937 Alexander Reese published, “The Approaching Advent of Christ.” Before this, earlier pretribulationists put the day of the Lord at the end of the tribulation. They also put the resurrection of the OT righteous at the time of the pretribulation rapture until Reese pointed out that the Old Testament righteous do not rise until the end of the tribulation at the last day (Job 19:25-26; Isa 26:19, 20; Dan 12:1-2; Jn 6:39-40, 44,54; 11:24; 12:48).
It is a little known fact that in reaction to the inconsistencies pointed out by Reese’s book, pretribulationists began to teach that the OT righteous would not be raised with the church at the rapture (as formerly believed), but would continue to ‘sleep in the dust of the earth’ until the ‘last day’ at the end of the tribulation (Dan 12:1-2).
At the same time, Reese pointed out that Paul had instructed the church to be on guard for the day of the Lord (1Thes 5:2, 6-8), as also Peter exhorts believers to be always “looking for and hasting to the coming of the day of the God” (2Pet 3:12 ASV). This would hardly make sense if the church has been removed from the earth seven years before a post-tribulational day of the Lord. The force of Reese’s argument induced some of the earlier pretribulationists to rethink their placement of the day of the Lord.
After the publication of Reese’s book, pretribulationists moved the day of the Lord forward to the beginning of the seven years. The day of the Lord would now be seen as starting with the imminent, unsignaled, pretribulation rapture. In this way, both the rapture and the day of the Lord could be seen as coming suddenly, unexpectedly, and without preceding signs, “like a thief in the night” (1Thes 5:2; 2Pet 3:10). It seemed the perfect solution.
In 1973 Robert Gundry wrote, “The Church and the Great Tribulation. In the years following Reese’s landmark rebuttal, pretribulationists taught that the day of the Lord should be understood to begin with the any moment rapture. This would soon change, at least in academic circles.
Gundry pointed out the simple fact that regardless of where the day of the Lord is thought to begin, if we say it starts with the rapture, then the rapture cannot be maintained as an imminent event, simply because Paul says that ‘that day’ shall not come until after the man of sin has first been revealed (2Thes 2:2-3).
This is decisive, because if the rapture is held to be imminent and un-signaled, it cannot start the day of Lord, since the day of the Lord must be preceded by the revelation of the Antichrist. It is not the rapture, but the day of the Lord that comes as a thief (1Thes 5:2; 2Pet 3:10; Rev 16:15) and this cannot mean, as previously believed, that the day of Lord comes as a thief because it is imminent and un-signaled, since it is clearly preceded by the revelation of the Antichrist (2Thes 2:1-3). Gundry’s logic sent shock waves throughout the pretribulational camp, but another strategic adjustment was soon to follow.
I have scholarly articles published in journals where pretribulationists admit the problem posed by Gundry. No longer could the day of the Lord be held to be an imminent event that starts suddenly with the rapture, or immediately after the rapture. Pretribulationists would now admit that the day of the Lord does not come on the world as thief because it is imminent, since it was now admitted that the thief like day of the Lord must be signaled by the prior identification of the Antichrist. The answer for the difficulty posed by Gundry’s argument was to propose an additional gap between the rapture and the day of the Lord in order to provide time for the Antichrist to be revealed sometime ‘after’ the imminent, un-signaled rapture, but ‘before’ the start of the day of the Lord.
By any reckoning, the acknowledgment that the day of the Lord is signaled by the advance revelation of the Antichrist puts to rest the false theory that the use of the term, ‘thief’, requires the concept of imminence (an event that, by definition, may occur any moment without warning). No, it is clear that the Lord and the apostles apply this term to an event that is by no means imminent, as now admitted by pretribulationists.
Where Jesus, Paul, and Peter liken the day of the Lord to the coming of thief (Acts 2:20 with Mt 24:29; 1Thes 5:2; 2Pet 3:10), it is represented as something for which the believer should be ‘looking’ with watchful sobriety (1Thes 5:6; 1Pet 4:7; 2Pet 3:12). But why should believers be directed to look for an event that will have been preceded by the rapture and the prior revelation of the the Antichrist? If a space of time is required to separate the rapture from the day of the Lord in order to give time for the Antichrist to be revealed, believers would hardly be directed to look for an event that will not take place until some undefined amount of time after they have been taken away by rapture.
Yet, traditional pretribulationism had always assumed that the day of the Lord, no less than the rapture that was presumed to start the day, could only come on the world as a thief if it was un-signaled by any preceding events. Why then direct believers to look for a day that they will never be here to see, since they are separated from it, not only by a prior rapture but by a further space of time after the rapture for the Antichrist to be revealed before the day can start? Does this not betray a strained effort to save a theory of suspiciously recent origin?
The Lord’s return is compared to a thief in Mt 24:43. That is the origin of the language, and for most academic pretribulationists, the reference should be interpreted as applying to Christ’s return after the tribulation. Therefore, if Lord applies the term to His post-tribulational return, and Paul puts the day of the Lord sometime after the prior revelation of the Antichrist, then it becomes disingenuous to hijack the term to continue to speak of the rapture as coming as ‘a thief in the night.’ The academic literature may abstain now from this incorrect usage, but it has certainly not been checked at the popular level. However unconscious, such misappropriation of the term creates a misleading illusion that should be checked by those who know the changes that have taken place in pretribulationism’s view of the day of the Lord.
It is a little known, but a well documented fact that pretribulationism was moved to change their position on the day of the Lord, first with Reese’s publication in 1937, and again with Gundry’s in 1973. This is not the place, but a review of that history and the literature of that debate reads as a standing embarrassment to a position that has been teetering on the verge of collapse in academic circles, but the view continues to prevail unabated at the popular level.
It is a story that demonstrates the lengths that some are prepared to go in order to defend the indefensible. Of course, we believe that such a solution (i.e., a gap of some indefinite amount of time between the rapture and the day of the Lord) would have never been invented if it were not for the crisis created by the questions raised by these and other scholars.
In the churches, many lay persons raised the same questions only to be side-lined or worse. Sadly, much of this debate is only known in academic circles, so many never hear of the revisions. In scholarly exchange, much has been done to slow the train of pretribulationism, but for every advance at the academic level, the theory is continually revitalized at the popular level.
Some who share our view of the time of the Christ’s return take a considerably different view of events from that point. Among those differences is the view that the Antichrist is not destroyed until the 1290th day of Dan 12:11. Two things seem especially awkward with this view.
The first is the scripture that says that the man of sin is “consumed by the Spirit of His mouth and the brightness of His coming” (2Thes 2:8; Rev 19:15). That word for “coming” is the same word used in verse 1 for the time when the church is “gathered together” to Christ at His coming (2Thes 2:1).
It would seem quite obvious that Paul has in mind here the same “gathering together” that Jesus speaks of in connection with His post-tribulational return (Mt 24: 31). So the coming of Christ to gather the church in 2Thes 2:1 is the same coming that destroys the Antichrist in 2Thes 2:8, which appears to happen immediately upon His glorious appearing.
The second major problem with this view is that Rev 13:5 makes clear that the time of the beast is limited to 42 months. This is the same length of time he treads Jerusalem down and persecutes the woman Rev 11:2-3; 12:6, 14. This is a problem, because 1290 days amounts to 43 months.
It would also mean that for the better part of a month after Christ has returned in glory, the Antichrist is free to continue to ravage Jerusalem and the Jewish people. This doesn’t seem to fit, not only with the time, but the nature of Christ’s return (Mt 24:27, 30; Rev 1:7; 6:16-17; 1Cor 15:52; 2Thes 2:1, 8).
The 1260 days, and even the additional 3 ½ days that the two witnesses lie unburied in the streets of Jerusalem, take us no further than the second woe (which is also the sixth trumpet), whereas the 1290 days takes us too far beyond the time that the Antichrist is destroyed (Rev 13:5). If the 1290th is neither the return of Christ or a later destruction of the Antichrist, what points are reached by the 1290th or the 1335th day of Dan 12:11-12?
Some have made elaborate arguments based on their study of the appointed feasts of Israel, but we may safely assume that the additional days mark definite points of special blessedness in the earliest days of the millennium. It is certainly possible that one of these terminal points may mark the time that the saved remnant comes back together after going apart for a time of mourning (Zech 12:10-12), or the cleansing and re-dedication of the new temple (?). In any event, they are categorically NOT the day of Christ’s return.
[Note: I take the view that when Jesus said no one knows the precise day and hour, He had particular reference to this mysterious extension of days in Dan 12:11-12.]
It is quite possible that the 1290th day may indeed mark the ‘cleansing of the sanctuary’ (Dan 8:14), or some such transitional point, but again, this should not be taken to mean that the Antichrist is permitted to continue until nearly a full month after Christ has returned. It may be possible that his idol image is removed at that time, but that too is speculative. In any event, the clear and undeniable difference between the 42 months and the 1290 days leaves no question that the Antichrist has already been destroyed by this time.
Furthermore, it might also be questioned whether the future temple will survive the desolations of the tribulation. Isa 64:10-11 seems clear that the future tribulation temple will be burned with fire. Notice that this happens only shortly after the Jews have come back into possession of their ancient holy places (Isa 63:18). Also,Jer 30:18 says that the city of Jerusalem will built again “upon her own heap.” This shows clearly that the time of Jacob’s trouble ends in great devastation for both the the city and the sanctuary (Isa 63:18; Dan 9:26; 11:31).
All is to say, my reading of the ‘fine print’ leads me to situate the seventh (last) trumpet return of Christ somewhere after the 1263 ½, but before the 1290. On the basis of the evidence that limits the reign of Antichrist to 42 months, we can know that the return of Christ comes very soon after the ascension of the two witnesses (Rev 11:14-15, 18), but just as the scripture says, we cannot tell the precise day and hour (Mt 24:36).