Prewrath eschatology teaches that the rapture and the onset of the day of the Lord’s wrath will happen back-to-back on the very same day. The day Christ returns arriving on the clouds to resurrect and rapture his people will be the very same day that his eschatological judgments begin to unleash on the world for an undetermined length of time. To be sure, the day of the Lord will not all happen in a single day, only its inception occurs on the day the rapture happens. God’s purpose is to deliver his people then initiate his wrath on the same day.
This same-day, two-fold event contains significant implications for the pretribulational notion of “imminence,” the belief that Jesus can return at “any moment.” Since Scripture teaches that prophesied events will happen before the day of the Lord—the celestial disturbance (Joel 2:30–31), Elijah’s coming (Mal 4:5), the apostasy and revelation of the Antichrist (2 Thess 2:1–4)—then by necessity they will take place before the rapture. Consequently, the pretribulational teaching of imminence is rendered invalid.
The majority of pretribulationists believe the day the rapture happens will be the same day (or the next day) the day of the Lord’s wrath begins. So this biblical reality of events happening before the day of the Lord becomes problematic for their theological system. Some pretribulational teachers, accordingly, recognize this salient implication that contradicts their eschatological theological system. But rather than move away from their position and embracing the prewrath interpretation, they feel the need to continue to defend pretribulationism. Their attempt to resolve this problem, then, is to posit a “gap” of time—days, weeks, or months—between the rapture and the day of the Lord’s wrath. This schema then allows for the prophesied events mentioned above to occur during this “gap” before day of the Lord but after the rapture. Thus, the pretribulationist aims to “protect” their teaching of imminence by using this interval argument.
In this episode, I provided biblical support for the back-to-back nature of the rapture and the beginning of the day of the Lord’s wrath, militating against the notion of a gap of days, weeks, or months. I explained Jesus’ teaching on this point as well as responded to a key pretribulational argument for the gap interpretation.
“Right Up to the Day Noah Entered the Ark” According to Jesus
There is a biblical pattern where God supernaturally rescues his people just before he executes divine judgment upon the wicked. For example, this is memorably portrayed in the story of God’s plagues against Egypt, culminating in the deliverance of Israel from the hands of Pharaoh’s army that was ultimately destroyed in the Red Sea. This pattern is continued in the context of the eschatological day of the Lord when Paul gives believers the reassuring promise: “For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). The term for “salvation” in this verse is sōtēria. It has two common meanings: salvation in the sense of physical deliverance and salvation in the sense of non-physical deliverance, such as spiritual salvation. Here it takes on the former meaning since this promise is in the context of the rapture and the day of the Lord; thus, for believers, the day of the Lord will not “overtake you like a thief” (1 Thess. 5:4).
Jesus draws from the Noahic narrative to describe the back-to-back nature of deliverance and judgment.
The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. Then people will say to you, ‘Look, there he is!’ or ‘Look, here he is!’ Do not go out or chase after them. For just like the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage—right up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:22–27; cf. Matt 24:37–41)
As a preface, many pretribulationists do not believe this Noahic passage, and the Lot passage discussed below, refers to the rapture. For example, Renald Showers claims these biblical texts “make no reference, namely, to the day that the church is raptured.”*1* I strongly disagree. The Noahic and Lot analogy illustrate the separation that will happen at the rapture when Christ returns, which, in the same context, is depicted in Matthew 24:31 “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” On this point, I refer the readers to my book Antichrist Before the Day of the Lord where I argue that the gathering mentioned in v. 31 refers to the rapture.
Returning back to our issue of a gap, there are at least three important truths regarding Christ’s return from our passage.
First, the sign to his second coming will be like lightning that will light up the sky (cf. Matt 24:3, 27, 30). This will be his Shekinah glory announcing his divine presence to the entire world.
Second, Jesus likens unbelievers at the time of the flood to unbelievers at the time of his future second coming. Jesus says people were going on with their everyday affairs of eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage. He does not make reference to gluttony, drunkenness, and immorality. To be sure, the antediluvian world were egregiously God-haters and self-lovers (Gen 6:11–13), and it is safe to assume they were engaging in gluttony, drunkenness, and immorality (2 Pet 2:5). But in this particular passage that is not the point Jesus is making, even though there would have been these connotations evoked from his audience. He is highlighting that they were going on with their everyday activities, indifferent and oblivious of God’s coming wrath. In short, the people in Noah’s day were unprepared when the flood came. So will it be in the days at the coming of Christ. People will be going on with their everyday business, living only to please themselves. Paul is consistent with this truth, teaching that at the onset of the day of the Lord unbelievers will be saying, “peace and security” as “sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape” (1 Thess 5:3).
The third point Jesus makes, and the one relevant to our discussion, is that this obliviousness from Noah’s generation occurred “right up to the day” Noah entered the ark. The same day they entered, the flood began, not two days or five days or seven days later—the very same day. The deluge began the very day Noah and his family entered the ark and shut the door (Gen 7:1–18). Noah was told that he had seven days to corral the animals because the Lord warned, “in seven days I will cause it to rain” (Gen 7:4). At the end of the seven days “all the fountains of the great deep burst open and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Gen 7:11). This happened “on that very day Noah entered the ark” (Gen 7:13). Thus, drawing from Jesus’ Noahic analogy we can conclude there will not be any “gap” of days, weeks, or months between the deliverance of the righteous and the unleashing of God’s wrath at Jesus’ return. It will be back-to-back. One of the main purposes for delivering God’s people is to protect them from his judgment; hence, there is no reason for a delay.
To make sure he is not misunderstood about this truth, Jesus marshals the episode of Lot and Sodom.
Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot, people were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; but on the day Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, anyone who is on the roof, with his goods in the house, must not come down to take them away, and likewise the person in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left. (Luke 17:28–35)
In the days of Lot—just as in the days of Noah—people were going on with their everyday tasks, “eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building.” They were unaware and unprepared for God’s impending judgment. His judgment began on the same day of Lot’s deliverance: “On the day Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all” (cf. Gen 19:23–28). Accordingly, it “will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed.”
Some pretribulational teachers recognize the weight of this argument, yet maintain a an interval between the rapture and the beginning of the day of the Lord’s wrath.*2* A common objection claims that the book of Genesis depicts Noah entering the ark—not on the same day the flood happens—but seven days before the flood. Therefore, it is argued, the “same-day” analogy cannot be maintained. For example, Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum asserts,
[T]he statement is not true in reference to Noah. Luke 17:27 simply states “that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.” There is nothing Jesus said that implies that the judgment came “on the same day” that Noah entered the ark.*3*
Fruchtenbaum is demonstrably mistaken. First, he misquotes Luke 17:27, which reads, “People were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage—right up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” Notice which important fact Fruchtenbaum carelessly leaves out: “right up to the day.” So when he claims, “There is nothing Jesus said that implies that the judgment came ‘on the same day’ that Noah entered the ark,” he is ignoring Jesus’ very words as well as his teaching that there is a cause and effect action to Noah entering the ark and God initiating his judgment. Second, Jesus makes the same point with the Lot episode and concludes: “It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:30). Why does
Fruchtenbaum selectively leave out this important fact? We are not told. But we know it directly contradicts his position.
Next, Fruchtenbaum writes,
In fact, Genesis 7:10 states that the waters of the flood began seven days after Noah entered the ark, and then continued forty days. The flood did not come the same day that Noah entered the ark, nor was all flesh destroyed in that day. (emphasis his)*4*
Again, he is mistaken. The text does not say that the flood began seven days “after” Noah entered the ark, as if there were a seven-day delay from the time Noah’s family entered the ark and when the flood rains began. Genesis 7:10 reads, “And after seven days the floodwaters engulfed the earth.” Fruchtenbaum is assuming that the seven days began after Noah and his family entered the ark. He lifts this statement out of its context, which shows that the seven days refers to God’s command to Noah to gather animals into the ark before seven days come to pass. Here is the context of verse 10:
The LORD said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, for I consider you godly among this generation. You must take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, the male and its mate, two of every kind of unclean animal, the male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird in the sky, male and female, to preserve their offspring on the face of the earth. For in seven days I will cause it to rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the ground every living thing that I have made.” And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him. Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters engulfed the earth. Noah entered the ark along with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives because of the floodwaters. Pairs of clean animals, of unclean animals, of birds, and of everything that creeps along the ground, male and female, came into the ark to Noah, just as God had commanded him. And after seven days the floodwaters engulfed the earth. (Gen 7:1–10)
The text indicates that the seven days refers to the period of time to fulfill God’s command to Noah to take animals into the ark before seven days are expired. It does not depict Noah’s family entering the ark seven days “before” the flood began. Instead, that is the time frame for Noah to corral the animals.
Moreover, if one continues to read more context, it becomes explicit that the exact day Noah and his family entered the ark was the same day the flood-judgment began:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month—on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst open and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And the rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. On that very day Noah entered the ark, accompanied by his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, along with his wife and his sons’ three wives. (Gen 7:11–13)
So the pretribulational objection is deeply mistaken and therefore cannot be biblically maintained. The very day “the fountains of the great deep burst open and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” was the “very day Noah entered the ark.” Jesus was not mistaken about the Genesis account when he said, “right up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” His application of the flood story likening it to his own future coming is accurate and fitting. Deliverance of his people and the onset of judgment will be back-to-back—on the very same day.
In summary, I have argued that the biblical evidence supports the back-to-back nature between the rapture and the beginning of the day of the Lord’s wrath, militating against the notion of a gap of days, weeks, or months. The day Christ returns arriving on the clouds to resurrect and rapture his people will be the very same day that his eschatological judgments begin to unfold upon the world. I also responded to a key pretribulational argument for the gap interpretation that attempts to use Noah’s flood story.
This “same day” principle is problematic for the pretribulational notion that Jesus can return at “any moment.” Since Scripture teaches there will be prophesied events occurring before the day of the Lord—the celestial disturbance (Joel 2:30–31), Elijah’s coming (Mal 4:5), the apostasy and revelation of the Antichrist (2 Thess 2:1–4)—then by necessity they will take place before the rapture. Consequently, the pretribulational teaching of imminence cannot be exegetically maintained.
*1*Showers, Renald E. The Pre-Wrath Rapture View: An Examination and Critique. Kregal Grand Rapids, MI 2001. 169. Style
*2*Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, “Is There a Pre-Wrath Rapture?” When the Trumpet Sounds eds. Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy 1995 Harvest House Publishers 392; BIB Karleen 66–67; Richard L. Mayhue, “The Bible’s Watchword: Day of the Lord,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 22:1 (spring 2011): 65–88. McLean, John A. “Another Look at Rosenthal’s “Pre-Wrath Rapture.” Bibilotheca Sacra. October-December 1991. 394.
*3*Fruchtenbaum, “Is There a Pre-Wrath Rapture?” 392.
*4*Fruchtenbaum, “Is There a Pre-Wrath Rapture?” 392.