All theologians believe the Bible teaches that human history is made up of a variety of dispensations where God works in a special redemptive mode and epoch. What is debated, however, is the number of dispensations and the nature of them. I believe Paul outlines at least four fundamental dispensations (oikonomia) in human history in the book of Ephesians: before the law, the law, mystery age, and the consummation.
Pretribulationists have disagreed among themselves on how many there are, many holding to seven, some more, some less. What they have, however, typically agreed on is that the next dispensation that comes after this “church age” dispensation is the “tribulation period” dispensation without any gap of time. In other words, when the church age is terminated with the rapture, they have argued, that is the point where the next dispensation begins, the Jewish “tribulation period” (aka Daniel’s 70th week), which will last seven years.
Enter the prewrath position in the last twenty-five years.
Prewrath eschatology has exposed a fatal flaw in pretribulationism. It has shown that there are clear passages in the Bible that teach that certain, discernible, prophesied events will occur before the day of the Lord: the Antichrist and the apostasy (2 Thess 2:3), celestial disturbance (Joel 2:30-31), Elijah will return (Mal 4:5), the wicked saying “peace and safety” (1 Thess 5:2–3). In fact, I named my book Antichrist Before the Day of the Lord to highlight this significant issue. And since pretrib theology has traditionally taught that the rapture will occur on the same day that the day of the Lord begins, then any event that occurs before the day of the Lord will also have to occur before the rapture. This, of course, is problematic for the pretribulation position, because their entire theological pretrib system is based on imminence, the belief that no prophesied events or signs can happen before the rapture.
Because of this crack in their system, untold numbers of pretribulational Christians in the last two decades have become prewrath in their eschatology and have rejected their previous pretrib belief system. To be sure, there are many pretribs who have attempted to explain away this biblical contradiction to their system in various ways. One of the most common attempts to do so, and one that is growing in more popularity, has resulted for them needing to create a new dispensation and forcing it between the rapture when the church age dispensation is completed and the seven-year tribulation dispensation. So in essence they are creating a “gap” between the rapture and the seven-year period, a gap of time they claim that these “before the day of the Lord” events will occur. In this way, they attempt to maintain the doctrine of imminence. To place these events before the rapture in their system would be fatal to their theology.
Here is the problem: Their claim that the rapture is disconnected from the day when the day of the Lord’s wrath begins is without support. In fact, Scripture is quite consistent that the rapture and the beginning of the day of the Lord’s wrath occur on the same day, they are back-to-back events, not separated by days, weeks, months, or—I have even heard some pretrib teachers claim—years. I have covered this before here, here, and here.
Their interpertation is a deus ex machina in order to protect their imminence theology, so much so they are willing to grab out of thin air and inject a whole, new, distinct dispensation into God’s redemptive plan. Their dispensation-itus condition exposes their flawed theology when they feel the need to contrive a new dispensation in God’s plan when a contradiction is pointed out to them.
To be sure, not all pretribulationists argue this way. Some will argue in other ways; for example, some will claim there are “two” different day of the Lords, a “near” and “far” day of the Lord. It is another attempt to protect imminence theology, an argument I will cover in due course.
But as far as the pretrib argument above, this has been argued by quite a few pretrib teachers in only recent years in response to the growing prewrath position that has exposed a deep contradiction in their theological system.
The only question now for them is, what will they call their new dispensation! May I suggest the label post-rapture-pre-day-of-the-Lord’s-wrath-gap dispensation.