Pretribulationism claims when Jesus returns to resurrect and rapture the people of God, this coming “for the church” will not be known to the world. The revelation (apokalypsis) of Christ, on the other hand, it is argued, will be known to all the world at the end of the seventieth week of Daniel (i.e. seven years) when Jesus comes “with his saints” for the battle of Armageddon.
Pretribulationists believe that during the interval of seven years the church is in heaven receiving their bema rewards. In other words, it is claimed that when the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ occurs, the rapture will have already happened seven years earlier.
A closer examination, however, of the biblical evidence will easily demonstrate that this is deeply flawed.
The noun apokalypsis (revelation) means, “making fully known, revelation, disclosure,” and similarly the verb form apokalyptō (to reveal) means, “to be fully known, reveal, disclose, bring to light, make fully known.” The revelation of Christ is an event that the church is exhorted to look for. For example, Paul explicitly teaches the Corinthian church to wait for it: “so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation [apokalypsis] of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7). Linking the exhortation of not lacking “any spiritual gift,” Paul describes the promise of God for his church to be strengthened in order to be blameless: “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8). So the rapture is linked with the revelation of Christ, which is what will make the rapture possible in the first place. It will be at Jesus’s revelation when the church is raptured.
Paul also connects the suffering of the church that will occur right up to Jesus’s revelation: “. . . if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed [apokalyptō] to us. For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation [apokalypsis] of the sons of God” (Rom 8:17–19; cf. 1 Cor 3:13). This passage makes no sense in the pretribulation framework, since they believe the church will not be suffering when the revelation of Christ begins to take place but will have been in heaven for seven years before the revelation of Christ!
In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he speaks of both the revelation of Jesus and the revelation of the man of lawlessness (i.e. Antichrist). In 2 Thess 1:7, he writes, “and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us at the revelation [apokalypsis] of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels.” Again, pretribulation teaching that asserts the church is in heaven before the revelation is incongruent with Paul’s instruction that the persecuted church will be waiting on earth for the revelation of Christ to be given relief. Then a bit further Paul specifies, not once, but twice that the revelation of the man of lawlessness will occur before Jesus returns:
“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until first the apostasy comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed [apokalyptō], the son of destruction” (2 Thess 2:3).
“and then the lawless one will be revealed [apokalyptō], whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth and wipe out by the manifestation of his arrival” (2 Thess 2:8).
In the book of Romans, Paul instructs that when Jesus’s revelation take place the wicked will be judged: “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment occurs at the revelation [apokalypsis]!” (Rom 2:5). In short, the apostle Paul shows nothing of a dichotomy of a so-called intervening gap between Jesus coming for this church at the rapture and that of the revelation of Jesus. Rather, the coming for the church will happen at Jesus’s revelation, and we are to wait for it with eager anticipation while enduring trials of various sorts.
Turning to Peter, we see he is consistent with the apostle Paul on this matter concerning trials for the church right up to the glorious revelation of Christ:
“who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed [apokalyptō] in the last [eschatos] time. This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away–and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed [apokalypsis]. You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Pet 1:5–8)
Unequivocally, Peter instructs that the church will be here on earth suffering when Jesus’s revelation take place, and thereby exhorts the church to persevere for this “short time in various trials” up to the revelation in order at that time to “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.” When Jesus’s apokalypsis begins to take place, the rapture of God’s people will happen. He continues to exhort the church to “set your hope” upon the revelation of Christ: “Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation [apokalypsis] of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:13). Further, Peter makes the counter-intuitive exhortation to rejoice in the face of persecution for it is short-lived: “But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that in the revelation [apokalypsis] of his glory you may also rejoice and be glad” (1 Pet 4:13). Peter joins himself to his fellow believers who are suffering for the name of Christ and recognizes that he too will experience the glory at the revelation: “So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed [apokalyptō], I urge the elders among you” (1 Pet 5:1). Then, a few verses further, Peter identifies the time of the revelation with the glorious visible appearing of Jesus: “Then when the Chief Shepherd appears [phaneroō], you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away” (1 Pet 5:4).
Similarly, Jesus describes that at his revelation, there is an immediate two-fold event: the righteous will be delivered and the wicked judged, back-to-back events without any intervening period: “It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed [apokalyptō]” (Luke 17:30; see esp. Luke 17:20—18:8!).
What we can conclude from this examination is: (1) the church will be on earth to experience the revelation, (2) the church will suffer various trials until it is terminated by the beginning of the revelation, (3) the coming of Christ for his people is linked to the revelation of Jesus, (4) the church is exhorted to persevere in faith and hope in order to bring glory and honor at the revelation of Christ. In short, the pretribulation dichotomy interpretation is strained and does not make sense of the biblical data. The Revelation of Christ is the church’s hope.
See the related article:
Does the Appearing (Epiphaneia) of Christ Occur Seven Years After the Pretrib Rapture?