The Rapture in Matthew 24

The Rapture in Matthew 24

A defense of the PreWrath rapture position stands or falls with the conclusion that Matthew 24 deals with this important event. At the heart of the PreWrath position is the insistence that Matthew 24 does not speak of any details regarding the wrath of God. That is to say, this chapter does not speak of even one specific expression of God’s eschatological wrath. There is no discussion of what will happen to the non-elect wicked in Matthew 24. Verse 51 describes the fate of servants who will experience the master’s displeasure when he comes. The PreWrath position argues that the wrath of God is not present in Matthew 24, but that the rapture is found there.

The pretribulationist’s position traditionally argues to the contrary. He argues that all of Matthew 24 deals with the wrath of God, but without discussion of the rapture at all. It is safe to say that the overwhelming majority of pretribulationists teach: “The Rapture is not found in the [Olivet] Discourse [as to] whether it is a posttribulational or pretribulational Rapture.”[i] However, in the past several years, I have noticed a change. Dr. John F. Hart, a Bible professor at the Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL, published a series of articles in 2007 and 2008 entitled, “Should Pretribulationists Reconsider the Rapture in Matthew 24:36-44?” Dr. Hart is a friend and brother in Christ, with whom I worked at Moody over 20 years ago. He is a student of God’s Word and is committed to its accurate interpretation as well.

In support of his contention that Matthew 24:36-44 does deal with the rapture of the church, Hart adds Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Zane Hodges, Dave Hunt, J.F. Strombeck, Ray C. Stedman, Allen Beechick, and Leon J. Wood, who also support this same view.[ii]

To arrive at their conclusion that the rapture is taught in Matthew 24:36-44, these men must prove one thing. Hart correctly states,

The fundamental challenge is to demonstrate contextually how 24:29–31 can refer to the posttribulational Second Coming of Christ, while 24:36–44 can depict the pretribulational Rapture of the church.[iii]

In the first article of Hart’s three-part series, he attempts to disconnect vv. 36-44 from Matthew 24:3-35. To do so, he must show that Matthew 24:3-35 deals with the wrath of God. Because of his studies, Dr. Hart concludes,

In light of these findings, it can be concluded that in the Olivet Discourse a change of subject from Matt 24:4–35 is introduced at v 36. The tribulation judgments that comprise the day of the Lord have been unfolded (vv 4–28)…Jesus instructs His disciples that the coming of the day of the Lord [which Hart teaches is coterminous with the Parousia of Christ] is imminent. As such, the time of its arrival cannot be known by anyone other than the Father (v 36).[iv]

Simply stated, Dr. Hart believes that Matthew 25:3-35 teaches that the day of the Lord/Parousia of Christ is an imminent event. The day of the Lord, the pretribulational rapture, and the inception of Daniel’s seventieth seven are imminent events.

Dr. Hart goes to great lengths to build the case that Matthew 24:3-35 describes the wrath of God, which is defined in the O.T. as the day of the Lord; and it is imminent. However, it is relatively easy to dispose of the whole argument of article one in Dr. Hart’s series. He fundamentally errs when he associates the whole of Daniel’s final week with the day of the Lord. He continues his error by making the pretrib rapture coterminous with the inception of day of the Lord, which he erroneously makes equal to Daniel’s final week. It is fortunate for the PreWrath position that he does this, because it becomes very easy for us to dispose of his whole argument.

Because Dr. Hart takes Matthew 24:3-35 as an expression of God’s wrath, his complete series distorts Matthew 24 to such a degree that the complete chapter is rendered nonsensical. Pretribulationists are so blinded by their desire to prove a pretribulational rapture that they sacrifice good exegesis on the altar of imminence.

It is clear that most pretrib writers do not have a clue about the biblically defined inception of the eschatological day of the Lord. Dr. Richard L. Mayhue, Senior Vice-President and Dean and Professor of Theology and Pastoral Ministries at The Master’s Seminary, would agree with my assessment. Dr. Mayhue did an exhaustive study of the day of the Lord and came to the following conclusion,

In my view, the traditional dispensational definition of DOL beginning at the pretribulational rapture and extending throughout the millennium or beginning with Christ’s second coming and extending through the millennium needs to be modified.[v]

Dr. Hart’s insistence upon identifying Matthew 24:3-35 as the day of the Lord makes all conclusions drawn about Matthew 24 invalid. However, we are grateful that he acknowledges the presence of the rapture in Matthew 24.

Let me state what is true about Matthew 24: The imminent inception of the day of the Lord begins at Matthew 24:29. Everything before Matthew 24:29, i.e. Matthew 24:3-28 describes Satan and his Antichrist’s persecution of God’s elect. Nothing detailed in Matthew 24:3-28 is an expression of God’s wrath. Matthew 24:29-35 describes the rapture. These are bold statements, which I have yet to defend. This I understand.

Dr. Hart’s series on Matthew 24:36-44 makes a valid point. This passage does describe events connected with the rapture of God’s elect. However, how Dr. Hart goes about defending his conclusion, particularly as it relates to Matthew 24:3-35, is of little value.

The facts are: (1) The day of the Lord cannot be and is not an imminent event; (2) only a small portion of Daniel’s final week will involve the eschatological day of the Lord; (3) the day of the Lord (the eschatological wrath of God) is not detailed in Matthew 24 at all; and finally, (4) the inception of Daniel’s final week is not coterminous with the day of the Lord.

It requires very little to show the error of Dr. Hart’s way. Notice that Malachi 4:5-6a states,

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

The eschatological ministry of Elijah must occur before the day of the Lord. This one passage is sufficient to prove that the day of the Lord is not an imminent event by a pretrib definition of imminence. It is difficult for me to understand why Dr. Hart did not see the problem of this verse with his position.

Yet, we can also add Joel 2:1, which states,

The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.

The apostle Paul states in 2 Thessalonians 2:3,

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction…

Thus, there are at least four events, which must occur before the inception of the day of the Lord. These events make an imminent beginning of the day of the Lord impossible. Since the man of lawlessness is revealed after Daniel’s final week begins, the day of the Lord cannot be coterminous with the inception of Daniel’s final week.

In his second article in the series, “Should Pretribulationists Reconsider the Rapture in Matthew 24:36-44,” Dr. Hart falls victim to the notion that seals 1-5 are expressions of God’s wrath. This allows him to think that both believers and unbelievers are suffering during the first half of Daniel’s final week. Matthew 24:3-8 contradicts this point, where our Lord indicates that his audience should be careful that no one misleads them.

In his efforts to prove a rapture reference in Matthew 24:36-44, Dr. Hart errs by trying to make Matthew 24:3-35 refer to the wrath of God. This results from a certain discord with the facts in his mind. He writes,

An unusually casual attitude toward life exists at the precise time when the tribulation judgments are being poured out in all their intensity. How could a “business-as-usual” attitude prevail during the moments, days, months, or even years immediately preceding the Second Advent?[vi]

The assumption that the day of the Lord is coterminous with the inception of Daniel’s final week creates this unnecessary inconsistency. Dr. Hart, as well as other pretribulationalists, assumes that seals 1-5 are expressions of God’s wrath, which the world will slowly recognize. However, this is an error. Seal 5 conclusively demonstrates that the wrath of God has yet to begin. Notice Revelation 6:9-11,

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

The slain martyrs in heaven question God about the beginning of his wrath to repay “those who dwell on the earth.” They were told to rest until the remainder of those to be killed becomes a reality. Immediately after seal 5, we see the imminent outbreak of the wrath of God evidenced by the sign of the sun-moon-stars identified with the sixth seal. Seal 7 actually begins God’s wrath – the day of the Lord. Again, the beginning of Daniel’s final week and the inception of the day of the Lord cannot be coterminous in light of seals 1-5.

Sadly, Dr. Hart spends a lot of time trying to prove something to be true that is patently false. The Noahic flood illustrates the conditions on earth just prior to the appearance of Christ to rapture away God’s elect. Seals 1-5 are Satan’s wrath against God’s elect. The wicked were caught by surprise at the beginning of the flood. Noah and his family were in no way surprised when the flood began.

This is exactly what Paul tells the Thessalonians when he writes,

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6)

Paul teaches the Thessalonians that it is the wicked who will be caught unprepared and suffer destruction. The wicked say, “Peace and safety”, and so they sleep. Paul states that believers will not be caught unprepared. They are of the day.

Since Dr. Hart’s fundamental assertion is incorrect, everything that he attempts to prove is incorrect as well. The issue of the rapture cannot be limited to Matthew 24:36-44. We are glad to see that pretribulationists are beginning to admit that Matthew 24 discusses the rapture. However, it is clear that they have a long way to go to understand fully the significance of Matthew 24 for the eschatological future of God’s elect.

[i]  Louis A. Barbieri Jr., “Matthew,” Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), 76–79; Paul N. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 209; Ron J. Bigalke Jr., “The Olivet Discourse: A Resolution of Time,” Conservative Theological Seminary Journal 9 (spring 2003): 106-40; Thomas R. Edgar, “An Exegesis of Rapture Passages,” in Issues in Dispensationalism, ed. Wesley R. Willis, John R. Master, and Charles C. Ryrie (Chicago: Moody, 1994), 217, 221; Paul D. Feinberg, “Dispensational Theology and the Rapture,” in Issues in Dispensationalism, ed. Wesley R. Willis, John R. Master, and Charles C. Ryrie (Chicago: Moody, 1994), 242–43; Feinberg, “The Case for the Pretribulation Rapture,” Three Views, 80, 225, 229–31; E. Schuyler English, Rethinking the Rapture (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1954), 41–55; Ed Glasscock, Matthew, Moody Gospel Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1997), 476; William K. Harrison, “The Time of the Rapture as Indicated by Certain Passages: Part III: The Time of the Rapture in the Light of Matthew 24, ” Bibliotheca Sacra 115 (April-June 1958): 109-19; John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 24–28 (Chicago: Moody, 1989), 70–72; Russell L. Penney, “Why the Church Is Not Referenced in the Olivet Discourse,” Conservative Theological Journal 1 (April 1997): 47-60; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study of Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), 162, 275–85; James F. Rand, “The Eschatology of the Olivet Discourse” (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1954), 126, 162; Charles C. Ryrie, Come Quickly, Lord Jesus: What You Need to Know about the Rapture (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1996), 94–97; Ryrie, What You Should Know about the Rapture (Chicago: Moody, 1981), 82–84; Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord Comes! (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1995), 178–84; John A. Sproule, “An Exegetical Defense of Pretribulationism” (Th.D. dissertation, Grace Theological Seminary, 1981), 56, 60; Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour (Miami Springs, FL: Schoettle, 1991), 57–65; David L. Turner, “The Structure and Sequence of Matt 24:1–41: Interaction with Evangelical Treatments,” Grace Theological Journal 10 (spring 1989): 21-22; Stanley D. Toussaint, “Are the Church and the Rapture in Matthew 24?” in When the Trumpet Sounds, ed. Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1995), 235–50; Stanley Toussaint, Behold the King (Portland: Multnomah, 1980), 280–82; John F. Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 85–90; John F. Walvoord, “Christ’s Olivet Discourse on the Time of the End: Part I,” Bibliotheca Sacra 128 (April 1971): 116.

[ii] John F. Hart, “Should Pretribulationists Reconsider the Rapture in Matthew 24:36-44,” JOTGES 20 (Autumn 2007) p. 48. See footnote 7.

[iii] Hart, “Rapture in Matthew 24:36-44,” p. 50.

[iv] Ibid., p. 70.

[v] Richard L. Mayhue, “The Prophet’s Watchword: Day of the Lord,” GTJ 6 (Fall 1985), p. 246.

[vi] John F. Hart, “Should Pretribulationists Reconsider the Rapture in Matthew 24:36-44,” JOTGES 21 (Spring 2008) p. 47.

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