Why John Piper does not believe in a “secret rapture” before the Great Tribulation
One of the questions that I want to deal with is where the rapture fits in. There is a large wing of the evangelical church today that believes the second coming of Christ is going to happen in two stages. First, Christ will come for the church; they will rise to meet him in the air, return with him to heaven for a period of seven years, and then after the great tribulation is over, return to the earth in judgment.
This view of the second coming is called the “pre-tribulational” view because it says that Christ comes for the church before the tribulation. This view has been popularized by the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible and by many Bible schools and some seminaries. It was the basis of Hal Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth, and has inspired songs and movies about the sudden disappearance of the Christians out of the world at the time of rapture.
One Argument for the Post-Tribulational View
I hope to take this issue up in more detail but for now let me just show you one of several arguments from 2 Thessalonians why I cannot follow this interpretation, as much as I love and respect those who do. Why am I a post-tribulationist, that is, why do I look forward with great anticipation not to a sudden departure from the world for seven years but to a great gathering to meet the Lord in the air as he comes with his mighty angels in flaming fire to establish his earthly kingdom, giving rest to his people and judgment to his enemies?
What the Thessalonians Were Alarmed About
The saints at Thessalonica were shaken and alarmed thinking that the day of the Lord is at hand. Now for the pre-tribulationist the “Day of the Lord” is the second half of the second coming after the tribulation. It is described in verse 8: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming.”
This is the day of the Lord—not the quiet rapture when the saints are snatched away, but the glorious and overwhelming attack from heaven against the man of lawlessness and all evil.
Now the question arises: If the Thessalonians were overly excited and shaken, thinking that the day of the Lord had come, why didn’t Paul simply say, “You know it hasn’t come because you are still here and I’m still here and the rapture hasn’t happened yet”? Why did he say in verse 3, “You know the day of the Lord has not come because the apostasy has not come and the man of lawlessness has not been revealed”?
The Revealing of the Man of Lawlessness
All pre-tribulationists believe that the man of lawlessness will be revealed after the rapture, during the great tribulation. In fact, they say that according to verses 6–7 the restrainer, which holds back the appearance of the man of lawlessness, is the Holy Spirit in the church, so that when the church is raptured out of the world, the man of lawlessness will be released. In other words, the church will not be here, they say, when the man of lawlessness is revealed. The Thessalonian Christians will not see the appearance of the man of lawlessness according to pre-tribulational teaching.
Why then would Paul try to convince them that the day of the Lord has not come by pointing out that a man of lawlessness has not been revealed whom they were never to see anyway? If Paul believed in a pre-tribulational rapture, all he had to say was: the day of the Lord can’t have come yet because we are all still here. Instead what he does say is exactly what you would expect him to say if he believed in a single post-tribulational coming of the Lord. He says that the day of the Lord can’t be here yet because the apostasy and man of lawlessness who appears during the tribulation haven’t appeared to us yet.
And then Paul goes on to lay out for them a description of the man of lawlessness in verses 4–9. And the most natural assumption is that he does this because he wants Christians to be able to recognize him when he appears. The point of this passage is not that Christians have gone to heaven before the man of lawlessness appears, but that Christians should recognize him when he comes. — John Piper
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