What comes first, the rapture or the great tribulation?

Asked By: 
A relatively new debate about a scattered concept . . . but does it matter?
Your question about whether the Rapture comes before or after the Great Tribulation is not one that can be answered with certainty from the Bible. The concepts are pieced together from passages in different parts of the Bible, so there’s no one place that lays it out in order. Most of the places that are thought to describe the Rapture don’t mention a time of suffering, and those that do have people saved at the same time.  
The following site has all the passages that might be even remotely connected to the Rapture in one place, and you might find it helpful. Although I would argue that many of them don’t describe what we have come to think about the Rapture at all and simply describe the time of judgment: https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/rapture-bible-verses/.
The main place that Great Tribulation is talked about is in Revelation, making the task harder still. Revelation is a specific kind of literature called an Apocalypse, which relies on heavily symbolic language—a code if you will—to speak to people who are being persecuted. The parts of Daniel that talk about the end times are also written in this style. We have the books, but not the code, so we have to rely on interpreters who have studied it to tell us what it means. 
The problem is, those interpreters don’t agree. Some scholars say It’s definitely one way, others say it’s definitely not, and still others say that, except for the final heavenly vision, it all happened during the time of the Roman Empire and is already done. So we’re left hanging without a clear answer in the Bible.
The debates about which come first are relatively recent in the long arc of Christian history. After being wrong so many times about the time and conditions of Christ’s return, the Church had long ago put the issue on a back burner. The man who brought them back to the front was an Irishman named John Nelson Darby in the 19th century. You can read about him and his influence on modern evangelical interpretation of the Bible here: https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/pastorsandpreachers/john-nelson-darby.html.  For the record, I don’t agree with his system.
So, if we can’t be certain, what do we do? My advice is simply to put the question aside and live the life to which Christ has called us. The end of all things will be as God intends, whether we have that figured out ahead of time or not. Jesus himself seems to encourage this when he says in Mark 13:32, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” When someone claims to know for certain, we should be skeptical.
When I am engaged in any debates about the Bible, the question I always ask myself is “So what?” If the answer turns out to be this and not that, is there anything about my faith and the way I live that out in the world that will change? Would Jesus be pleased to learn that we are fighting about this particular thing?
When it comes to debates about the end of the world (or its beginnings for that matter), I think the answer is, “No. It doesn’t make a difference.” It was how it was and it will be whatever it will be, according to God’s purpose. What the Bible asks me to do is to love God and my neighbor as myself. As Jesus says in Luke 10:28, “Do this and you will live.” Debates about beginnings and endings may be interesting, and there’s nothing wrong with speculation, but we should never come to divide the Body of Christ over it (as Darby came to do). 
Whenever the Rapture comes, or even if the concept turns out to be misunderstood and it doesn’t come at all, we are not going to be judged according to whether or not our predictions were right. We’re going to be judged on whether we have loved God and our neighbors as ourselves. We’re going to be judged, as Jesus teaches us in Matthew 25:31-46, on whether we have feed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, visited those sick and in prison, etc. One day we will know how it all ends. In the meantime, however, God has work for us to do.

Want to learn more? Get started with Bible study here. Appreciate these answers? Help us continue by donating here

Author: Anne Robertson




Massachusetts Bible Society Logo

Exploring the Bible Logo