Theological Antecedents of Pretribulationism -- By: Gordon R. Lewis

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 125:498 (Apr 1968)
Article: Theological Antecedents of Pretribulationism
Author: Gordon R. Lewis

Theological Antecedents of Pretribulationism

Gordon R. Lewis

According to many contemporary theologians, Biblical statements on Christ’s second coming do not refer to the future of the world, but to the present inner experience of individuals. For evangelicals, on the other hand, Christ’s return to earth is future and literally understood. As truly as our Lord appeared in the flesh the first time, He will appear in the flesh a “second time” (Heb 9:28). In the same way that He ascended into heaven, He will come again (Acts 1:11). To accept the New Testament as normative is to accept its teaching on Christ’s return, for that teaching pervades the whole book from Matthew to Revelation. Biblically the belief in Christ’s literal return—not the denial of it—gives meaningful purpose to our existence here and now.

Because the “blessed hope” impinges upon the believer’s present experience, differences of opinion surrounding it may involve intense feelings. And differences there are, even among those who share belief in a literal second coming. They may agree that prior to our Lord’s return a period of great tribulation will envelop the world. But differences arise regarding the time of the rapture. Will believers in the churches be caught up in the air to meet Christ before the tribulation, during the tribulation, or after it? Can the rapture happen of any moment? Or must some part of the tribulation transpire first? For some the rapture is pretribulational, for others midtribulational, or posttribulational.

What difference does it make? Depending upon one’s answer, he will prepare at any moment for the possibility either

of meeting Christ or of facing world-wide devastation. Peace-loving souls may wish to avoid the issue, but sooner or later a student of Scripture must answer it. We cannot long consider the Bible’s teaching about things to come without placing the various events in some order. Of course, we cannot set dates. Just as clearly we cannot ignore the ordering of eschatological events. And the reader is asked to examine afresh a pretribulational rapture of the church.

Because last things succeed past and present things, one’s whole Biblical perspective of human history is involved in the rapture question. Pretribulationalism is associated with a dispensational system of theology. Midtribulationalism and posttribulationahsm are often at least suspected of some measure of alignment with covenant theology. In the interest of clarity, discussions of the rapture must consider something of the relationship between covenant theology and dispensa...

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