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I heard a pastor on the radio talking about being a “pre-trib” Christian. What does the Bible say?


I heard a pastor on the radio talking about being a “pre-trib” Christian. He explained it as being raptured before Jesus comes, so we don’t have to go through tribulation like everyone else. That sounds way better than being stuck here, going through the time of trouble like I’ve been taught will happen. What does the Bible say?

Steve Answers:

Like you, I’d rather not experience any trouble!

But then you asked what the Bible says about this. Let me first describe what the radio pastor probably said about “pre-trib,” and what that might be based on from the Bible.

The term “pre-trib” is a shortened version of the term “pre-tribulation.” Some Christians use the term “tribulation” in the way you may be familiar with the term “time of trouble.” However, those who are into the “trib” terminology also believe that they have an exact length of time for the tribulation—seven years. Actually, for those who use the term “tribulation” or “trib,” there are three separate beliefs associated with it. They are:

Pre-trib—Some people believe that at this time Jesus takes His people to heaven before a time of tribulation. This belief also includes a secret rapture in which true Christians instantly disappear from earth and go to heaven.

Mid-trib—Some people believe that at this time Jesus takes His people to heaven in the middle of the tribulation. This belief also includes a secret rapture, but it doesn’t happen until true Christians have been through at least some tribulation.

Post-trib—Some people believe that at this time Jesus takes His people to heaven at the end of the tribulation. This belief includes a rapture, but it’s not a secret.

Your radio pastor, and many pastors on TV as well, are often pre-trib Christians. They believe that true Christians will be secretly raptured away from this planet before troublous times come. Those “left behind” will have seven years (or three and a half years for mid-tribs) to get serious about following Jesus during a time of tribulation. So you’d better be good now, or else you’ll have to be good when it’s really tough!

The pre-trib belief has been around for only a couple of hundred years in contrast to the post-trib belief, which has been around since Jesus returned to heaven. This relatively new pre-trib belief is based on an interpretation of Daniel 9:27 put together with another verse in 2 Thessalonians 4:17. Let’s take a quick look at both of these verses.

Daniel 9:27 says: “He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven’ [a week]. In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him” (NIV).1

Since most people get lost when reading that one verse, they are very open to someone who will explain it to them. When a pre-trib person offers an explanation, many people are at a loss to come up with anything else, since this symbolic verse is difficult for many to understand by just reading it a few times.

First Thessalonians 4:17 says: “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (NIV).

The term “caught up” comes from the Greek word harpagesometha, which in Latin translates as raptus, which can be translated into the English words  “rapture” or “caught up.” In the entire Bible, the word harpagesometha only appears in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

I believe that those who are still alive and are left will be “caught up” or “raptured” with those who have been resurrected. I just don’t think it will be a secret rapture. Verse 16, just before 1 Thessalonians 4:17, says: “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (NIV). I’m baffled as to how in the world that could be a secret!

The bulk of the pre-trib belief actually comes from some notes added at the bottom of the page in the Scofield Reference Bible, not from the actual verse in the Bible. While the notes are not part of the Bible, they were printed in that particular publication of the Bible, which was first published in 1917 and is still being published today. These days there are a number of other Bibles that have their own set of study notes. Often these Bible study notes are very helpful, but not always.

The Scofield Reference Bible notes have become very popular, and people have treated the notes as sacredly as they treat the words of the Bible itself! Marketing an easy way out of tribulation has been a snap! “Hey, Christians, would you rather have it easy or have it hard? Did you say, ‘Easy’? Fine! That’s what we find in (the notes of) the Scofield Reference Bible.”

By the way, this pre-trib belief fits in nicely with the health-and-wealth gospel many Americans have come to expect: just believe in Jesus, and you will be happy and blessed/wealthy all the time! “And please buy my latest best seller, and you can find out how you can have it all! It’s now available on DVD, too! Call now; operators are standing by.” Sound familiar?

That’s some of what I think is behind the pre-trib belief system. But you asked what the Bible says, so let me share a few texts that come to mind.

• Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

• Jesus’ answer when His disciples asked Him about the end of the world: “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13, NIV).

• Jesus’ sermon on the mount, particularly the final verses of the Beatitudes: “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way” (Matthew 5:10-12, NLT).2

After Jesus ascended to heaven, here’s what happened to His followers: “The high priest and his officials, who were Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But an angel of the Lord came at night, opened the gates of the jail, and brought them out. Then he told them, ‘Go to the Temple and give the people this message of life!’ So at daybreak the apostles entered the Temple, as they were told, and immediately began teaching” (Acts 5:17-21, NLT).

It’s not just New Testament stories that indicate that followers of God can be persecuted. You probably remember the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (see Daniel 6). However, the only person who seemed overly stressed was the king, not Daniel. Plus, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego got to walk with Jesus in person while they were in the fiery furnace (see Daniel 3). But that didn’t happen until they were persecuted!

What about now? In many countries right now, such as the United States, Christians experience hardly any persecution. But in other countries Christians don’t merely coast along with the flow. They have to decide if they really want to follow Jesus or not, because they are much more aware of both the immediate and the long-term consequences of their decision.

The radio preacher who promoted being raptured so you won’t face any tribulation might be offering you an easy way out. But I don’t know what that has to do with being a follower of Jesus. I don’t find that in the Bible, either. Athletes and artists know that you have to put in lots of training in order to make it through the rigors of those disciplines. The same is true for followers of Jesus. Paul wrote: “All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize” (1 Corinthians 9:25, NLT).

The last book of the Bible describes God’s people in seven churches. The message to each one of these churches (found in Revelation chapters 2 and 3) includes a statement about God’s people being overcomers (see Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21, NIV).

If you have to overcome in your own power, you’re apt to quit. But the good news is that Jesus has been through it before, and He will go through it with you (Matthew 28:20), because you will need supernatural power to make it to heaven! I’m not talking about being secretly raptured away from trouble or tribulation, but going through it and over-coming it! The bottom line is: you’ve got to depend on Jesus!

1Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

2Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

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