A Case for the Posttribulational Rapture by Douglas Moo

The third rapture position presented in the latest version of Zondervan’s book entitled Three Views on the Rapture is the Posttribulational Rapture view.  It is written by Douglas Moo who is well known for his scholarship in other areas and is the only author making a return appearance from the first version of this book.  Moo has the most agreeable writing style of the three, perhaps realizing from being a prior contributor that the relationships will outlast any written work which will be critiqued, quoted, and forgotten.  Many points he could drive home forcefully, but instead he is not dogmatic and makes room for disagreement.

Moo’s earlier presentation slightly differs from this one, perhaps due to his views slightly changing, but also perhaps due to the emergence of the prewrath position.  His earlier presentation has much in common with the prewrath position, so this essay needs to distinguish itself from prewrath.  As you may guess from Moo’s critiques of his colleagues, there is a historicist flair throughout this work.  This is reminiscent of the old school premillennialists who wrote from the posttrib position, so perhaps Moo has been influenced by some of the Historic Premillennialists of days gone by.  Let’s get into Moo’s presentation.

Moo begins his foundation differently than the previous two.  He states that the rapture is not the means by which believers leave the earth and enter heaven, but rather it is the means by which the church (which he terms the new covenant people of God) is brought into the presence of Christ.  His foundation of the word “tribulation” also is set apart.  He surveys the Greek word thlipsis showing that 37 out of 45 times the word indisputably refers to tribulation that believers experience throughout this present age.  He also touches on the term “last days” showing that the last days are really the current period of time in which we are living in anticipation of the LORD’s return.

When digging into the particular texts which may or may not describe the end times tribulation, Moo points out that the horror of God’s wrath in the judgment will occur after the final tribulation.  So it is with great care that he seeks to selectively view end times passages that indisputably refer to the final tribulation and not generically to the Day of the LORD which includes that end times wrath.  The book of Daniel is mentioned, but Daniel’s 70th week is presented as an entire package of events spanning from the first coming of Christ to the second coming in glory.  Moo points out that Isaiah 26:20-21 could refer to divine protection from the end times wrath while remaining here on the earth.

Reasoning through the idea that all believers are to live through tribulation, Moo asks if the end times tribulation will provide some type of exemption from tribulation that current Christians are denied.  Also in Moo’s mind is the question of whether believers must be absent from earth in order to be spared the wrath of God.  He treats the wrath of God as being distinct from the end times tribulation.  He seeks to show that Revelation pictures God exempting believers from His wrath, Revelation 9:4, 20-21; 16:2, 9, 11.   Only after these foundational principles does Moo begin to interact with specific passages which may or may not refer to the rapture (he’s never dogmatic).

John 14:3, I Corinthians 15:51-52, and I Thessalonians 4:13-18 are often used to describe the rapture.  Moo examines each one and finds no reason to believe that Christians will be taken to heaven.  In John 14:3, he notes that the promise is not to go to heaven, but to be with the LORD when He returns.  I Corinthians 15:51-52 contains the idea that through resurrection the saints will inherit the kingdom of God.  Since Isaiah 25:8 is quoted, the Old Testament saints will participate in the resurrection that will occur at this time.  The last trumpet here occurs when the nation of Israel experiences their end times salvation (he cross references Matthew 24:31).  Again, there is no specific teaching that the church will be raptured into heaven.  The final passage is handled in classic posttrib style.  In I Thessalonians 4:13-18 the passage is shown to picture believers rising to “meet” the LORD in the air in order to accompany Him back to earth as a sort of delegation.  The word apantesis (translated meet) is also used in Matthew 25:6 and Acts 28:15 where it means just that.  Again, there is no evidence that believers will go to heaven.  Throughout this presentation, Moo reminds his readers that the coming of Christ is always a posttribulational event.  He notes similarities between I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Daniel 12:1-2 which both show a resurrection from sleep, noting again that Daniel 12:1-2 is posttribulational.

Moo transitions into examining I Thessalonians 5:1-11 which acts as a springboard for a discussion regarding the term “the Day of the LORD” which Moo relates to the end after the final tribulation.  Moo makes his case by showing that in Revelation 6:17 and 16:14 that what is meant is an event associated with the parousia, which is always posttribulational.  Also, Malachi 4:5 and Joel 2:31 (I’m correcting what I’m sure is a typo in the book) describe tribulational events before the Day of the LORD.  So the Day of the LORD is not an any-moment, signless event if it occurs in this sequence.  Jesus taught that the saints would be raised on the last day, which would point toward the Day of the LORD rather than before the tribulation which precedes it.  He also argues that the Day of the LORD in I Thessalonians 5 would overtake believers, just not in the same way it overtakes unbelievers, like a thief.  The commands for believers to watch, or be in a state of watchfulness (in the Olivet Discourse as well) further drives home the point that what is being taught in the scriptures is a posttribulational parousia.

According to Moo, II Thessalonians presents many exegetical difficulties.  So while attempting to interact with anticipated objections of his view, covering everything is simply not possible.  He presents his view that in chapter 1 believers receive their promised rest at the glorious appearing of Christ after the tribulation.  Chapter 2 shows that Paul had to explain to the believers that the Day of the LORD parousia would not come until after certain tribulational events had been fulfilled, such as the appearance of the eschatological antichrist described in terms reminiscent of the antigodly king spoken of by Daniel.  Chapters 1 and 2 together show a united picture that the church will not be raptured until after the reign of the antichrist.

Moo has a lengthy section on the Olivet Discourse, lengthy by means of comparison to the other two presentations.  Here he wrestles with the ideas of things historical (ongoing throughout the church age), things preterist (fulfilled in 70AD), and things future (during the final tribulation, the Day of the LORD, and the second coming of Christ).  These positions of Historicist, Preterist, and Futurist are played off the others showing that each has some valid points to bring to the conversation.  Moo brings in more from a Historicist point of view than most would.  But as one is reading this presentation, they begin asking, what does this have to do with the rapture?  The idea that Moo is trying to get to the root of is – exactly who does the Olivet Discourse apply to, Israel or the church, or some combination of the two?  With Preterism versus Futurism, it is not either/or, but both/and.  Events were fulfilled in 70AD and they will be fulfilled in the future.  Adding on to this, events were fulfilled for the nation of Israel in 70AD (with the destruction of the Jewish temple), and there will be events fulfilled for the church in the future at the consummation of the age.  This section is difficult to sum up since Moo is bringing in very abstract concepts.  It is, however, worth studying what he has to say since conversations like this simply do not happen frequently.  Ultimately he concludes that the gathering of Matthew 24:31 includes the rapture and probably much more.

After all this, Moo is finally ready to move to Revelation.  Since this post is pretty long already, I’ll just cut to the chase.  The letters to the seven churches warn of possible persecution and death for believers.  Revelation 3:10 is akin to John 17:15 which promises spiritual protection from the hour of trial, not by being removed from the earth.  He presents the idea that Revelation 11:11-12 could refer to the rapture, which would be at the end of the final tribulation, especially since the seventh trumpet depicts the end of the age.  (He believes the sixth seal also pictures the end of the age, as in, both the seventh trumpet and sixth seal describe the last day as parallel passages, if I’m understanding him correctly.)  Revelation 14:14-16 may describe the rapture, then again, maybe not.  Revelation 20:4 is where he presents a firmer case.  He examines the usage of terminology throughout the book of Revelation showing that the first resurrection described here must include the church, the saints from all ages, and the tribulation martyrs.  Therefore the first resurrection and rapture occur as a posttribulational event.

Moo makes some concluding remarks which include some comments about the term imminency.  Instead of the idea of “any moment”, he shows the scriptures to mean “watch for” and “eagerly wait for”.  All in all, even if he is not dogmatic which results in ambiguity at times, this is a good presentation of the posttrib position.  I have devoted a little more space to this presentation than pretrib or prewrath, probably because there are more foundational issues to wrestle with in his essay.  Also, I have not discussed the posttrib position at length on my blog, while I have discussed pretrib and prewrath extensively, although it’s been a little while.  These posts are not meant to take the place of the book, but to summarize it and encourage you to purchase it.  The responses to the posttrib position will be forthcoming in a separate post.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

This entry was posted in Books, Eschatology, Posttribulationalism. Bookmark the permalink.

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