The Pretribulation Rapture Has Been Taught Throughout Christian History
by Pastor Joey Faust
THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE IN HISTORY – NOT OF DEMONIC ORIGIN
Many people sometimes wonder who has taught the pre-trib rapture before J.N. Darby (1800-1881). This question is often stated as an objection. These objections are often very bitter and harsh. Modern pre-tribbers have responded by citing Morgan Edwards (1722-1795), a Baptist pastor who presented a pre-trib rapture in the 18th century. Edwards writes:
“…the dead saints will be raised, and the living changed at Christ’s ‘appearing in the air’ (I Thes. iv. 17); and this will be about three years and a half before the millennium, as we shall see hereafter: but will he and they abide in the air all that time? No: they will ascend to paradise, or to some one of those many ‘mansions in the father’s house’ (John xiv. 2), and so disappear during the foresaid period of time. The design of this retreat and disappearing will be to judge the risen and changed saints; for ‘now the time is come that judgment must begin,’ and that will be ‘at the house of God’ (I Pet. iv. 17)…”
(Quoted in “Morgan Edwards: Another Pre-Darby Rapturist,” by Thomas Ice)
Two objections are generally made to this quote. First, it is claimed that Morgan Edwards (as a historicist) was only presenting a hypothetical case for a “term paper.” Second, many argue that this obscure writing had no effect or influence on Christians in the mainstream, and that it cannot be seen as setting the stage for Darby’s later rapture view. They assert that Darby got his view from someone claiming to give an inspired “revelation” in the early 19th century. After Morgan Edwards, post-tribbers have simply put forth a greater demand. They now call upon pre-tribbers to not only present a pre-trib rapture before Darby, but to also present a “significant” case(s) that would have “influenced” Darby (and modern dispensational eschatology). They now demand that pre-tribbers establish a clear historical progression. Otherwise, they still maintain that Darby was influenced by an Irvingite “utterance.”
Wisdom often calls us to stand upon the shoulders of our forefathers. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for post-tribbers to request from us an historical chain of thought in regard to the rapture. It is, however, unreasonable for them to conclude that, simply because certain details may be cloudy, that this must mean the pre-trib view arose from a demonic or Irvingite “revelation.” The same claim was made in regard to futurism (“It is from the Jesuits”), and earlier, premillennialism itself (“It is from the Jews”), etc.
Margaret McDonald and the Irvingites
Tregelles (in 1864) made the claim that the pre-trib teaching arose from an utterance in Irving’s church:
“But when the theory of a secret coming of Christ was first brought forward (about the year 1832), it was adopted with eagerness…I am not aware that there was any definite teaching that there would be a secret rapture of the church at a secret coming, until this was given forth as an ‘utterance’ in Mr. Irving’s church, from what was there received as being the voice of the Spirit. But whether any one ever asserted such a thing or not, it was from that supposed revelation that the modern doctrine and the modern phraseology respecting it arose.” (Tregelles, “The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming,” 1864)
Tregelles does not document this “utterance.” G.H. Lang therefore writes:
“No evidence is available that any of the Powerscourt circle took the idea of a secret rapture from the Irvingite utterances, no evidence beyond Tregelles’s assertion, and for this he gives no proofs.” (“The Disciple,” 1954)
In “The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin,” (1973), Dave MacPherson does his best to make his own far-fetched idea “believable.” He attempts to link the origin of the pre-trib rapture view with a young lady named Margaret McDonald. However, he fails considerably in offering any evidence that this young lady influenced anyone on ANY Biblical subject (other than perhaps, whether or not Apostolic gifts were reviving). To start with, she was in Scotland (not England, where Irving’s church was located). As to M. McDonald’s particular “revelation,” she appears to teach that the “Spirit-filled” will be “kept” from deception in the MIDST of the Trib (i.e. the post-trib view)! She has the faithful (including herself) on earth when the Antichrist is revealed:
“I saw the people of God in an awfully dangerous situation. Now will the wicked one be revealed with all power…It will be a fiery trial…Nothing but what is of God will stand…I said, Now shall the awful sight of a false Christ be seen on this earth; and nothing but Christ in US can DETECT this awful attempt of the enemy to deceive…This is the trial THROUGH which those are to pass, who will be counted worthy to stand before the Son of Man…The trial of the Church is from Antichrist. It is by being filled with the Spirit that we shall be kept. I frequently said, Oh be filled with the Spirit – have the light of God within you, that you may DETECT satan…” (emphasis mine)
It is obvious that by being “kept,” McDonald means Christians are kept from DECEPTION while the Antichrist is manifested!
McPherson erred by stumbling onto a book written by Robert Norton in 1861 which claimed that Margaret McDonald originated the pre-trib rapture view. The book was titled, “The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets in the Catholic Apostolic Church” (i.e. Irving’s movement). In 1852, Norton wrote “Reasons for Believing the Lord has Restored to the Church Apostles and Prophets.” By 1861, the pre-trib rapture view was a well-established doctrine among premillennialists. Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that Norton (a member of the Catholic Apostolic Church) would greatly desire to argue that something “significant” originated from someone exercising a restored “Apostolic” gift? Notice his words in describing Margaret McDonald’s supposed “revelation” of the pre-trib rapture (i.e. two-stage coming):
“Marvelous light was shed upon Scripture, and especially upon the doctrine of the Second Advent BY THE REVIVED SPIRIT OF PROPHECY. In the following account by Miss M.M…we see first the distinction between the final stage of the Lord’s coming…and His prior appearing…” (emphasis mine; MacPherson, p.47)
Sadly, Norton (1807-1883) was simply a victim of his own wishful thinking. He read into M.M.’s “revelation” in order to argue that “marvelous light” (i.e. the pre-trib rapture teaching which was WIDESPREAD among prophecy students at the time) had come forth from his own restoration movement. Why would he need this type of prop? Because the majority of Christians at the time thought his movement was inspired by the Devil and that Norton himself was “fanatical”! How advantageous it would be to argue that the prized teaching in regard to the two stages of the Lord’s Coming was first manifested by someone with a supernatural gift. Yet, he failed in offering anything other than his own assertions to validate his claims. MacPherson repeated the mistake (for different reasons).
But let us pretend that M. McDonald is indeed teaching some type of pre-trib rapture. What would this prove? It would simply show that McDonald was INFLUENCED (in the realm of eschatology) by the scholarly, prophetic teachings around her at the time and was simply coughing them back up as a self-deceived or pretended “inspired” utterance. If not, and something more diabolical was at work, Matthew 8:29 and Acts 16:17 reveal that devils often attempt to oppose truth (especially new or revived truth) by AGREEING with it, thereby attempting to bring confusion in regard to its source.
But we should read the quote by Tregelles a bit closer. Why did he use the phrase “secret rapture” instead of “pre-trib rapture”? It is perhaps because he knew that the pre-trib rapture was certainly taught before anyone in Irving’s church ever uttered a word! Whether or not it is “secret” is of no consequence and depends upon what one means by “secret.” The debate is over whether or not there is a PRE-trib escape. The Bible itself is the foundation for the pre-trib teaching (see Lk.21:36, Rev.3:10, Heb.11:5, etc., as well as other Scriptures that have historically been used to teach the view such as Mt.25:10, Rev.12:5, 14:3, etc.). This teaching is found wherever there is a revival of premillennial thought (literal interpretation). In the 17th century, premillennialism was revived in the mainstream. Therefore, we should be able to find the foundational elements of the pre-trib rapture scheme OPENLY presented in the 17th century.
Joseph Mede and the Rapture
Joseph Mede (1586-1638) was the most popular premillennialist of his age. Edward Bickersteth (1786-1850) called him the “father of modern interpretation.” Therefore, his writings were certainly still influential in the 19th century. David Brown called Mede the “prince of Millennarians.” Wilbur Smith stated:
“Probably no work on the Apocalypse by an English author from the time of the Reformation down to the beginning of the 19th century, and even later, has exercised as much influence…”
Mede’s work on the Book of Revelation became the most popular book (outside the Bible itself) of that day. The main prophetic view of Mede’s age (among premillennialists) was the historicist view of the Tribulation period (i.e. the judgments of the Book of Revelation are fulfilled figuratively throughout the whole of Christian history). The literal, futurist view (that which I embrace) did not become widespread until the 19th century when many historicists adopted a “double” view of the 1260 days (e.g. T. Evill, Purdon, E. Bickersteth, etc.) interpreting them literally (i.e. as future days), and at the same time, prophetically (i.e. as years). Burgh, Govett, Darby, and many others would lead the way in abandoning the historicist view altogether. Within his historicist view, Mede suggested the possibility of a RAPTURE before the final “conflagration” (i.e. burning of the earth) in the final days immediately before the 1000-year Kingdom. This would correspond somewhat to the final age of the futurist (i.e. modern dispensational) system. Mede suggested that this particular burning would only be a purification and not a total annihilation of the earth – which he placed after the Millennium (“Works,” Book III, p.617). In regard to the rapture, Mede writes:
“I will add this more, namely, what may be conceived to be the cause of this RAPTURE of the saints on high to meet the Lord in the clouds, rather than to wait his coming to earth….What if it be, that they may be PRESERVED during the Conflagration of the earth and the works thereof, 2 Pet.3:10, that as Noah and his family were preserved from the Deluge by being lift up above the waters in the Ark; so should the saints at the Conflagration be lift up in the clouds unto their Ark, Christ, to be preserved there from the deluge of fire, wherein the wicked shall be consumed?” (“The Works of Joseph Mede,” 1672, London edition, Book IV, p.776)
Notice the word “rapture,” the use of 1 Thess.4, the analogy of Noah, and the “preservation” in contrast to the wicked, etc. All of these items are the very nuts and bolts of the modern pre-trib system. There was a train of thought (from Mede to Darby) that surely influenced Darby in regard to the rapture. This suggestion of Mede’s had considerable influence on other students of the prophecies. He is later actually quoted by William Cuninghame (which we will discuss shortly) as one of the earliest advocates of the pre-trib rapture view! Therefore, whether or not one agrees that Mede’s quote is foundational in regard to the pre-trib rapture is beside the point. Cuninghame took it as being an early and undeveloped example of his own viewpoint and built upon it. From the point of view of the historian, Mede takes his place in history as being one of the first scholars to revive the pre-trib rapture concept.
Frere, Cuninghame and the Rapture
The next influential prophecy writers to continue laying the foundation for the two-stage coming of Christ (i.e. pre-trib rapture) were James H. Frere (1779-1866) and William Cuninghame (1775-1849):
“Faber, Cuninghame, and Frere were unquestionably the three most prominent expositors in Britain in the early part of the nineteenth century.” (Fromm, Vol.III, p.279)
Both Frere and Cuninghame later participated in the Albury Park conferences (1826-28). Some historians have noted that Irving was a DISCIPLE of Frere in regard to the prophecies. When Mede’s idea of a “rapture” of believers (to escape the end-time destruction on the wicked) was added to a two-stage second coming of Christ, historicism began to look a lot like futurism at its final “head.” The foundation for this two-stage coming was indeed laid by Frere and Cuninghame over a decade BEFORE the Albury meetings took place. This teaching would be “refined” at the Albury meetings. It is therefore no wonder that after the Albury conferences had ended (1828), articles began appearing in Irving’s “Morning Watch” (June-Sept., 1832) advocating a view that held to both the year-day and literal-day interpretations at the same time. A new breed of “historicist-futurist” scholars would arise that combined Mede’s “rapture” with Frere’s and Cuninghame’s two-stage, end-time scenarios. From that point, this “new breed” (plus many pure historicists and pure futurists) would all begin to issue commentaries and articles advocating a two-stage coming and a pre-trib escape. The popularity of Frere and Cuninghame in the early part of the 19th century has already been demonstrated. And it is obvious that these men (and their peers) had an influence on Edward Irving before (and at) Albury Park. Yet, let us document how these men laid an early foundation for the two-stage coming of Christ: In 1815, Frere writes:
“…the sitting of the Ancient of Days is mentioned in the 9th verse of the seventh chapter of Daniel, and precedes the death and destruction of the ten-horned Beast…The sitting of the Ancient of Days and the judgment of the saints mentioned in Daniel, must therefore CONSIDERABLY PRECEDE the sitting of the saints in judgment at the commencement of the Millennium…and must be cotemporary with a period in the Revelation of Saint John, prior to that of the battle of Armageddon…(“A Combined View of the Prophecies,” London: 1815)
Frere looked for the Jews to be restored to the land, followed by a time of trouble to come “such as there never was…”, which would cover a period of 45 years. He saw two blessed periods for the saints; one before this trouble, and one after it (i.e. the Millennium). There is no mention of a translation; yet, the foundation for two stages is clearly being set. Many of the futurists would see a Tribulation period about that length (Seiss, Govett, Larkin, etc.) William Cuninghame actually put out his first edition of “A Dissertation on the Seals and Trumpets of the Apocalypse” in 1813. The following quotes are from his 1817 edition:
“In the interpretation of this passage, I am compelled to differ from most expositors of the Apocalypse. Bishop Newton and Mr. Faber both apply the vision of the Lamb with the one-hundred and forty-four thousand, to the state of the true Church during the reign of the Beast…They therefore consider this mystical number of one-hundred and forty-four thousand, as continuing to represent the true Church from the times of Constantine to the dawn of the Millennium…the state of these followers of the Lamb, does not at all agree with the condition of the Church during the reign of the Beast…According to the system of most writers whose works I have had access to, it does not appear what becomes of the Church after she returns from her secret retreat in the wilderness, till she is exhibited to us in the nineteenth chapter, as having made herself ready for the bridal ceremony……it may be proper, before I close the subject, to take a short view of those great events, which the prophecies both of the Old and New Testament lead us to expect…The first of these is the conversion and restoration of the Jews…their restoration is to happen during a time of trouble, such as there never was since there was a nation…The number of the elect 144,000, who are sealed, for preservation from the last awful calamities, will have been completed, by means of that final preaching of the Gospel…the elect of God shall be gathered from the four winds of heaven to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and the final judgments shall be let loose against those nations which have named the name of Christ, but have not departed from iniquity… A question will here naturally suggest itself to the mind of the reader. What is to become of the righteous in the awful period described in the foregoing prophecies? Now, the answer to this inquiry has been given, in considering the seventh chapter of the Apocalypse…This tribulation is manifestly that of the closing period of the earthquake and vials; and we are thus assured, that the righteous are to be preserved during the final display of divine wrath…a call is given to the righteous to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb…These considerations ought surely to awaken the Christian to pray more earnestly for his country, and to quicken his diligence, that he may individually be accounted worthy to ESCAPE the approaching wrath, and to stand before the Son of Man…Our Lord Himself has emphatically assured us, ‘behold I come as a thief…’ from these words we may certainly conclude, that He will come at a time, when few even of his own people expect it…No human power or wisdom can avert the terrific events which are approaching. But if, through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we wash our robes, and make them white in the Blood of the Lamb, then we shall individually be numbered with that great multitude, who shall come out of the great tribulation…”
(“A Dissertation on the Seals and Trumpets of the Apocalypse,” 1817, pp.273-275, 290, 334, 340, 347, 354)
Before reading the next excerpt from Cuninghame, it might be helpful to read over these words in 1813 one more time! All of the elements of the two-stage coming and pre-trib rapture are beginning to come to fruition in 1813-1817 (years before the Irvingite manifestations or McDonald).
In the following years, Cuninghame built upon his own views and developed a clear two-stage coming of the Lord. Cuninghame would quote Joseph Mede and some early Jewish writings as earlier sources of the Bible’s pre-trib rapture teaching. He would also become more clear about what happens to the ready saints during the time of trouble. They would be “translated”!:
“There is a double gathering of his saints unto our Lord, during his abode in the air; first of the 144,000 sealed ones, and secondly, the white-robed palm-bearers (Rev.vii.9-17). The former is at the first moment of the Advent, and the last at a later period…There are two events selected by our Lord himself, as the special types of His Advent, and the state of the world in that day…it is manifest that the Coming of the Lord is to find the world in a state of peace…the ten virgins…are all…found slumbering and sleeping…as soon as the Lord comes and takes to himself the Wise Virgins, the torrent of calamity which is to destroy the prophetic earth shall immediately thereafter break forth…But I remark that there is another class of passages, which no less certainly indicates that his coming shall be in a season of shaking and alarm and fear…” (1836 -perhaps a later edition)
From The Kingdom Alert, #117 (6-9-01)
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Pastor Joey Faust
Kingdom Baptist Church
700 Cordes Dr., Venus, Texas, 76084