Today John Piper posted a short audio question and answer on the subject of the rapture of the church on his ministry website, Desiring God. I first learned about his post when it came across my Facebook stream this morning. The responses were mixed. Some said it didn’t matter, as long as we make it to heaven–that’s pan-eschatology; it’ll all pan out somehow. Then there are those who were quick to dismiss the idea of a rapture with no proof or substance. Then there were those who were genuinely wondering about this important subject.
The confusion, mockery and indifference toward this question is troubling. Although I disagree with John Piper’s answer to the question, I am glad he brought it up.
In his short 13-minute audio clip, Dr. Piper shares his understanding of what a few passages teach on the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ and whether the Bible teaches that the Church will be removed before the future period of judgment that the Bible describes will come upon the whole earth. You can listen to it here and follow along with the transcription given.
I have great respect for John Piper and Desiring God, and I especially appreciate how he is very gracious in his treatment of the people who hold views that are different than his own. In this, I see true Christian humility in him.
With that said, I would disagree with him on his assessment of the pretribulational rapture and I would like to offer a few specific comments about his answer.
Although this is somewhat a minor point in this issue, it is still one worth mentioning. The listener’s question and the answer that John Piper gives are couched in such a way that Piper begins with the assumption that the rapture is an additional coming of Christ. This begins to formulate the idea that those who believe and teach this doctrine of a pretribulational rapture are said to believe in effect three comings of Christ—his incarnation, his coming to rapture the Church and his final return in judgment. Although there may be some who would describe the rapture as a separate return of Christ, many, if not most of those who subscribe to a pretribulational rapture would describe the return of Christ as being a singular event occurring in two stages. They would point to the fact that at the rapture as described in 1Thess 4:16-17, Christ does not fully descend to the earth, but partially descend to the earth and then the Church ascends and meets Jesus in the clouds, from where they return to heaven together.
This distinction is important because by stating the issue in terms of a second and third return of Christ strikes those considering the issue as being out of tune with what most Christians are familiar with—the Second Coming of Christ. By couching it in terms of “two comings of Christ in the future,” the issue is already slanted toward the view that this idea of a pretribulational rapture is unbiblical.
Additionally, the listener “Nick” who posed the question that John Piper answers describes the question of the rapture as a “huge debate,” and Nick is correct in this. And although Dr. Piper is gracious in his explanation and response to Nick, his answer does not address the depth of this issue with any seriousness at all. I would not expect that John Piper would spend much time answering this question in the format that he has on Desiring God’s blog, knowing that many books have been written on this subject. Neither would I expect that the arguments that John Piper gives would wrestle with the complexities surrounding the timing of the rapture.
But what I would expect is that the question would not be answered in such a way that a reader would be given the impression that the answer is easily arrived at with a cursory look at a few passages. This is evidenced in the way that Piper sets up his argument. He pits his teenage self against someone he describes as a “very reputable Old Testament scholar—a really scholarly Old Testament scholar” with the question of the rapture. Young John Piper gives the scholarly scholar one shot—give me your best verse! I thank the Lord that this is not the way that doctrine is decided!
However, Dr. Piper does not explain his post-tribulational view of the rapture with one text. To do so, he uses 1 Peter 4:12, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 8. He adds to these 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Matthew 25:6 and Acts 28:15 to bolster his argument. The problem here is that just as Piper uses multiple texts to uphold and defend his view of the rapture being at the end of the tribulation, he does not allow for those who hold to a pre-tribulation rapture to do the same. Instead, he sets up a straw-man argument—the scholarly Old Testament scholar gets one single text to prove his view—his best text! And then Piper dismisses it with these words, “God’s promise to keep us from the hour of trial probably doesn’t mean that we are taken out of the world, but rather that God will keep us from the faith-destroying effects of the hour of trial. He will guard us. He will protect our faith.” (Emphasis mine)
Dr. Piper doesn’t defend his understanding of this text exegetically, but theologically. I agree with him that God guards and protects us and guides us through time of trial, in general. But Scripture also removed some of God’s people from trials as well—such as men like Enoch and Elijah, who also were taken from this world without dying. The existence of these men being translated from the earth without dying doesn’t prove the rapture is pretribulational, but neither does John Piper’s dismissal of Revelation 3:10 as “probably” not meaning what he already has said he doesn’t believe.
The answer to the rapture’s timing is not as simple as John Piper’s answer makes it seem. I need to say this because all too often I have seen more and more people mock and vilify those who hold to a pretribulational or premillennial viewpoint with absolutely no proof or substance. John Piper has not been this way in his responses, as is evidenced by his respectful comments about his father and his childhood church which both held to the pretribulational rapture view.
But Dr. Piper might do his readers a great service to point them to those who can fairly represent both his view as well as the views he does not believe and allow the truth of the text to stand. A good place for someone to read a stronger representation of the pretribulational rapture view would be Richard L. Mayhue’s “Why a Pretribulational Rapture?” in The Master’s Seminary Journal. For a more scholarly response to John Piper’s post-tribulational view and the objections he makes to a pretribulational rapture, see Paul Feinberg’s article here.
When all the texts are considered and the Bible is examined, I still believe that the pretribulational rapture view is the most biblical. I know many will not agree. What I would like to see is not division and mean-spirited name-calling, but rather a humble desire to study the Word for ourselves and to graciously contend for our convictions with others in a spirit of grace and love. One day, we will know more fully those things which are not so clear right now. Until then, may we seek truth in love.