THE PARTIAL-RAPTURE THEORY
fourth chapter of II Timothy is a favorite portion of the Word of God with any
minister of the Gospel who takes seriously his high calling. Those who would lead men into a knowledge of
the Lord are solemnly charged to “preach the word,” the direct implication being
that they are to be occupied primarily with a positive declaration of the
Scriptures of God. However, when error
arises in the church, the minister must also stand ready to “reprove, rebuke,
exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
In order that the believers might “henceforth be no more children ...
carried about with every wind of doctrine.” (Eph. 4:14), he must speak the
truth in love, and when the need arises, “exhort and rebuke with all authority”(Titus
2:15). Only so doing will purity of
doctrine and order in the churches be maintained.
an important part of the presentation of truth consists of a rebuke and
correction of error, and since one line of interpretation is not fully established
until at least the principle tenets of opposing schemes have been refuted, it
is now necessary to turn from the more positive approach to an examination of
the three alternate theories concerning the time of the rapture. It is sincerely hoped that truth will
be spoken with love, remembering that all these with whom a difference
of opinion is found are brethren in Christ, not a few being faithful preachers
of the saving grace of God. When the
need arises to mention by name individuals with whom the author differs, it
must be remembered that this work is in no sense an attack upon their person. It is the doctrinal position, and not
the personality, that is in view.
The sincerity of these men is not disputed, but when their views permeate
the Church and rend the unity of the body of Christ, it is high time to take a
stand for the truth which includes the vigorous denunciation of error.
consideration in this chapter is the view that only zealous Christians,
faithful to the Lord and watching for His return, will be caught up before the
Tribulation. Weaker brethren, who are
not actively waiting for Christ, or who, because of the manner of their
lives, are not counted as overcomers, will be forced to go through part
or all of its purifying fires. This “partial-rapture”
theory attempts to distinguish between devout Christians and worldly Christians
who neither are ready nor are anticipating the call of the Bridegroom. Adherents include G. H. Pember, J. A. Seiss,
D. M. Panton, and many other great and good men. They contend that all believers “go home on the same train,” but
no “all on the first section.” Some,
like Bengel, hold that there will be a series of raptures, believers being
caught up as they become ready.
Illustrative of the partial rapture view in general are the words of
Are you, reader, among the lukewarm whom the
Lord will spew out of His mouth to pass through the tribulation, or the loyal
who are faithfully performing the tasks and utilizing the privileges of grace,
thus showing yourself “worthy to escape it?” ... The great tribulation is the chastening fires, over which the
Lord sits as the refiner of silver, watching, guarding these imperfect, unfit,
unworthy but loved ones, until the dross has been purged and they are ready to
reign with Him and to “offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Mal.
a view has been adopted by a small minority of the Church on the basis of
verses which seem to condition rapture on “readiness.” I John 2:28 states that some will be ashamed
before Christ at His coming. Hebrews
9:28 seems to imply that Christ will appear only to those who “look for
him.” Philippians 3:11 and I
Corinthians 9:27 seem to imply that Paul wondered at his own status at the time
of the resurrection. Luke 21:36, taken
by itself, seems to imply that only the worthy will escape the Tribulation. Do these verses justify belief in a partial
rapture? There are some major
objections to such a conclusion.
partial rapture theory conditions the privilege of rapture upon human works,
and as such is a co-mingling of legalism with grace. It must never be forgotten that salvation
stems from the death of Christ, the merits of which are applied to the sinner
by God’s grace and not in answer to human works or supposed worthiness (Eph.
2:8, 9). Moreover, the Christian is to
live under the same grace principle:
“Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but
under grace” (Rom. 6:14). The grace of
God not only “bringeth salvation,” but also teaches us to “live soberly,
righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:11, 12). Grace, not fear of the Tribulation, is the motive
and the power for right conduct. Paul
writes the Galatians: “Are ye so
foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”
the entire life in grace is the fact that the Christian possesses no merit in
himself, nothing at all which might possibly fit him for the presence of
God. Nor is such merit necessary, for
the work of Christ on Calvary is a finished redemption (John 17:4; 19:30),
sufficient to make even His enemies a new creation, unblamable in His sight (II
Cor. 5:17; Col. 1:20-22). Even the present
continuation of salvation depends, not on us, but on His resurrection life
(Rom. 5:10), while its consummation likewise rests upon Christ’s work rather
than upon man’s faithfulness (Phil. 3:20, 21).
The salvation spoken of in I Thessalonians 5:9, 10 is a future
deliverance, referring to the believer’s change and translation at the Lord’s
human responsibility to the grace principle in any aspect of salvation borders
dangerously upon the Galatian heresy of attempting to live under law, while in
reality, having entered into life by grace alone.
The last chapter of the story of salvation is
to be written by the pen of unmerited grace, as truly as the first. When Jesus comes to save us out of this
world, and to save our bodies from their present condition, it will not be
because of His grace and our merit; nor, the grace of God and our faithfulness;
nor the grace of God and our watchfulness.
It is pure, unmixed grace that brought salvation in the past (Titus
2:11), and it is the same unmixed, unmerited grace that will bring salvation in
the future (I Peter 1:5, 13).
M. Panton himself conditioned readiness for the coming of Christ upon
“spiritual maturity,” by comparing believers to wheat, ripening gradually for
Earth-removal depends, for the servant of God,
on spiritual maturity, as exactly and as inevitably as harvesting is dated, not
by the farmer, but by the grain....
Wheat which never ripens would be a blasted field; for the Church of God
cannot be a blighted crop; sooner or later, all mature, all are reaped, all are
gathered into the Heavenly Garner.
But if translation depends
upon spiritual maturity, on readiness, or upon “watching,” it then becomes
necessary to ask: Just how ready
must the believer be? What degree of
spiritual maturity will God require?
What degree of perfection must the believer attain before he is assured
a place in the rapture? Must his watching
be an eager expectancy or merely a general attitude of heart? Needless to say, these questions are not
answered by the proponents of this theory.
In fact, one is made to wonder who shall enter heaven at all when Christ
comes for His own, for, on the basis of Philippians 3, Pember writes that Paul,
“devoted as he was to his Master ... had as yet no absolute certainty of attaining
to the First Resurrection.”
His aim was to be numbered with those blessed
and holy ones who shall have part in the First Resurrection (Rev. xx.6). But we must note, that he had, at the time,
no certain assurance that he would compass the desire of his heart.... Just before his death, however, it was
graciously revealed to him that he was one of the approved.... But, at the time when he was writing to the
Philippians, he could not speak with such confidence.
spiritual maturity be the condition of translation at the rapture of the
saints, and if the Apostle Paul himself had “no certain assurance” of attaining
to the first resurrection, who then will be worthy? All those who hold the partial rapture theory assume that they
are among the “ready,”
but if rapture is so conditioned upon personal merit, who else would dare make
such a claim? Is it not more desirable,
and far more Scriptural, to rest solely upon the grace and the goodness of God
for a place in the host of translated saints, rather than on the doubtful merit
of human faithfulness?
relates the following experience:
Some years since, I was talking with our
beloved and esteemed brother, Dr. Neatby, about the subject before us, and I
asked him, “Doctor, do you expect to be saved from the great tribulation on the
ground of your personal holiness, moral fitness, or watchfulness?” He replied in his characteristic way, “I am
quite sure that if I am saved from the great tribulation by virtue of any personal
fitness, I shall go through it.”
Yes, and so says every one who knows anything of his own unworthiness,
and his own unfitness as seen in the light of the holiness of God. Grace, grace, grace, and grace alone
must be the basis of our being in the
glory with Christ.
is commendable that the adherents of the partial-rapture theory do stress holy
living, and it is most certainly true that the expectation of Christ’s return
is a purifying hope (I John 3:3), but this in no wise warrants mingling human
works with divine grace as the grounds of resurrection privilege. None were more carnal than the Corinthian
Christians, but they were, none-the-less, part of the temple of God (I Cor.
3:16; 6:19). To them, Paul wrote of the
coming of Christ: “We shall not all
sleep, but we shall all be changed” (I Cor. 15:51). Had the words of the Gospel song been
written in their day, the Corinthian believers would surely have joined in
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
grace hath bro’t me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
partial-rapture theory confuses the Biblical doctrine of rewards. Hubbard declares “that to escape the great
tribulation and be able to stand before the Son of Man, are not unconditioned
gifts of love or grace, but rewards and privileges for those who are accounted
worthy of them.” A contributor to The Dawn magazine
writes: “We believe that the frequent
exhortations in the Scriptures to watch, to be faithful, to be ready for
Christ’s coming, to live Spirit-filled lives, all suggest that translation is a
one will deny that the Bible promises a reward to him who runs well the
Christian race (I Cor. 9:24, 25) and adorns the walls of his life with gold,
silver, and precious stones (I Cor. 3:11-15).
When one is saved, the Lord asks that person to live for Him, and it is
typical of His grace that He should reward him for doing what normally should
be expected in a redeemed life. But it
must be emphatically denied that the privilege of translation is in itself a
reward for godly living. According to
II Corinthians 5:10, the time of reward is not at the translation of the
saints, but when they stand before what is generally knows as the Bema Seat of
Christ. “For we must all appear before
the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his
body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” In that day, the believer’s works must stand
the test of fire (I Cor. 3:13), not the test of translation. It is highly significant, also, that among
the rewards which are promised believers there are five crowns: the crown of life (Rev. 2:10; James
1:12), the crown of rejoicing (I Thess. 2:19; Phil. 4:1), the incorruptible
crown (I Cor. 9:25), the crown of glory (I Peter 5:4), and the crown
of righteousness (II Tim. 4:8).
Paul wrote concerning this last crown:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of
righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day:
and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
crowns designated for those who have
served well and suffered much for Christ, but the crown of righteousness is especially
designated as the reward for those who have loved His appearing. Partial-rapturists are entirely right in
anticipating rewards for the virtues the enumerate, but in the clear light of
Scripture they are entirely wrong in saying that the privilege of translation
is itself that reward. God has
designated how and when He will reward His saints, and it seems advisable not
to tamper with that program.
partial rapture implies a partial resurrection. In considering the merits of the
partial-rapture viewpoint, some attention must be given to the many generations
of Christians whose bodies sleep in death.
According to the Bible, at the rapture the dead in Christ rise first;
living believers are then translated and together they meet the Lord in the
air. (I Thess. 4:16, 17). But, if the rapture experience is selective
for those who live, it would seem that justice and equity must demand that the
resurrection of believers from the dead be selective also. Not all of these were, in life, counted
among the overcomers, nor did they all cultivate the upward look. If the lives of the living are to be
surveyed to determine who shall be purged by fiery Tribulation and who shall enter
with joy into the presence of the Lord, then there must be among the dead some
selection made to determine who shall merit prior resurrection.
however, is not the case, for Paul writes plainly that “we shall all be
changed,” when “the dead shall be raised incorruptible” (I Cor. 15:51,
52). All those which “sleep in
Jesus” will God bring with Him (I Thess. 4:14). The only qualification for these who are to rise first is that
they be “in Christ” (I Thess. 4:16).
Since, then, it is futile to argue that only a choice group from among
the Christian dead will be in the rapture, is it any the less futile to argue
that the contrasting group of living believers who will be caught up will be a
small, select company chosen on the basis of their works? God does not deal capriciously with His
people. The only designation for either
group is that they be “in Christ.”
are other problems involved. As it has
been seen, the partial-rapture theory teaches that many of God’s people must
pass through the fires of the Great Tribulation to purge their dross and make
them fit for the presence of Christ.
This is exactly the same, in principle, as the Roman doctrine of
purgatory, except that this “protestant purgatory” would be on earth, and
before death. Allis comments on this
The doctrine of a partial rapture practically
necessitates the acceptance of the Romish doctrine of purgatory. For it must be admitted that many Christians
have died, to all appearances, in the imperfect state which we are told will
characterize those who at the rapture are left on earth to be purified by the
great tribulation. So, unless it is to
be held that in the very article of death they have or will have endured purifying
or chastening sufferings equivalent to those which will be endured by those who
are left behind at the time of the rapture, the argument that these latter need
to pass through the tribulation falls to the ground, unless the doctrine of
purgatory is accepted. There is no
warrant for such teachings. The dying
thief was in all probability a very imperfect and a very ignorant
believer. But the Lord said to him,
“Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
“watching” is said to be one of the main requirements for early rapture, what
then of the many Christians who have never been taught to look for Christ’s
appearing? As Waugh remarks:
There have been long periods when the Maranatha
watchword was scarcely ever mentioned in the churches. There are multitudes of Christians in the
world today who have never been taught on the subject, and who know next to
nothing about it. Others have only
heard it ridiculed or caricatured by ignorance, and the idea of this being the
true hope of the Church has never once occurred to them. Will their loving Lord punish their
ignorance, and any unwatchful or worldly spirit to which it may lead, in such a
special manner as this? Is this
the only inconsistency that will exclude Christians from the blessedness
of the Rapture, and expose them to the awful perils of “the great tribulation”
that will follow it? I have not so
learned Christ or His word.
partial-rapture theory is contrary to I Thessalonians 4:13-18, the primary
passage on the rapture of the Church, in a number of particulars. Paul does not say that those who are to be
caught up will be “we who are watching,” or “we who are overcomers,” but “we
which are alive and remain” – clearly designating the whole body of living believers. So also, it is not the “dead who watched”
that arise first, but the entire body of “dead in Christ,” Nor do the living saints, even those of
“spiritual maturity,” have any precedence over the dead in Christ. Even more important, this is a message of
encouragement and comfort (v. 18), whereas, if the majority of the Church were
in dread danger of entering the Tribulation, the apostle might better have
written, “Wherefore warn one another with these words.” Indeed, rather than being a message of
comfort, the news of Christ’s return would be to the majority of the Church a
message of alarm. Far better to
be dead at His coming and enter immediately into the presence of the Lord,
unless it be admitted that the resurrection of the dead is partial also. But such a view, as it has been seen, cannot
partial rapture discredits the vital Pauline doctrine of the unity of the body
of Christ. Since the
Scriptures are so explicit at this point (Eph. 2:14-3:6; 4:1-6, 12-16; Col.
3:11, 15, etc.), here is an objection of no mean proportions. Yet it is true that if only certain believers
are caught up, while some go through part of the Tribulation and others are not
raised until the end, or even until the Great White Throne, the important truth
of the body of Christ as an organic unity is set aside. It is said that Pember was forced by the
very logic of his position to claim that the body of Christ was not the whole
Church at all, but just those who were surrendered to God.
Scriptures set forth the vital relationships which the true Church sustains to
the Lord Jesus Christ in seven metaphors, or comparisons, which illustrate the
dependence of believers upon their Saviour and their vital union with Him.
Christ is the Shepherd, and we are the sheep of His
pasture (John 10:1-18).
Christ is the Vine; we are the branches, joined to
the vine and expected to bear fruit (John 15:1-8).
We are stones in the building of God, of which Christ
is the Chief Cornerstone (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:19-22; I Pet. 2:5; Heb. 3:6).
Christ is our High Priest, and we are a kingdom of
priests engaged in the services of sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), worship (Heb. 13:15),
and intercession (I Tim. 2:1; Heb. 10:19-22; I Pet. 2:5-9).
Christ is the Last Adam, and we are the new creation
(I Cor. 15:22, 45; II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10, 15).
Christ is the Bridegroom, and we are His bride (Rom.
7:4; II Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-33; Rev. 19:7, 8).
Christ is the Head, and we are the members of the
“body of Christ” (I Cor. 12:13; 12:27; Eph. 5:30; Col. 1:18).
relationships (it hardly needs to be added) are true of every believer in
Christ, and are theirs, not by virtue of good works, but solely because of the
infinite goodness and the sovereign grace of God. Any theory which discredits one or more of these relationships
finds itself in the position of disputing the Word of God.
to John 14:1-3, Christ has gone to prepare a place for us, for it is His will
that “where I am, there ye may be also.”
When these words were first spoken, Christ had just finished rebuking
Peter, foretelling his defection (John 13:36-38), yet there was no hint given
that Peter might be excluded from the rapture privilege. According to I Corinthians 12:12, 13, all
Christians are members of one body through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. According to Ephesians 5:25-27, Christ shall
present to Himself a glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle or blemish. He sanctifies and cleanses it by the washing
of the water of the Word, not by fiery trial and Tribulation. From Ephesians 2:4-7, it is seen that,
positionally, the Church is already sitting together in heavenly places in
Christ Jesus with a standing before God as perfect as though its members had
never sinned. These key verses all indicate
that there will be no rending of the body of Christ when He comes for His
own. Revelation 19:7-9 and 21:9 reveal
the bride of Christ, the Lamb’s wife, arrayed in the fine linen of God’s
righteousness, joined to Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
partial rapture can hardly be made to fit the joy and the dignity of that glad
day, but comes perilously close to offering to the Lord Jesus Christ a
dismembered body and a partial bride.
Surely the bride of Christ, born of the Spirit, washed in precious
blood, made perfect by His righteousness, and espoused to Christ as a pure
virgin, needs not to be plunged into earth’s worst hour as the preliminary of
her wedding feast and hour of greatest glory!
None, in themselves, are worthy of salvation, or rapture, or a place in
the body and bride of Christ, but in Him, all who believe have been made
worthy. Even as we are caught up, “we
shall all be changed,” all earthly dross being purged away as we behold His
face in righteousness. Weak and sinful in
this life, but in the ages to come, put on display before all the universe as a
trophy of “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through
Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:7).
accommodate Scriptures to suit their theory. Although the sincerity of their Scripture
interpretations is not questioned, many of the verses appealed to must be unnaturally
forced before they can be made to support their viewpoint.
24:42 gives the command: “Watch
therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” Similar is the exhortation of Luke
21:36: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always,
that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to
pass.” Comparable is the parable of
Mark 13:34-37. But the primary reference
in these passages is not to the Church at all, but to Israel in the Tribulation
(Matt. 24:29-30). Christian
watchfulness is based on verses such as I Thessalonians 5:6 and Titus 2:13, and
these say nothing about being accounted worthy to escape.
Corinthians 15:23 – “Every man in his own order” – has been used to bolster
their position. However, although τάγμα,
“order,” means a band, as of soldiers, and implies that there will be a
certain “order of succession”
in the resurrection of all the righteous dead since Adam, there is no hint here
that the Church will form more than one of those “bands.” The resurrection of the Church will be one
of the successive stages which make up the total resurrection of the righteous
(see pp. 240-241). The resurrection of
Christ secures that of His people, even as the “firstfruits” are the guarantee
of the completed harvest, but this does not intimate that the Church herself
will be divided.
9:28: “. . . unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time
without sin unto salvation,” has also been made to condition rapture upon
“looking for Christ.” The writer is
speaking of three appearings of Christ on behalf of the saints. In this instance, instead of using the term
“believer,” or “church,” he utilizes a descriptive phrase for the whole body of
Christ which reflects the normal, natural attitude of God’s people, distinguishing
them from those who have not appropriate the benefits of the first coming. There is no thought here of a second group of
believers, those who “do not look for Him.”
It is true that many will be ashamed at His coming (I John 2:28) and
will lose the crown of righteousness, but being “ashamed” does not mean that
they will be left behind when the others are caught up. Likewise, no one is bidden, in Philippians
3:20, to look for the Saviour. It is
said that Christians do look, for such an attitude is the normal sequel
to conversion, in spite of the fact that many do not attain unto it.
3:11: “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead,” has
been made to imply that even Paul expressed some doubts as to his right to a
place in the rapture. The answer to
this proposal lies in the context. Paul
has been reviewing his past life as Saul, the enemy of the early church and
persecutor of Jesus Christ. Now he
states his highest spiritual aspirations as the servant of Christ, but in words
which reflect true humility in the light of his former unworthiness, and also
the urgent need of self-watchfulness lest he stumble and be disapproved (I Cor.
9:27). Again, it needs to be asked, “If
Paul was not sure of his place in the resurrection, who then can be?” Yet Pember writes of this heavenly calling:
Paul unmistakably affirms that these high
privileges are a prize and not a gift, and are accessible only by the gate of
the First Resurrection – a gate through which, after all his sacrifices and labours
and sufferings for Christ, he was not yet absolutely sure that he would be permitted
some may sincerely believe that the rapture will be selective, and that the
Great Tribulation is to be “the purifying, fitting fires for those who, though
believing in Christ, remain carnal and babes,”
the vast majority of God’s people will see clearly that when the body of Christ
is finally complete, then Christ will come for His own. That coming will unite the body with its resurrected
Head, and will be a time of union rather than a time of rending within the
body. They will remember the words: “He
that hath this hope in him purified himself, even as he is pure” (I John
3:3) and will not permit the words to be distorted to read: “He that
remembereth this threat.” In
spite of their many imperfections and their utter failure to love His appearing
as they should, they will retain their confidence that the blessed hope is their
hope. With joy, and without fear,
they will join in the expectation of Denham Smith, who wrote:
And this I shall
find, for such is His mind,
He’ll not be in glory and leave me behind.