Does the Bible really say the Church will be taken to heaven before Armageddon; surely this was a recent invention of J.N. Darby?
Content
The rapture of the Church pre-tribulation

Response

Hold on! We need to deconstruct this question as it makes some assertions in amongst a couple of questions. The assertions I see are:

  1. J.N. Darby created the doctrine of the rapture of the church (the technical term for the church being taken to heaven), and he created the doctrine of pre-tribulation removal of the church.
  2. There is some doubt in the questioner’s mind as to whether or not the Church will go through the seven year period of tribulation, coming shortly, which ends with the Battle of Armageddon

The questions are:

  1. Is the Church taken to Heaven?
  2. When does this occur?
  3. One could also answer whether Darby found these answers.

A supplementary question

  1. What is the purpose of the tribulation – referred to as Armageddon in this question – and is the Church part of this.

Interpretation of the question

The question asks whether current believers in Jesus Christ (the Church) are taken to heaven prior to the Battle of Armageddon, which occurs in the seven year period prophesied by Daniel, and other Old Testament prophets, and whose timetable is spelt out in the Book of Revelation. The question asserts this interpretation is not true because it was ‘invented’ by J.N. Darby a Christian who was born in 1800.

Short answer

J.N. Darby did not ‘invent’ or ‘create’ any new doctrine in relation to the transfer of believers from the earth to heaven prior to the End Days of this world, called the Days of Tribulation. The early believers wrote about this nearly 1700 years before Darby! Darby resurrected this doctrine, lost by the reformers and forgotten by the Church who were more concerned with form than substance. The 1800’s ushered in a period of frank re-examination of the Scriptures, and these lost doctrines, lost due to the introduction of allegorisation of Scripture (see below) by Augustine and embedded in law by Constantine and others in A.D. 313. This method of  interpretation lingers today and is the basis of much apostasy in the modern church.

The events to come are:

Believers those that that make up the Church, who are saved by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ - will be taken to heaven by Jesus Christ himself – immediately after the resurrection of Christians that have died (i.e. the dead rise first, followed by those living Christians). This is called the rapture.

Sometime later, and perhaps within months or years, a seven reign of terror will fill the earth with two notable events: 1) believing Jews will evangelise the world and many millions will come to the saving knowledge of Christ – they will be severely persecuted, 2) the period will be dominated by an imposture of the Messiah, called the Antichrist, who inflicts wrath on all peoples, ending in a war against Israel, at which point God physically takes control and defeats the world, leaving the remnant of believing Israel to usher in the Millennial Kingdom of 1000 years (the Messianic Reign or Millennial Reign).

What the early believers believed

The early believers knew the Bible was to be read literally (see The Five Solas of Christianity) so that the times and places must be read as given, unless the context said otherwise. Thus the events of Revelation occur in the order they are given and in the exact time as indicated – down to the day). That is, the early church used a literal historical interpretation of the Bible, which included understanding the world was created in six days, and would end over a period of seven years.

The understanding that believers in the Church would be resurrected in bodily form was known in the first century, and that following this, the Messianic Kingdom would be established for a thousand years (e.g. Justin Martyr A.D. 80). That a Messianic Kingdom would be established was known millennia before Christ came by the Jews, and indeed, was what the Jews were hoping Jesus would usher in (e.g. Luke 7:19). Today some Jews still wait for the Messiah to come and return Israel to its former glory – but the Jews need to believe in Yeshua first. Various texts from the first century clearly articulate that there would be a resurrection of believers before the judgement and establishment of the Messianic Kingdom. References quote Barnabas, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Lactantius, Methodius, Papiasa and Tertullian as writing about the visible resurrection of the Church and the coming thousand year reign. They also believed that God created the earth in six days etc., showing their literal interpretation of scripture.

Why is this doctrine not spoken of in the Middle (Dark) Ages?

As the early apostles predicted, wicked and evil men entered the church and destroyed the truth being taught. Most notably the grace of God was made of no-effect initially by stating that the Bible was a series of allegories, which could only be interpreted by those with special knowledge (read: those in power), and later to ensure no-one could check against Scripture what was being taught, the Bible was only made available in a foreign language (Latin, which the common person did not learn). Indeed it became a capital offence to own and read the Bible during periods of the Dark Ages – which was the age of illiteracy.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Acts 20:29-30

The truth was rendered impotent by the church of the day – the Roman Catholic Church – who usurped Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible by giving herself the power to forgive sins (only God can forgive), and to make laws, rules and dogmas that originated from the Church and not God (We are under grace not the law). This enabled a rich, ruling class to develop with absolute power even unto salvation, whose ideology was underpinned by superstition and fear for nearly 1400 years.

[T]hus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do. Mark 7:13

It was not until Luther and others read the Holy Scriptures was the evil promulgated by the Catholic Church revealed. However, even these reformers were trapped by the ideology of the Catholic Church, and in particular the allegorisation of prophecy, and therefore did not reform the lies promulgated concerning the coming judgement of all who reject Christ. Other evil doctrines were also not reformed such as celibacy of the priesthood which contributes to the sexual abuse seen today in churches.

What’s wrong with allegorisation[1]

  1. Allegorisation takes the true meaning of the Canon and turns it into the imagination of a human, rending false doctrine.
  2. The text is not being interpreted at all. Indeed the simple and common meaning of the words and displaced entirely by the imagination of the interpreter.
  3. The interpreter becomes the authority, rather than the Cannon (Bible) – indeed the interpreter become supreme, for no-one else knows how to interpret the words other than the interpreter, and there is no method to convey how this is done.
  4. Since the interpreter does not work by a set of testable rules (as exegesis does), but rather it uses mysticism, often of other heathen religions, nothing the interpreter says can be tested.
  5. Further, since the common meaning of the words are circumvented, the output is governed solely by the imagination of the interpreter.

The evil behind this is self-evident, but also warned about in the Bible. Paul speaking to the Colossian Church states:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8

What about John Nelson Darby

J.N. Darby who was a lawyer and Anglican clergyman observed the apostasy in the church which had replaced Scripture for Dogma and fallen into utter desolation – with no guidance from the Holy Spirit who was unheard and un-valued. He did not accept the Augustine method of interpretation and thus relied upon Scripture alone – resurrecting what the earlier church had found. Thus, he promulgated the truth that the church would be taken to heaven before the tribulation which precedes a 1000 year Millennial Reign by the Messiah a teaching of the first century.

The illogical notion of the Church in the Tribulation

One can ponder the logic of espousing that the Church will enter the Tribulation. That the tribulation will take place is un-deniable. All news-broadcasts these days point to the coming end of this age – along with the formation of Israel, and Jerusalem being a cup of trembling[2]. The modern church however fails to understand that the seven years of tribulation, described in Revelation and Old Testament prophecy, is a judgement, exercised by God on those that have rejected him – first the Jews (of whom a remnant will return to Christ and evangelise the world; Romans 9-12, Revelation 7 etc.) and secondly of the nations who did not accept Christ.[3]

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14

What is illogical, is a believer, saved by the grace of God, and whose sins have been propitiated by the blood of Christ, being punished for that sin again – for God cannot see it (since it has been propitiated!) For this is what would happen if church believers entered the Tribulation. If a believer needs further punishment, it means that the blood of Christ is not efficacious, and logically it means no believer knows he or she is saved. This is false doctrine and an evil that has been promulgated in our churches. John writes that: He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Christ’s blood is either the propitiation or it is not – it cannot be half one thing and half another. The Scripture is adamant, and the Holy Spirit testifies of the efficacy of the Christ’s blood – we are saved unto the uttermost – meaning we are indeed saved and have no need to be punished, because God cannot see our sins which have been done away with!

Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

Furthermore, sin has been put away – it does not need to be judged again; only the evil one needs to be judged.

He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Hebrews 9:26

Furthermore, the Church is told it will not be punished – we have been kept from this trial:

Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Revelation 3:10

Where does the Bible speak about the Church being taken to heaven?

Paul writes to the Church at Thessalonica because it was ravished by false teachers, teaching in error about the second coming of Christ, thus it is a very useful book to understand about when Christ will return. Believers will be taken to heaven (in Latin this is called the ‘rapture’, and in Greek harpazo, meaning “to be caught up”), at the end of the Church age and before the Tribulation. Note that we do not use the teaching of Jesus from Matthew to find this – Matthew concerns the Jews and much is about the coming Messianic Kingdom, and not the Church. One of course could use the teaching of Jesus from John 14:1-4, but better still, teaching by Paul to those that needed to clearly understand the events to come:

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

That Believers are to be taken to heaven in bodily form is also found in Scripture:

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. Philippians 3:20-21

Summary

The Church will be taken to heaven before the Battle of Armageddon, and indeed before the commencement of the Tribulation – a doctrine understood nearly two millennia before J.N Darby, who promulgate this view after it had been obliterated by evil that wrought abject havoc in the Church through, in part, the allegorisation of Scripture along with dispensing with the authority of Christ and the Canon of Scripture. Darby simply went back to Scripture and read it!

Some of this answer has been given in very short form, for example, evidence from Scripture of the rapture – authors such as Arnold Fruchtenbaum provide an excellent detailed response to the question.[4]

 

 

[1] This was lifted from a Sermon of Andy Wood (Sugarland Bible Church) – Protestant Reformation Series 01 (2017) which quotes from Things to Come: A Study of Biblical Eschatology by J Dwight Pentecost. pp 4-5) see http://slbc.org/media/sermon-archives/ (Accessed 6 August 2017)

[2] Zechariah 12:2

[3] One purpose of the Tribulation is to evangelise the world – God in his grace provides a means – the repentant Jews will go out, under heavy persecution, and bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. The other purpose of the Tribulation is to punish Israel, or rather, bring them back to Jehovah by breaking their will and bringing national regeneration:

"As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord GOD. I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD. Ezekiel 20:33-38

[4] For example; Arnold Fruchtenbaum (1983, 2005) The Rapture of the Church, Ariel Ministries < http://www.arielm.org/dcs/pdf/mbs039m.pdf > else < http://www.arielm.org > (Accessed 6 August 2017)

David L Simon (Aug 2017)
\Questions\Is the Church taken to heaven before the Tribulation?