A review of Charles Ryrie “Why I am a Pretribulation Rapturist” from Isael My Glory. Part 1: Is this really what the posttribulation rapture position believes?

The January/February issue of Israel My Glory includes an article by noted theologian Charles Ryrie entitled “Why I am a Pretribulation Rapturist.”  I cut my teeth on a Ryrie study Bible: it is what accompanied me through Bible college. At said college, his Basic Theology was the text for theology classes. I profit from his sober and careful commentary on Revelation whenever I consult it. So what follows is not the result of any personal animosities or prejudices, but merely comes from a desire of furthering understanding of Scripture.

To begin his article Ryrie offers brief definitions of the various rapture positions. For the posttribulation rapture position Ryrie writes, “Posttrib has the church living through the entire Tribulation and enduring many of God’s judgments.” Ryrie is a capable and responsible theologian; and contributing to Israel My Glory certainly does not require the same amount of rigor as contributing to a theological journal does; but such a definition of the posttribulation rapture position is neither fair nor accurate. One might just as well state that a pretribulation rapturist believes Christians will never face any troubles in life. Neither this hypothetical definition of the pretrib position, nor Ryrie’s proposed definition of the posttrib position represents the truth.[1]

Whether intentional or not, Ryrie’s definition poisons the well and erects a straw man that is easily thrashed. What Christian wants to believe that he will experience any, let alone “many,” of God’s judgments? The Scripture clearly and repeatedly relieves believers of such worries. The promise of being kept from God’s wrath is one that all believers should hold (John 5:24; Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10). When the posttribulation position is defined in such terms, it is not too difficult to assert a lack of Scriptural support.

Toward the conclusion of the article, Ryrie offers more precise language: “Posttrib rapturists think they’re going to live through the Tribulation. They say the phrase I will keep you means God will protect the Christians as He protected Israel in Egypt.”

This is a much more accurate picture of the posttrib rapture position. While the experience of the Israelites in Egypt is probably the best illustration, it is certainly not the only illustration of the kind of existence and protection envisioned by those who believe the rapture will follow the Tribulation. Mention could also be made of Noah who was saved through the flood, not from it; of Job who was not saved through disaster and illness, not saved from it; of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were saved through the fire, not from it; of Daniel who was saved through the lion’s den, not from it; and preeminently of Christ who was saved through the crucifixion, not from it. One might say that these are special examples of God’s providence that are not meant to exemplify God’s normal dealings with his people. But we would do well to remember the promise of Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Is it stretching the data of Scripture and history to assert that God does not keep his children from trouble but keeps them through it?

Ryrie seeks to gain more ground in this area by stating, “There will be earthquakes, tsunamis, and water turning to blood. People in the Tribulation will turn on a faucet and get blood. If they can find water, it will be bitter. It seems highly unlikely that an earthquake or other disaster that affects millions will not touch Joe and Sarah Christian who live in the same area as everyone else.”

First of all, on a very practical level, such deliverance is not necessarily as far-fetched as Ryrie makes it out to be. We know that Antichrist will make war with the saints and that they will have no way to buy and sell in the open market. What is likely to happen in such a situation? More than likely some form of ghetto-ization. While it might seem counter-intuitive for believers to gather together thereby making them an easier target, Revelation 12:6 seems to present just such an occurrence. Ryrie mentions that during the plagues the Israelites lived in Goshen which made it more possible for corporate protection. Why would saints during the Tribulation not seek the increased safety and provision of communal or corporate life? Ryrie simply assumes that “Joe and Sarah Christian” will be living with everyone else. I do not see that as necessarily, or even as likely, true.

Second, is there not a difference between suffering from affects of judgments and suffering the judgments themselves? For thousands of years believers have suffered and died because of God’s judgment on sin. For thousands of years believers have lived and died because of God’s judgment on sin even as they are promised that their sins have been fully judged in Christ and that death no longer has dominion over them.

Third, Ryrie wants to paint a picture of complete global chaos and indeed in many ways it will be. But careful attention to the details of Revelation reveals a constant refrain in the series of judgments: they are targeted on Antichrist and his followers:

  • Rev 9:4  [The locusts] were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
  • Rev 16:2  So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
  • Revelation 16:5-6  And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!”
  • Rev 16:10-11  The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.[2]

As far as I know, no responsible posttribulation rapturist teaches that believers will suffer God’s judgment. By asserting the contrary Ryrie may score some points with the home team, but he does nothing to further meaningful dialogue between those who teach a different rapture position.

Pretribulationists and posttribulationists alike agree that there will be believers, or saints, of some sort on earth during the tribulation.[3] Let us lay aside whether they are “the Church” or “Tribulation saints.” Ryrie’s position does nothing to answer how those people experience the protective provision of God. The pretribulation rapture position teaches that the church will not be on earth during the Tribulation because the church is promised deliverance from God’s wrath. Yet it also must teach that there are believers of some sort on the earth during the Tribulation and that those believers will in some way endure God’s wrath.

Ryrie rightly teaches that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Whoever the saints are on earth during the tribulation one thing is clear: they must be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. This causes at least two problems for the pretrib position. First, if so called “Tribulation saints” who believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation experience God’s protective provision during the Tribulation, why couldn’t the same grace be given to any and every saint? Second, how can someone who trusts in Jesus Christ for his salvation not be considered a member of Christ’s body, the church?

[1] As I look at the article in the magazine, the five definitions are offered apart from the main text of the article within a text box inside of a full page picture. I suppose it is possible that Charles Ryrie is not even responsible for the definitions, but that they were included by the editors of the magazine. In the end, however, my dispute is with the statement more than with who said it.

[2] To this list could be added the judgments that have the same result of this 5th bowl judgment: i.e. those who survive do not repent thus specifying that God’s enemies were the ones who experienced judgment (Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9).

[3] The following references from Revelation all indicate that there will be believers of some sort on earth during the Tribulation: Rev. 6:9-11; 7:2-3; 8:3-5; 9:4; 13:7, 10; 14:12-13; 16:5-6; 17:6; 18:24. More often than not, the word used for these people is “saints”: the standard New Testament word for believers in Jesus Christ.

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