Will Christians be raptured prior to the Great Tribulation, as most believe? Or will Christians endure the Great Tribulation, looking for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? What is the “Blessed Hope” of the church today? Is it the escape of tribulation or is it the visible return of Jesus Christ to the earth to redeem His people and judge His enemies? George Eldon Ladd, in The Blessed Hope: A Biblical Study of the Second Advent and the Rapture, argues for the latter, attempting to debunk the theory that the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ are two distinct events separated by the seven year “Great Tribulation.”
George Eldon Ladd is widely considered one the most influential Bible scholars of the 20th century. After pastoring two Baptist churches early in his career, he eventually settled in as New Testament professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. Throughout his career he sought to engage the broader academic community with Biblical writing that liberal scholars would have to take seriously. He also sought to promote more unity within the conservative, evangelical world.
In Ladd’s day, much like our own, Dispensationalism was the predominant view of the church. In fact, some were so rabidly Dispensational, that they considered any other eschatological (end times) view to be heretical and dangerous. Ladd argues that such a stance is unnecessary and divisive. He gives a brief historical lesson in this book showing that many stalwart Christian defenders of the faith were NOT Dispensational in their theology. Ladd’ s view is that there should be plenty of room for various views, as long as the views are defended from Scripture. Ladd’s personal view is Historic Premillennialism, which is similar to Dispensationalism in that it espouses a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth. But it differs from Dispensationalism in that it see’s the rapture occurring at the same time as the Second Coming of Christ, at the END (rather than beginning) of the Great Tribulation.
Regardless of one’s end times viewpoint, it should be noted that Ladd makes a good case for a post-tribulation rapture both from a historical and a Biblical standpoint. Most of the early church fathers appear to have believed in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ (millennialism) and saw the 2nd coming and rapture as occurring at the same time. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian are some of the church fathers Ladd presents as holding to these views. Perhaps the most significant of these is Irenaeus who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John the Apostle. While it doesn’t guarantee the validity of the Historic Premillennial position, it is intriguing that a Christian who is one generation removed from John the writer of Revelation would hold these views. Furthermore, the apparent acceptance of other church fathers makes the case from history compelling. But, at the end of the day, it’s Scripture that must be the deciding factor in the case. And Ladd’s primary arguments are from Scripture.
Ladd points out that nowhere in Scripture does it explicitly teach that there will be a “pre-tribulational” rapture. First Thessalonians clearly teaches a “rapture” when we shall be gathered together with the Lord in the air. But to suggest that this rapture will occur prior to the Great Tribulation is an inference that is not explicitly stated. The passage states: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NASB)
Ladd’s case is presented throughout that New Testament Christians were not looking to be raptured out of tribulation, but instead the Bible taught Christians to expect tribulation. Given this fact, that Christians throughout the centuries have endured persecution unto death….why would God change this course with the “end times?”
One Scripture that Ladd uses effectively is from 2 Thessalonians 2, where the Thessalonian Christians were afraid they had missed the “Day of the Lord.” “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.”2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 (NASB)
Paul sets their mind at ease by telling them the “Day of the Lord” won’t occur until the “apostasy” and the “son of destruction” is revealed. Why doesn’t Paul simply tell them to relax about the Day of the Lord since, as Christians, they’ll be raptured before it occurs? Was Paul unaware of a pre-tribulation rapture? That seems unlikely since Paul is the one who wrote the most significant passage on the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Since most scholars are in agreement that the “Day of the Lord” refers to Christ’s coming in judgment at his Second Advent, the passage in 2 Thessalonians seems to give credence to the belief that the Second Coming and the Rapture are simultaneous events that occur at the end of the Great Tribulation.
Another argument that Ladd addresses is the idea of an “any moment” rapture. Those who oppose Historic Premillennialism state that it takes away the idea that Christ could return at “any moment” as taught in Scripture. Ladd points out that the “any moment” passages refer to the outplaying of all the “end times” events that could being at “any moment.” Furthermore, he states that the Dispensational view requires a “nation of Israel” to be in existence before the rapture of Christ. Therefore, those with a Dispensational view couldn’t have held to an “any moment” rapture anyway, until 1948 and the re-emergence of Israel as an actual physical nation.
Regardless of what you “end times” view is, “The Blessed Hope” is a book that Christians should read and examine with an open mind. While you may not agree with all of his conclusions, it would do any Christian well to consider the validity of Ladd’s arguments. Ladd’s hope was that Christians of various camps could debate these issues in Christian love without breaking fellowship. It was also Ladd’s concern that many Christians would one day find themselves unprepared for tribulation because of their blind hope in a pre-tribulation rapture that was unlikely to occur. Ladd makes a good case for his viewpoint, and the wise Christian will prayerfully consider if he’s on the right track regarding future events.