The first Pretrib Problem on our list is called the “Precursor Problem,” and in order to understand it we need to first talk a little about the so-called Day of the Lord.
Alan Hultberg: “The Day of the Lord is an Old Testament concept for when God shows up in history and finally, in the end, to judge his enemies and sometimes to vindicate or rescue his people.”
David Rosenthal: “It really means, the time of God's Wrath in an ultimate sense. When God will pour out His judgment, His vengeance on a wicked world.”
Charles Cooper: “Scripture explicitly declares that the Saints will not experience the eschatological Wrath of God—the Wrath of God that is typically associated with what we call the Day of the Lord. Therefore, the question in my opinion—really, the only question is, ‘When does the Wrath of God begin?’”
As mentioned earlier, Pretribulationist s teach that the entire 7-year period is the Wrath of God, and that the rapture will occur just before it begins. Importantly, they also believe that the rapture is imminent meaning that it can happen at any moment, and there are no prophetic events that must come before the rapture.
However, there are at least four events explicitly stated to come before the Day of the Lord in Scripture:
Ryan Habbena: “Now, this is a very big problem for Pretribulational imminence because as Pretribulational imminence is defined, there are to be no precursors, no necessary precursors before the coming of the Day of the Lord or the coming of the rapture. But we have explicit declarations in the Bible that we have several precursors that have to come before the great and terrible Day of the Lord.”
Alan Kurschner: “Pretribulational teachers admit themselves that if you can find one event that will occur before the rapture, then it contradicts imminence theology and hence, it contradicts Pretribulational theology.”
Alan Hultberg: “Well, definitely the fact that the Scriptures tell us that there are going to be precursors [prior] to the Day of the Lord is an argument against Pretribulationism.”
To clarify, based on where Pretrib teachers have traditionally placed the rapture, if these four biblically prophesied events occur before the Day of the Lord, it means there are, in fact, events that must come before the rapture, the very thing Pretribbers say cannot occur.
We will discuss several of the precursors in other sections, but I want to focus on one in particular here found in the book of Joel.
“The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Joel 2:31).
David Rosenthal: “Many of the Old Testament prophets wrote about this time, the Day of the Lord, the time of God's Wrath. And almost every time you read about it in the Old Testament, you're going to find it connected with something that I term “cosmic disturbance.” Something happens to the sun, the moon, and the stars.”
Alan Hultberg: “Isaiah 13 [and] other passages in the Old Testament present these cosmic disturbances that will be signs that the Day of the Lord has arrived.”
Alan Kurschner: “Joel explicitly states it’s going to happen before, not during, before the Day of the Lord.”
This is so important, because there are two prophecies in the New Testament about when this particular celestial sign takes place. The first, in Matthew, makes it clear that the sun, moon, and star sign occurs “ immediately after the tribulation of those days” and everyone agrees that “those days,” in context, is a reference to the persecution that begins directly after the abomination of desolation, which theologians call the Great Tribulation.
So, if you compare Joel 2:31 which says that this sign occurs before the Day of the Lord with the passage we just read in Matthew that says the cosmic sign comes after the great tribulation which begins at the midpoint, you have explicit evidence that the Day of the Lord is not seven years long, but rather that it begins at some unknown point after the middle of the 70th week.
We see this confirmed in Revelation chapter 6 where it says that this celestial disturbance sign occurs at the so-called sixth seal, and even most Pretribulationists will agree that the sixth seal in Revelation takes place after the midpoint of the 7-year period.
We will talk more about Revelation 6 and the seals in another section, but for now let’s see how Pretribbers try to explain some of the things we have brought up so far.
Surprisingly, few Pretib scholars have addressed the Precursor Problem at all, but of the few that have, they present three possible solutions.
Dr. Richard Mayhue, a very accomplished and well-respected Pretribulational scholar, chose to simply agree that there were precursors to the Day of the Lord connected to the midpoint, and that the Day of the Lord must, therefore, start after those precursors after the midpoint.
Charles Cooper: “But I'm inclined to follow more along lines of Dr. Richard Mayhue who argues that the typical long-term historical aspect or thinking regarding the beginning of the Day of the Lord probably needs to be re-thought among Pretribbers…”
As you may have noticed this timeline of Mayhue’s is pretty much exactly what the Prewrathers teach, with one very important exception. Mayhue places the rapture the same place that Pretribbers always have, just before the 7-year period starts, whereas Prewrathers place the rapture just before the Day of the Lord starts, at some unknown point after the midpoint.
Mayhue does this because he is still a Pretribulationist, and so he can’t compromise on the idea of imminence. Therefore, he can’t allow these events to occur before the rapture, as it would destroy the idea of an any moment rapture. So, while he allows for these events to occur before the Day of the Lord, he moves the rapture well before the Day of the Lord so there are still no events that occur before it.
Prewrathers have come to call this method of dealing with the Precursor Problem the “Gap theory.”
Basically, this theory places a significant gap of time between the rapture and the Day of the Lord. In Dr. Mayhue’s view, the gap is over three-and-a-half years long, but there are slightly different takes on the gap theory out there.
For example, Pretribulationists like Arnold Fruchtenbaum who recognize various aspects of the Precursor Problem but still want to maintain the traditional Pretrib view that the Day of the Lord is seven years long, have to do something a little more radical. They assert that the rapture happens at some undefined, but significant, amount of time before the 7-year period even begins.
It has to be a fairly long gap to accommodate all four precursors, though there has been no attempt to define exactly how long of a gap it will be.
Both manifestations of the gap theory have the same fundamental problem which is that Jesus teaches that the rapture and the beginning of the Wrath of God are back-to-back events that occur on the same day. And if that is true, there can be no gap between the rapture and the Day of the Lord.
One of the reasons people on all sides of the debate have historically placed the rapture just prior to the Day of the Lord, with no gap, is because of Jesus’ teaching in the Olivet Discourse, which says:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
And in Luke’s account the parable of Lot is added to this:
“Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”
Ryan Habbena: “They are joined; they are back to back. And we see that pattern throughout Scripture. Like with Noah, it was on the same day. And Noah entered the ark that day the floods came. Furthermore, with Lot. It was on the same day that he exited, that the wrath came, and fire came upon Sodom. Really the rapture triggers the Day of the Lord because now it is time for retribution, for vindication.”
This idea that the righteous would be rescued on the same day that the Day of the Lord began is probably why the New Testament writers consistently spoke of the Day of the Lord as good for believers, but bad for everyone else.
It is the day we will receive our rewards and be with Christ, but it’s also the day God’s Wrath will be poured out on the world.
This is why Peter said we should look for and hasten the Day of the Lord.
It’s why Jesus said when we see the sign that the Day of the Lord is about to occur, we should lift up our heads because our redemption draws nigh.
This idea that the rapture happens on the same day that the Day of the Lord’s wrath begins is very conservative theology, believed from the earliest days of the Church. It’s actually still believed by the majority of Pretribbers.
It is only those who have realized the implications of the Precursor Problem who have begun to seek out alternative theologies about the timing of the Day of the Lord in relationship to the rapture.
The third way Pretribulationists have attempted to deal with the Precursor Problem is to claim that there are two “Days of the Lord”—one that is seven years long, and another twenty-four hour “Day of the Lord” associated with Armageddon.
This theory allows them to have all the precursors take place before their new twenty-four-hour Day of the Lord, and because they place the rapture immediately prior to the beginning of the seven yearlong version of the Day of the Lord, they can maintain Pretrib imminence that no prophesied events occur before the rapture.
There are a lot of problems with this argument, but the main one is that, as we have seen, the celestial disturbance precursor, which is said to occur before the Day of the Lord in Joel 2:31, takes places at the 6th seal in Revelation 6:12-14.
This is significant because even though there are some minor disagreements about the timing of the first few seals in relationship to the 7-year period, the 6th seal is almost universally believed to be after the midpoint. So, that means this theory would require a third Day of the Lord to be added to their list because the 6th seal is unquestionably after the beginning of the 7-year period, and at the very least five months before the Armageddon! We know this because of the 5th trumpet, which is a part of the Day of the Lord, is said to be five months long.
We will learn much more about the 6th seal and how it relates to the Day of the Lord in another section of this film, but needless to say, this third option isn’t a very popular one among Pretribbers.
In their defense, the Precursor Problem doesn’t leave Pretribbers with many good options, and so the most common way they deal with it is to avoid explaining these problems to their fellow Pretribbers in the first place.