This teaching, which began in 1836 by Robert Govett, holds the position that only a certain part of the church, those who are watching and praying, will be raptured before the Tribulation begins; and then others will be raptured later, during the Tribulation, when God decides that they are ready (made holy enough).
As I will present to you, they have their verses to prove their theory; however, as you will see, it is very easy to refute their false position. Here are some of the leading supporters and teachers of this theory: Robert Govett (its founder); J.A. Seiss; G.H. Pember; D.M. Panton; G.H. Lang; Austin Sparks; Ray Brubaker; George Peters; and Watchmen Knee.
This study will be presented in two parts: a statement of the theory, and my refutation of the theory.
A statement of the partial rapture theory. Here is the theory as I see it from my reading, in six points.
1. The initial rapture is only for the most holy, Revelation 3:10. They hold that only true believers, those who “have kept the word of My patience,” will be raptured before the Tribulation begins. Some teach, according to this verse, that only one-seventh of the church will be initially raptured, because the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13), which is one of the seven churches and representing one-seventh of the church, represents the true and faithful church. Watchmen Knee writes,
Although Philadelphia represents the true church in the dispensation of Grace, it is nonetheless only one of the seven local churches in Asia at that time. Thus it shows that only a relatively small number of people (one seventh) may be raptured before the Tribulation.[i]
2. There will be progressive raptures after the initial rapture, Revelation 3:10. Those who are left behind from the initial rapture will be raptured progressively as they are tested and made holy by the Tribulation.
3. The raptured must be worthy, Luke 21:34 and Titus 2:12. It is their teaching that in order to be counted worthy to be raptured they are to make themselves holy, denying ungodliness, not letting themselves get weighted down with the cares of this life, so that the “day” (rapture) will not come on them unexpectedly.
4. The raptured must love His appearing, 2 Timothy 4:8 and Titus 2:13. From these verses they teach that the rapture is regarded as a reward for those who love His appearing and are constantly waiting and looking for Him.
5. The raptured must eagerly wait for Him, Phil 3:20 and Hebrews 9:28. From these verses they teach that the rapture is regarded as a reward for those who eagerly wait for Him. So I take it that in their teaching they would put everything together; that they should be holy, prayerful, watching and waiting, loving His appearing, looking for Him, and that they should do it all with a high degree of eagerness.
6. The raptured must watch and pray, Luke 21:34-36. They teach that in order to be raptured one needs to watch and pray always; that is, to be always in a state of prayer. And the prayers would be mainly, 1) to be holy and prepared for His coming, and 2) to be counted worthy to escape the Tribulation through rapture.
My refutation of the partial rapture theory. Here, as I see it, are some of the doctrinal fallacies of this theory.
1. Regarding Revelation 3:10. It is incorrect to say that God will keep only some of the church from the hour of trial—only those who “have kept the word of my patience.” Initially, the promise that He will “keep you from the hour of testing,” was made to only the church of Philadelphia, because they were faithful believers; however, prophetically the promise now is for the entire church, because we all are justified and made holy in His blood.
2. All who are born again have been made worthy in Christ to be raptured. If you believe that all who are truly born again will be raptured before the Tribulation, these people clearly do not believe that. Watchmen Knee writes,
Pre-tribulation rapture is not based purely on our being born again as children of God, but is dependent on one other condition, which is, our keeping the word of the patience of Christ. Do all believers today keep the word of the patience of Christ? Obviously not. It is therefore evident that not the whole body of believers will be raptured before the Tribulation.[ii]
Clearly, this teaching is in error. If one is born again he or she needs no other condition to be raptured. A born again person is justified in Christ. Though we are not sinless on this earth, we can be confident that He who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). Yes, when He comes for us, we all will be found without blame (v. 10) and worthy in Christ to be taken up to be with Him and with the Father.
3. The testing of the Tribulation is not for the church, Revelation 3:10. It is presumed, according to this theory, that the testing of the Tribulation will work to discipline those left behind so that they will hopefully be prepared for a later rapture. However, the testing of Revelation 3:10 (the Tribulation) is not for the church, but for those unbelievers who dwell upon the earth. It is God’s wrath upon unbelievers, and the church can have no part of it; God never brings His wrath on His own. The testing here is to prove that the earth dwellers (unbelievers) are in fact unbelievers. God does discipline His own, and it is painful, but yet He always lets us know, through it, that He loves us (Heb. 12:3-11). The hour of Trial during the Tribulation is different. It is not meant for believers, even for carnal believers.
4. Use of Israel verses. The partial rapturist uses Scriptures, like Luke 21:34-36 and Matthew 24:36-44, that don’t apply to the church, but to Israel. Though we can always apply the teaching to be holy, denying ungodliness, and not letting ourselves be weighed down with the cares of this life, Luke and Matthew are directed specifically to believing Israel during the Tribulation. They are instructed here to be vigilant and prepared, not drunk and partying, so that the Day of the Lord will not come on them unexpectedly. The word “day” or “Day” here is not the rapture, it is His second coming, which may also be called the day of wrath or the day of the Lord. The parallel passage in Matthew 24:39-44 is more specific. Here it speaks of two men in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Here it does not mean taken in rapture, but taken in judgment (probably by angels).
5. Regarding 2 Timothy 4:8 and Titus 2:13. These verses were never meant to give us conditions for the rapture, as the partial rapture belief holds; but to distinguish who believers are—those who look for the blessed hope and His glorious appearing. And 2 Timothy 4:8 instructs us that there will be a reward for those believers who love His appearing. Indeed, the rapture is not in view here. Those who especially love His appearing will be rewarded, but that reward is not the rapture; it is a crown of righteousness.
6. Regarding Philippians 3:20 and Hebrews 9:28. The phrase “eagerly wait [for Him]” in these verses is a normal and general attitude of all believers and should not be used to designate the attitude of only the more holy ones who are more deserving to be raptured. Indeed, though some Christians seem to be more eager to see Him than others, the Holy Spirit has put this eager-waiting attitude in all believers. But if there is one who is not eager for His return, it is doubtful that he is a believer at all.
7. Regarding Luke 21:36. The partial rapture view is that believers are to watch and pray always so that in their watching and praying they will be counted by God as worthy to escape the Tribulation through rapture.
This may sound correct, but there are some problems with this interpretation. First of all, instead of “that ye may be counted worthy,” a better translation is “that you may be able” or “that you may have the strength” (NASV). Secondly, Jesus is not addressing the church here, He is addressing Israel for a future time, when they will be in the Tribulation. Therefore, in this context, Jesus is instructing believing Israel to watch (or be alert) and be in prayer always, so that they will have the strength to escape all the terrible things in the Tribulation. Therefore, in this passage neither the rapture nor the church are in view.
8. In the partial rapture theory there is a clear misunderstanding of the value of the death of Christ; for because of the death of Christ every Christian is totally justified in Christ and made acceptable to God. But by leaving some believers behind to experience the wrath of God, they are denying the value of His death and are rejecting His justification and acceptance of them. Dwight Pentecost writes,
The partial rapturist, who insists that only those who are “waiting” and “watching” will be translated, minimizes the perfect standing of the child of God in Christ and presents him before the Father in his own experimental righteousness. The sinner, then, must be less than justified, less than perfect in Christ.[iii]
9. The partial rapture position is clearly works based; for they say that God’s acceptance of us is based on what a person does to prepare himself to meet the Lord and be raptured. But that is not Scriptural. God’s acceptance of us is based solely on our position in Christ, which we gain by believing in Him and trusting in His shed blood to take away our sins and to redeem us.
10. The partial rapture position denies the unity of the body of Christ. It is clear in Scripture that all believers, being many members, form the body of Christ of which He is the head. And each member is important and has a vital role in the body, just as the eye and the hand and the feet have an important role in the physical body (1 Co. 12:12-31). Therefore, the point is that if only part of the body is raptured then it will be dismembered and made incomplete. This can never be! In fact, God will not allow it!
11. The partial rapture theory disregards 1 Corinthians 15:51, where it says, “We shall all be changed.” And if all believers are “changed,” which means that they will be immortalized, then they all must all be raptured. Yes, all will be changed and raptured together at one time—“in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”
12. Regarding 1 Corinthians 15:23. The partial rapture position uses this verse to teach that there will be a number of different raptures of church believers (at the beginning of and during the Tribulation); however, this verse does not teach that. It means, rather, that there will be a number of different resurrections of all believers in history, all in a certain order, ordered by God.
[i] Watchmen Knee, Rapture: http://www3.telus.net/trbrooks/partial_rapture.htm, Section V. A.
[ii] Ibid., Section V. A.
[iii] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, p. 160.