Rapture Imminence on Trial: An Examination of the “Any Moment Rapture” of the Church. By Tom Keeley. Township, NJ: BookBaby, 2020. 188 pp. Paper, $15.07.
For many years, Tom Keeley believed in the pretribulation Rapture of the church. After much study, he concluded that he was wrong. He adopted the prewrath view. This position maintains that the Lord will take the church out of the world sometime after the middle of the Tribulation. Only after the Rapture will the world experience the wrath of God. The church will not go through this final period of the Tribulation.
Keeley makes many arguments in favor of his new position. As with any viewpoint, some arguments will be stronger than others. This reviewer feels that Keeley would agree. One objection that he has about the pretribulation Rapture view is that it is less “reasonable” than the prewrath position because the former does not seem to allow enough time for certain events to happen (p. 58). This may be, but we cannot base our eschatology on what we think is more reasonable. For that reason, this is not one of his stronger points.
Another one of his weaker arguments is that the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation cannot be described as the wrath of God. Keeley feels that most of the Tribulation will be the result of the wrath of Satan. The church will go through that wrath. God’s wrath is not manifested until the Tribulation is almost over. The church will be spared that wrath. Most of the seals in the book of Revelation describe the wrath of Satan. The trumpets and the bowls describe the wrath of God (pp. 82-84). Even though Keeley would almost certainly disagree, this reviewer thinks this distinction between the wrath of God and the wrath of Satan is not as clear as Keeley argues.
Space does not permit this reviewer to address all the arguments. Therefore, I will discuss what I consider the strongest argument for and the strongest argument against the prewrath view of the Rapture.
The pretribulation Rapture view maintains that Christ can come for His church at any time. Keeley’s strongest case against this imminent return is that the New Testament gives many prophecies of things that must happen. How could the Rapture happen until after these prophecies were fulfilled? For example, the Lord said that Peter would die for Him (John 21:18-19). The Rapture could not happen until Peter was put to death. It was, therefore, not imminent prior to that time. In Acts 21:11, a prophet said that Paul would be arrested if he went to Jerusalem (pp. 35-38). The Rapture could not happen until that event took place. The Lord said that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed (Matt 24:2). This happened in AD 70. The Rapture could not have happened before the Romans subdued the nation (p. 44). Therefore, it was not imminent for believers living in the time from AD 35-69.
Pretribulation Rapture believers would respond to these objections in various ways. In the case of Paul, this was a conditional prophecy. He did not have to go to Jerusalem. Some believe the Gospel of John was written very early. The Rapture of the church was a mystery that was not revealed until after the time of Cornelius, and the prophecy about Peter was given before that. In any event, Peter could have died at any moment. The Rapture could have happened as well. The destruction of the temple could have occurred immediately after the Rapture of the church.
The strongest argument against Keeley’s position is the verses which deal with the imminency of Christ’s return. The Scriptures say we do not know the day or the hour and that He will come like a thief in the night. Many times, the Lord exhorted His followers to be looking, since they did not know when He would return. Keeley refers to these verses (Matt 24:36, 42-44; 25:13; 1 Thess 5:1-9; 2 Pet 3:10) (p. 27).
Keeley maintains that all of these statements do not mean Christ could return at any time. Instead, they mean He is coming soon. We are to be eagerly and expectantly waiting for that event (p. 25). The return of Christ is in the not-too-distant future (p. 27). Since, in Keeley’s view, the Rapture cannot occur until after the middle of the Tribulation, it is at least three-and-a-half years away. In addition, the idea that Christ will come like a thief in the night means He will come that way in reference to unbelievers. They do not know He is coming. Believers will know when He is about to come (p. 28).
Keeley summarizes his view on the supposed imminency of Christ. He says, “Jesus is coming soon! Jesus is coming soon! Jesus is coming soon, but not as soon as you may think!” (p. 136). It is doubtful that many pretribulation Rapture believers will be convinced by these arguments. At face value they certainly seem to run contrary to the warnings of the Lord.
Other areas of interest in this debate include the motivation for godly living. Pretribulation adherents claim a great motivation for holiness is that the believer can appear before the Lord at any moment. Keeley feels that a greater motivation is the belief that we believers could face the wrath of the Antichrist at any moment, and we need to prepare for that persecution. We need to live with the realization that we might be called upon to die for our faith (pp. 3, 130).
While there are differences in details among those who promote the prewrath view, it appears that adopting that belief might soften the dispensational distinctives between Israel and the church (p. 131). Keeley did not spend much time on this topic, and this reviewer was left with some questions about his views.
Keeley gives a strong Free Grace gospel presentation (p. 186). Unfortunately, he then ties it together with an appeal to say a sinner’s prayer, which leads to confusion (p. 187).
Many are not familiar with the prewrath view of the Rapture. This book is a clear presentation of it. Keeley writes in a way that is easy to understand and very informative. I recommend this book for those interested in eschatology.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society