In overthrowing the pre-trib scheme, one must show 1) that the resurrection of all the saints occurs at the same time and 2) that this occurs at the last day of the present age. It is to be noted that not all pre-tribbers are in agreement regarding these points, but it is agreed by them all that not all the saved are raised at the same time nor that they are all raised on the "last day."
Some dispensationalists, like J. Dwight Pentecost, believe that only those who are part of the new testament church are resurrected and raptured, and that Israel and tribulation believers are resurrected and raptured seven years later, at the end of the great tribulation. Many pretribbers disagree with Pentecost and believe that the old testament saints will be resurrected at the same time the believers of the church are resurrected and raptured. Yet, all pre-tribbers are in agreement that not all the righteous are resurrected at the same time, at the time of the rapture of I Thess. 4: 13-17.
Needless to say, the resurrection of believers takes place at the same time when the saints who live until the coming of the Lord, when both will be raptured. (I Thess. 4: 13-17) Thus, if we can ascertain when the saved are resurrected we will be able to ascertain when the rapture occurs. Alexander Reese ("The Approaching Advent of Christ") was correct to state - "wheresoever the resurrection is, there will the Rapture be also." (CHAPTER II-THE RESURRECTION OF THE SAINTS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, chapter II - see here)
At The Last Day
"And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day...No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day...Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6: 39-40, 44, 54)
Four times Jesus says of believers that he will raise them up "at the last day." Further, this was the belief of old testament believers.
"Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." (John 11: 24)
In commenting upon the above verses, Reese wrote(see here):
"It is worthy of note that in every case in the above texts the resurrection referred to is clearly that of the faithful dead. It is the resurrection of "life" (John 5:29), inasmuch as Christ promises it to those who believe and feed on Him. With Martha the resurrection of her brother is a matter of hope, for he had waited for the consolation of Israel. In other words, these texts all speak of the "resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:14). And we are told in every case that it takes place "at the last day." Here is a very definite point of time; does it differ from that marked for the resurrection by Isaiah 26:19, 25:8; Daniel 12:1-3, and 12:13? It does not; there is complete agreement between the prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel, and the words of the Lord Jesus. Our Lord, however, is more specific. Isaiah had associated the resurrection with the conversion of Israel, the Coming of Jehovah, and the inauguration of the Messianic Age of blessedness for all peoples. Daniel linked it with the overthrow of Antichrist, the close of the Great Tribulation, and the deliverance of living Israel from the last great struggle. Our Lord associates it with the Last Day of the pre-Messianic Age, which is the same thing. Well does Meyer say: "It is the first resurrection that is meant (see on Luke 14:14, 20:34 Phil. 3:2; 1 Cor. 15:23), that to the everlasting life of the Messianic Kingdom." (On John 6:39; italics his.)
The true sense of the phrase "the last day" is also given by Bullinger in his Apocalypse. "Martha expressed her belief in the resurrection ‘at the last day’ (John 11:24); i.e., the last day, at the end of the present age, and immediately before the introduction of the new age of the thousand years" (p. 621).
It is important to bear in mind, as Plummer in his Matthew has said, that "the Jews divided time into two ages, the Messianic Age, and that which preceded it" (p. 180). This was a fundamental idea of Hebrew eschatology; and it was adopted by our Lord and His Apostles. Our Lord, for example, in speaking of those who have left home, and relatives, and possessions for the sake of the Kingdom, observes that even "in this present time" they receive much more than they lose, whilst "in the world (age) to come" they shall receive life everlasting (Mark 10:30). Here, as frequently in the Gospels and Epistles, the pre-Messianic Age is contrasted with the Age of the Kingdom.
Now our Lord teaches us in His discourse on the Bread of Life that the resurrection of His people—not merely of the faithful in Israel, but of all who believe in His Name, and feed upon Him by faith-will take place "at the last day." And having regard to His fundamental ideas on Eschatology there can be no doubt that "the last day" is the closing day of the Age that precedes the Messianic Kingdom of glory. This is the conception of the Prophets: Jehovah comes; Antichrist is slain; Israel repents; the sleeping saints rise; the Kingdom comes in power. It is the last day of this present evil Age, the first of the Age to come. This is also the doctrine of Christ, except that the resurrection now embraces those that the Father has given to Him, and have life through His name.
Jesus said unto them, "The sons of this age marry, and are given in marriage: but they that are accounted worthy to attain to that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Luke 20: 34-36 R.V. mg.).
Here again in the clearest manner "that age" —the age to come—is contrasted with "this age" —the Age that now is. Here are the two great divisions of Hebrew eschatology: the present Age of Gentile dominion, Jewish subjection, and civilization without God; and that Age, when the dead shall be raised and the Kingdom introduced by the Messiah. It is these two ages that our Lord has in mind. In this present Age mortal men marry and give in marriage. But they who are counted worthy of the future Age marry not, for they become sexless as the angels, being sons of God and sons of the resurrection. It is important to note the order of the words "they that are accounted worthy to attain to that age, and the resurrection from the dead" —not "the resurrection from the dead, and that age;" but first, the Messianic Age, then the resurrection. The resurrection of the just is the first result of the Messianic reign.
This passage is in exact accordance with the one last considered —"I will raise him up at the last day." For, just as the last note of one octave is the first note of the next, so the last day of this present Age is the first of the Messianic Age to follow." (Chapter III)
J. Dwight Pentecost, in his famous work "Things to Come," wrote against the posttribulation position as defended by Alexander Reese in his book "The Approaching Advent of Christ." In chapter eleven, "Posttribulation Rapture Theory," Pentecost wrote:
"But if one separates the resurrection of the church from the resurrection of Israel, there is no strength left in Reese's argument." (pg. 173)
"Thus it is wrong to conclude that 'that day' or 'the last day' must teach that all saints will be resurrected at the same moment of time. It must be observed, also, that the passages Reese uses from the Gospels (John 6: 39-54; Luke 20: 34-36; Matt. 13: 43; Luke 14: 14-15) all apply to God's program for Israel. If it be shown that this resurrection does take place at the second advent, it does not prove posttribulation rapturism, unless the church must be resurrected at the same point in time. This is a false premise." (pg. 175)
"Reese's error is in supposing all the righteous dead must be raised at the same time." (pg. 175)
Pentecost speaks for the dispensational school of premillenialism. He affirms that the error of Reese and those of the posttribulation view is that they apply the promise of resurrection to immortality and eternal life, in the above verses, to all believers, whereas Pentecost insists that it is limited to the nation Israel. It is the height of absurdity for Pentecost to say that the promise of being raised up at the last day does not apply to Gentile believers in the church. When Jesus says "he who comes to me" he excludes believers in the new testament church? How absurd is that? That is true only of Israel?
Many pre-tribbers will disagree with Pentecost on this, and will affirm that believers of all ages will be resurrected and raptured at the coming of the Lord per I Thess. 4: 13-17. The only people many pre-tribbers will affirm are not resurrected or raptured at this time are those who are saved during the time of the great tribulation. But, if we can show that all the saved are resurrected at the same time, this overthrows the view that the great tribulation follows the resurrection of the righteous.
Pentecost, since he believes that the promise of resurrection on "the last day" does not belong to any believer in the church, interprets "the last day" as being truly the "last day," the day that ends the great tribulation and begins the millenial reign of Christ. Pentecost is correct to affirm that "the last day" is after the great tribulation but he is wrong to exclude new testament believers who compose the church from the promise. He is wrong to restrict this promise to Israel only. Other pre-tribbers deny that the promise of resurrection on the last day is limited to Israel. Their answer to these verses will be to affirm that "the last day" denotes the last day of the church age, which church age ends with the start of the seven year period of tribulation. Thus, "the last day" is not the last day before the millenium, but the last day before the great tribulation.
There are a number of problems with this view, however. First of all, it makes the tribulation an "age" all to itself, not properly a part of the church age, or present age, nor properly of the millenial age. Secondly, it gives a foreign and strange idea to the term "the last day."
Those who are resurrected at the coming of Christ, at the time of the rapture, includes all who "sleep in Jesus." Some pre-tribbers agree with post-tribbers that this denotes all the saved dead from the beginning of the world. Other pre-tribbers of the dispensational school, such as Pentecost, believe that those who "sleep in Jesus" only denotes those who have been saved and died during the church age, and excludes old testament believers.
It is clear to me that the righteous dead of the old testament times will be resurrected at the same time as the righteous dead of new testament times and that this is the resurrection of I Thess. 4: 13-17. And, if this is indeed the resurrection of all the righteous dead, then the time of the rapture and resurrection of I Thess. 4 occurs "at the last day." But, it cannot be the last day if several more years are to transpire before the coming of Christ to reign.
End of the Age
When is the end of the age? Jesus and the new testament writers speak of it in several places. Is "the end of the age" a point in time before the time of the great tribulation and apocalyptic judgments or immediately after?
"The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world (age); and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world (age)...So shall it be at the end of the world (age): the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 13: 39-40, 49-50)
The "last day" is that which marks "the end of the age." The age that is now is called by the Apostle Paul "this present evil age." (Gal. 1: 4) This "present evil age" either includes the time of the great tribulation or it does not. If it includes the time of the coming tribulation and day of wrath, then the pre-trib view is overthrown. It is at "the last day" and "at the end of the age" that the wheat, symbol of the saved, are reaped (i.e. resurrected, translated, and raptured to meet the Lord). Reese wrote: "...the idea of another evil age succeeding this one is a mere figment of Gaebelein’s imagination; the age, according to Scripture, that succeeds this present Age, is the millennium."
That the tribulation period is a part of the present evil age is evident for a number of reasons. In verse 43, Jesus sums up the parable of the wheat and tares by saying - "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." Notice that it is "at that time" ("then" Greek "tote"), at the time of the resurrection of the righteous, that the righteous "shine forth in the kingdom," in the millenial kingdom. But, if the millenial kingdom is yet seven years away from the time of the resurrection, this would not be true. Matthew 13: 43 is a clear reference to Daniel 12:2-3, which speaks of resurrection. Those who are raised to everlasting life are all the righteous dead who sleep in the dust of the earth.
"And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world (age)?...And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet...But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved...And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." (Matt. 24: 3, 6, 13-14)
Throughout the Olivet Discourse "the end of the age" is the end of the present evil age that includes the tribulation period. It follows the preaching of the Gospel in all the world. It is the same message given to the disciples after the resurrection. "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (age). Amen." (Matt. 28: 20) Christ is with the disciples in carrying out the great commission up till the time when the age ends. Further, the end of the age is the time when the the saved go forth to "meet" the bridegroom, and this meeting is the rapture. "Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom." (Matt. 25: 1)
"Waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end (telos), that ye be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ ." (I Cor. 1: 7-8 RV)
Clearly "the end" is equated with "the revelatin of our Lord Jesus Christ" and with "the day of the Lord Jesus Christ." Wrote Reese:
"There is a wealth of exegetical literature to confirm our view that the End here is the Parousia of Christ. It is scarcely necessary to cite it, because the juxtaposition of the two eschatological terms Revelation and Day of Christ, which all the pre-trib leaders applied to the Day of the Lord, is right at hand to show what Paul meant. Yet a few brief quotations will be serviceable. A. T. Robertson says that "Unto the End" means "End of the age till Jesus comes, final preservation of the saints" (iv., p. 71). Robertson and Plummer in ICC say: "The doctrine of the approach of the end is continually in the Apostle’s thoughts: 3:13; 4:5; 6:2, 3; 7:29; 11:26; 15:51; 16:22" (p. 7). Godet says in his commentary: "The end is the Lord’s coming again, for which the Church should constantly watch, for the very reason that it knows not the time of it; compare Luke 12:35 and 36; Mark 13:32 (p. 58). Canon Evans in one of the more brilliant volumes of the Speaker’s Commentary remarks: "The end, not of life, but of this Aeon, or dispensation." So also Alford, Bachmann, Bousset, and J. Weiss." (chpt. 8)
Thus, in summary, the Scriptures clearly state that the resurrection of the righteous occurs at the last day and at the end of the age, which could not be the case if several years transpire after the last day and after the end of the age. The Scriptures also show that it is at the end of the age that the "age to come" begins, which age is the millenial age.