It is not honest scholarship that would trace the origin of the pretribulation rapture to the Irvingites, particularly to prophecies first communicated by a fallen spirit to Margaret McDonald, insisting that J. N. Darby obtained his understanding of prophecy from them this dubious source.
First of all, Darby himself claims that he was convinced of the pretribulation rapture by the testimony of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2. He observed that this passage — “we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord and our gathering together unto him” — used the preposition ὑπερ with a verb of asking/requesting and that this construction does not bear the sense of asking about something, as if the preposition were περι. It bears the sense of asking a petition on behalf of something.
This has tremendous ramifications for the understanding of this passage. Paul is not equating the rapture with the day of the Lord. He is not saying “let me teach you about the rapture” and then pointing out that it cannot occur until after the antichrist. On the contrary, he is contrasting the rapture and the day of the Lord. The believers don’t need to worry about the day of the Lord, or the revelation of the antichrist which precedes it, because they shall be gathered unto the Lord prior to that day. “We beseech you by the rapture of the church, not to worry about the day of the Lord.”
Secondly, Darby regarded the prophecies of the Irvingites as demonic. So unless someone can make an independent case based on other matters that Darby was either a scoundrel or gullible, it is quite a stretch to believe that he would have knowingly adopted prophetic teaching from a source which he regarded as demonic.
Thirdly, Darby enunciated his rapture doctrine in 1827, some two or three years prior to any of the utterances on the rapture that were given among the Irvingites.
Fourthly, the rapture teaching of the Irvingites in London was not a pre-tribulation rapture but a unique position that bore strong similarities to both the recently developed pre-wrath rapture and a classic mid-tribulation rapture.
They believed that the church would go through three-and-a-half years of judgment, then be caught up in the rapture prior to the days of vengeance, a brief period of wrath that was also known as the great and terrible day of the Lord.
They believed that these three-and-a-half years, or 1260 days, were the days of the testimony of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, the time of the setting up of the abomination of desolation in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, and the days of the woman’s flight to the wilderness in Revelation 12. They further believed that they were living in the three-and-a-half years and that after this time God would remove his church from earth and usher in the day of the Lord.
It must be borne in mind that the Irvingites did not comprehend the seventieth week — with its two periods of three-and-a-half years — but only understood a single three-and-a-half year period that was followed by a brief period of wrath of unspecified length. If you grasp this concept, then it is evident that their position was essentially a pre-wrath rapture. The church would endure the time of lighter judgment and tribulation, but would be delivered from the brief time of wrath — the day of the Lord.
The one point where they differ from the pre-wrath rapture, however, is that they put the antichrist in the brief period of wrath rather than in the time of tribulation and judgment. While they believed that the church would see the abomination of desolation under the mystical man of sin seated in the apostate church — they thought they were in that time — they also believed they would be removed from the earth by the rapture prior to the manifestation of the personal man of sin, whom they believed was Napoleon. This view, enduring three-and-a-half years of judgment, then being removed prior to the horrors of a flesh-and-blood antichrist, bears a close similarity to the classic mid-tribulation rapture position.
Fifthly, Margaret McDonald’s prophecy, according to her own published accounts, neither states nor necessitates a pretribulation rapture. On the contrary it teaches a post-tribulation rapture. The church will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air after the antichrist is revealed — with a demonstration of power, signs, and wonders that will deceive all but the true elect — ushering in a fiery trial of persecution that will purge and purify the body of Christ.
I find myself forced to question the integrity of those who fault pretribulationism for its supposed association with the Irvingites. Are they sincere in this accusation? Do they really believe — to the bottom of their heart — that association with the Irvingites is fatal? Do they really believe that we should forsake any rapture position that the Irvingites were guilty of teaching? Then let them forsake any teaching which locates the rapture at the arrival of the day of the Lord after the tribulation. And let them forsake any teaching which says the church will go through some of the time of tribulation, but will be raptured prior to the antichrist. The accusations that trace the origin of the pretribulation rapture to utterances from fallen spirits in the Irvingite movement are so wide of the truth that I am forced to one of two conclusions:
1) Either the authors are so ignorant of the source materials, and so dependent on prejudiced secondary sources, that they have no business writing or teaching on the subject.
2) Or the authors are so determined to fault pretribulationism that they are willing to use dishonest arguments to make and win their point.
~Lee Brainard 2016