The worst enemy of the pre-trib rapture position is hands-down, bad arguments sometimes employed by dispensationalists. Being a dispensationalist myself, of the progressive sort, I feel a certain freedom to speak badly about arguments made by other dispensationalists not as enlightened as me (i.e., classic and revised), so here goes (the arrogance is not real, but feigned for the sake of humor).
It is occasionally argued by dispensationalists that in John 14:1-3, Jesus teaches his disciples about the rapture (pre-trib of course). Whether πιστεύετε “believe” in verse one is indicative or imperative in one or both clauses need not detain us here. It is in verse two where the real action begins. In verse two Jesus comforts his disciples with the fact that he is going away to prepare a place for them in his Father’s household; in which, there are many dwelling places. In verse three Jesus relates that he will return and receive the disciples to himself, so that where he is, they may be also.
We are told by many interpreters that Jesus’ “going to prepare a place” is a reference to his ascension into heaven forty days or so after the resurrection. The actual “preparing” of the places is not always elaborated on, but it is safe to assume that the “dwelling places” are actual and the preparation real. The location of these dwelling places would seem to be heaven since that is where Jesus is going to in order to prepare them. If what has been said is a proper understanding thus far, then in verse three Jesus’ “coming again” to receive the disciples must be a return from heaven. At this point pre-tribbers differ from those of other eschatological persuasions.
Those who do not hold to a pre-trib rapture, but understand verses one and two in the same manner as described above, argue that verse three is describing the Second Coming that either begins the millennium, or the eternal state. The difficulty with these views is that if it is understood in verse one and two that Jesus is ascending to heaven in order to prepare dwelling places for the disciples then it would seem that his returning for the disciples implies that he will then take them to dwell in these dwelling places that he has prepared for them. However, if this is the Second Coming, then Jesus is not going to take anyone anywhere. He is going to stay on earth and either establish his millennial kingdom, or rule on a new earth for the rest of eternity. So, if Jesus’ “going to prepare a place” for the disciples in verse two is a reference to the ascension, then it is doubtful that his “coming” to receive the disciples in verse three is a reference to the Second Coming.
Those who hold to a pre-trib rapture sometimes argue that, rather than a reference to the Second Coming, verse three is a reference to the rapture. Before the tribulation, Jesus will return and take the disciples to heaven where he has prepared a place for them. From that point on they will be where Jesus is, and presumably accompany him on his return (Second Coming) at the end of the tribulation. If verse two does indeed refer to the ascension then the rapture understanding of verse three would seem to make more sense than a reference to the Second Coming.
However, both the Second Coming and rapture views of verse three share a common problem. It is doubtful that verse two refers to the ascension. The first indication that Jesus is not talking about the ascension in verse two is the dialogue in verse four and following. In verse four Jesus tells the disciples that they know the way to the place he is going. It may be useful to point out here that if Jesus is speaking of his ascension into heaven when he told the disciples that he was going away to prepare a place for them in the Father’s household, then the way to where he is going is up through the clouds into heaven.
The disciples, via Thomas, disclaim such knowledge. In fact, they don’t even know where he is going, so how in the world would they know the way he is taking to get there. Jesus then responds that he is the way…. For our purposes here, we will focus on that little bit of Jesus’ response. Jesus says in verse six that he is the way to where he is going to prepare a place for the disciples. Jesus is not the way that Jesus took when he ascended into heaven some forty days after the resurrection. There is a better explanation of these verses.
Jesus had just told the disciples that, as he had told the Jewish leaders, he was going away and where he was going they could not come (13:33). I take it for granted that given the context most will recognize that Jesus is talking about his death under the euphemism of going somewhere. It is in this context that Jesus communicates to his disciples that he is going away to prepare a place for them in the Father’s household. I would propose that what Jesus is saying in John 14:1–6 is that by going away (i.e., dying on the cross) he will prepare a way for the disciples to dwell in the Father’s household. Jesus is not talking about going to clean up the New Jerusalem to get it ready for all the pre-tribulationally raptured folks. He is making a soteriological statement about how he is about to lay down his life so that his disciples might dwell with him and the Father forever.
You’re going to have to do a spin-off post from this on how John talks about the cross not the ascension. I look forward to it!