The Rapture Event
While we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
There is a great deal of misunderstanding as it relates to the two stages of Christ’s second coming. As stated in the chapters which discussed the signs of the times, the signs I wrote about are not signs that will signal the rapture of the church, which is His return for the saints, but rather His ultimate return with the saints. Much of the misunderstanding comes from confusing these two events. The book of Revelation points out the difference between the two stages of the second coming.
During the rapture, the Lord takes all believers to be with Him in heaven, but at the second advent, when He returns with the saints, He will stay on earth. This advent occurs at the end of the tribulation period and it is when He will establish His millennial rule, His thousand-year reign on earth. So, (1) the church-age saints will be caught up to be with Jesus Christ prior to the seven-year tribulation (pretribulation), (2) the world will through the tribulation, (3) then at the end of the tribulation period, the second advent of Christ will occur.
Also mentioned previously was the fact that the rapture is imminent, meaning, no prophetic events need to occur for it to happen, it could happen at any moment without warning.
Timothy Demy and Thomas Ices say that,
“The doctrine of the pretribulational rapture offers Christians great hope for the future. The Bible never intends that doctrine and the spiritual life be separated. The study of prophecy and an understanding of the rapture provide us with both a knowledge of the Word of God and a daily hope for the return of Christ as we wait for Him and proclaim His gospel. It is not about escapism or avoiding the difficulties of this world. It is not about neglecting the concerns of life and the needs of others. Rather, it is a recognition that God has a prophetic plan and that Christians and the church are integral components in that plan. The rapture is not just wishful “pie in the sky in the by-and-by” thinking. Rather, it is vitally connected to Christian living in the “nasty here and now.””1
The rapture of the church is that glorious event in which the Lord Jesus Christ will descend from heaven, the dead in Christ will be resurrected, and living Christians will be instantly translated into their resurrection bodies. Both groups will be caught up to meet Christ in the air and taken back to heaven. In Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonian church, Paul wrote,
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For we say this to you by a word from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
To believers Jesus says,
Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3).
Christ’s words in the John 14 passage is the first mention of the rapture event in the Scriptures. And to the Corinthian church Paul states,
Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality. When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).
There is a generation of believers in the world that will transition from life on earth to being in the presence of Christ never having experienced physical death. One moment they will be on earth alive, the next moment they will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
The rapture of the church is called a mystery in Scripture because unless God reveals it to us, we would not be able to discern it on our own. Typically, a mystery is an unknown truth to those living in Old Testament times, which has been revealed or made known in the New Testament.
For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see but didn’t see them, to hear the things you hear but didn’t hear them (Matthew 13:7).
The mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints (Colossians 1:26).
Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality. When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:51-55).
In prophetic events, the rapture of the church is the first to take place. Scripture does not provide believers with signs that would help anticipate His coming for the church. The Bible teaches us that the church will be removed from this planet and that she will meet her Lord in the air. Since only God could perform such an act, the rapture is clearly a supernatural event.
Other important New Testament passages:
- While we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
The future hope of the Christian is the return of Christ in glory. We are to live in anticipation of that time when Christ will appear.
- Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).
Paul tells us that will be taken to the place of their citizenship (which is heaven) when Christ descends from heaven and the church is caught up with the Lord in the sky. Our physical bodies will change by the power of the Lord and will be made like Christ’s body.
- So that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:7).
Paul urges us to live dedicated lives in light of the coming of the Lord. John also uses the Lord’s coming to motivate Christians to holy and dedicated service in 1 John 3:1-3,
See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure.
The Sounds That Signal the Arrival of the Rapture
As believers we can have confidence in what Paul teaches about the rapture and resurrection because what he taught came by a word from the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15), not something he invented or from his own imagination.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Notice that Lord himself will descend from heaven. The Lord Jesus Christ himself will be the one who ushers this event. In John 14:3 Jesus said,
If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.
At the ascension of Christ, the two men in white clothes announce to the disciples that,
… This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven (Acts 1:11).
I agree with Thomas Constable that these “are three almost simultaneous announcements heralding Christ’s return.”2 It is virtually impossible to speak with any finality concerning the significance of these sounds simply because not much more is said about them.
A Loud Command
The word shout is a word for a command and implies both authority and urgency. It refers to a signal or verbal command, the verb form keleuō means to give an order or command. Mal Couch points out that this,
“Is a classical and a military term meaning to command, and is used for the purpose of gathering together. It has been used as a word of encouragement for rowers to keep up the pace.”3
John MacArthur adds that the command,
“Has a military ring to it, as if the Commander is calling His troops to fall in. The dead saints in their resurrected bodies will join the raptured living believers in the ranks. The Lord’s shout of command will be similar to His raising of Lazarus, when “He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth'” (John 11:43). This is the hour “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). The righteous dead of the church age will be the first to rise—a truth that must have greatly comforted the anxious Thessalonians.”4
The Voice of the Archangel
This would be Michael (Jude 9). He is either a leader or one of the primary leaders. He had been commissioned to protect the people of God (Daniel 12:1; Hebrews 1:14), so it is likely that he will be there to protect the believers as they pass through Satan’s domain (cf. Luke 16:22). Satan is referred to as the ruler of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) and Christians will be passing through these dangerous regions, so the angels will serve somewhat as a military escort accompanying and protecting God’s elect.
The Trumpet Call of God
Since the days of Moses, trumpets were used to call God’s people together for assembly. It will summons the church of Christ to heaven and to fellowship in the Father’s house. It is God calling His children to eternal blessing.
First Thessalonians 4:16 is closely paralleled by 1 Corinthians 15:52,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.
With these three sounds from heaven being heard all over the earth, calling all living and dead saints, we can assume that unbelievers will be conscious of the fact that something dramatic and supernatural is taking place.
The Dead in Christ First
When the sounds announcing the rapture are heard by believers as the Lord descends from heaven, Paul tells us the first thing that will happen is that the bodies of the believers who died during the church-age will be raised and joined with their perfected spirits, which will have returned with the Lord. These raised bodies will be glorified, incorruptible bodies fit for the heavenly realm.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come?” You fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow—you are not sowing the body that will be, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. But God gives it a body as he wants, and to each of the seeds its own body. Not all flesh is the same flesh; there is one flesh for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is different from that of the earthly ones. There is a splendor of the sun, another of the moon, and another of the stars; in fact, one star differs from another star in splendor. So it is with the resurrection of the dead: Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; 4sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written, The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. Like the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; like the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can corruption inherit incorruption. Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality. When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:35–56).
For we know that if our earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands. Indeed, we groan in this tent, desiring to put on our heavenly dwelling, since, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment (2 Corinthians 5:1–5).
Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself (Philippians 3:20–21).
First Thessalonians 4:16 teaches that the dead in Christ will be raised when the Lord returns for the saints. This resurrection will be a selective resurrection–not all dead will be raised. Revelation 20 makes it clear that those who are not saved (in Christ) will not be raised until after the millennial reign of Christ.
Who are the dead in Christ spoken of in this verse? Are they all the saints who have died up to this point, or is it those who were redeemed and died from the Day of Pentecost until the present time (the church-age)? The key seems to be in the phrase in Christ.
John Walvoord explains that,
“This expression in Christ in every one of its many instances in the New Testament refers only to the saints of this dispensation. As far as the expression “the dead in Christ” indicates, only those in Christ are raised. Of course, all the saints are in Christ in the sense that Christ is their substitute, but the question is whether they are in the body of Christ, baptized into His body, as the Scriptures picture.
The doctrine of the resurrection of the Old Testament saints, as it is revealed in the Old Testament itself, relates the event to the second coming of Christ to establish His kingdom. By way of illustration, Daniel 12:1 deals with the great tribulation. Daniel 12:2 speaks of many being raised from the dust of the earth. If that is a genuine resurrection, it is a clear indication that according to Daniel the resurrection of the Old Testament saints occurs after the tribulation. The resurrection of the church, however, occurs before the tribulation. There is no explicit teaching anywhere in the Bible that reveals that the Old Testament saints are resurrected at the time the church is resurrected. In other words, the two events are never brought together in any passage of Scripture. The best explanation of the expression “dead in Christ” is to refer it to the church alone.”5
The dead in Christ are genuine Christians who lived and died between the Day of Pentecost and the present time.
The Clouds in the Air
Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
When the dead have been raised, then we who are still alive will immediately be transformed into the presence of the Lord. As 1 Corinthians 15:51 says,
We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed.
The raising of the dead saints and the transformation of the living saints will happen quickly with little time span between them since Paul tells us that it will happen in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Notice that the appearing of the Lord is described as a catching up of all the saints. The expression will be caught up articulates the main thought. D. Edmond Hiebert notes the significance of the word,
“The verb caught up… denotes a sudden and forcible seizure, an irresistible act of catching away, due to divine activity. It might also be rendered ‘snatch up, sweep up, carry off by force.’ The Latin for the Greek verb is rapturo, from which we derive our English word rapture. Here is the revelation of the bodily snatching up of the church to meet her returning Lord.”6
Caught up here literally means “snatch up, swept away, take away, or carried away by force.”
We will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord; it parallels the Lord’s ascension (Acts 1:9).The clouds may be a reference to the presence and glory of God (e.g., Ex 14:19-24; 16:10; 19:9, 16; 20:21; 40:34-38). At the rapture, the glorious Christ appears and brings the saints into the presence of His glory.
The meeting place will be in the air, somewhere between heaven and earth. This distinguishes the rapture from the second coming when He comes down to the earth.
The living and the dead will join Christ in the air. All believers back through the centuries will join those who are living at that moment, forming the church united with Christ. And then we will always be with the Lord.
Results of the Rapture
- The Lord’s promise to come back is fulfilled.
If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also (John 14:3).
- It is the completion of our salvation. At the rapture, our bodies are transformed, and the “flesh” is no longer there to promote sin. Our salvation will be complete, and we will be completely liberated from the power and effects of sin.
Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).
- We will be with our precious Lord forever (4:17).
- All believers will be united with those departed family members. It is a doctrine of hope and encouragement for all believers.
Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Time of the Rapture
Simply stated, this view holds that the church will be raptured midway through the tribulation period, after the first three and a half years.
This view teaches that all Christians will be taken in the rapture approximately three-fourths of the way through the tribulation, when the wrath of God begins to be poured out on the earth at the seventh seal (Rev. 6:17).
This view holds that the rapture occurs before the tribulation, but the only ones taken will be “spiritual” Christians, all other Christians will remain through the tribulation.
Advocates of this view state that the church will be present on earth during the entire seven-year tribulation and that she will be raptured at the end of the seven years. The rapture will occur concurrently with the second coming of Christ, a single event separated by a few moments. Believers will meet the Lord in the air and in a few moments return with Him to the earth. The saints will not experience the outpouring of God’s wrath, it will be confined to unbelievers at the end of the tribulation period after the church has been removed.
Those who hold to this position, this author being one of them, believe that the rapture of the church will occur prior to the start of the tribulation period. We believe that the first phase of His return is imminent, that no prophecy must be fulfilled for the rapture to take place, and that it will occur without any prior signs or warnings. The rapture of the church will bring the church-age to an end, allowing God to continue and finish His program for Israel.
Why the Pre-Tribulation Position?
I will mention 9 reasons why I believe that the rapture will happen prior to the tribulation.
Christ Promised to Deliver Us
Because you have kept my command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth (Revelation 3:10).
Although the promise was made in the letter written to the church in Philadelphia, we can safely conclude that it refers to the universal church for the following reasons:
- The verse is a reference to a future event.
- The church of Philadelphia was destroyed and disbanded prior to this event taking place.
- It was a letter to the universal church.
- The hour of trial of which the Lord spoke was a trial that would come upon the whole world, not just the church in Philadelphia.
- The word from (Greek, ek) means “out of.” So, what the Lord is saying is that He will “keep the church out of the trial that will come upon the entire world.”
Christ’s Imminent Return
Imminent is another word for “at any moment.” There is no sign that we will be able to see or hear prior to His return for the church that will alert us to this event.
“An imminent event is one that is always hanging overhead, is constantly ready to befall or overtake a person, is always close at hand in the sense that it could happen at any moment. Other things may happen before the imminent event, but nothing else must take place before it happens. If something else must take place before an event can happen, that event is not imminent. The necessity of something else taking place first destroys the concept of immanency.”7
There are many passages in the New Testament that clearly teach that His return can indeed occur at any moment:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. Brothers and sisters, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door (James 5:7-9).
So that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:7).
Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself (Philippians 3:20-21).
While we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
The signs of Matthew 24 (and other passages) were given to Israel concerning the second coming of Christ; no signs, however, were given to the church to anticipate the rapture (which means it will come suddenly). The church was told to live in the light of the imminent coming of the Lord to translate them in His presence (John 14:2-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Timothy 6:14; James 5:8; 2 Peter 3:3-4).
The Church’s Exemption from the Wrath to Come
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10 KJV).
Paul’s reference here is to the great tribulation spoken of by Christ in Matthew 24:21, from which the church will be delivered.
For at that time there will be great distress, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again.
Jesus will deliver the church from the coming period of judgment and tribulation when God’s wrath will be poured out on the world that rejected His Son. This period is also known as the time of Jacob’s trouble (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:4-28; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Revelation 6:1-19:10).
For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
Not appoint us to wrath – Christians will be spared of the agony and tribulation occurring at the beginning of the day of the Lord.
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
Because you have kept my command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth (Revelation 3:10).
Hinson and Hitchcock explain that,
“All three series judgments in Revelation 6–18 (seals, trumpets, and bowls) are manifestations of God’s wrath. The seal judgments, which take place at the very beginning of the tribulation, are initiated when Jesus breaks the first of the seven seals (Revelation 6:1). To suggest that the wrath of God is somehow limited to the last half, last one-fourth, or very end of the tribulation ignores the source of the seven seal judgments that commence the seven-year tribulation.
We believe the judgments of the entire seven-year tribulation period are a manifestation of God’s wrath unleashed against a defiant world. The judgment of God begins with the first seal that is opened in Revelation 6:1 and continues all the way until the second coming in Revelation 19:11-21. There are at least seven clear references in the book of Revelation to God’s wrath (6:17-18; 14:8-10; 14:19; 15:7; 16:1, 19; 19:15).”8
The church is guaranteed protection. If you study the passage carefully, you will notice that Christ is not saying that He will preserve the church through the hour of testing , instead, protection will come in the form of the church being kept from the hour of testing. This form of protection would necessitate that the church be removed from this period of time, which clearly indicates that the rapture must occur prior to the start of the tribulation.
The Church is the bride of Christ, the object of Christ’s love, not His wrath (Ephesians 5:25). It would be a contradiction of the very relationship of Christ and the church for the church to go through the punishments of the Tribulation.
The Purposes of the Tribulation
The divine intentions of the Tribulation will be:
First, to prepare Israel for her King and His kingdom (Ezekiel 36:18-32; Malachi 4:5-6). It is the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7) when God will discipline disobedient Israel, which suggests that Israel is the focus of the tribulation period. Daniel 9:24-27 is perhaps the passage that best explains in detail the primary purpose of the Tribulation.
Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city—to bring the rebellion to an end, to put a stop to sin, to atone for iniquity to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place. Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an Anointed One, the ruler, will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will be rebuilt with a plaza and a moat, but in difficult times. After those sixty-two week the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the coming ruler will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come with a flood, and until the end there will be war; desolations are decreed. He will make a firm covenantwith many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the templeuntil the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator.
Second, to judge people living on earth. He will bring judgment on both nations and people for their unbelief and sin.
They cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, the one who is holy and true, how long until you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?… Those who live on the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and send gifts to one another because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth… All those who live on the earth will worship it, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered… It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed… It deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that it is permitted to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived… Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, with the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people… The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction. Those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast that was, and is not, and is to come (Revelation 6:10; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:8).
Neither of these pertains to the church. The church will not be part of that period simply because she does not fit into the purposes of God for the Tribulation.
The Need for an Interval
There are three events that the Bible teaches will take place before the Second Coming but after the Rapture. First, the Judgment Seat of Christ. The rewarding of believers is connected closely to the Lord’s return in several passages (e.g. 1 Peter 5:4 and Revelation 22:12). The reason for this time is to reward believers for their faithful service to the Lord during their lifetime (1 Corinthians 3:11-4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Second, the Marriage of the Lamb. According to Revelation 19:7-9 there will be great joy in heaven when this event takes place. The text In Revelation 19 places this event in heaven, not on earth or in the clouds. The Marriage of the Lamb is a very important event to the Lord Jesus, since He has given His life for her, He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27). At the marriage, believers (the church) are united forever with Him, so that where I am you may be also (John 14:3) and we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17). John Walvoord states,
“The implication is evident that those in heaven who compose the “bride” are already translated or resurrected and their righteous acts determined and rewarded….If the church is to be judged, rewarded, and joined to Christ in the symbol of the marriage before the Second Advent, an interval of time is required.”9
Third, the salvation of those who will enter the millennial kingdom in non-glorified bodies. At the rapture, all believers on earth are removed, leaving non-believers only. Yet, when Jesus returns at His second coming, large numbers of believers populate the earth. They come to faith after the rapture and before the second coming. At the second coming these believers are not said to be changed—they will not receive glorified bodies. This will make it possible for them to repopulate the earth in the millennial kingdom. Walvoord states,
“The Scripture declares emphatically that life on earth in the Millennium relates to a people not translated and not resurrected, a people still in their mortal bodies. Isaiah 65:20-25 declares of the inhabitants (of Jerusalem): “they will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit…They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.” The passage closes with a description of millennial conditions… Obviously, only a people in mortal flesh build houses, plant, work and have offspring.”10
Forth, the judgment of the sheep and the goats. In Matthew 25:31-33, Jesus spoke of His own return at the end of the tribulation period to judge the Gentiles survived. Jesus Christ is the Shepherd who will separate the sheep from the goats, the believers from the non-believers.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left.
Survivors of the seven-year tribulation will be gathered when Jesus Christ returns. This passage is referring to the judgment of the nations. This event is significant for the timing of the rapture. As I mentioned previously, the post-tribulation view believes that the rapture will occur concurrently with the second coming of Christ, a single event separated by a few moments. If that is the case, then who are the sheep spoken of in this Matthew passage? The post-tribulation view is correct then there would be no sheep left since they would have been raptured, there would only be goats. Charles Ryrie explains that,
“There is no way the rapture can remove the sheep yet have them present on the earth immediately following the rapture to be judged.”11
There is no way that the rapture and the second coming can happen simultaneously as the post-tribulationalist argues because there will be no need for the Shepherd to separate the survivors of the tribulation since all that is left is the one group, the goats.
MacArthur and Mayhue write that,
“If the rapture occurs in connection with a post-tribulational coming, the subsequent separation of the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 would be redundant.”12
The Removal of the Restrainer
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him: We ask you, brothers and sisters… Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s temple, proclaiming that he himself is God. Don’t you remember that when I was still with you I used to tell you about this? And you know what currently restrains him, so that he will be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way, and then the lawless one will be revealed. The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and will bring him to nothing at the appearance of his coming (2 Thessalonians 2:1, 3-8).
This passage describes the revelation of the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist. Paul tells us about some of the things the man of lawlessness will do. Paul also tells us that for now his identity remains a secret until he is revealed. Then Paul says, and you know what currently restrains him, so that he will be revealed in his time. The natural question here is, what currently retrains him? Hitchcock explains that it is.
“God Himself. In this case it is God the Holy Spirit who is the restrainer. But that still leaves some loose ends—why is the Holy Spirit referred to as both a principle and as a person—as a what and a who? And how can the Holy Spirit, who is omnipresent, be removed from the earth? These are legitimate concerns. The Holy Spirit is omnipresent and cannot be removed from the earth. Moreover, millions of people will be saved during the Tribulation (Revelation 7:9–14). The convicting, drawing, regenerating ministry of the Holy Spirit is essential for anyone to be saved both now and in the Tribulation (John 3:5; 16:7–11; 1 Corinthians 12:3). So how can the Holy Spirit be the restrainer? I believe the answer is that the Holy Spirit is at work during this age in and through the church.
There are four key reasons for identifying the restrainer this way. First, this restraint requires omnipotent power. Second, this view adequately explains the change in gender—from neuter to masculine—in 2 Thessalonians 2:6–7. In Greek the word pneuma (Spirit) is neuter. But the Holy Spirit is also consistently referred to by the masculine pronoun He, especially in John 14–16. Third, Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit as restraining sin and evil in the world (Genesis 6:3) and in the heart of the believer (Galatians 5:16–17). Finally, the Holy Spirit uses the church and its proclamation and portrayal of the gospel as the primary instrument in this age to restrain evil. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13–16). We are the temple of the Holy Spirit both individually and corporately (1 Corinthians 3:17; 6:19; Ephesians 2:21–22).”13
The work of the Holy Spirit performed through God’s people is the restrainer in this present age. We get a glimpse of the powerful influence of this restraining when we compare the world today, prior to the rapture and the tribulation period, with the world after the restrainer is removed. The church’s salt and light are removed from the earth. Sin and evil will be unrestrained, Satan will execute his plan fully through the antichrist, unleashing wickedness like the world has never seen before.
Charles Swindoll puts it like this,
“When the church is “gathered together” and taken to be with Christ in the air, the salt and light will be withdrawn. Then every vestige of goodness will decay; every remnant of truth, unravel. It is at that time when the man of lawlessness will take center stage. Like cages in a zoo suddenly opened, so will it be when the Restrainer is taken out of the way and lawlessness runs wild and rampant in the streets. Ours is a day of grace in which sin, to a large degree, is restrained. It is a day when God does not deal directly with human sin. However, there will come a time when He will step on the scene to deal definitively with sin. And that will be a time of great destruction.”14
After the rapture, the antichrist will operate unrestrained by the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit does continue His work in bringing people to salvation. People will become saved in Jesus during the tribulation period (see Matthew 24:14; Revelation 7:9-14)
This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb! All the angels stood around the throne, and along with the elders and the four living creatures they fell facedown before the throne and worshiped God, saying, Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen. Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people in white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-14).
The Church Will Be in Heaven
In the first three chapters of the book of Revelation, the church is mentioned seventeen times, yet in chapters four through eighteen, the time of Jacob’s trouble, the church is not mentioned once. The church is once again mentioned or seen in chapter nineteen when she returns with Christ at His glorious appearing, His second coming. Clearly, the church is absent from the earth during the Tribulation period and with Christ in heaven appearing before the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11-4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10) and being united with Christ forever at the Marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9).
The Distinctions between the Church and Israel
Louis Barbieri says that,
“In Matthew 16:18 Jesus announced to His disciples that He was going to be building His church. His use of the future tense (“will build”) implies that the building of the church was something Jesus would be initiating in the future. While God’s program for the church was clearly in His mind from all eternity, the church has a specific beginning point and ending point in history. One must understand the distinction between God’s program for the church and His program for Israel to grasp properly His plan for the future.”15
The church and Israel are two distinct entities. Nowhere in the Bible does the term Israel refer to the church, it always refers to the physical posterity of Jacob. There are numerous passages in Scripture that clearly indicate after the birth of the church, Israel is still regarded as a distinct entity (i.e. Romans 9:6; 1 Corinthians 10:32). Nowhere does the Bible teach that the church has replaced of Israel or that the church has inherited the unconditional promises which God had made to Israel. During the church-age, the dispensation of grace, Paul clearly indicates that God has temporarily set aside Israel (Romans 11:17-25). At the rapture, God concludes His program for the church here on earth and resumes His program for the Jews.
Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree, do not boast that you are better than those branches. But if you do boast—you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” True enough; they were broken off because of unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but beware, because if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Therefore, consider God’s kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God’s kindness toward you—if you remain in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from your native wild olive tree and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these—the natural branches—be grafted into their own olive tree? I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you will not be conceited: A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:17-25).
The Distinctions between the Rapture and the Second Coming
The rapture and the second coming are clearly two future distinct events in the Scriptures. A study of the passages dealing with both the rapture (John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) and the second coming (Joel 3:12-16; Zechariah 14:1-5; Matthew 24:29-31; Revelation 19:11-21) will highlight those differences.
First, the Rapture. When Jesus returns for His church, the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16), and then, we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (4:17). During this event, Jesus will not return to the earth since both the risen and living believers will meet the Lord in the clouds.
The Rapture is the fulfillment of the promise Jesus had made to the disciples when He said, If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also (John 14:3).
It will be a time of blessing, for the saints will enter the final aspect of their salvation. No judgment is even hinted of in any of the rapture passages; therefore, judgment is not associated with this event. The rapture will occur prior to the wrath of God being poured out on the earth.
During this event, Jesus comes for His church so that the saints may appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ and be rewarded for their faithful service to the Lord (1 Corinthians 3:11-4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10), and so the bride may be presented to the Bridegroom at the Marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9).
Second, the Second Coming. At this event, it is clear that Jesus’ feet will actually and literally touch the earth. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. The Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, forming a huge valley, so that half the mountain will move to the north and half to the south (Zechariah 14:4). When He returns and His feet touch the earth an incredible topographical change will result.
In contrast with the rapture, the emphasis of His second coming has to do with the judgment that will fall on the unbelievers of this world. It will be a period when God’s wrath will be poured out on the earth. Unlike the rapture, judgment is very much a part of this event.
His second coming will be a fulfillment of the words spoken by the angels to the disciples during Christ’s ascension, …Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven (Acts 1:11).
During this event, Jesus returns with the church, and the emphasis is on the establishment of His kingdom, to inaugurate the promised Davidic kingdom.
A Comparison Between the Rapture and the Second Coming
|The Second Coming
|Christ comes in the air (1 Thess. 4:16–17)
|Christ comes to the earth (Zech. 14:4)
|Christ comes for his saints (1 Thess. 4:16–17)
|Christ comes with his saints (1 Thess. 3:13; Jude 1:14)
|Christ claims his bride
|Christ comes with his bride
|Not in the Old Testament
|Predicted often in the Old Testament
|There are no signs—it is imminent (1 Cor. 15:52)
|Portended by many signs (Matt. 24:4–29)
|A time of blessing and comfort (1 Thess. 4:18)
|A time of destruction and judgment (2 Thess. 2:8–12)
|Involves believers only (John 14:1–3; 1 Cor. 15:51–55; 1 Thess. 4:13–18)
|Involves Israel and the Gentile nations (Matt. 24:1–25:46)
|Will occur in a moment—only his own will see him (1 Cor. 15:51–52)
|Will be visible to the entire world (Matt. 24:27; Rev. 1:7)
How Then Should We Live?
Considering that the rapture could take place at any moment, how should we be living our lives and what should we be focusing on? I would argue that at minimum, there are three things we should be committed to doing:
For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
Remember, then, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come upon you (Revelation 3:3).
Knowing that the Lord could come back for us at any moment, literally, should serve as a tremendous motivator to us. Living with that kind of anticipation and expectancy helps us remain focused.
“The only way to wait for the second coming is to watch that you do what you should do, so that when he comes is a matter of indifference. It is the attitude of a child, certain that God knows what he is about. When the Lord does come, it will be as natural as breathing. God never does anything hysterical, and he never produces hysterics.”16
It is like a man on a journey, who left his house, gave authority to his servants, gave each one his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to be alert (Mark 13:34).
Besides this, since you know the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, and the day is near; so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (Romans 13:11-12).
These and many other passages clearly teach us that we are to remain busy doing the Kingdom’s work, for there is much to do and little time to do it. If Christ were to return right now, what kind of work or project would you want Him to find you doing? We are here to serve Him and to serve our fellow man, in fact, though Christ is not here personally and physically, He is here, in you and me. Jesus is relying on us to be faithful and committed workers, for if we do not do the work, who will?
Then he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).
Jesus Himself said that the very purpose for the incarnation was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus gave His life blood to redeem the elect. As His ambassadors, we now represent Him and carry on His work of “seeking and saving” the lost. In fact, regarding the world, that is the very reason why the church exists.
1 Timothy J. Demy and Thomas Ice, Answers to Common Questions about the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011), p. 50.
2 Thomas L. Constable, “1 Thessalonians,”in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton: Victor, 1983), p. 704.
3 Mal Couch, The Hope of Christ’s Return (Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 2001), p. 125.
4 John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2001, Database © 2015 WORDsearch), p. 133.
5 John F. Walvoord, The Thessalonian Epistles (Copyright © 2008 JFW Publishing Trust. Digitized from the 1976 print version © Lamplighter Books / Zondervan Publishing House), p. 44.
6 Edmond D. Hiebert, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), p. 214.
7 David Jeremiah, Is This The End? (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2016), p. 247.
8 Ed Hinson and Mark M. Hitchcock, Can We Still Believe in the Rapture? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2017; Database © 2018 Wordsearch), p. 141.
9 John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), p. 84.
10 Ibid., p. 86.
11 Charles C. Ryrie, Come Quickly, Lord Jesus (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1996), pp. 89-90.
12 John F. MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine (Wheaton; IL: Crossway, 2017), p. 900.
13 Mark M. Hitchcock, The End: Everything You’ll Want to Know about the Apocalypse, Op. cit., pp. 164–165.
14 Charles R. Swindoll, Steadfast Christianity: A Study of Second Thessalonians (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986).
15 Louis A. Barbieri, “The Church: Watching for Our Blessed Hope,” in Storm Clouds on the Horizon, Charles H. Dyer, ed., (Chicago: Moody, 2001), p. 34.
16 Edythe Draper, Draper’s Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1992), entry 9912.
Dr. Miguel J. Gonzalez is the Founder and President of Reasons for Faith International Ministries. He served as a pastor for ten years in Charlotte, NC and has taught in churches and conferences throughout the United States. He currently hosts the Time in the Word and Truth To Live By podcasts and writes at KnowingChristianity.blogspot.com.
Copyright © 2006–2021 by Miguel J. Gonzalez Th.D. and published by Reasons for Faith International Ministries, Inc. by permission. No part may be altered or edited in any way. Permission is granted to use in digital or printed form so long as it is circulated without charge, and in its entirety. This document may not be repackaged in any form for sale or resale. All reproductions must contain the copyright notice (i.e., Copyright © 2006-2021 Miguel J. Gonzalez Th.D.) and this Copyright/Limitations notice.