The Rapture of the Church vs. the Second Coming
One of the major theological issues Christian’s have divided over these past two millennia has been the manner and timing of Christ’s return. Some Christian’s do not believe Christ will return at all, but that is NOT what the Bible teaches. That is man’s teaching, and man’s attempt to bring the kingdom in now through their denominational or religious efforts. Clearly, if there is one thing all TRUE Christians can agree on regarding this topic is this, that Christ will return again.
Christians’ division over the timing of Christ’s return is, in my estimation, a lesser issue, but no less the theological hot potato. Because it can be a contentious issue, many churches refuse to teach on the subject anymore.
- That is theological laziness.
- That is putting people’s feelings above Scriptural truth.
- That is robbing/denying the laypersons understanding.
Therefore, there are three major views regarding WHEN Christ will return. There is the Pre-Tribulation View – Christ will return for His Church before the 70th Week of Daniel. There is the Mid-Tribulation view – Christ will return at the mid-point and/or the Tribulation is only 3 ½ years long. Finally, there is the Post-Tribulation view, and that is that Christ’s Second Coming and our being caught up (Rapture-Eng., Raptus- Latin, and Harpazo- Greek) to Him are all in the same event. There are other fringe views, but they’re insignificant and not worthy of discussion at this point.
The first thing we have to realize is that Christ’s Second Coming is broken up into two parts: the Rapture (Harpazo-catching up) of His bride the Church (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:13-18;1 Cor. 15:51-56), and His return to earth with His bride the Church at the Triumphal Return (as chronicled in Zech. 14:3-5; Matt. 24:29-31, 26:64; Jude 1:14-15; Rev. 1:7, 19:11-14). These cannot be the same event because of the numerous and glaring distinctions juxtaposed against each other. (Differences chart)
Critics of my aforementioned statement (Second Coming in Two-Part Harmony) fail to recognize that the Jews of Jesus’s day had that exact same problem concerning Christ’s First Coming as these critics now have with His Second Coming. They (first-century Jews) thought the Messiah would come, kick the Romans out, and usher in the Kingdom right then and there. What they failed to see in the Old Testament (but what we Christians now clearly see with Scriptural hindsight) is the two separate comings of the Messiah…first as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, and later as the conquering King (Isaiah 53; Dan. 9:24-26; John 1:29; Psalm 2; Zech. 10, 14). Critics of the Pre-Tribulation view fail to see that Christ’s Second Coming is also in two parts.
We (proponents of the Pre-Tribulation view) recognize that Jesus does talk extensively about the events leading up to and including His Triumphal Return, but that does not diminish nor deny that He also talks about His return for the Church first.
Days of Noah vs. the Olivet Discourse
The first mention of the concept of the Rapture in the Gospels is found in Luke 17:26-30. In it, Jesus likened the time of His return to that of the days of Noah and Lot – a world that was largely carrying on as if it did not have a care in the world. In fact, He went out of His way to emphasize the sense of normalcy surrounding these events despite their OT pinning’s. Were they in massive tribulation prior to the flood, or prior to Sodom and Gomorrah’s fiery hailstorm? No, life was normal. Incessantly wicked and violent yes, but normal in the sense that a frog cooking in a pot does not realize the water it is in is being boiled until it is too late (Gen 6, 19).
People were going about their normal lives…and then disaster struck. Jesus could not be possibly referring to the events inside the 70th Week of Daniel primarily because, as the 21 divine judgments are unleashed, the world will be anything but normal. Those judgments cause half the world’s population to die, large percentages of the ocean and fresh water to turn to blood, the sun has a ‘nova’-like event, then goes dark, people are struck with sores, and the Two Witnesses perform unbelievable signs and wonders, etc., so there leaves little possibility for ‘normal’ inside the seven-year Tribulation.
The Olivet Discourse, on the other hand, is what most people automatically default to when they want to get Jesus’s view on the last days. The Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke all carry a variant of the Olivet Discourse. What often gets overlooked is that each of the Gospels provide a different perspective on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus because they were geared toward different audiences.
- Matthew: portrays Christ as the rightful Heir of ‘David’s Throne’ with roots back to Abraham, has very Jewish overtones throughout the book, and it has the Olivet Discourse. (Written circa 50AD)
- Mark: portrays the servanthood of Christ thus no genealogy, is written with a Gentile audience in mind, and has the Olivet Discourse. (Circa 68AD)
- Luke: portrays the humanity of Christ with roots back to Adam, is written with a Greek audience in mind, and has the Olivet Discourse. (Circa 60AD)
- John: portrays the deity of Christ…is the last gospel written well into the Church era and does not have any version of the Olivet Discourse. (Circa 85AD)
Wait…did John forget to put his version of the Olivet Discourse in there? He was one of the attendees after all (Mark 13:3). Maybe he knew he was going to write the book of Revelation later in life (95AD) and decided to save it till then… Oh wait…he didn’t know that either. (Did he know he was going to get banished to the Isle of Patmos under Domitian?) Hmmm…I wonder why John didn’t record a variant of the Olivet Discourse? Why would John leave out one of his Lord’s longest and most prolific discussions?
Perhaps John’s Gospel, being the last, thought it unnecessary since the other three had it? That seems silly since only one version of the Olivet Discourse would be necessary, not three (Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s). Or perhaps it is because the Holy Spirit instructed him not to write it. Instead, he records the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16)…which was taught exclusively to the eleven disciples the night before His crucifixion. Instead of recording wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, pestilences, etc.…John records the comforting words that Christians of every generation could take solace in:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
Jesus (being God in the Flesh) knew before He ever came the first time that His second coming would not be a singular event. Rather it would be two events, both of which bestow a special place of honor for His bride the Church. It is not that we the Church are deserving of any such honor, but only because Christ shed His own divine blood for us and that we are the Church He built (Matt. 16:18-19). We are the pearl of great price in the parable in which the merchant sold all He had to purchase it (Matt. 13:45-46).
One common misconception nonbelievers have about Christianity is that when we Christians mention the Church, they somehow believe we are only speaking about a religion, a denomination, or a building. The Bible describes the Church (Greek-ekklesia) as being a living organism, e.g., the universal body of believers who are neither Jews nor Gentiles, but a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).
Born-again Christians make up the multimember, corporate-yet singular, body of Christ (Col. 1:18, 24; Eph. 5:23). In fact, the true Church consists of all believers from the first Pentecost (33AD est.) until the Rapture. Most importantly is that the Church is not something men can even build, but something only Christ can do alone (Matt. 16:18-19). The case that Christ is building it (rather than renovating something that already was – Israel) is more proof that the Church is not Israel. Neither is Israel the Church. The Church could not have existed until AFTER Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection and our subsequent indwelling by the Holy Spirit.
At the core of the Church is the belief in the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-5). The Gospel is that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day, conquering death and hell in the process. We trust in His finished work on the cross, and trade our sinfulness for His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:17-21). That is the only way we can be born-again. Our being born-again does not make us go from being sinners to holy rollers. We go from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive (Rom. 7). Thus, we are reconnected with our Creator and will, at the appointed time, be translated (during the Rapture) from mortal to immortal to live with our God forever.
The second common misconception amongst believers regarding the origin of the Church was that the Church was born at Pentecost. The Church was not born at Pentecost, but rather, was conceived there with the giving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Just as when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary, she did not immediately give birth to the Messiah, but rather, went through the normal stages of pregnancy, carrying Jesus to term before delivering Him in a manger (Luke 2:7). The Church was conceived at Pentecost and has been going through the stages of development, as it were, these past two millennia. The Rapture is that day (or the day of Christ) in which every generation has been waiting on for our delivery, when immortality becomes a reality.
“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:19-23).
Thus, the Rapture of the Church is more than just an escape plan. It is more than our physical deliverance from the coming wrath of God upon the earth, but our physical deliverance from mortality into our immortality. It, like the birthing process, is a necessary transition in order for us to adapt into our new environment. Not only can the human body physically not survive where God is in the flesh, but we (in our sinful state) could not exist where God is because of His holiness. We have to be changed, or we could never go. God is spirit, and the third heaven exists in a spiritual domain in the eternal realm. We will be given glorified (built for eternity) bodies.
The Apostle John addresses this and likens it to Christ’s body after His resurrection. Jesus could touch and be touched, could eat, and could move about as a normal person does. He could also appear and disappear at will and could walk through solid objects.
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
Although much unnecessary hype was made over the Rev 12-sign movement that was popular a few years back, it was not a total wash. Two solid teachings actually came out of it (or that I took out of it), and were these: the church was not born at Pentecost, and the single, silver-bullet rapture passage every rapture skeptic is always asking for is actually Rev. 12:5.
“Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Revelation 12:1-6).
You see, when reading the passage, we see within a single verse, a concise, chronological picture of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Then you see His body (the Church) being caught up (same word- harpazo) to the throne of God. Thus, the only mention of the Church after Revelation 3:22 on the earth is here by inference, and she is not addressed as ekklesia, but as her Child (speaking of Israel’s). So for a quick rehash on who’s who in Revelation 12;
- The woman- Israel (Gen. 37:8-10)
- Fiery red dragon- Satan (Rev. 12:7)
- Male-Child- Jesus Christ (Isaiah 7:14)
- Her Child- The Church (Rev. 2:26-27)
Of this, Dr. Svigel quotes Darby in saying:
In the same year, on July 15, 1848, in a letter to one Ralph Evans, Darby walks through his interpretation of Rev 12. He identifies the woman as Israel. With regard to the identification of the Man child, Darby interprets this as Christ but then adds, “Now the church is only brought in as being identified with Christ Himself, here according to the promise of Thyatira.” In this promise, we recall, Christ extended the Messianic rule described in Ps 2 to those who overcome:
“The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father” (Rev 2:26–27).
Thus, Darby is making a corporate connection between the male child in Rev 12:5 and his corporate body, the church, applying the same promise of Ps 2 both to Christ and the church. (Link)
I first heard about this perspective from Scottie Clarke, who from what I gather, learned about it from Dr. Michael Svigel (Dallas Theological), who had noticed some forgotten work done much earlier by the likes of Darby, Blackstone, and Ironside regarding Revelation 12. The accusations from non-pre-trib Rapture proponents will be…see, see….you got your teachings from men! Ok. Guilty I suppose. However, where did they get it?
Not only would it be the height of arrogance for me to try to pass this revelatory insight off as my own, but it would also be dishonest. Earlier, greater and smarter men than I have come to these same conclusions long before I ever did…and that is ok. We only see as much as we do today (prophetically speaking) because we stand on the shoulders of giants.
However, not everyone is of this opinion. Here is a point in which Randy and I would disagree. I believe (as does Randy) that you should hear both sides of the position so that you can make your own mind up (as the Lord leads you) regarding this tertiary topic.
From Randy: Regarding Revelation 12:5, I do not see the Church mentioned anywhere…only Jesus. And her (Israel) child (Jesus) was caught up unto God, and to his throne. Yes, Jesus was caught up into heaven after his 40 days on earth after his resurrection. He was the firstfruits of those believers who will die and receive their heavenly bodies at the Rapture. Of course, Jesus received his glorified heavenly body when he was taken up. The Old Testament saints (spirits) were relocated to the third heaven from Sheol/Paradise after Jesus’ crucifixion. They will not receive their heavenly bodies until Jesus’ Second Coming. I guess it all depends on the definition of caught up. Jesus still left the earth by supernatural means. I just have trouble with Israel’s (her) child being the Church and not Jesus.
Man cannot fathom the joys and wonders that God has in store for his children after the Rapture. “But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
So, there you have it. I hope you have been blessed by this series of articles, and as believers and watchmen, been encouraged to work, wait, study, and watch for our Lord’s soon return.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!