The Rapture: Incidental Or Fundamental?
In addition to the many themes touched upon in the preceding chapters, it yet remains to clarify the major differences between the rapture of the Church and the revelation of Christ to earth. If the posttribulational view is correct, the center of Christian thought and expectation should rightly be the revelation of Christ, the rapture becoming an incidental part of His return to earth from glory. If, however, the rapture stands by itself as an individual crisis and if it is the next major event upon the program of God, it becomes the one issue of fundamental importance to all who look with hope to the end of the age.
Christians must read the Word of God with discernment. No matter how earnest the Bible student, his interpretations will go astray if he fails to distinguish between things that differ. While it is a mathematical axiom that “things equal to the same thing are equal to each other,” it does not always follow that Biblical events which bear some similarity are therefore identical. Particularly is this true of eschatology. All judgments are not the same judgment, nor are all resurrections the same resurrection, no matter how hard some may try to press them into a single mold.
A typical example of prophetic generalization may be noted from the Westminster Confession:
1. At the last day shall be a general resurrection of the dead both of the just and of the unjust.
2. All found alive shall be immediately changed.
3. Immediately after the resurrection shall follow the general and final judgment of all angels and men, good and bad.
With clear evidence to the contrary, such “lumping together” of prophetic events can only confuse the student and discredit the Sacred Text. While the author does not advocate making complex the things of God, the tendency of many to oversimplify God’s prophetic program is nevertheless an error of the first magnitude.
I. The Posttribulational Concept of the Rapture
When posttribulationalists refuse to distinguish between the rapture and the revelation of Christ, blending them together into a single event which occurs “in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump,” they fall into the same reductive error. The outcome is to make the rapture an insignificant and meaningless detail. In the words of Reese, it is “a mere incident of the appearing,” spoken of only to show that the living will have no advantage over the dead in Christ at His appearing. According to this view, “both the rapture of the saints, with the change of living believers, and the visible appearance of our Lord in glory and in judgment will occur at one and the same time.” It is the purpose of this chapter to show that such a theory is in conflict with the Scriptures at every point of investigation. Two facts in particular will be outstanding: first, the rapture of the saints and the revelation of Christ to earth are separate in point of time, and second, these events differ the one from the other in many of their leading characteristics.
Now it is rather obvious that one will search in vain if he looks for a crystallized statement such as “The rapture will precede the revelation by seven years.” If any such declaration existed there would be no argument whatsoever. But similarly, nor does the Bible say in just so many words that “God is a trinity,” ye an abundance of Scripture attests this fact. The absence of a word or a definition is of little consequence if the doctrine is woven into the very fabric of Scripture. The solutions to all Bible problems do not lie on the immediate surface, but must be settled by inference, by comparing Scripture with Scripture, by reverent Spirit-taught exegesis. Such is the case with the question at hand, and the lack of a clear, concrete statement is more than replaced by a wealth of relevant verses – sufficient, it would seem, to afford a clear and satisfying answer.
II. Is the Rapture Simultaneous with the
Revelation of Christ?
In making the rapture of the Church saints a secondary part of the same crisis with the revelation of Christ to earth, posttribulationalists stand alone. All others, pretribulationalists and midtribulationalists, as well as partial-rapturists, unite in viewing the rapture as a phase of the second advent, distinct from the return to earth. Fraser, a posttribulational author, recognizes that the rapture and the revelation are “two phases of our Lord’s Second Coming,” but it is representative of his school of though when he adds: “they occur together at the full end of the age.” The thought is that the saints will meet the Lord in the air “and will return with Him at once.” In answer to the query: “If Christ comes for His saints on the Day of the Lord, how are we to reconcile this with the statement of Scripture that He then comes with His saints?” Reese responds:
There is no need to reconcile them; Christ comes for His saints and with them at the same crisis. When He comes according to I Thess. iv. 13-17 and Matt. xxiv. 31, He is on His way to earth to establish the Messianic Kingdom. But before the blow falls upon the ungodly, the Elect are gathered from one end of heaven to the other to meet the approaching Lord. They meet the Lord in the air and follow in His train.
As the authority for this view, there is cited the meaning of the Greek verb in I Thessalonians 4:17, where it is recorded: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” In the opinion of Cameron:
A very definite truth is settled, however, by the word translated “to meet,” which has a distinct and definite meaning. It is only used three times in the New Testament, and in every case it mans to meet and to return with the person me. Therefore, those caught up, meet the Lord and return with Him.
Actually the noun άπάνησις, meaning a meeting or an encounter, is found four times in the Greek New Testament (Matt. 25:1, 6; Acts 28:15; I Thess. 4:17). Reese has drawn the posttribulational interpretation of these verses a little more sharply than Cameron, as follows:
There are only three other places in the New Testament, where the phrase here translated “to meet” occurs; and in all of them (Matt. xxv. 1, 6; Acts xxviii. 15) the party met continues after the meeting to advance still in the direction in which He was moving previously.
By concluding that the Church saints who are caught up to meet Christ continue in the direction of the Saviour, the posttribulationalists find evidence that the rapture and the revelation are joined together in a single crisis.
However, there is slender evidence indeed to warrant robbing the Church of its pretribulational hope. While Acts 28:15 may indicate that the brethren from Rome returned with Paul to that city, it is far less clear (in both Matthew 25:1 and 25:6) what direction the bridegroom takes after he has been met by the virgins. How can one be sure when the destination is not given? But in I Thessalonians 4:17, the destination of the bridegroom after He meets His bride in the air is not open to question. According to John 14:2, 3, His coming again to receive His own unto Himself is for the express purpose of taking His bride to the heavenly mansions now being prepared for them. Here is clear Biblical evidence that the party met by Christ does not continue “after the meeting to advance still in the direction in which He was moving previously.” For posttribulationalists to attack the hope of Christ’s pretribulational coming on the strength of what presumably happened when Paul was met by brethren from Rome is precarious indeed. Of the two passages cited by Reese, Thiessen writes:
In neither of these Scriptures is it clear that they returned immediately after meeting. Paul undoubtedly had a time of fellowship with the brethren that came to meet him, before they started for Rome. The Greek word here used means simply a meeting, and the cognate Greek verb, to go to meet, to meet. Thayer, op. cit., s. v. Indeed, in the Textus Receptus reading of Luke 14:31, and in the LXX text of I Sam. 22:17; 2 Sam. 1:15; I Macc. 11:15, 68, and in other Greek writers, the thought of a return is impossible. Therefore we affirm that although Christ will return with His own, the language nowhere implies that He will return immediately.
The evidence against the posttribulational contention is even more devastating from a study of the Greek verb which bears the same stem and meaning as the noun in question. The cognate verb άπαντάω, to meet, which Reese fails to mention, occurs seven times in the New Testament. Anyone who can read for himself the simple narrative of the passages involved will immediately discover that the interpretation suggested by Reese is arbitrary and misleading. In Matthew 28:9, 10, the women who met Christ did not continue with Him but were sent on ahead into the city. In Mark 5:2, a man with an unclean spirit comes out of the tombs to meet Jesus. Rather than continuing together in the same direction, Christ commands him to go home to his friends telling what great things were done for him (v. 19).
Again in Mark 14:13, the idea of Reese and Cameron proves to be in error. Christ instructs His disciples to go into the city, there to meet a man bearing a pitcher of water. The fact that Christ then adds the command, “follow him” shows clearly that the verb itself does not convey the meaning that they were to continue together. To say otherwise is to accuse the Lord Himself of redundancy.
Equally as striking is the account of Luke 14:31, which involves kings at war. Thayer’s Lexicon points out that the verb “to meet” is used here “in a military sense of hostile meeting,” which hardly implies going along in the same direction. Liddell and Scott, in their Greek-English Lexicon also bear out the fact that the verb is often used in Greek literature in a “hostile sense, to meet in battle.” In Luke 17:12, ten lepers meet Christ and are cleansed of their dread disease. Although the same verb, “to meet” is used, it is significant that none continue with Christ and only one returns long enough to glorify God and give thanks. Even this one whose faith has made him whole is sent on his way by the Lord.
Of the seven references where the verb άπαντάω is used, John 4:51 alone implies that those who meet continued on their way together – but this is gathered, not from the meaning of the verb, but rather from the fact that they were members of the same household. In the final reference, Acts 16:16, the damsel with the spirit of divination which met Paul and Silas hardly traveled on with these disciples, for they were almost immediately put on trial and thrown into the Philippian prison. Nor can it be presumed that the evil spirit cast out from the damsel cared to journey further in the same direction with these men of God.
It is therefore entirely in order to conclude that the posttribulational position in regard to the rapture, that the saints will meet the Lord in the air and return with Him to the earth in one simultaneous action, is hopelessly in error both theologically and linguistically. Such a view can only confuse and mislead the members of Christ’s Church. There is no Scriptural warrant or lexicographical precedent to require an immediate return of the saints to earth, save the demands of the posttribulational scheme.
III. Rapture and Revelation Differ in Point of Time
A. A New Testament Pattern
In addition to I Thessalonians 4:17 and these other verses which prove an immediate return of the Church with Christ highly improbable, the analogy of other New Testament Scriptures suggests that an interval between the rapture and the revelation is necessary. Brookes has indicated how other dealings of Christ with His people favor a twofold aspect of the second coming:
Christ at His first coming was revealed only to His own who waited for the consolation of Israel, and, then after an interval He was publicly manifested to the world on the banks of the Jordan…. We are justified before God by faith alone; we are justified before men by works. We are sanctified now in Christ Jesus, and we are sanctified progressively also as we go through the world. The Lord has private dealings with his own before there is any public exhibition of himself or of them; and it is easy to believe that he will not make their reception into His presence and His revelation in judgment a simultaneous act.
The prior rapture of the Church is in complete harmony with the angelic testimony recorded in Acts 1:11. The ascension sets the pattern for His coming, for Christ shall return “in like manner.” Christ left the earth in the presence of His disciples, not seen by His enemies as are the two witnesses of Revelation 11:12. Is it not implied that the return of Christ will first be for His friends before He is manifested in the sign of all men? This same truth is illustrated by the parable of the pounds in Luke 19. When the nobleman returned, he first called together his servants and had a reckoning with them concerning service rendered during his departure, after which he dealt with his enemies.
Many times during this investigation, it has been indicated how the overall pattern of New Testament doctrine is in accord with the presence of an interval between the rapture and the revelation. The Pauline Epistles deal extensively with the walk of the Christian while on earth, yet there is no instruction for the behavior of the Church during the trials of the Tribulation period and the conflict with the Beast. This is not an oversight, or a subject thought unnecessary to expound, for Israel is certainly instructed (Matt. 24:15-26), with the reminder “Behold, I have told you before.”
Nor is the Church mentioned in the fourteen chapters of the Revelation given over to the detailed description of the Tribulation and its actors. In chapters two and three, during which John writes of “the things which are,” the ekklesia of God is mentioned no less than nineteen times; but when the vision turns to “the things which shall be hereafter,” that is, during the Tribulation, the Church is no longer an actor upon the world stage. Nor is she seen again until Revelation 19:8, 14, at which time she is found returning with the armies of heaven to rule and to reign with Christ. During the Tribulation, Israel is protected from the anger of the Beast (Rev. 12:13-17), but no place of protection is recorded for the Church, implying that it is not needed.
It is important to recognize this basic harmony between the pretribulational view and the other themes of the New Testament. The hope of a prior rapture for the Church is not something foreign to the Sacred Text. Indeed, it is an integral part of the total pattern.
B. The Jewish Remnant
Although it is good millennial doctrine that God will yet revive His ancient people, Israel, and send them out as witnesses to His saving grace in the end time, posttribulationalists find it convenient to ridicule those of Israel who are redeemed during the Tribulation. Reese pours out his scorn upon this “half-converted, half-Christian Jewish Remnant (unconverted, un-Christian would fit the facts better) …” but does not seem to recognize that his defense of a theory has thrown him into conflict with the Word of God. By divine inspiration, John calls them “servants of our God,” “they which follow the Lamb,” “redeemed from among men,” “firstfruits unto God,” and “without fault before the throne of God.” Testimony such as this should be clear enough to satisfy anyone.
The point, however, is that these redeemed ones are seen as Jews. They are listed according to their genealogy from the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:4-8; 14:1-5), yet they belong to Christ for they bear His testimony (Rev. 12:17). Here is proof indeed that the Church is not on earth during the Tribulation. Probably the most distinguishing characteristics of the Christian Church is that both Jews and Gentiles have been placed into the body of Christ by the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:12, 13).
Contrary to anything previously known, the Jew and the Gentile has been reconciled to God in one body by the cross; the middle wall of partition has been broken down; both now constitute “one new man” in Christ so making peace (Eph. 2:11-18). Now if the Church were still on earth during the Tribulation, making that period merely the awful climax of the present Church Age, the redeemed of the Tribulation would automatically become members of the Church and would be classified as members of a distinct Jewish group. To force the Church into the Tribulation is to necessitate the simultaneous presence on earth of two separate, redeemed, witnessing groups, each retaining their separate identities – but to do so is to deny the vital Pauline doctrine of the unity of the body of Christ. The only other alternative is to deny that there is any redeemed Jewish remnant at all during the Tribulation. As demonstrated, such is the expediency of the posttribulationalist. It is self-evident that the Scriptures do not sustain his thesis.
While it is evident that Israel’s national conversion will not be complete until the revelation of Christ, when they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced (Zech. 12:10; Rom. 11:26, 27), nevertheless a remnant from among Israel shall be redeemed and become God’s primary witnessing body during the Tribulation. The Church, her witness complete, will be already with the Lord. Thus, the presence of redeemed Jews on earth during the time of Jacob’s sorrow necessitates a period of time after the rapture and before the revelation during which they will be converted and go forth to witness.
C. Important Events Separate Rapture from Revelation
According to the posttribulational view of the rapture, the Church is caught up to meet Christ in his triumphal sweep toward the earth, both rapture and revelation occurring almost simultaneously “in the twinkling of an eye,” or at the most in a matter of moments. Alexander Fraser, an ardent posttribulationalist, has quoted with approval the view of James R. Graham, Jr.:
On the same “day” and probably only a few moments apart, He comes for His saints, and with His saints (I Thessalonians 4:16, 17). The dead and living go up to meet Him as He descends, join His train and accompany Him back as He stands on the Mount of Olives and destroys Antichrist and his armies.
Reese is of the same mind when he says that the rapture is a mere incident of the Appearing and that the coming for and the coming with the saints belong to the same crisis. Cameron affirms that these events are “synchronous, and cannot be separated.” Unfortunately, however, this is an unsustained opinion. While posttribulationalists are forced by clear revelation to admit two distinct phases of the second advent, it is believed that they do not face squarely the evidence of two additional predicted events which necessitates and interval between rapture and revelation.
The first such event, which cannot occur until the rapture has passed, is the judgment seat of Christ (generally called the Bema eat, from βήμα, Gr. tribunal). Mentioned primarily in the writings of Paul, it constitutes a warning that each believer shall give God account of his stewardship, and an incentive for faithfulness in the Christian life and fruitfulness in Christian service.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad(II Cor. 5:10).
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (I Cor. 3:12-15).
This is not the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11); salvation is not in view, but Christian works; none who stand before the Bema seat of Christ are lost, but some will come there almost empty handed having gathered little fruit in God’s harvest field (Ps. 126:6; John 15:8). Paul speaks of a crown of righteousness “which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day” (II Tim. 4:8). Again, he mentions the prospect of a crown of rejoicing at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (I Thess. 2:19). Peter encouraged believers with the hope that “When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (I Pet. 5:4; cf. Rom. 14:10; I Cor. 9:24-27; John 5:22).
This judgment of the believer’s works is clearly associated with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ for His own. It is after the rapture but before the marriage supper, for it is inconceivable that the church should be judged and her works tried by fire after she is joined to Christ as His bride. This viewpoint is in complete harmony with the twenty-four elders, who represent the raptured church in heaven and are seen as crowned before God’s wrath falls upon the world.
The second major event to occur after the rapture but prior to the revelation is the marriage of the bride to Christ and the marriage supper of the Lamb:
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9).
This is the time for the Church to be presented “as a chaste virgin to Christ” (II Cor. 11:2), “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle … but … holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). From John’s record it is rather obvious that the presentation of the bride and the marriage of the Lamb occur in heaven (Rev. 19:1, 4, 11). The call to the marriage and the whole wonderful union (which Paul calls a “great mystery” in Eph. 5:32) takes place before heaven opens and the Son of God descends to the earth in power and great glory. If there is any chronology at all to the Revelation account, and if any harmony at all to the prophetic Word, the call to the marriage, the presentation of the bride, and the marriage of the Lamb occur in heaven before the revelation of Christ upon earth. In context the event is associated with heavenly worship, the presence of the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures, a voice “out of the throne,” and the mighty voice of the heavenly multitude (Rev. 19:1-6). Without doubt, the whole wonderful scene takes place in heaven. The saints have all been raptured (for there will be no partial bride!), but as yet the revelation has not taken place.
Here, then, are two notable events – the Bema seat of Christ and the marriage of the Lamb – both of which must occur in heaven after the rapture but before the return to earth. Now, these events have long been anticipated; they have been looked for with much rejoicing (Rev. 19:7) and will not be hurried. The bride has time to make herself ready (19:7). There is worship and praise involving all of the hosts of heaven (19:6). The Hallelujah Chorus of the redeemed must be sung, and with all eternity ahead it will not be limited to “the first and the last stanza”! Before the marriage and the supper will be the presentation of the bride. This is the most glorious, crowning experience in all the long history of the Church, and will be a time of greatest joy for the Christ who redeemed her. When all the saints go marching in, “He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11).
The Bema seat, and now the presentation of the bride and the marriage supper – there are literal events, not symbolical fancies. They cannot and will not be fulfilled all in one fleeting moment. The lives of the saints must be reviewed, their works must be tested, the rewards will be administered, the bride will prepare herself and be presented to Christ, the marriage must be performed and the marriage feast celebrated and enjoyed. Yet for the sake of a theory, which by sheer necessity unites the rapture and the revelation and all which intervenes into one solitary climax, some would have us believe that all these blessed experiences occur in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, as part of the downward sweep of the Lord to earth, with no preview of heaven, and wit no glimpse of the “many mansions” prepared by a loving Saviour for the Bride whom He will receive unto Himself when He comes again (John 14:2, 3).
There is one posttribulationalist who sees the grave inconsistency of such a program. He, at least, face the inescapable fact that a time interval is required between the ascension of the saints o meet Christ and their return with Him to reign. Rose makes the following interesting and notable confession:
There is no direct statement in the Bible concerning the length of time between the going up to meet the Lord in the air and the returning with Him. However, “forty days” is a significant period of time in Holy Writ. The flood rains descended in destruction of the wicked for “forty days and forty nights.” Moses was on the Mount with God “forty days and nights.” Christ showed Himself alive to His disciples for “forty days” after His passion before He ascended to His throne in heaven (Acts 1:3). If this is the pattern which the resurrected and translated saints will follow, the “forty days” will provide space for “the marriage supper of the Lamb,” before returning to the earth to reign with Christ upon His throne. There is no definitely stated length of time which the saints will be away from the earth. It may be a full year, or they return the same day. The main thing is to be ready for His coming, and to escape the deluge of outpoured wrath.
Here, then, is the conclusion of a thorough-going posttribulational author, quoted from his book: Tribulation Till Translation. He acknowledges the absolute necessity for an interval of time between the catching up of the saints and the return with Christ. He suggests that forty days may be an adequate interval for intervening events, but admits that the length of time may be longer. “It may be a full year.” One is reminded of the words of Reese: “Such is the admission of a friendly writer; and if such a damaging concession is made from within the amp, what must be the sober truth from without?” The idea of even one event, intervening between rapture and revelation, is fatal to the posttribulational scheme. We have indicated from two to four such events. How then can the rapture and the revelation be synchronous? How then a single crisis?
Once a time element is admitted between the rapture and the revelation, as it is here by Rose, and as it is further conceded by other posttribulationalists who maintain a judicious silence at this point, there remain but a few short steps to a position which is clearly pretribulational. From Rose’s admission and in the light of the findings of preceding chapters, let the reader reason back to the place the rapture must occupy in God’s prophetic program. It will obviously take place before the marriage of the Lamb, for this is in heaven. Consistent thinkers will grant that it must transpire before the Bema seat of Christ, for the time when Church saints are judged and rewarded will not precede their translation into His presence. Furthermore, II Thessalonians 2:3-10 establishes that the removal of the Church will be before the manifestation of the Man of Sin, a fact which places the rapture before Revelation 13 and probably as far back in the chronology of that book as 6:1, before the opening of the first seal and the rider upon the white horse. From this point, a quick review of the nature of the Church and the character of the Tribulation, of promises which exempt the Church from any wrath poured out by God, of the shift in viewpoint from earth to heaven at Revelation 4:1, revealing crowned and glorified elders who worship Christ and sing the song of the redeemed – such a review should convince any candid mind that the place of the rapture in the chronology of the Revelation and in the order of prophetic events is clearly pretribulational. On the other hand, since intervening events required a marked interval between the rapture and the revelation, the whole posttribulational idea that these two phases of our Lord’s return are only moments apart, if not simultaneous, is demonstrated to be utterly untenable.
IV. Rapture and Revelation Differ As to Their
A time interval being established between the rapture of the saints and Christ’s return at His glorious appearing, it now remains to indicate briefly that these two phases of Christ’s coming also differ widely as to their leading characteristics. Since both involve actions on the part of the Lord and of His Church, one rightly would expect to find some similarity between the two, but there are striking contrasts as well. The discussion which follows purposes to tabulate many of these contrasts – some of which are obvious enough to constitute additional proof that two separate events are in view, others providing examples of further differences once the primary distinction has been demonstrated.
A. Differences, as They Apply to the Redeemed
There will be a marked contrast in the spiritual fervor of God’s earthly testimony. At the rapture, the Church for the most part will be in a state of Laodicean lukewarmness (Rev. 3:14-19), while prior to the revelation, Tribulation saints will be on fire with zeal toward God (Rev. 12:11; 14:4, 5; f. Isa. 27:6). The apostasy at the end of the Church Age is a subject of clear prediction (II Tim. 3:1-5; II Pet. 3:3, 4), but this is in direct contrast with the testimony of persecuted Tribulation saints which will be a white heat. History records that severe persecution produces a church that is either hot or cold, with believers who seal their testimony with their blood or capitulate weakly to the enemy. The former will characterize the Tribulation saints, but the Church prior to the rapture will be nauseatingly tepid.
The two phases of the Lord’s return differ widely as to their manner, Christ coming first for the saints (I Thess. 4:16), then returning later with the saints (I Thess. 3:13). A difference in the matter of location is also apparent, the scene of the rapture being in the air, but that of the revelation being upon earth. Destination provides a further point of distinction, for after the rapture the Church will be associated with Christ in heavenly mansions (John 14:1-3), but after the revelation she will reign with Him upon the millennial earth (Rev. 20:6).
Again, these two events differ as to their immediate prospect. At the rapture the prospect for the Church will be that of the Bema seat judgment and the marriage of the Lamb, while at the revelation these events will be in retrospect, the prospect being the culmination of God’s judgment and wrath upon His enemies. At the rapture, the Church is judged in view of rewards (II Cor. 5:10); at the revelation, Israel and the Gentile nations are judged in respect to their treatment of Christ and their entrance into the kingdom (Matt. 25:31-46). At the rapture, it will be a blessing to be taken, but at the revelation it will be a blessing to be left upon earth to enter Christ’s kingdom, the wicked being taken away in judgment. At the rapture, the marriage supper of the Lamb is in view; at the revelation the judgment “supper of the great God” is in view (Rev. 19:17; Ezek. 39:17-20). All of these are clear distinctions and necessitate two entirely separate events. To disregard such contrasts as these by blending everything into one single action or crisis can only lead to confusion of mind as to the future program of God.
B. Differences, as They Apply to Christ
As the rapture, Christ appears as the Bridegroom, Lord, and Head of the Church. At the revelation, He comes as King, Immanuel, and Messiah of Israel (Rev. 19:16; Ps. 2:2; Isa. 7:14; Zech. 12:10; 13:6; 14:4-11). Before the Tribulation, Christ appears as the “bright and morning star” (Rev. 2:28; 22:16), but after the Tribulation His appearance to the remnant is as “the Sun of righteousness with healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:2). These are apt symbols of the two phases of Christ’s coming, for the morning star is seen by comparatively few and rises in the heavens before the sun appears. At the revelation, Christ shall rule the nations with a “rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15), but at the rapture (to use the language of Song of Solomon 2:4) His banner over us is love.
C. Differences, as They Apply to the Events Themselves
In several important factors, the coming of Christ for the Church differs from His return to earth with the Church. When Christ appears from glory to subdue His enemies and set up an earthly kingdom, the whole order of life as it is now will be changed and improved. Creation will be liberated from its bondage (Rom. 8:19-23) and the “desert shall rejoice, and blossom as a rose” (Isa. 35:1). Zoological behavior will be radically altered, for the lion shall lie down with the lamb, and at that time “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord” 9Isa. 11:6-9; Ezek. 34:25; Hos. 2:18). Governments shall be altered and wars abolished (Isa. 2:2-4); sickness and death shall be diminished (Rev. 21:4), and all the earth shall know experimentally that it is God’s Son who reigns upon the throne of David. These and other vast changes will occur when Christ returns to set up His glorious millennial reign upon earth, yet none of these take place at the snatching away of the Church. At the rapture, the sin of the world remains unjudged and the creature continues subject to bondage. However, at the revelation not only will sin be judged, but Satan himself will be bound (Rev. 20:1-3) and the curse of sin largely lifted from the earth. At the former, Israel’s covenants remain unfulfilled, while at the latter, Israel enters into her heritage. At the rapture, the dead in Christ are raised and caught up o heaven; at the revelation, Old Testament saints are raised and Israel shall stand in judgment before her King in respect to entrance into an earthly kingdom.
The very fact that the rapture of the saints is declared a mystery (I Cor. 15:51), a truth “hid from the ages and from generations, but now … made manifest to his saints” (Col. 1:26), makes it impossible to merge it with the revelation of Christ to earth. This fact alone serves to confirm the many contrasts already discussed. A Pauline mystery is a truth which previously had not been revealed, but now has been plainly declared. It is a truth, previously unforeseen in the Old Testament, but now clearly revealed in the New Testament. The translation of the saints, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump,” is such a mystery (I Cor. 15:51, 52).
This “mystery” character of the coming of Christ for His Church sets it distinctly apart from the return of Christ to earth prior to His kingdom reign. The revelation of the Son of Man is nowhere a mystery, but is the subject of plain Old Testament prophecy (Deut. 30:3; Isa. 11:11; 61:2; Zech. 14:4, etc.). Jude 14 records: “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all. …” How then can the rapture of the saints be a Pauline mystery if it is not comprehended as a separate event from the revelation of Christ? Also, the coming of Christ to earth, as viewed by Old Testament prophets, is associated with sings and predicted events which first must be fulfilled. The rapture, however, is viewed in the New Testament as imminent; it is not subject to prior events, nor is it a topic of Old Testament prophecy.
It is a decided inconvenience to the posttribulation rapture theory that the saints are raptured at all, but even they have to admit that the Bible teaches it. And having so admitted, they have yet to explain what benefit is derived for the Church by a round-trip into the clouds and back to earth, all of which is instantaneous, or at best, in a matter of moments. They have yet to harmonize the many obvious distinctions by which the rapture is set apart from the revelation, and also have yet to offer an orderly interpretation of prophetic events – one that will include an acceptable view of the Bema seat and the marriage supper, with all their attendant details. The posttribulational view would lose absolutely nothing if the saints were not raptured at all, yet they cannot deny that when Christ returns to earth the second time, His own are seen coming from heaven with Him. Their view is out of harmony with almost every detail of I Thessalonians 4:13-18, with its comforting hope; it cannot reconcile the mystery character of the rapture in I Corinthians 15:51, 52; it has very little to say about the promise of heavenly mansions in John 14:1-3. Yet even they acknowledge that these are the three absolutely cardinal Scriptures as touching the rapture of the saints. If only men would let the Scriptures speak for themselves! How clear is its testimony that rapture and revelation deal with separate issues. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air – but when they say, Peace and safety, sudden destruction cometh upon them. The contrast is clear. One has but to compare I Thessalonians 4:16-18 with II Thessalonians 1:7-10 to see immediately that something different is in view.
V. Who Shall Populate the Millennial Earth?
The Scriptures which describe the end time make it rather obvious that there shall be righteous men living upon the earth when Christ returns in the glory of his revelation. Both Testaments indicate that a believing remnant of Israelites shall be preserved from the Tribulation to welcome the return of their Messiah (Isa. 11:11; Jer. 23:3; Zech. 13:8, 9; 14:4, 5; Rev. 12:17). The tribes of Israel certainly will be upon the earth when the Son of Man comes in the clouds of heaven and His elect are gathered together from the four winds (Matt. 13:30, 31). Matthew 25:31-33 gives not the slightest indication that the “sheep” who stand at Christ’s right hand have ever been caught up from the earth in translation experience. When the Son of Man comes in the blaze of His glory, both the “sheep” and the “goats” are gathered together unto Him. Furthermore, the two redeemed companies of Revelation 7 bear witness that men are washed white in the blood of the Lamb right up to the time of the revelation.
It is important to consider this phenomena, that there are righteous ones on earth who meet the Lord when He descends with ten thousands of His saints. These form an important group to enter the millennial kingdom of Christ. Few seem to have notice that their presence at the turn of the age has a vital bearing on the position of the rapture in the schedule of end time events.
If, as the posttribulational brethren maintain, all the saints yet alive when Antichrist has done his worse and Tribulation is past are caught up to meet Christ and return in triumph in His train, how then is one to account for this presence of righteous men on earth when Christ descends to establish the millennial kingdom? Is one to believe that some were overlooked, that there was a divided bride and a partial rapture? Or is one simply to understand that there must be a period of time between the rapture and the revelation during which they were brought to a knowledge of salvation? Of the two alternatives, this latter is the obvious conclusion, logical and uncomplicated. But such a conclusion is fatal to posttribulationalism.
Now look at the same issue from a slightly different angle. Who shall populate the millennial earth after the return of Jesus Christ? Certainly not the saints who have been raptured, for I Corinthians 15:51-54 testifies that the dead and the living in Christ “will be changed,” receiving at the rapture their glorified, resurrection bodies. Before the kingdom reign of Christ even begins upon earth, they will have “put on immortality.” Nor shall the unrighteous populate the millennial earth, for those not killed by Tribulation judgments shall be destroyed by the brightness of His appearing (Rev. 19:15; II Thess. 2:8-12).
There are many indicates that the unrighteous shall in no wise inherit the kingdom of Christ. God shall purge from among Israel all of the rebel Jews (Ezek. 20:38). The tares shall be rooted out from among the wheat and burned with fire, and this before “the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their father” (Matt. 13:30, 40-42). Christ, in the Olivet discourse, constantly warns that none but the righteous shall enter His kingdom. Who then shall populate the millennium? Can immortal beings be married and beget children? “In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). Will men who have put on immortality own property, plowing their fields and cultivating each his own vineyard? (Micah 4:3, 4). What disorder is wrought by the posttribulational theory that all the saints are raptured and changed just prior to the kingdom!
Where do unbelievers in the millennium come from if all who enter in are saints who have put on immortality? “When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth … the number of whom is as the sand of the sea” (Rev. 20:7, 8). These who succumb to this final Satanic delusion are not redeemed men, and certainly have never been caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
Practically all that is known about the millennial age is thrown into hopeless confusion by the notion that rapture and revelation occur almost simultaneously on the day which ends Tribulation and ushers in the kingdom reign of Christ. Harmony of the prophetic Word is achieved only when a period of time is recognized after the rapture but before Christ’s revelation in glory. Seven years of Tribulation intervene between the two during which God speaks in wrath, yet not so loudly that He cannot in grace call sinners to Himself. Multitudes are saved during the Tribulation. Many shall be martyred, but those who endure to the end shall in the flesh enter the kingdom. The redeemed of the Tribulation period are the ones who populate the millennial earth.
 Cited by A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 576.
 Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, p. 266.
 Alexander Reese, Is There But One Return of Christ?, pp. 9, 10.
 Ibid., p. 14.
 Reese, op. cit., p. 237.
 Robert Cameron, Scriptural Truth About the Lord’s Return, p. 116.
 Reese, op. cit., p. 238, citing John Lillie, Lectures on the Epistles to the Thessalonians, pp. 267, 268. Italics in the original.
 Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 483. Also, Thiessen, “Will the Church Pass Through the Tribulation,” Bibliotheca Sacra, SCII (July-September, 1935), 303.
 A helpful analysis of this entire problem, particularly in respect to the Greek, is found in G. H. Lang, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp. 262-65.
 James H. Brookes, “Kept Out of the Hour,” Our Hope, VI (November, 1899), 156.
 Reese, op. cit., p. 208.
 James R. Graham, Jr. (editor), Life in the Spirit, p. 55. Cited by Alexander Fraser, The “Any Moment” Return of Christ: A Critique, p. 21.
 Reese, op. cit., pp. 237, 266.
 Cameron, op. cit., p. 92.
 Some see four events: (1) the Church judged (II Cor. 5:10), (2) the Church rewarded (I Cor. 3:14), (3) the Church presented (Eph. 5:27; Heb. 2:13; Jude 24), and (4) the Church married (Rev. 19;7-9).
 George L. Rose, Tribulation Till Translation, p. 261.
 Reese, op. cit., p. 90.