How the Rapture and the End-time Prophecies will set the stage for the Second Coming
There is a lot of confusion these days about the second coming. What exactly is it? When will Jesus return? Is Jesus coming soon? Will Jesus come back? How do we know if he is coming back? Do we know when he will arrive? What is the Rapture? What is the tribulation? What is the Day of the Lord? These and so many other questions abound in the mind of the believer.
Just as abundant as the questions, though, are answers. Most of these are false theories broadcasted as facts. Some are moderately based in scripture but most are loosely based interpretations of it. There is just as much lies out there about the end times as there are truth and sometimes the lies are hard to separate from the truth. Today we will take a look at what the Bible actually says about this hot topic.
When is Jesus coming back and what are the signs of the second coming?
Simply put, the Bible makes it very clear that Jesus is coming soon. Jesus himself said that he would return and he told his followers to be on the watch for it. In Mark 13:32, Jesus speaks about the specific time of his return and tells the apostles that no one, in heaven or earth, knows of the specific day or hour – not even he himself. Only his Father knows of the exact moment when Jesus will return. The Gospel of John records an incredible promise and a hope: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (14:2)”
Similarly, at the moment the very moment Jesus ascended to heaven before the eyes of his followers, two men who are most likely angels tell the apostles that Jesus will come back the same way he went up. “And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11-12)”
Paul spoke about the return of Christ as if it was so obvious there would be no debate about it. In Colossians 3:4, he says “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is perhaps the most straightforward description of Christ’s return. However, this verse speaks of the Rapture rather than the actual Second Coming. Nonetheless, it also takes for granted that believers will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ will indeed return to the earth. It reads, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are 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.”
Jude 1:14-15 speaks of the actual Second Coming when Christ will return with the Raptured Church: “It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
What is the correlation between the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ?
As we have already alluded to, the Rapture and the Second Coming are actually two different things that are often treated as one event by many believers. The Bible, however, clearly tells us that these are two very different incidents.
The Rapture relates to the disappearance of the Church from the earth and it can happen at any time. When Jesus says that he will come as a “thief in the night” (Rev 3:3), he was referring to the day when he will return secretly to gather his Church and take them home with him, just as he promised in John 14:2. On this day, both those who are alive and those who died as believers will be gathered together. The dead in Christ will rise first (1 Th 4:16) and then those who are still alive will join them (v. 14, 17).
This will all happen in less than a moment, in just a split of a second. 1 Corinthians 15:52-54 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 give us a timeline of the Rapture itself. First, in the “twinkling of an eye” the trumpet will sound – a trumpet only we as believers can hear. The dead will hear it and will rise first and meet Jesus. Then those who are alive will hear it and join them. Our bodies will be changed from the fleshly, corruptible, decaying bodies we have now to imperishable and immortal ones. Then at last “Death [will be swallowed up in victory]”.
All of this will occur before the Tribulation period. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 tells us, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” Jesus promises the same thing: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. (Rev 3:10)” Clearly, this is a deliverance for the Church.
Jesus’s Second Coming is completely different from the Rapture. When he comes to Rapture his Church, Jesus will be invisible. Even we won’t see him until the second we are with him in the air. In the actual second coming of Christ, Jesus returns visibly to the earth – everyone in heaven and earth will see him. “He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” (Rev 1:7).” “Immediately after the tribulation…then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Mat 24:29-30)”.
The whole point of this return is to defeat the Anti-Christ (not Satan – that comes later) and establish the Millennial Reign. When Christ returns visibly for the second time, the Church will return with him. However, where the Rapture can occur at any time, the Second Coming will not take place until the aptly titled “End Time Prophecies” are fulfilled. These include the events of the tribulation, where the peace treaty is struck with Israel and then shattered when the Anti-Christ takes his place on the throne in the temple and the final part of the seven year period begins in full force (Rev 6-19).
We should be very careful not to confuse or meld these two events. They are very distinct from each other. If we argue that they are in fact the same event then we say that the Church will endure the Tribulation. This is completely opposite of what the Bible proclaims in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and Revelation 3:10. In fact, it should be noted that the Church of Christ is not found anywhere in Revelation’s description of the Tribulation. The sole attention is focused on Israel. That being said, it is also true that people will come to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah during the Tribulation and the majority of them will be martyred for their faith; however, these believers are not part of the Church as it is present in the world today. The body of Christ who has died in him or are still living from the beginning of history to the time of the Rapture will not face the Tribulation.
If the Church is to be a part of the Tribulation, as some claim, then the Rapture of the Church is not imminent. As we said earlier, the Second Coming of Christ can only occur after certain events take place but the Bible clearly reaches that the Rapture can occur at any time. Christ himself and the apostles all instructed believers to watch and wait in eager anticipation of the Rapture because it could happen any day – even in the lives of the first-century believers. That is what is meant by “imminent”: it can happen right this second, or in an hour, a month, a week, a year or a millennia.
If certain things must happen before the Rapture, however, it is no longer imminent. We don’t need to “eagerly await the Day of the Lord” until we see the peace treaty with Israel signed. From that date, we can count seven years and tick off on our calendar each even that needs to happen as it occurs: the breaking of the treaty, the appearance of “Elijah” and “Moses”, the Anti-Christ setting up the throne in the temple, the mark of the beast, the death of two-thirds of the world’s population by famine, fire and a host of other disasters, the pouring of the seven trumpets and the seven bowls, etc. If we say the Rapture happens after the tribulation, we mess up the entire timeline God provided for us! It also laughs at the promise of Christ that no one but the Father -not even Jesus himself- knows the hour or the day when the he will return.
What is the Day of the Lord and the Day of Christ?
There are two terms used in the Bible in connection with the Rapture and the Second Coming which need to be cleared up: “The Day of the Lord” and “The Day of Christ”.
The “Day of the Christ” or “The Day of the Lord Jesus” is a term exclusively used by Paul and it refers the Rapture and the time when we will stand before the Lord for our judgment. The judgment of the believers is different from that of everyone else. We are not guilty of sin because Christ died to save us from sin. Because of his sacrifice we are justified before God. Therefore, our judgment does not have to do with sin but with the work we have done for the Lord.
On the Day of the Lord Jesus, after we are Raptured, we will stand guiltless before him (1 Co 1:18) and our work for the Lord will be revealed and tested by fire; if it can withstand the fire we will be rewarded (1 Co 3:13). On that day, the Work the Spirit began in us will be made complete so that we may be proved to be excellent, pure and blameless (Php 1:6, 10). It is at this time the crown of Righteousness will be awarded to the believers who loved seeing the appearance of Christ at the Rapture (2 Ti 4:8). This day, just like the Rapture, is to be eagerly anticipated by the Church because it is a day of blessings and hope.
The “Day of the Lord” however, is completely different from the Day of The Lord Jesus (Christ). It is also referenced in the Bible by both the prophets and the apostles, as well as Jesus himself. In contrast to the Day of the Lord Jesus, the Day of the Lord is for those who reject Christ and it is something to be dreaded and feared for it is a day of judgment and despair. The Day of the Lord is unquestionably a day of judgment for the earth and it will come at the end of the Tribulation.
On this day, God will Judge Israel for their unbelief and the world because they rejected Christ. The Day of the Lord will end when Christ returns for the Great War before the Millennial Reign (Rev 19:11-19). The Church will not experience the Day of The Lord because she will already be with Christ (1 Th 4:13-18), ready to receive her reward.
On the Day of the Lord, “the haughty looks of man will be brought low, and the lofty pride humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted (Isa 2:11). The people will wail because the day will arrive as a day of destruction from the hand of the Almighty God (Isa 13:6), cruel with wrath and anger to destroy sinners from the land (v. 9). It is a day of doom for the nations of the world (Eze 30:3). Everyone on earth will tremble on that day (Joel 2:1).
Before that day the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood and Elijah the prophet will come (Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20, Mal 4:5). A vast army will follow the voice of the Lord (Joel 2:1) to the Valley of Decision where the nations of the earth have gathered as a multitude (Joel 3:14). The Day of the Lord is a Day of darkness and gloom (Amos 5:18). Those who have hardened their hearts in unrepentance are storing up wrath for themselves on that day (Ro 2:5). When the Lord comes on that the Day, “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Pe 3:10)”
The timeline and the Prophecies
The overall timeline is relatively simple even though the events within it are diverse and complex. Right now, we are in the age of the Church. Basically, this is the time God has set up for the preaching of the Gospel and the spreading of the Kingdom. The Church as a whole, and the members individually, are being sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can one day be presented without blemish, spot or wrinkle, purely holy (Eph 5:27)
During this time, the Church, though separate from the world is still a part of the world. In Mathew 13: 24-31, Jesus illustrates the parable of wheat and tares. A man sowed good seed in the ground but while he slept, his enemy sowed weeds among the seeds. When the plants grew the weeds grew along with the good seeds. The workers wanted to pull up all the weeds immediately but the Master commanded them to wait saying that if they pulled up the weeds they would damage the tender wheat too, so he allowed them to grow together until the harvest.
At the harvest, the Master commanded that the weeds be gathered, tied up and burned and the wheat be harvested into the storehouse. Similarly, today, true Christians are growing alongside those who claim to be saved but are not and those who outright reject Christ. The time is coming though when the two will be separated; Christians will rejoice with their savior and the rest of the world will be burned with fire.
After this age, the Rapture of the Church will occur “in the twinkling of an eye”. The dead in Christ will rise and those who are alive will join with them and Jesus in the air where they will be clothed with new imperishable and immortal bodies. Together, we will go home with our Lord to Heaven, to the place he has prepared for us. It is soon after this that we will face the judgment seat of Christ – the judgment for the believers where we will receive our rewards. The marriage feast of the Lamb will occur in conjunction with this.
These events for the Church will occur in heaven. Simultaneously, less joyous events will occur on earth. In the book of Daniel, the angel Gabriel prophesied about the timeline of history as “seventy weeks – a period of 490 years. These years are divided into three sections, the first one was 49 years long and ended when the temple was rebuilt in Nehemiah’s time. The second was 434 years long; according to Daniel this period would last from the time when the world rebuilds Jerusalem until the time the Anointed One comes.
However, this period of time will end when the Anointed One is “cut off” (Dan 9:25). Altogether, that is a period of 483 years. The second section came to an end when Jesus Christ was crucified – 483 years after the prophecy was foretold. Now one last section remains to be fulfilled – 7 final years in which “the people of the prince who is to come (the Anti-Christ) shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. (Dan 9:26)”
While the events of the Rapture are taking place in heaven for the Church, the seven final years, the seventieth week of Daniel’s seventy weeks, will have begun. The first half of those seven years will bring a ruler out of ten nations who will sign a treaty with Israel for peace. According to Daniel 7, the ruler himself will first be a leader of three nations but will eventually gain control of the other nations in the union. These ten unified nations will come from the Mediterranean area and is compared to the Roman Empire in its vastness and strength and glory.
For three and a half years, Israel will enjoy peace and prosperity under the treaty they will sign with the ruler and the Union. However, towards the end of that time, another nation will make war against Israel. The Union Leader, as the protector of Israel (Ez 38-39) will fight for them and defeat the opposing nation, annihilating her armies and rendering a devastating blow they will not recover from.
As a result of the victory, the Union Leader will be able to unite with the ten nations the other nations of the world who opposed the country which made war against Israel. However, this will lead to the ruler showing his true colors as the Anti-Christ. He will declare himself the World Leader and sets up a throne in the temple of God, and the treaty will be broken. War will break out and Israel will be persecuted. A unified world economy will be set up where no one can buy or sell without the “mark of the beast” (Rev 13:17).
There will even be a world religion in which the Anti-Christ must be worshipped and anyone who is found to have placed their trust in Christ during the tribulation will be martyred. The desolations that were decreed by God before the times will be poured out on the earth (Rev 16-19). For three and a half years, the world will be a place of intense suffering and persecution and God’s wrath will be poured out over all mankind.
All of this was unimaginable thirty to fifty years ago but is actually possible today. Television, the internet, even our phones have made communication possible on a global scale. Everyone knows what happened on the other side of the world in seconds. Travel is possible within hours from one end of the globe to the other. Even our banking is done on-line. A world government and economy and even religion is not just a very real possibility, it is a certainty.
Before the final seven years can begin, Israel needs to be back in their homeland. This prophecy was fulfilled in 1948. The next prophecy that needs to be fulfilled in relation to Israel is the peace treaty. This will not happen until the Rapture has occurred. The Rapture will trigger the beginning of the seventieth week of Daniel.
At the end of this period, Christ will come and set up his rule on the earth for a thousand years. This is the Millennial Reign; at this time, Satan will be bound so that he cannot influence the world to evil – any evil that does occur will come from the heart of man alone, his sin nature. For the duration of Christ’s reign the world will experience true justice and peace and righteousness and prosperity.
At the end of Christ’s reign, the people will rebel against him. Satan is set free and he will set out to deceive the nations once again and gather them to make war against the Lord. They won’t last for long and will soon be destroyed along with the heaven and the earth. This will usher in the White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15) where every person who ever lived without Christ will be judged and cast into the Lake of Fire to die the second death. At the close of the judgment, a new Heaven and Earth will at last be created (Rev 21:1) ushering in Eternity (2 Peter 3:12).
As the Bible makes abundantly clear, the chief end of all man is to glorify God. He has a plan for every single day that this world and history marches on. He has a plan for each and every one of our lives. It may seem like the Second Coming of Jesus Christ may never come, but it will. The Church will be raptured to stand before her Savior and the world will face its creator. Every knee will bow to Jesus, willingly or unwillingly, and confess him as Lord.
While we wait for the Rapture with eagerness, we must remember to redeem our time and focus our eyes on our Lord Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Nothing else matters except for him, his will and his kingdom. When we finally stand before him, he won’t ask us about anything else except what we have done for him. May we rejoice to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master (Mat 25:23).