The Rapture and the Second Coming

Are They The Same Thing?

In Christianity, there is a general acknowledgement that Christ is going to come again to this earth. Why He comes, and how He comes is the focus of this study, and we will do that by examining scripture and the competing claims as to the how and why.

Historically, there have been only three basic views of Christ's return, but of recent years (the past half century), there has been another added. The three historically orthodox views are Amillennial, Post Millennial, and Pre Millennial. The fourth view, somewhat heterodox, is called (among other things) Post-Millennial Dispensational Theonomy, and is an amalgam of the orthodox views in a somewhat unique manner. We'll examine each of the views in a generalized manner, with forays into some of the offshoots of each one.

In the book of Acts (1:9-11), the disciples watched as Jesus was lifted up into heaven. As they watched, two angels appeared, and asked them, "why are you standing here with your mouths wide open and staring up blindly? The same Jesus you saw ascending will come back the same way you watched him leave." Jesus in Matthew, Mark and Luke made numerous references to His coming in "power and glory." This establishes, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Jesus will come back, and He will come back just the same way He left...in the clouds, visibly, and personally.

Here's where the disagreements start. Why is He coming back?

The word "millennium" refers to a period of time in which the Kingdom of God is to be present on this earth. While there is a somewhat uneasy truce that exists between all of the orthodox and heterodox views that this Millennial Kingdom is His, there is a wide gulf of disagreement over not only when the Millennium is, but who is actually in charge of it.

Amillennial (from the Lat. a, meaning "in")

The amillennial view is that there will NOT be an actual Millennial Kingdom, but that it is one which exists ONLY in the hearts and minds of those who believe, and we are already in it, thus the "A". As it pertains to Jesus' return, they believe that He is only coming back ONE more time, and that will be at the end of everything as far as this earth is concerned. This is often called the "big bang theory," in that His return will signify and complete the destruction of this earth, the recreation of new heavens and earth (see 2 Pet. 3:10), and the final judgment (Great White Throne Judgment) of mankind.

The Amillennial view is one that that ignores a large number of old testament scriptures that specifically address a Kingdom that is to come, and that will be presided over and ruled by Messiah. In most instances, the Amillennialists deal with those scriptures by claiming that they were fulfilled when Jesus came the first time, and that any reference to a set time period does not really mean a set time period, ie; there is no 1,000 year reign, but it is instead an indefinite time that goes on for as long as necessary. In their view, the current gospel age is His kingdom, satan is bound and the kingdom of darkness is being plundered as people hear the gospel and respond, the first resurrection is the new birth and those who are born again are reigning with Christ (in them).

The most disturbing feature of amillennialism is the imposition of symbolism and allegory on the plain words of scripture, without reason. The prime example is where they say that the millennium (which means one thousand) began with Christ's resurrection. If that is so, then why have 2,000 years passed instead of 1,000? To ascribe the features of the millennial kingdom to the present age (longevity, health, honesty, wealth, etc.), the Amillennialists claim that satan has been bound...in other words, he can't do anything. If this is so, then why is the world in a progressively deteriorating condition? If the first resurrection is the new birth that occurs at the moment of belief, then why haven't our bodies also been changed? How can a resurrection be spiritual in one place, and physical in another, when the word used is exactly the same?

Of great interest is this quote from an amillennialist organization explaining the scriptural basis of their theology. After explaining that satan was defeated and bound at the crucifixion, they then say:
"We resist the devil by standing firm in the faith, the context is persecution, 1 Pet 5:9:"
So we must then ask the question, why is it necessary to resist someone (or thing) that is powerless, defeated, and bound?

Many more questions could be asked, but these are sufficient to show the paucity and scholarly bankruptcy of the Amillennial interpretation.

Historically, Amillennialism began to arise concurrent with the formation of the Roman Catholic Church (4th century) and the theology of Augustine, who was heavily influenced by the Greek philosophical methods. Interestingly, Justin Martyr (a premillennialist) noted that there were "many who...are true Christians think otherwise" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, ch.80), pointing out that a difference of eschatological opinion did NOT mean that someone was not a true believer.

Postmillennialism

The postmillennial view is one that revolves around an interpretation of Rev. 20 that sees Christ's second coming as being AFTER the thousand-year millennium. Some postmillennialists believe in a literal 1,000 year reign, but most consider the 1,000 years to be a purely figurative term. As such, they are much like the Amillennialists. Those who hold the figurative view also consider the millennium to have already begun, and it is this offshoot that has led to the fourth view mentioned above, that of "Theonomy," sometimes called Postmillennial Dispensationalism. More about them under the fourth view discussion.

The postmillenialists also hold to the view that because of Christ, and the gospel, society will eventually become good, triumphing over evil, and expand to cover the whole earth with righteousness and justice leading up to the second coming of Christ.

There are a number of problems with the postmillennial view, in that they have Christ's second coming and the rapture of the saints (first resurrection) occurring simultaneously, and barely prior to the final Great White Throne judgment, or end of the world. The postmillennial view also holds that the Church is the primary vehicle for reestablishing Gods rule on this earth. The postmillennial theology, in concert with the amillennial view trumpeted by Augustine inevitably leads to a strong position of anti-Semitism, holding that the Church has replaced Israel in all respects. Some of the more extreme positions view Israel as not only dispensed with in Gods dealings, but cursed forevermore, and thus worthy of persecution and hatred.

In fairness it must be noted that not all postmillennialists hold to the replacement theology developed from Augustine, but it is still a major factor in the postmillennial eschatology. There are currently a number of different views on postmillennialism that cover a wide range of social, political, economic and religious applications.

Premillennialism

The basic premise of premillennialism, or "chiliasm" as it was called in the early Church, is that the Word of God is to be interpreted literally, and that there will be a real and actual 1,000 year reign of Christ on this earth, that He will be present, and it has not yet occured...it is yet future. Premillennialism is often called futurism.

Premillennialism is broken into two major categories called Classic and Dispensational. The Classic view is that the rapture of the Church will occur at the end of the tribulation period, while Dispensational holds that the rapture will occur prior to the tribulation.

It is important to note here that premillennialism makes a profound distinction between the rapture of the Church and the second coming of Christ, while the other two views blur them together, generally counting them as one event.

Over the past 150 years, dispensational premillennialism has become the predominant view among Evangelicals. It has also become the target of many theologians, the butt of many jokes and snide remarks by political, economic and religious pundits, and the receiver of extreme derision by those who hold to the amillennial and postmillennial views.

One of the major points of argument against the dispensational premillennial view is that it is allegedly "new" on the block, only having been brought into the theological arena during the 1800's, and promoted by John Darby.

What was the view of the early (first 3 centuries) Church?

The view of the early church fathers (ante-Nicene) was relatively unanimous concerning certain subjects. One, that Christ would return physically. Two, that He would return to set up His Kingdom on this earth. Three, that when He did, He would be accompanied by His saints...the believers from all the ages. Four, that He would defeat satan, and rule this earth with absolute authority, fairness and justice according to the will of God. Five, that the saints of God, both alive and dead, would be resurrected, clothed with new and incorruptible bodies, and forevermore be with the Lord, where ever He was, this point being the "rapture" aspect. All of these points were drawn from the Prophets of the Old Testament and the writings of Paul, Peter, Jude, James, and of course the Evangelists of the Gospels.

As to when the rapture would occur, there was an approximately even division, with the possible majority leaning towards a pre-tribulation rapture. Some of the early church leaders who held this position were Barnabas (not the apostle), who wrote from Alexandria circa 80-100 AD, to encourage churches that were enduring severe persecution. Papias, c.70-160 AD, who was bishop of Hierapolis, and was known to have met with, studied under and learned from John the Apostle and John's student Polycarp. Both Eusebius and Irenaeus often quoted from Papias' teachings and writings. Justin Martyr, c. 110-160 AD, was an unashamed apologist who held to a literal interpretation of scripture, both Old and New, and held to a premillennial/pretribulation rapture. Irenaeus, student of Polycarp and bishop of the church in Lyons, was adamantly anchored in pretrib belief. It must be noted here that Irenaeus, more than any other early leader, wrote extensively, and his writings were based upon an intensive study under the guidance and leadership of John the Apostle via Polycarp. Other early leaders who advocated a pre-millennial doctrine were Tertullian, Commodian, Lactantius, Methodius, and Apollinaris.

Unfortunately, some of the early heretics also held this view, and this tended to give it "bad press," with many later church scholars (such as Augustine) who decided to throw the baby out with the bath water. Cerinthus and Montanus were just two of the heretics that propounded strange doctrine in other areas while holding to the premillennial view. As a result of their heretical doctrines and the necessity to fight against them, and Augustine's introduction of allegorical interpretation, the literal view began to fade from sight, and for over 1400 years "lurked" in the background. Accompanying this fade of literalism was the rise of replacement theology, in which Israel no longer counted for anything, and had been completely replaced in Gods sight by the Church.

In the early 1800's, a preacher named John Darby "rediscovered" the scriptural difference between the Church and Israel, and concluded that Israel, although being chastized severely, had NOT been replaced by the Church...indeed, the Church was a brand new organism chosen by God for one purpose...to spread the Gospel of Salvation for all, and to all. Darby laid hold of Paul's phrase concerning "this dispensation" to begin classifying the stages of Gods dealings with mankind. Later theologians such as Scofield popularized the dispensational thinking and approach.

Modern critics of dispensational and pre-trib/pre-mil thought allege that Darbys' theology was based on a vision reported by a young lady named MacDonald, and thus has no historical or scriptural basis, and that no early church leaders EVER held or supported a pre-trib or pre-mil view. Most of Darby's writings were dispensational in nature, but none really delved into the rapture aspect. In addition to this, there is no historical evidence that Darby ever met, heard from, read about or had anything to do with Ms. Macdonald. Macdonalds vision also did not relate to any pretrib rapture, but was focused on tribulation itself coming upon the world. Unfortunately for these critics, we have the writings of not only those early church fathers listed above, but a most interesting portion of a sermon (later collected and published) by Ephraem, bishop of Syria c. 350 AD. In his sermon, titled "On the Last Times, the Antichrist and the End of the World", we find this statement:
"For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins."

Note that there is a gathering together of the saints (rapture), that it occurs prior to the tribulation, and that the reason is to "protect" these saints from the horror (confusion) that will overwhelm the world because of sin. All of these elements are parallel to, and in complete agreement with the elements detailed by Paul the Apostle in his letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, in addition to agreeing with John's Revelation and the letters of Peter, none of which disagree in any manner with what Jesus said on numerous occasions.

Dispensational Reconstruction (Theonomy, Dominion, Kingdom Now)

Over the past 50 years or so, there has arisen a relatively new (not seen in any of the early Church) eschatology that is an amazing amalgam of dispensationalism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. While holding to the dispensational idea of an actual millennium, they also borrow heavily from the amillennial thought of replacement theology, and then reach out for the postmillennial ideal of making the world better.

While the postmillennialists hold that the world (society) will eventually become a better place through the influence of the Church, Reconstructionists believe that the mandate of the Church is to re-exert "dominion" over the earth by all means possible...including political, economic and religious influence. Some branches of reconstructionism even hold that there should be a return to a theocratic form of government based entirely on the law as given to Moses. This dispenstational reconstructionism is being found primarily in the charismatic wing of the Church, but is also beginning to exert some influence in Pentecostal churches and some of the "mainline" denominations.

According to the reconstructionist/dominion people, Jesus CANNOT return until such time as the Church achieves its mandate, and restores the earth to it's pre-fall condition. Many of them also hold that the "rapture" is non-existent, since we (believers) have already been "raptured" by being raised up with Christ and seated in heavenly places. Most also hold that Christ has already returned through the Church, by indwelling the true believer, and that therefore a true believer is the same as Christ.

Wow! What can I say?

The Rapture

The term "rapture," according to opponents of the idea, simply does not exist in the bible, and is a term coined to express a hope of absenteeism instead of facing up to problems. While it may be true that the English word "rapture" does not exist in the bible, the Greek term "harpadzo" does. Harpadzo was translated originally into the Latin Vulgate as "rapturo," from which we derive the English term "rapture." In the King James translation (and most other modern renderings, it is translated as "caught up," which I find to be a rather lightweight phrase that doesn't adequately convey the real meaning. It is found in 1Th 4:17 "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." Simply stated, harpadzo (har-paad-dzo) means:

  • 1) to seize, carry off by force
  • 2) to seize on, claim for one's self eagerly
  • 3) to snatch out or away
and is in the second future, passive indicative tense and mood. What does that mean? It means that it is speaking of something that is yet to occur (second future), it is something done TO the receiver with absolutely NO activity on the receivers part (passive), and is a simple statement of fact (indicative) of something that absolutely WILL occur.

This leaves no doubt in the readers mind that Jesus comes, not to this earth, but as far as the "clouds" (nephele, the same word to describe the LORD God leading the Israelites in the wilderness....a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night), where He will call forth the dead in Christ first, then those Christians who are living. We will leave this earth, meeting Jesus in the cloud(s), and from that moment forth through all eternity we will be with Him. This also corresponds to the moment in time spoken of in 1Cr 15:51: "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, (52) In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

Which leads us naturally into another aspect of the confusion that exists in so many minds. When a "trump" or trumpet is mentioned, everyone naturally seems to associate it with Gabriel blowing his horn signifying the final judgment of mankind, the announcement of the Great White Throne Judgment. In scripture, there are a number of times when trumps are blown that are NOT connected with the GWTJ. Additionally, it would do us all well to read carefully John's description in Rev 1:10: " I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, " as he describes the ascended King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. And again, in Rev 4:1: " After this I looked, and, behold, a door [was] opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard [was] as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter."

Jesus is the voice of God, His trumpet, and He will call all who belong to Him, both dead and alive, to "come up hither" and be with Him forever more.

The Second Coming

There will come a time, though, some 7 years after the "snatching away," when Jesus returns to this earth, and puts His feet on the ground...specifically, on Mt. Zion (Mt. Moriah, site of the Temple in Jerusalem), see Zechariah 14. When He comes, He will be accompanied by "10 thousands of His saints" (Jude 1:14) "And the armies [which were] in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean." (Rev. 19:14). It is at this point that Jesus judges the nations (Mat. 25), Israel (Isa. 59:20), and establish His Kingdom on earth, ruling from Jerusalem with a "rod of iron."

Contrasts of The Second Coming and the Rapture

When the second coming of Jesus is mentioned, there are certain aspects that come to light. The same is true of the rapture, or snatching away. Following is a compilation of comparison scriptures describing each event, and showing the contrast between the two.

  • 1. The Rapture is Jesus coming FOR His Church. John 14:1-3, 1 Thess 4:14-17. The Second Coming is Jesus coming WITH His Church. Col 3:4, Zech 14:5, Jude 14, Rev 19:14
  • 2. The Rapture is Jesus coming in the clouds (air). 1 Thess 4:13-18. At The Second Coming Jesus' feet touch the earth. Zech 14:4, Rev:19:11-21
  • 3. In The Rapture, Christians are taken, unbelievers are left behind. 1 Thess 4:13-18. At the Second Coming the wicked are taken (cast into hell), and the righteous are left behind. Matt 13:28-30
  • 4. Purpose of The Rapture is to present the Church to Himself and to the Father 2 Cor 11:2, Rev. 19:6-9. The purpose of the Second Coming is to execute judgment on earth and set up His Kingdom. Jude14-15, Rev 19:11-21, Zech 14:3-4
  • 5: The Rapture happens in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (too fast for eyes to see) 1 Cor 15:52. The Second Coming is slow, all the earth will see Him coming. >Zech 12:10, Matt 24:30, Rev 1:7
  • 6. At The Rapture only Christians will see Him 1 John 3:2, 1 Cor 15:52, while at His Second Coming every eye will see Him. Rev. 1:7
  • 7. In The Rapture, Jesus descends with a shout 1 Thess 4:16. At the Second Coming, no shout is mentioned. Rev. 19:11-21
  • 8. During The Rapture a resurrection takes place 1 Thess 4:13-18, 1 Cor 15:51-54, but at the Second Coming no resurrection occurs. Zech 12:10, 14:4-5 , Rev 1:7, 19:11-21
  • 9 The Rapture can happen at any time 1 Thess 5:4-6, Rev 3:3. The Second Coming occurs at end of 7 years of Tribulation. Dan 9:24-27, Matt 24:29-30.
  • 10. At The Rapture, no angels are sent to gather anyone 1 Thess 4:16, but at the Second Coming angels are sent forth to gather people together for judgment. Matt 13:39, 41,49, 24:31, 25:31, 2 Thess 1:7-10
  • 11. In The Rapture, the spirits of those dead in Christ return with Jesus to receive their resurrected bodies 1 Thess 4:14-16, while at the Second Coming Christians return with Jesus in already resurrected bodies riding on white horses.> Rev 19:11-21
  • 12. The Rapture is for the Church only (those in Christ) 1 Thess 4:14-17, but the Second Coming is for redeemed Israel & Gentiles. Matt 25:31-46, Rom 11:25-27
  • 13. The Rapture is a message of hope and comfort 1 Thess 4:18, Titus 2:13, 1 John 3:3, but the Second Coming is a message of judgment. Joel 3:12-16, Mal 4:5, Rev 19:11-21

These should be sufficient to show that the "snatching away," or rapture, is NOT the same as the second coming of Christ.

Why should there be a rapture?

In the Old Testament, there are two notable instances of God sending judgment upon the earth. In the first, God sent a flood to destroy all living things with the exception of Noah and his family, who were accounted by God to be righteous. God instructed Noah to build an ark, and that ark safely preserved Noah and family and selected animals from the flood, while all others perished. (Gen. 6-8)

The second instance is where the "cities of the plain," Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone. Lot, the only righteous (according to God) inhabitant of the city, was instructed to leave (along with his family), and not look back. (Gen 13)

Here we have the establishment of a "principle" wherein God will NOT tolerate His people (those HE has accounted righteousness to) to be destroyed or harmed when He pours out His judgment upon the earth, or upon people. God protects them, not by leaving them in the middle of the water, or falling brimstone, but by making sure they are "out of the way." In the case of the flood, by putting them into something that would float ABOVE the waters, in the case of Sodom by LEAVING THE AREA.

Some argue that this is just an example of God miraculously protecting His people in the middle of a problem, and in the same way He will miraculously protect His people in the midst of the Tribulation, preventing them from being beheaded, etc. To this I would simply point to Rev 20:4 "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and [I saw] the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received [his] mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."

This does not sound (to me) like "miraculous protection." It does sound to me like some people who got "left behind" at the Rapture, and had to undergo the tribulation period, but during that time came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and committed themselves to Him. Understand this point clearly - this is not referring to believers who weren't "good enough," or "holy enough," to join the Church during the rapture, and had to stay on earth to undergo some "cleaning up." This is specifically referring to people who DID NOT believe in Jesus Christ, WERE NOT saved, but came to a saving knowledge AFTER the tribulation began and the Church had been raptured.

John explains clearly in Rev. 6:9, Rev. 7:9, 14, and in Rev. 15 about these who came to Christ during the tribulation. As noted by John, these are souls, and have not been "reunited" with their bodies, ie: not resurrected. In Rev. 20:4, though, John points out that these souls have been made one with an immortal body, and are among the living, reigning with Jesus during His millennial reign. Of special note is the word chosen to describe them as "lived with" is zao, which means to live, breathe, be among the living, not dead or lifeless, have corporeal substance, etc. This is referred to as the "first resurrection," and specifies that those who take part in it are "blessed and holy," and have no fear of the second resurrection, because the "second death" will have no power over them.

All of the rest of the dead (unsaved) will remain dead until the second resurrection which occurs at the GWTJ one thousand years later. This is when ALL appear before the throne, and those whose names are NOT written in the Lamb's Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire (hell) for eternity.

It appears from scripture that the evidence is clear and incontrovertible....the second coming of Christ is NOT the same as the rapture, and that they occur in two different manners at two different times, separated by a span of 1,000 literal years.

At this point, we will consider also another very important piece of scripture that many rely on concerning the coming of Christ. In Mat 24:36 we see "But of that day and hour knoweth no [man], no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. "and in Mar 13:32 "But of that day and [that] hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father."

Jesus' disciples had just asked Him a question concerning the temple, and said "...Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" The disciples were obviously wondering WHEN Jesus would be coming to establish His kingdom on this earth, and also considered it to be the time when the world (as they knew it) would end. Jesus' answer encompassed a number of clues that covered the intervening time from His crucifixion/resurrection up to the time of the tribulation.

When we consider Daniel, Matthew and Revelation, we see a number of very specific points concerning time. Daniel hit the nail on the head when he prophesied about the time period between the issuance of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem (Artaxerxes, 444 BC) and the cutting off (crucifixion) of Messiah. Exactly 173,880 days, or 483 years passed by. This leaves a period of 7 years (one week out of 70) to be fulfilled.

In Revelation, John points out that there are two periods of 1,260 days (3.5 years) to consider in what is called the tribulation period, and this corresponds to Daniel's calculations concerning the rise of the anti-christ. Daniel gives important clues also as to exactly when this tribulation period will begin, pinning it to a "league" (covenant, or treaty) that will be made between anti-christ and Israel. Obviously, then, we can see that from the time that anti-christ (the beast) completes this league with Israel, there are no more (and no less) than 2,520 days, or 7 years, left before Jesus returns from Heaven (Rev. 19:11).

Considering this, it would then seem evident that with a given date of the anti-christs rise to power (signified by the treaty), it would be possible to know WHEN Jesus is returning (His second coming).

How then could Jesus say "no man knoweth?" It is my contention that He was referring specifically to the point in time when He would come, in the clouds, FOR His saints, but NOT for the beginning of the Millennial Reign. This is further borne out by His references to being ready, found in Mat 24:44 "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." and in Luk 12:40 " Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not. " He is warning His disciples to be prepared always for His coming to claim that which belongs to Him....His saints. It is from these and a few other verses that the doctrine of "imminence" is derived, or the belief that His return could be at any moment. This stands in stark contrast to the verses that tell us we CAN know the day when He returns to claim His Kingdom at His Second Coming.

Throughout Mat. 24, Jesus gives us signs to watch for, and tells us that when we see these signs, to "lift up your eyes, for your redemption draweth nigh,' even "at the very gates."

Jesus is coming for His saints and He is coming soon, and those who believe in Him have a responsibility...not to Him, not to their church, and not to themselves....but to relatives and loved ones, neighbors and co-workers, or just stangers on the street, to come to know Jesus personally and accept Him as their savior BEFORE the wrath of God is poured out on this world. How many of you would really want someone else to have to endure the horrors of the tribulation period? How many of you would really want to know that your brother, sister, father, mother, cousin, wife, husband, child, or anyone else for that matter, would be beheaded, branded, tormented by stinging locusts, burned, poisoned, smashed by a hailstone....all because YOU neglected to tell them of the Good News of Jesus Christ now, while there is still time?