Eschatology, the Study of Last Things
by James T. Bartsch
The Nature of the Rapture
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
by James T. Bartsch, WordExplain
Reason 5. Details
A Post-Tribulation Rapture Fails to Account for the Differences between Rapture Passages and Second Coming Passages
5. Details. A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because it fails to account for differences between Rapture passages and Second Coming passages.
(1) In the Rapture, Christ comes FOR His saints to take them back to His Father's House (John 14:1-6). In the Second Coming, Christ returns WITH His saints to rule the earth (Rev. 19:11-21).
John 14:1-6, a central Rapture passage
Jesus told His followers, leaders of the soon-to-be-established Church, that there were many places in which to settle down and live (monÍ, 3438) in His Father's house (i.e. New Jerusalem) (John 14:2). Jesus assures them that he is traveling (present tense of poreuomai ) in order to prepare a place (topos, 4198) for them (John 14:2, 3). (Incidentally, Jesus' use of topos indicates He has in mind a [heavenly] structure, not a condition, such as being "in Him," contra NetBible, note 4 on John 14:2.) Jesus assures them that if He goes to prepare a place for them, He will come again, i.e. return to them (John 14:3). When He returns, He will receive them to Himself. His desire and intention is that they might be with Him in the place where He might be (John 14:3). He states further that they know the way to the place where He is going (John 14:4).
This whole paragraph to this point implies that, when Jesus returns to receive His followers to Himself, He will take them back to be with Him in His Father's house (i.e. New Jerusalem). If in fact, when He returns to receive them, they do not go to the Father's house, but stay here upon the earth (as Historical Pre-Millennialists [who are Post-Tribulationists] maintain), it was utterly pointless of Jesus to maintain that He was leaving to prepare a place for them. What is the sense of preparing a place for them if, when He returned, He had no intention of taking them back up there with Him?
This whole statement fits in perfectly with language that an Israeli bridegroom in Jesus' day would use with his bride. They both already had an understanding. They were promised to one another. There was a probationary time during which, though legally married, they were not to live with one another. He would be busy preparing a place for his bride to live in his own father's house. At the end of a year he would come, they would have a ceremony and a celebration, and he would take her with him to live in the home he had prepared for her in his father's house.
Jesus was using "wedding talk" to his followers. He understood them to be the Bride of the Messiah. He would depart from them, but all the while, during the probationary period, He would be preparing a place for his Bride up in New Jerusalem. At the proper time He would return to come get her and escort her to the new home He had prepared. In the Rapture, Jesus comes FOR His saints, His Bride, to retrieve them from this earth and escort them back up to His Father's House, New Jerusalem.
Revelation 19:11-21, a central Second Coming passage(2) The Rapture is a movement from earth to heaven, while the Second Coming is a movement from heaven to earth.
In Rev. 19:1-6, there is great joy and loud praise from a great multitude up in heaven. They are overjoyed at the destruction of Babylon, the Great Prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality. The people praise God because He has avenged the blood of His slaves (Rev. 19:1-2). The Prostitute will be a world-wide, blood-thirsty, false religion headquartered in Babylon. It will be a religion that has enormous political clout. Its seductive spiritual and political influence is described in Rev. 17:1-15, 17-18. Its fiery demise is described in Rev. 17:16; 18:1-24.
Rev. 19:7-10. In stark contrast to its praise for the demise of the blood-thirsty Prostitute, the multitude continues by praising God and rejoicing that "the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready" (Rev. 19:7). John observed that the bride was permitted to be clothed in "fine linen, bright and clean," which stands for "the righteous acts of the saints" (Rev. 19:8). Who is the bride? The best explanation is that the bride is none other than the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church was begun on the Day of Pentecost. Its constituents will be completed at the Rapture, prior to the start of the Tribulation. The bride will undergo purification in what is known as the Judgment Seat of Christ. This will take place up in heaven while the Tribulation is being unleashed upon the inhabitants of Earth. At this point in the Book of Revelation, the bride is purified and ready to descend to earth with the Bridegroom, Jesus, the Messiah. The angel told John to write of the blessings of those who are invited to the "marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9). This marriage supper will take place at the beginning of the Millennium and extend for an unspecified length of time. The Bride of Christ represents a specific people, the Church, a specific city, New Jerusalem, a specific religion, the worship of God through the Messiah, and a specific benign global political influence, the world-wide rule of the saints (Rev. 22:5). Those who are invited to the marriage supper cannot possibly be the Bride, the Church. The Bride needs no invitation to her own wedding! These invited guests are non-Bride, non-Church. They are the redeemed of Israel and the redeemed from among the earth's nations who are not part of the Church, the Bride of Christ.
Christ's return to earth is described in some detail in Rev. 19:11-21. Someone is sitting on a white horse. He is called "Faithful and True." He wages holy war. His eyes are a flame of war and he is crowned with many diadems. He has an unknowable name, His robe is dipped in blood, and His name is "The Word of God" (Rev. 19:11-13). The armies in heaven are following Him on white horses. He will strike down the nations by speaking their demise, and He will shepherd them with a rod of iron. He will tread the "wine press of the wine of the wrath of God's anger," and He is named, "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:14-16).
An angel invites the birds of "midheaven" to come and feast on the flesh of the human and animal enemy combatants arrayed against the Word down below on earth. These include the Beast and the kings of the earth and their armies (Rev. 19:17-19).
The Beast was seized, along with his False Prophet. They two were thrown alive into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone. The rest of the enemy combatants were killed with the sword that came from the mouth of the One who sat on the white horse. All the birds were filled with their flesh (Rev. 19:20-21).
There is no hint whatever of the Church being raptured here (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18). There is no hint that dead Church-age believers are resurrected. There is no hint that living Church-age believers are given resurrection bodies without having to die. There is no hint that the Church is caught up to meet Christ in the air so that they might always be with the Lord. There is no hint that Church-age believers are here transported up to the Father's House, New Jerusalem, as the Bride of Christ (John 14:1-3). Rather, the Church is pictured here as the Bride of Christ, already in heaven, purified, and comprising a portion of the "armies" (plural of strateuma) of heaven who descend with her warrior Bridegroom to conquer enemies upon the earth. The Warrior / King / Judge is so confident of His victory that He brings His new bride with Him on His Jihad (Rev. 19:7-21).
Conclusion: In the Rapture, Christ comes FOR His saints to take them back to His Father's House (John 14:1-6). In the Second Coming, Christ returns WITH His saints to rule the earth (Rev. 19:11-21). The two events are distinct and separate. They do not occur together. The details of the NT fit best with a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, not a Post-Tribulation Rapture.
We have already examined John 14:1-3. We have concluded the most likely scenario is that Jesus was speaking to His disciples as representatives of the Church. Just as a Jewish bridegroom would prepare a place for his bride in his father's house, so Jesus would prepare a place for His Bride, the Church, in His Father's house, meaning New Jerusalem. That New Jerusalem is to be the future eternal home of the Bride, the Church, can be demonstrated from the terminology used by the Apostle John in Revelation 21. After the creation of New Heaven and New Earth, John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, in the process of coming down out of heaven from God. It was "made ready as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:1-2). Furthermore, one of the angels who had poured the bowls of God's wrath upon the earth instructed John, "Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." Immediately, the angel transported John to an enormous mountain, and he showed him the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Rev. 21:9-10). That New Jerusalem is the future eternal home of the Church as the Bride of Christ is also demonstrated in that the names of the twelve apostles are written on the twelve foundations of the city's wall (Rev 21:14).
So if Jesus is leaving to prepare a place for His bride, and then returning to take her to His Father's house, it makes little sense, under the scenario of a Post-Tribulation Rapture, for Him to return to earth, retrieve His Bride mid-air (1 Thess. 4:13-18), then head straight back down to earth for a thousand year reign upon the earth (Rev 20:1-6). What makes a great deal more sense is that Jesus, according to His promise (John 14:1-3), will return, retrieve His bride for a meeting in the heavens, and then take her back with Him up to the dwelling places He has prepared for her. The Rapture, then, is a movement from earth to heaven.
In the passages which describe Jesus' return to conquer and reign upon the earth (such as Zech. 14:1-21; Matt. 24:27-31, 36-44; 25:31-46; Rev. 19:11-20:6, there is no hint of saints moving from earth to heaven. Rather, there is evidence that the saints, along with angels, will accompany Christ from heaven to earth when He descends (2 Thess. 1:6-10; Rev. 19:11-14, 19). A Pre-Tribulation Rapture makes more sense than a Post-Tribulation Rapture.
(3) In Rapture passages, living believers are given "resurrection" bodies without dying. There is no mention of this phenomenon in Second Coming passages.
There are, to my knowledge, only two passages which speak explicitly of living believers being given "resurrection" bodies without having to die. They are, as one might expect, two central passages dealing with the Rapture. These two passages are 1 Corinthians 15:50-55 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. 1 Corinthians 15:1-58 is the central NT passage on resurrection. Here is a brief synopsis of the chapter from the writer's analysis of the book: (a) The Importance of Christ's Resurrection: It is a part of the gospel by which the Corinthians were saved (1 Cor. 15:1-11). (b) The Consequences of Denying the Existence of Resurrection At All (1 Cor. 15:12-19). (c) The Christian's Hope Because of Messiah's Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-28). (d) The Continual Christian Struggle Makes Sense Only if There is a Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:29-34). (e) The Resurrection Illustrated from the World of Nature (1 Cor. 15:35-41). (f) The Resurrection Explained by an Analogy to the Present Order of Things in Nature (1 Cor. 15:42-49) (g) The Event of the Resurrection Described (1 Cor. 15:50-58). It is the first portion of this last paragraph to which we direct the reader's attention.
Paul begins first with a striking truth: It is impossible for mere flesh and blood to inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50)! Paul went on to state, "nor does the perishable (phthora, 5356) inherit the imperishable (aphtharsia, 861)" (1 Cor. 15:50). Paul next informed his readers of a "mystery" (mustÍrion, 3466), a truth unrevealed in the OT, but now revealed in the NT (1 Cor. 15:51). This new truth is that not all Church-Age believers will sleep (die), but all will be changed (1 Cor. 15:51). How will this happen? It will happen "in a moment, in the blink of an eye, in the last trumpet -- for the trumpet will blast, and the dead will be raised imperishable (aphthartos, 862), and we will be transformed" (1 Cor. 15:52, author's translation). Paul went on to explain that it was, indeed, necessary for "this perishable" (phthartos, 5349) (body) to clothe itself with imperishability (aphtharsia, 861), and for this mortal (thnÍtos, 2349) (body) to clothe itself with immortality (athanasia, 110) (1 Cor. 15:53).
Here Paul states the marvelous truth that there will come a time when living Church-Age believers will experience their mortal bodies being changed into immortal bodies without having to die first! Paul states that this event will happen "in [or at] the last trumpet" (1 Cor. 15:52). When is the "last trumpet"?
Craig Blomberg (A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to “Left Behind” Eschatology, edited by Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, p. 80) states the following:
The trumpet call of God in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 calls to mind similar imagery in 1 Corinthians 15:52. The two trumpets need not be the same, but if they are, then we have further support for posttribulationism, since the Corinthian trumpet is called the “last” one and coincides with the final, general resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:53-47).
But Blomberg is in error, I believe, to posit only one “general” resurrection. (1) Our Lord Himself was resurrected first (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-49; John 20:1-29; Acts 1:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:1-8). (2) Since He is the "first fruits" (1 Cor. 15:23), after His resurrection other believers also were resurrected (Matt. 27:52-53). (3) At the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, deceased members of the Church will be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:50-55; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). (4) Tribulation Saints who have been martyred will be resurrected in conjunction with Christ’s return to reign and rule (Rev. 19:11-20:6). It is likely that OT saints will also be resurrected at the same time (Dan. 12:2). (5) After Christ’s Millennial reign and after the destruction of the present heavens and earth, the wicked dead of all ages will be resurrected (Rev. 20:11-15). It is more likely, therefore, that the trumpet of 1 Cor. 15:52 is called “last” because it is the “last trumpet” for the Church (so David K. Lowery, 1 Corinthians, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT Volume, p. 545). As Lowery notes, “The trumpets in Revelation pertain to judgments during the Tribulation, whereas the trumpet in 1 Cor. 15:52 is related to the Church.”
So the correct answer to the question, "When is the 'last trumpet'"? is, "We do not know precisely." Paul does not, here in 1 Corinthians 15, explain precisely when that will happen. But he gives some additional parameters in 1 Thess. 4:13-18.
Paul did not wish the Thessalonian brothers to be ignorant concerning those of their number who were "sleeping" (koimaomai, 2837). Paul used a euphemism. These Christians had died, but from a Christian point of view, he deemed them as existing in the process of sleeping because their absence was only temporary. Paul went on to say that he did not wish the surviving brothers to be grieving, even as did the rest (i.e. unbelievers), the ones not having hope (1 Thess. 4:13). He continued, "For if we believe (and we do) that Jesus died and arose, so also God -- the ones having slept (koimaomai, 2837) through Jesus -- will bring with Him" (1 Thess. 4:14, author's literal translation). What Paul meant was that Jesus, who had departed, was returning -- he will explain this momentarily -- and that when He did return, God would bring along with Him the souls of the departed brothers (1 Thess. 4:14).
Paul continued. "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we, the ones living, the ones being left behind unto the coming (parousia, 3952) of the Lord, will certainly not go before the ones having slept" (koimaomai, 2837) (1 Thess. 4:15, JTB translation). "Because the Lord Himself, with a shout of command, with a pronouncement by an archangel, and with a trumpet of God, will descend from heaven; and the dead ones in Christ will rise first" (1 Thess. 4:16, JTB). Then we, the ones living, the ones being left behind, suddenly with them will be snatched up (harpazŰ, 726) in clouds for a meeting with the Lord in the air. And so, always, with the Lord we will be! So, continually comfort one another with these words" (1 Thess. 4:17-18, JTB).
Several things are apparent here: (1) When Jesus returns for this event, He will be accompanied by the souls (not the physical bodies) of deceased members of the Church. (2) At this event, the deceased believers will have a slight advantage over the living believers. (3) Jesus will descend from heaven. (4) His descent will be signaled by (a) Christ's audible call of believers, both dead and alive, to Himself; (b) an audible pronouncement of some sort by an archangel; (c) the audible sounding of God's trumpet. (5) The souls of the departed brothers will be reunited with their bodies, and they will resurrected! (6) Apparently, at that instant the living believers will also be given resurrected bodies without having had to die. This is nowhere here stated explicitly, but given the nature of the events which follow, and compared with 1 Cor. 15:50-55, it must be implied. (7) Both the resurrected believers and the now transformed living believers will together be snatched up (harpazŰ, 726) into the clouds. (8) They will be reunited with each other and with the Lord in the air. (9) They will always be with the Lord. (10) This is a solid foundation for the living to comfort one another, despite having lost loved fellow-believers in death. (11) There is no hint anywhere that certain "signs" (sÍmeion, 4592) must be fulfilled before this event takes place. (Compare, by way of contrast, Matt. 24:3, 24, 30; Mark 13:4, 22; Luke 21:7, 11, 25; Acts 2:19; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:13, 14; 15:1; 16:14; 19:20.) This return of Christ is presented as an imminent event, that is, one which could happen at any time. (12) There is no hint that the Church will have to survive a catastrophic Tribulation period prior to the return of Christ.
1 Thess. 4:13-18, combined with 1 Cor. 15:50-55 are the only two passages in all of Scripture which detail such a stupendous event. I refer to the event of deceased Church-Age believers being resurrected; of living Church-Age believers' bodies being transformed into resurrection bodies without having had to die; and of both being transported up to meet the Lord in the air. We call this event the Rapture. This event is never explicitly mentioned in the entire book of Revelation. Specifically, it is not even hinted at in Rev. 19:11-21, the one place where it ought to be mentioned if a Post-Tribulation Rapture is to be believed. ( I believe it is hinted at, however, in Rev. 4:1, despite the objections of all Amillennialists and even many Pre-Tribulation Premillennialists.) This event is not referenced in the return of Christ as recorded in Matt. 24:27-31. Though some aspects of the description there sound like this passage, no resurrection is ever mentioned, nor is a transformation of living believers into glorified saints without ever having to die ever mentioned. Moreover, there is no mention of "His elect" being transported into the clouds for a meeting in the air (Matt. 24:31). 1 Thess. 4:13-18 is the only passage that depicts a unique meeting with the Lord in the air by resurrected believers and by transformed living believers. 1 Cor. 15:50-55 is consistent with that scenario, but has fewer details. John 14:1-3 and 2 Thess. 2:1 are also consistent with that scenario.
What is not explicitly stated in any of these passages is precisely when this Reunion event takes place. But we can certainly glean from other passages, particularly in 1 Thessalonians, what Paul had taught the Thessalonian believers insofar as its general timing is concerned. It is to that end that we now turn our attention.
In the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, he had previously (in his initial visit with them) taught the fact that, having turned to God from the idols to serve the living and true God as a slave, they were actively waiting for His Son from the heavens, Whom He raised from among dead ones, Jesus, the One saving us from the coming wrath (orgÍ, 3709) (1 Thess. 1:9-10). Already in the first chapter, we find that Paul taught the imminent return of Christ, and he taught that, when Christ returned, He would deliver the Church from "the coming wrath." To what did Paul refer? He will identify "the coming wrath" toward the end of his letter (1 Thes. 5:1-11).
Later, Paul spoke of his eagerness to visit them. He would have done so once or twice, but Satan had hindered him. He affirmed that the Thessalonian believers would be his hope, his joy and his crown of rejoicing in the presence of the Lord at His coming (parousia, 3952) (1 Thess. 2:17-20). In the context of this letter, Paul was most likely referring to Christ's return at the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
Paul prayed a prayer for the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 3:11-13). He prayed (1) that God might direct his way to them (1 Thess. 3:11); (2) that the Lord might cause them to excel in love (1 Thess. 3:12); and (3) that their hearts might be "blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming (parousia, 3952) of Lord Jesus with all His holy ones" (1 Thess. 3:13, JTB trnsl). What does the word "coming" (parousia) mean here?
The "coming" (lit., "being alongside") of Christ indicates both His arrival and His manifestation or bearing when He arrives. It can refer to His 1st Coming (2 Peter 1:16), the Rapture, or 2nd Coming (Matt. 24:37,39), or it can refer to one's "presence", determined by context. Comparing this passage with 1 Thess. 4:14-17, it seems most likely Paul here refers to the Rapture (see Thomas Constable, 1 Thessalonians, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT, p. 700; H. C. Woodring, The Thessalonian Epistles, p. 34). The "holy ones" or "saints" Paul mentions here probably refer to the souls of departed Christians who will return with Christ at the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-14). In the context of this letter, Paul had in mind a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
We have already looked at the implications of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, a central passage on the Rapture. But our purpose here is to gain some sort of understanding of the general time frame of this stupendous event.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul addresses the general timing of the eschatological events he is here discussing in 1 Thessalonians. He has just discussed the fact of the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18), concluding that they should comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:18). Now he immediately addresses the timing issue. Evidently in his first visit Paul had given them an introductory course on the timing of the Rapture and the Tribulation that is to follow. He states, "Now as to the times and epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you" (1 Thess. 5:1). Then he stated the obvious, "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2).
Paul abruptly switches from second person plural "you yourselves know" (1 Thess. 5:2) to third person plural "When they are saying" (1 Thess. 5:3). He is now talking about unbelievers, not Church-Age Christians. He states, "While they are saying 'Peace and safety!' then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape" (1 Thess. 5:3).
Two things are noteworthy here. First, the "Day of the Lord" is not a pleasant event. It is likened to a thief coming by night and breaking into one's home unexpectedly. That simile has nothing whatever to do with the pleasant association of Christ's return for His Bride, the Church as described in John 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:19-20; 3:12-13; 4:13-18; 5:9-11; 2 Thess. 2:1. Second, the "Day of the Lord" is characterized as destruction descending suddenly upon unbelievers. The unbelievers will be unable to escape the sudden destruction (1 Thess. 5:3).
Next, Paul assures the Thessalonian believers of their non-participation in the Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:4-11). He addresses their non-participation from four stances. (1) Their identity: They are "brothers" (1 Thess. 5:4). For that reason, they will not participate in the Day of the Lord. (2) Their orientation (1 Thess. 5:4-5). (a) They are not in darkness (1 Thess. 5:4). (b) They are all sons of light and sons of day (1 Thess. 5:5). (c) Including himself, Paul describes himself and the Thessalonians as not being of night or darkness (1 Thess. 5:5). (3) Their responsibility (1 Thess. 5:6-8). (a) They ought not to sleep as the unbelievers do (1 Thess. 5:6). (b) They are to be alert and sober, for those who sleep and get drunk do so at night (1 Thess. 5:6-7). (c) Since they are of the day, they are to be sober, putting on faith, love, and the hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:8). (4) Their destiny (1 Thess. 5:9-10). (a) They have not been appointed to the wrath that comes in connection with the Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:9). (b) They have been appointed to the salvation that comes through their Master, Jesus, the Messiah. This salvation assures them that, whether they die or continue to live, they will live together with Him (1 Thess. 5:10). (5) Their obligation (1 Thess. 5:11). Despite the persecutions they have been enduring (1 Thess. 1:6), because they have been exempted from enduring the massive upheavals of the Day of the Lord, they should encourage one another and build up one another, even as they are already so doing (1 Thess. 5:11).
It becomes apparent that Paul was teaching these believers in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. They were exempt from the sinister "Day of the Lord." They were destined to experience salvation from any part of God's wrath during that lurking night of Tribulation.
In the context of the letter, this wrath of God from which Church Age believers will be rescued (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9) must include the destructive "Day of the Lord," the time of Tribulation which would come upon unsuspecting unbelievers like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2-3). These details fit in seamlessly with a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
The Thessalonians, being part of the Church, would not be overtaken by that day (1 Thess. 5:4), for they were "sons of light and sons of day" (1 Thess. 5:5). They would be exempted from that day of wrath (1 Thess. 5:9), no matter whether they lived or died (1 Thess. 5:10). They would obtain salvation and live together with Christ (1 Thess. 5:9-10), a cause for great comfort (1 Thess. 5:11). So Paul taught the imminent return of Christ. Church Age believers were not to await a terrible time of Tribulation, but they were to await the Return of Christ. No predicted signs would prevent His coming for His Church, and they were exempted from the terrors of the Day of the Lord. In short, Paul taught a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
Conclusion: The "last trumpet" of which Paul speaks (1 Cor. 15:52) is, most likely, the same trumpet which he mentions in writing to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:16). I believe the term "last trumpet" indicates the last trumpet for the Church. It is not to be identified with any of the trumpets in Revelation (Rev. 8:2, 6, 13; 9:14). Both of these passages (1 Cor. 15:50-55; 1 Thess. 4:13-18) explicitly detail or imply a transformation of the mortal bodies of living Christians into immortal bodies which can inhabit eternity. Moreover, 1 Thess. 4:13-18 describes resurrected and now transformed Church-Age believers being "snatched up" (harpazŰ, 726) into the clouds to meet one another and the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). Not a single one of the "Second Coming" passages describes or implies either of those phenomena (Zech. 14:1-21; Matt. 24:27-31, 36-44; 25:31-46; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; Rev. 19:11-20:6). The sublime character of this Reunion event, contrasted with the fearsome, judgmental character of the Retribution event, leads us to believe there are two stages to the eschatological Coming (parousia) of Christ. There is a coming for the saints (the Rapture), and there is a coming with the saints (the Second Coming). Paul assures the Thessalonian believers they will not be subjected to the Lord's wrath against the world (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9). Therefore, we infer a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, not a Post-Tribulation Rapture. A Post-Tribulation Rapture lacks credibility.
(4) A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because it ignores the fact that in the Rapture, all living saints go to heaven, while in Christ's Second Coming, all living saints in their mortal bodies remain on earth.
In John 14:1-3, a Rapture passage, Jesus assured His followers He was building a place for them in His Father's house, a reference to New Jerusalem. Just as a Jewish bridegroom would do, Jesus promised He would return and take them with Him to His Father's House.
This transportation to the Father's house would include both dead, now resurrected believers and also living believers. The living Church-age believers will be given immortal bodies to prepare them to inhabit eternity (1 Cor. 15:50-55). This is another Rapture passage.
The same truth is taught in 1 Thess. 4:13-18, a central Rapture passage. Living Church-Age believers will be snatched up together (1 Thess. 4:17) with resurrected Church-Age believers (1 Thess. 4:16) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, always to be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17). Though the text does not explicitly say, the presumption is, in harmony with John 14:1-3, that both the transformed living and the resurrected dead are ultimately transported up to the Father's House (New Jerusalem). By the time Christ is ready to return all the way to earth after the Tribulation, the Church, Christ's Bride, has been purified, prepared for her wedding (Rev. 19:7-8). Meanwhile, she anticipates the wedding feast when she returns with Christ her groom, to the earth (Rev. 19:9; Isa. 25:6; Matt. 22:2-4, 8-12; 25:10).
By way of contrast, there are Second Coming passages which teach that saints alive on earth in their mortal bodies remain on earth when Christ returns. Jesus informed His listeners that the coming (parousia, 3952) of the Son of Man will be just like in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37). People were eating and drinking and marrying until the day Noah entered the ark (Matt. 24:38). The Flood came and took them away. So it will be at the coming (parousia, 3952) of the Son of Man (Matt. 24:39). Two farmers will be out in the field laboring. One will be taken away to judgment while the other will be left alive to live in Christ's Millennial Kingdom here on earth (Matt. 24:40). Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken away to judgment while the other is left alive to inhabit Christ's Millennial Kingdom here on earth (Matt. 24:41). None of these who survive the judgment at Christ's Return are said to go up to heaven with the Lord. They remain upon earth.
The same is also true in Matthew 25:1-13, the Parable of the Ten Virgins. The five prudent virgins who are prepared to meet the Bridegroom / King when he comes will be admitted entrance into the wedding feast. These five represent Israelis who believe in Jesus as their Messiah at the time of His Second Coming. They will remain in their natural bodies, and will be permitted to inherit Christ's Millennial Kingdom, headquartered in the land of Israel (Ezek. 20:33-37). The five foolish virgins who were unprepared for the Bridegroom / King's return represent Israelis who did not believe in Jesus as their Messiah. They are found to be rebels and will be excluded from the kingdom here upon earth in the land of Israel (Ezek. 20:39). There is no hint that the five prudent virgins are transported up to heaven at this time. They remain upon earth in their natural bodies. It is worth noting that the five prudent virgins constitute believing Israel, not the Bride. The Bride of Christ consists of the purified and glorified members of the Church, those who return with Christ at His Second Coming. Believing Israelis will be among those invited to the Marriage Feast (Rev. 19:9), but they are not the Bride.
Likewise in the parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30), the trustworthy slaves represent Israelis who believe in Jesus as their Messiah. The are left alive on the earth to serve Him during His Millennial Kingdom. The faithful slaves will be put "in charge of many things" here upon the earth (Matt. 25:21, 23). There is no hint that they are taken up to heaven with the Lord. They remain upon the earth.
Furthermore, "when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne" (Matt. 25:31). All the nations (plural of ethnos, 1484) who have survived the Tribulation period will stand before the King to be judged. He will separate them as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the goats on His left and the sheep on His right. The sheep will be permitted, as those who are "blessed of My Father," to "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34, 46). They will be permitted to enter Christ's Millennial Kingdom here upon earth. The goats, on the other hand, are described as "accursed ones." They are to depart into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41, 46). There is no hint that the righteous Gentiles who survive the Tribulation period will be taken up to heaven with the Lord. Rather, they remain here upon earth to serve the King in their mortal bodies. It is worth noting that these righteous Gentiles are not part of the Bride of Christ either. The Bride had been up in heaven undergoing purification. The Bride returns to earth with her Warrior / King (Rev. 19:7-9, 14, 19).
Conclusion: A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because it ignores the fact that in the Rapture, all living saints go to heaven, while in Christ's Second Coming, all saints living in their mortal bodies remain on earth.
(5) A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because it ignores the fact that there is no judgment in conjunction with the event of the Rapture, and the world continues in sin, whereas at the Second Coming, the entire world is judged, and righteousness fills the earth!
In John 14:1-3, a central Rapture passage, the focus is on Jesus Christ returning to retrieve His Bride, the Church, and to take her up to the Father's House, New Jerusalem to be with Him forever. No mention whatever is made of Christ's judgment of the world.
In 1 Corinthians 15:50-55, another central Rapture passage, the focus is on the transformation of the bodies of living Christians into immortal bodies without having to die first; and the focus is also upon the resurrection of the mortal bodies of deceased Christians into immortal bodies so that both can "inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50). The purpose of this revelation is to motivate believers to be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58). There is no hint in this passage of Christ immediately judging the entire earth upon His return for the saints.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, another central Rapture passage, the focus is on the reunion of living believers with deceased believers and with Christ. The focus is also upon the resurrection of deceased Church-Age believers and the "snatching up" (harpadzō, 726) of both to meet the Lord in the the clouds in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). Both will then always be with the Lord, a cause for great comfort (1 Thess. 4:18). There is no hint that Christ will immediately judge the earth.
To the contrary, the next topic of discussion in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians deals with the coming destructive "Day of the Lord," the Tribulation period, which will descend upon unbelievers left upon the earth after the Rapture "like a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:1-3). It is from this display of the wrath of God that the raptured Christians are exempt (1 Thess. 1:10, 5:4-5, 8-10), a cause for great comfort (1 Thess. 5:11).
It is worth noting that Paul refers to the devastating effects upon the world of the Church's Rapture. Even in Paul's day, he said, "the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way" (2 Thess. 2:7). When the restrainer (2 Thess. 2:6) is removed, "Then that lawless one will be revealed" (2 Thess. 2:8). Who is the restrainer? In a word, I believe the restrainer is the Holy Spirit in the Church. At the Rapture, prior to the start of the Tribulation, the Holy Spirit within the Church will be removed as a force restraining evil in the world. With all Christians all over the globe removed, there will be no one left to stem the tide of evil that will sweep over the world. The "Lawless One" will then be revealed (2 Thess. 2:8). This evil ruler is to be identified with "the prince who is to come" (Dan. 9:27). His unveiling will mark the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation period (Dan. 9:27). There will be no one to slow down his meteoric rise to power. He will be revealed as the vile, murderous, dictatorial Beast that will gain power over the entire world. Evil will abound. No judgment (in the form of a tribunal) will ensue at that time because Jesus, the True King, will be absent from the earth.
The sequence depicted in Matthew 24:1-25:46, a central passage on the Second Coming, is quite different. Matthew 24:1-25:46 is an extensive response of Jesus to His disciples' query about "the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age" (Matt. 24:3). Jesus proceeds to describe for His disciples (1) the signs of the first half of the Tribulation (Matt. 24:4-14) (see the author's footnote at Matt. 24:4-14); (2) the signs of the last half of the Tribulation (Matt. 24:15-28); (3) the prediction of His return (Matt. 24:29-51) as according to (a) sequence (Matt. 24:29-31), (b) timing (Matt. 24:32-36), (c) suddenness (Matt. 24:37-44), and (d) accountability (Matt. 24:45-51). This last paragraph (Matt. 24:45-51) depicts a judgment that occurs at Christ's return. This judgment is amplified in Matt. 25:1-46. (4) For the purpose of our discussion about judgment at Christ's return, the reader should note especially Jesus' prediction of judgments at His return as recorded in Matt. 25:1-46. This sequence relates to the judgment of those who survive the Tribulation period described in Matt. 24:4-28. (a) He first describes the judgment of Israel (Matt. 25:1-30) under the analogy of the wedding (Matt. 25:1-13) and under the analogy of the journeying slave-owner (Matt. 25:14-30). (b) Then He proceeds to describe His judgment of the nations (Gentiles) who survived the Tribulation (Matt. 25:31-46)
First, He describes His separation of the "sheep" from the "goats" from among the nations (Matt. 25:31-33). The occasion will be when "the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him" (Matt. 25:31). It is at that time that "He will sit on His glorious throne" (Matt. 25:31). "All the nations" (ethnos, 1484) (who survive the Tribulation described in Matt. 24:4-28) "will be gathered before Him" (Matt. 25:32). This is a great Tribunal.
Next, the King invites the "sheep" from among the nations into His Kingdom (Matt. 25:34-40). The basis for His extension of access into His Kingdom is their favorable treatment of the King's "brothers" as unto Him (Matt. 25:40). The King's "brothers" evidently refers to the Messianic Jews standing nearby who have somehow survived the Tribulation despite a global effort to exterminate them (Zech. 12:1-9; 13:8-9; 14:1-2).
Finally, the King rejects the "goats" from among the nations, sending them into eternal fire because of their mistreatment of the King's "brothers" during the Tribulation (Matt. 25:41-45). The outcome of this Judgment of the Surviving Nations following Christ's return is eternal punishment for the goats, and eternal life for the sheep (Matt. 25:46). Again, the significance for the "sheep" is that they are preserved alive to inherit Christ's Millennial Kingdom (Matt. 25:34).
We should here note that, while Mark 13:1-37 closely parallels portions of Matthew 24:1-51, nothing in Mark parallels Matthew 25:1-46. Moreover, while portions of Luke 21:5-36 closely parallel Matthew 24:1-51, the next chapter in Luke bears no resemblance whatever to Matthew 25:1-46. On the other hand, Luke 19:11-27, the Parable of the Ten Slaves and Ten Minas closely resembles Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Slaves and the Talents.
We should also note that Jesus speaks of judgment to be conducted by His 12 Apostles in Matthew 19:28. But this aspect of judgment appears to be the Apostles' ongoing judgment of the 12 Tribes of Israel during the Millennium, not the general judgment conducted by Christ Himself at the time of His return. Similarly, the judgment to which Christ alludes in Rev. 20:4 appears to be judgment during the Millennium conducted by those whom Christ will appoint. In other words, the judgment of Rev. 20:4 is not to be confused with the general judgment conducted by Christ Himself at His Second Advent in preparation for His establishment of His Millennial Kingdom.
For a further discussion of the judgments at Christ's return, see the article "The Judgment of Survivors of the Tribulation Period at the Second Coming of Christ." There are separate sections devoted to the Judgment of Israel and the Judgment of the Gentiles from among the earth's nations.
As a result of these judgments of all survivors of the Tribulation, only believers committed to King Jesus will be left alive to inherit His global Millennial Kingdom. Then will come about the glorious condition on earth when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14). Then will come about that time when "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). Jewish people will need no exhortation to "'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,' declares the LORD, 'for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more'" (Jer. 31:34).
Conclusion: We conclude, therefore, that a Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because it fails to account adequately for the details of Scripture. The specific details here are that, in Rapture passages, there is no hint of judgment to follow immediately upon Christ's return for His Bride, the Church. In fact the Holy Spirit in the Church is removed as a restraining force and the world will plunge into unspeakable, global evil. Only at the subsequent return of Christ in great power and glory to reign upon the earth is there a global judgment, first, of Israelis, and second of people from among the earth's nations (Gentiles) who survive the horrors of the Tribulation. With evil people absent from the earth and only believers in Messiah left to inhabit the Millennial earth, peace, righteousness, and knowledge of God will abound (Isa. 9:6-7; 2:4; 11:1-9; 59:15-21)! A Pre-Tribulation Rapture best accounts for the prophetic details of Scripture.
(6) A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because the Rapture delivers believers from the wrath coming in the Tribulation, whereas the Second Coming provides relief for believers who have survived the wrath of the Tribulation.
There are a number of Scriptures that teach that Church-Age Christians will be delivered from the wrath ot the Tribulation period. For example, Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers commending them on the report he had heard about them. Believers in Macedonia and Achaia had reported to Paul that the Thessalonian believers had "turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:8-10).
Now of course, that rescue includes rescue from the wrath of God against sinners known as "The Lake of Fire" (Rev. 20:10, 14-15). But I doubt that was Pauls primary referent here. In the broader context of his letter, Paul is concerned about the wrath coming upon the world during the time which OT prophets described as "The Day of the LORD" (1 Thess. 5:2-3; cf. Isa. 13:6-13; Ezek. 30:3; Obad. 1:15-16; Zeph. 1:14-18). That day will not overtake the Thessalonian believers (or any Church-Age believers) like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2). The destruction comes upon "them" -- the unbelievers -- "and they will not escape" (1 Thess. 5:3). But "you" believers "are not in darkness" (1 Thess. 5:4); rather "you are all sons of light and sons of day" (1 Thess. 5:5). The most reasonable conclusion is that Church-Age believers will not have to suffer through the terrible ordeal of the "Day of the Lord." "For God has not destined us (Christians) for wrath, but for obtaining salvation" (1 Thess.s 5:9). Clearly, Paul believed in and taught a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. The Rapture of chapter 4 (1 Thess. 4:13-18) takes place before the Day of the Lord of chapter 5 (1 Thess. 5:1-11). **
That Paul taught a Pre-Tribulation Rapture which rescued Church-Age Christians from the Day of the Lord is confirmed in 2 Thess. 2:1-13. By the time Paul had written his second letter to the fledgling Thessalonian Church, the believers there were shaken. They were enduring so much trouble and persecution that they thought they were already in the Day of the Lord (2 Thess. 2:1-2). Paul's purpose was to demonstrate the Day of the Lord had not yet come. Indeed, it could not come until first, the apostasy came, and until second, the Man of Lawlessness was revealed (2 Thess. 2:3). And the Man of Lawlessness will not be revealed until the Restrainer will be taken out of the way (2 Thess. 2:7-8). The Restrainer is the Holy Spirit within the Church. When the Holy Spirit, who resides in the Church, is removed from the earth, no one will be left to restrain the evil regime of the Man of Lawlessness. God has not chosen the Church for wrath, but for salvation (2 Thess. 2:13), which in context, must include salvation from the wrath of the Tribulation period.
But no such promise exists for Tribulation era saints. By this I refer to people who will become Christians, believers in Jesus as their Messiah, after the Rapture. Jesus warned that believers alive during the Tribulation would suffer greatly. He said, "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name" (Matt. 24:9). The "one who endures to the end" (of the Tribulation) ... "will be saved (from physical death)" (Matt. 24:13). We are warned in the Book of Revelation that the Prostitute Babylon the Great, which I take to be the religion of Babylon at that time, will be "drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus" (Rev. 17:6). One of the 24 elders identified an innumerable multitude up in heaven as Tribulation Saints, martyrs who had been killed during the Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:14). Most believers who become Christians after the start of the Tribulation will not survive the Tribulation (Rev. 13:7-10).
But a few Tribulation Saints will survive the Tribulation. They will be alive to see God's wrath burn ferociously against their persecutors at the time of Retribution associated with Christ's Second Coming (2 Thess. 1:6-10). They will feel relief at having been saved, and at being vindicated, and they will be filled with awe at Christ's glorious coming.
Conclusion: A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because the Rapture delivers believers from the wrath coming in the Tribulation, whereas the Second Coming provides relief for believers who have survived the wrath of the Tribulation.
(7) A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because the Rapture is presented in Scripture as an imminent event -- one that could happen at any time, whereas the Second Coming is preceded by many signs.
We have a separate section dealing with that whole topic, so we will not discuss it here. Go to Imminence.
(8) A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because it does not deal adequately with the fact that the Rapture is a fresh truth revealed only in the New Testament, whereas the Second Coming of Christ is predicted in both Testaments.
Let us first of all demonstrate that the Second Coming of Christ is predicted in the Old Testament. But no reference to the Rapture ever appears.
The first passage we will examine is to be found In Zechariah 14:1-5. It is a passage which explicitly predicts Christ's Second Coming, although He is never identified by the title of "Messiah":
1 Behold, a day is coming for the LORD when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you.
2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city.
3 Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle.
4 In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.
5 You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him!
(a) The "day" that "is coming for the LORD" (Zech. 14:1) is undoubtedly referring to the "Day of the Lord." This is a reference to the Tribulation Period.
(b) The unspeakable horrors of Zech. 14:2 will occur towards the end of the Tribulation. God Himself says, "I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle ...." This is stating again what God has already revealed in Zech. 12:2-3.
(c) "Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations" (Zech. 14:3). This is a reference to none other than the Messiah returning from heaven with His heavenly troops to do battle with troops loyal to the evil Beast upon earth (Rev. 19:19).
(d) Zechariah predicts the very spot where the Messiah will alight when He descends from heaven. "In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives" (Zech. 14:4). His descent will create a mighty earthquake which will split the Mount of Olives from east to west by "a very large valley" (Zech. 14:4). This will give beleaguered Israelis trapped in Jerusalem an escape route to safety (Zech. 14:5). So Jesus the Messiah will descend to the Mount of Olives, the same place from which He ascended to heaven Millennia earlier (Luke 24:50-52) (Bethany is situated on the SE slope of the Mount of Olives).
Never once is there mentioned any such event as the Rapture. There is no mention of resurrection. There is no mention of living saints being given resurrection bodies without dying. There is no mention of both being caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
A second passage In the OT which we will examine is one in which Isaiah predicts the return of the Messiah to obliterate the enemies of Israel (Isa. 63:1-6). This passage includes at least one element parallel to the return of Christ in Revelation 19:11-21. In this passage, an unnamed onlooker asks, "Who is this who comes from Edom" and "from Bozrah" (sites in modern day Jordan), "marching in the greatness of His strength?" (Isa. 63:1). The Marcher, who I believe is none other than the Messiah Himself, answers, "It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save" (Isa. 63:1). The unidentified speaker asks another question, "Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the wine press"? (Isa. 63:2). The Messiah responds, "I have trodden the wine trough alone, and from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath; and their life-blood is sprinkled on my garments, and I stained all My raiment. For the day of vengeance [upon Israel's enemies] was in My heart, and My year of redemption [of Israel] has come" (Isa. 63:3-4). The Messiah continued, "I looked, and there was no one to help, and I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; so My own arm brought salvation to Me, and My wrath upheld Me. I trod down the peoples in My anger and made them drunk in My wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth" (Isa. 63:5-6).
This gruesome picture is captured in the New Testament when Christ, the Warrior-King is seen descending from heaven to earth "clothed with a robe dipped in blood" accompanied by "the armies which are in heaven" (Rev. 19:13-14). There He is depicted descending to earth. Opposing Him were "the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army" (Rev. 19:19). John records that the beast and his false prophet were seized and thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone" (Rev. 19:20). "And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh" (Rev. 19:21).
But in neither of these passages is there ever found anything like the Rapture. There is no mention of resurrection. There is no mention of living saints being given resurrection bodies without dying. There is no mention of both being caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
There is a third passage in the OT which at least implies the Second Coming of Christ. It is Psalm 110. (1) The first verse pictures the risen, ascended (we know that from the New Testament) Christ sitting at the Father's right hand awaiting His Kingdom (Psalm 110:1). (2) The second verse reveals Yahweh's authorization of the Messiah, now having descended to Earth, to rule from Mount Zion amongst His enemies (Psalm 110:2). This cannot possibly refer to heavenly Mount Zion or the New Jerusalem, for there will be no enemies there. This passage must refer to the Millennium. (3) When He returns in power, His people, probably a reference to believing, Messianic Jews alive at His return, will volunteer to assist Him in His battle (Psalm 110:3). (4) We are reminded that this warrior is a King-Priest. Such will He always be (Psalm 110:4). (5) Yahweh will be at His right hand as Christ, the Warrior/King/Priest shatters insubordinate kings of the earth in His wrath when He returns to earth (Psalm 110:5). (6) He will judge the nations and slay the wicked over a vast area (Psalm 110:6). (7) He will pause in His eradication of evil people from the earth only long enough to quench His thirst (Psalm 110:7).
In this passage there is no hint of anything like the Rapture. There is no mention of resurrection. There is no mention of living saints being given resurrection bodies without dying. There is no mention of both being caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
In a fourth Old Testament passage the prophet Daniel was shown a vision of the Messiah, the Son of Man, approaching the Ancient of Days (God the Father) (Dan. 7:13). To Him was given a glorious kingdom. His dominion is so global that "peoples, nations and men of every language" will serve Him (Dan. 7:14). His dominion will be eternal, and never will be destroyed. This eternal kingdom is the same one that was revealed to Daniel in his interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the large metallic statue (Dan. 2:31-35). The stone cut out of the mountain without hands crushed the statue. It became "a kingdom which will never be destroyed" and "will not be left for another people" (Dan. 2:44). Rather, it will "crush and put an end to all these [merely human] kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever" (Dan. 2:44). Though neither of these passages explicitly state the return of the Messiah to earth, together, they imply it.
In neither of these passages is there a hint of anything like the Rapture. There is no mention of resurrection. There is no mention of living saints being given resurrection bodies without dying. There is no mention of both being caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
Now, let us demonstrate next that the Rapture, on the other hand, is revealed only in the New Testament. That is consistent with the fact that there are two separate eschatological parousias -- Stage One: Jesus returns for the Church, followed by Stage Two: Jesus returns to conquer His enemies, judge the survivors of the Tribulation, and establish His Messianic Kingdom for a thousand years. The Rapture is a Church-related truth, and the Church itself was a mystery (mustÍrion, 3466) unrevealed in the Old Testament (Rom. 11:25; Eph. 3:3-10). Likewise the Rapture itself is a mystery, a truth unrevealed in the Old Testament but disclosed in the New. Paul stated this in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52:
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery (mustÍrion, 3466); we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
Paul does not here identify exactly when this "mystery" event will happen, other than to say it will happen at "the last trump." But He does add some more details in his letter to the Thessalonians. In 1 Thess. 4:13-18, Paul speaks as follows:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
(a) There certainly is present, in this passage, the truth that living believers will evidently be transformed into immortal believers without having had to die. Though that truth is not spoken explicitly, it is certainly implied. How else are believers in their natural bodies going to be transported to meet Christ in the air in the clouds (1 Thess. 4:17)? If the meeting is at 28,000 feet, there will not be enough oxygen for people in their mortal bodies to survive. And how can they be transported in the first place? It seems apparent that they are changed into immortal beings, just as Paul revealed in 1 Cor. 15:51-52.
(b) Furthermore, the dead Church-Age believers are resurrected, and their resurrection actually seems to precede the transformation of the living believers (1 Thess. 4:16).
(c) In addition, both the resurrected Church-Age believers and the living, now transformed Church-Age believers will be "snatched up" (harpadzō, 726) to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). Though this word is used fourteen times in the NT, this is the only NT passage which discusses the Second Coming of Christ that incorporates this word.
(d) Though admittedly, the text here does not specify what happens to the Church-Age Christians reunited with one another and united with Christ after this blessed meeting in the air, the presumption is that He escorts them up to heaven, not that they escort Him back to earth. In the closest parallel passage, Jesus Himself was snatched up (harpadzō, 726) to God and His throne in heaven (Rev. 12:5).
(e) Certainly, there is no intimation whatever that Christ will personally judge every person at His tribunal following this event. What does follow is that the Day of the Lord descends upon the earth in its fury (1 Thess. 5:1-3). From this exhibition of God's wrath and destruction, Church Age Christians are exempt (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:4-5, 9).
Jesus, during the course of the Last Supper, revealed to His followers a new truth. He was going to leave them. He was going to return to the Father's house, where there were many dwelling-places. In fact, He was going to prepare a place for them to live (John 14:1-2). He would not stay away, however. He would return and receive them to Himself so that they would always be with Him (John 14:3). The presumption is that He would take them back to the Father's House when He returned. Otherwise, what was the point of preparing them a place? The Father's House is, I believe, a reference to New Jerusalem. Presently New Jerusalem is up in heaven. After Christ's creation of New Heaven and New Earth, New Jerusalem will descend out of heaven to New Earth (Rev. 21:1-2, 10). I believe Jesus' reference to His coming back to retrieve His followers is a reference to the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
Conclusion: My conclusion, then, is that a Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because it does not deal adequately with the fact that the Rapture is a fresh truth revealed only in the New Testament, whereas the Second Coming of Christ is predicted in both Testaments. The sticking point is that the Rapture, portrayed as a mystery, must necessarily be a different event than the Second Coming of Christ to rule the earth. Post-Tribulationism does not deal adequately with this disparity.
(9) A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because it does not deal adequately with the data that the Rapture is portrayed as affecting only believers, whereas the Second Coming is portrayed as affecting both believers and unbelievers.
Let us first seek to demonstrate that the Rapture, as it is portrayed, affects only believers.
In John 14:1-3, where Jesus Himself first reveals the Rapture, He addresses believers only. He assures His followers, the Apostles, representing the Church, that there are many dwelling-places in His Father's house. If that were not the case, He would have told them otherwise. He is departing from them to prepare a place for them. He promises to return and receive them to Himself so that where He is, there they may also reside. The implication is that He will return after His departure and receive them to Himself and take them back to live with Him in the many dwelling-places He has prepared for them. This truth affects only believers -- the Church. Nothing is said or implied about unbelievers. This new teaching affects only the Church.
In 1 Corinthians 15:50-55, Paul is addressing the church of Corinth. He calls them "brothers" (1 Cor. 15:50). He shares with them a mystery (mustÍrion, 3466) -- "We (we Church-Age Christians) will not all sleep (die), but we (we Church-Age Christians) will all be changed" (allassŰ, 236). By this Paul means all Christians living at the Rapture will be given imperishable, resurrection-type bodies without having had to die first (1 Cor. 15:51). This transformation will "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet" (1 Cor. 15:52). He continues, "for the trumpet will sound, and the dead (he means Christians) will be raised imperishable, and we (he means "we living Christians") will all be changed" (transformed, allassŰ, 236) (1 Cor. 15:52). This is Church truth. Paul speaks here of the Rapture, and it affects only Church people, whether alive or dead. There is no indication here that this event has any effect whatever upon unbelievers.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul is once again addressing believers, for he calls them "brothers" (1 Thess. 4:13). He does not wish them to ignorant about those who have died, so that they will not grieve as do the unbelievers, who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). As certainly as Jesus Himself died and rose again, just as certainly, when Jesus returns from heaven for the Church, He will bring back with him the souls or spirits of the deceased Church-Age believers (1 Thess. 4:14). He reveals (from Jesus) that "we who are alive and remain until the coming (parousia, 3952) of the Lord will not take precedence over those who have already died (1 Thess. 4:15). The Lord Jesus will descend from heaven the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thess. 4:16). "Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up (harpadzō, 726) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thess. 4:17-18). This event, the Rapture, is portrayed as affecting believers only. No mention is present that Christ will judge the wicked. This is a Church-only event.
Now let us demonstrate that the Second Coming of Christ, as it is portrayed, affects both believers and unbelievers.
In Zechariah 14:1-21, Yahweh, in the person of Jesus Christ, will return to fight on Israel's behalf against "all the nations," for they have gathered against Jerusalem to battle (Zech. 14:1-3). His feet will alight on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4). "....Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him" (lit., with You) (Zech. 14:5)! The "holy ones" likely refers to angels who serve as Christ's army (Rev. 21:14), but it may also refer departed believers who return with Christ (Rev. 19:7-9). The LORD (in the person of Messiah Jesus) "will be king over all the earth" (Zech. 14:9). His return will have a beneficial effect upon redeemed Israel (Zech. 12:10-13:1; Rom. 11:26). Believing Israelis will inhabit Jerusalem in security with no fear from hostile nations of the world. Furthermore, "there will no longer be a curse" (Zech. 14:10-11). When He returns Jesus will strike the enemy nations who have "gone to war against Jerusalem" with a terrible plague (Zech. 14:12-15). So we see that Christ's Second Coming affects both believers and non-believers.
Matthew 24:29-31 records the Second Coming of Christ. I might add, for clarification, that no Rapture is mentioned here. That is because there isn't one here. The Rapture will have taken place at least seven years earlier. The Second Coming takes place "after the tribulation of those days" (Matt. 24:29) and after a paroxysm of nature in which the sun and moon will be darkened and the stars will fall from the sky (Matt. 24:29). Just prior to His return, "the sign of the Son of Man" will appear in the heavens, and it will cause all the "tribes of the earth" to mourn in terror (Matt. 24:30). Then "they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30). Jesus will send forth His angels with a great trumpet blast, and He will gather His elect from the four cardinal points of the globe (Matt. 24:31). Already we have seen that Christ's Second coming adversely affects unbelievers, but believers will be gathered from all over the globe by the angels.
Comparing His return to that which happened at the Great Flood in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:36-41), Jesus stated that at His return two men would be in the field farming. One would be taken away to judgment (the unbeliever) and one (the believer) would be left alive to inherit Christ's Kingdom (Matt. 24:36-40). Similarly two women would be grinding at the mill. One would be taken away to judgment and the other preserved alive to inherit the Kingdom (Matt. 24:41). The same separation is retold in Jesus' analogy of the return of the Master to a faithful and an evil slave (Matt. 24:45-51). The point is that Jesus' Second Coming affects both believers and unbelievers.
In the parable of the ten virgins, the five prudent virgins are permitted to enter the wedding feast, while the five imprudent virgins are excluded (Matt. 25:1-13). Thus the five prudent (believers) are permitted to enter Christ's kingdom while the five imprudent (unbelievers) are excluded. So Christ's Second Coming is stated to affect both believers and unbelievers.
In the parable of the talents (Matt. 24:14-30) three slaves are entrusted with money while the master goes on a journey. When he returns he calls in the three for an accounting. Two slaves have been faithful with what they were allotted, while the third refused to make an investment. In response, the master promised to put the two "in charge of many things" while the wicked, lazy slave was thrown into outer darkness, where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth." Just so, at Christ's return, faithful believers will be given more important assignments in Christ's kingdom, while the wicked will be excluded forever from His kingdom. Once again, Christ's Second Coming is seen to affect both believers and unbelievers.
In Christ's final statement in His "Olivet Discourse" (Matt. 24:1-25:46), He describes the judgment of the survivors of the Tribulation that will take place upon His return (Matthew 25:31-46). He will sit on His glorious throne, and all of the surviving Gentiles will be gathered to Him. He will separate the righteous (as sheep) to His right and position the unrighteous (as goats) upon His left. The righteous will be preserved alive to inherit Christ's Millennial Kingdom (Matt. 25:34), while the wicked will be sent away into eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46). Once again, Christ's Second Coming is unequivocally said to affect both believers and unbelievers.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 is another passage which describes the Second Coming of Christ. Clearly both believers and unbelievers are affected by His return. Christ's Second Coming will give relief to Christians who have been afflicted by unbelievers (2 Thess. 1:6-7). The time of this relief will be "at the unveiling of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire" (2 Thess. 1:7-8a, author's literal translation). When He returns, Jesus will be "delivering vengeance to the ones not having known God and the ones not submitting to the good news of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:8, author's literal translation). "These (unbelievers) will pay the penalty of eternal destruction (away) from the face of the Lord and (away) from the glory of His might when He shall come to be glorified in His holy ones and marveled at among all those having believed (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day" (2 Thess. 1:9-10, author's literal translation).
We see that the righteous are vindicated and the unrighteous unbelievers are destroyed at the Second Coming of Christ. This destruction will take place first as Christ destroys enemy combatants arrayed against Him (Isa. 63:1-6; Zech. 14:12-15; Rev. 19:17-21). But all the earth will await judgment. All those who survive the Tribulation period, whether Israelis or Gentiles will be judged by Christ. Rebel Israelis will be purged (Ezek. 20:33-38) and unbelieving Gentiles will be sent to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Thess. 1:9). Only believing Jews and believing Gentiles will be permitted to enter Christ's Kingdom. Those who believe in Jesus will be amazed at His glory and marvel at His majesty and power (2 Thess. 1:10).
Revelation 19:11-21 is the final passage in the Bible that describes the Second Coming of Christ. In the vision John saw, Christ was "clothed with a robe dipped in blood" (Rev. 19:13). This is not His own blood. It is a proleptic picture of the blood He will shed when He arrives on earth and destroys His enemies (Isa. 63:1-6; Zech. 14:3, 12-15; Rev. 19:19-21). King Jesus will be accompanied by His armies from heaven (Rev. 19:14, 8, 19). Moreover the Warrior-King John sees in his vision has a sharp sword protruding from His mouth (Rev. 19:15). He will use it to strike down the nations (Rev. 19:15). This symbolizes the fact that when Christ returns, He will merely verbalize a command, and His enemies will be destroyed (Rev. 19:15; Zech. 14:12-15), their dead bodies providing gory sustenance for huge flocks of birds (Rev. 19:21). Obviously, the Second Coming of Christ adversely affects unbelievers and enemies of the returning King!
But others are mentioned in this passage. When the King returns, He will weed out all unbelieving survivors of the Tribulation period. This will include a judgment both upon survivors from the nation of Israel and upon the survivors from among the Gentile nations. The unbelievers will be eliminated from the earth and sent to "eternal punishment" (Matt. 25:46). The righteous will be permitted to enter the kingdom of Christ alive (Matt. 25:34). Jesus will rule (literally, shepherd," poimainŰ, 4165) these righteous Gentiles "with a rod of iron" (Rev. 19:15). So Jesus' Second Coming has a beneficial effect upon the righteous alive at His return. They are permitted to enter His kingdom, and all unbelieving people will be removed from the Kingdom. This will provide the best possible environment for living in a still fallen world.
Conclusion: A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because it does not deal adequately with the data that the Rapture is portrayed as affecting only believers, whereas the Second Coming is portrayed as affecting both believers and unbelievers. Post-Tribulationism does not adequately deal with the details surrounding the two-stage eschatological Parousia of Christ.
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ģ, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)