Part 1: The Rapture
Author: Michael Dewar, D.Min
My recently published book, The Great Tribulation Survival Guide for Those Left Behind, has certainly generated spirited discussion on social media among certain sectarian fringe groups. The discussions, to some extent, reveals a fundamental lack of knowledge concerning the Second Coming of Christ. This article is the first of five written to bring clarity to the subject. For those wanting more meat on the subject, I refer you to my book, The Book of Life and the Books of Wrath.
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is often a misunderstood subject. Some scholars find it too controversial, so they stay clear of it altogether. But I do not find the Second Coming of Jesus anymore controversial than His Virgin Birth, His bodily Resurrection, the Holy Trinity, or Jesus being both God and Man at the same time. We have faced these tough subjects throughout the history of the Church and have reached mainstream consensus on them.
While the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is clearly taught in scripture some things are still classified, known only to the blessed Holy Trinity, and not yet revealed to men or angels. Therefore, be weary of teachers with charts, dates, and diagrams explaining the when and where of every detail event.
In this five-article series, therefore, I will briefly discuss the Second Coming Jesus and its major related events. Bear in mind that related events fall into three categories: events preceding the Second Coming, events unfolding simultaneously with the Second Coming, and events happening after the Lord comes. Some events will take place in heaven and some on the earth.
The notable events preceding the Second Coming are: the rapture, the believers’ judgment, the rewarding of believers, the coronation of Christ Jesus, and the marriage supper of the Lamb. This first article covers the rapture of the Church to heaven. To get the rich truth of the articles, keep an opened mind, and be sure to read the accompanying Bible references.
What the Second Coming Jesus Christ Is Not
First, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to planet Earth is not the end of the world. The earth will not fall out of its orbit in a blazing catastrophic fireball. If that is your understanding, you have it woefully wrong; it will not happen like that at all. In fact, the world will continue with much improved conditions for at least another thousand years after Jesus arrives here (Rev.20).
Second, Jesus will not come back secretly like a thief in the night? The scriptures that give that impression are referring to something else, as we will see later in this article. Jesus will come back personally, publicly, visibility, and noisily with shouts and trumpets blasting. The ascension of Jesus to heaven was personal, visible, and public to at least 120 witnesses. The angels said to those watching Him depart, this same Jesus will come again in the manner you see him go up (Acts 1:10-11). When He returns to the earth, “every eye shall now behold Him” (Rev.1:7).
Third, the Rapture is not the Second Coming of Jesus. The rapture is a related event that precedes the Second Coming; there are many related events. Some critics confuse the rapture with the Second Coming, and some critics disingenuously accuse those that believe and teach the rapture event as believing in two Second Comings. I want to believe the accusers know better, but they continue to twist the scriptures to fit their doctrine and to make others look false. This article is written not to start a debate but to bring some clarify to the subject.
What Then Is the Rapture?
The Rapture is a related event often spoken of in the context of the Second Coming Jesus without the use of the English word, rapture. Words like “caught up,” “taken up,” “receive you unto myself” are sometimes used in the place of the word rapture (John 14:1-3; 1Thess.4:17).
Again, the word rapture means “to be caught up” (in the air) or “taken up;” this expression, “caught up” or “taken up” is used in several scripture passages and can be translated “rapture” or “raptured.” Yet, critics want to argue that it is not in the Bible. It’s like two men arguing and one said, “You did not tell me to move backwards. You said, I should reverse.” The critics insist, the Bible did not say, “rapture.” It says, “caught up.” But that is what rapture means, “caught up or taken up.”
In the context of Jesus calling for His people from the atmospheric heaven, First Thessalonians 4:17 says, “and we who are still alive…will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…” For the words “caught up,” we use the English word, “rapture.” There is no difference in the action when you move backward or reverse (raptured or caught up). The action is the same. That is how silly the argument is when people say, the word rapture is not in the Bible. They fail to see the words, caught up.
Furthermore, being “caught up” (raptured) to heaven is used several places in the Bible in both Old and New Testament. Here are five examples:
- The Patriarch Enoch was caught up to heaven alive. The Bible said he was translated, taken away that he should not see death (Gen.5:22-24; Heb.11:5).
- The prophet Elijah was also caught up, taken up alive up to heaven (2Kings 2:1-14).
- Jesus was caught up, taken up alive to heaven (Acts 1:9-11).
- The apostle Paul was caught up to the third heaven (2Cor.12:2-5 ).
- The apostle John was also caught up to heaven (Rev.4-5).
The Secret Second Coming Charge
No, there will not be a secret second coming of Jesus Christ . The critics accused those who believe pre-tribulation or mid-tribulation rapture as believing in a secret Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The charge is disingenuous. We have already dispelled that myth that the rapture is the second coming. The rapture is a related event, because it is often spoken about in the context of the Second Coming of Christ. But it is not the Second Coming of itself—the rapture precedes the Second Coming Jesus Christ.
Will the rapture event be secret? Yes, and no! Yes, in the sense that it is imminent, it can happen anytime. Yes, in the sense that it will happen so fast (“in the twinkling of an eye”(1Cor.15:51-52) that unbelieving humans will not see or hear anything.
But no, it will not be secret in the following sense: 1) it will be loud and noisy to those that are leaving (1Thess.4:16-17). 2) As soon as it happens, there will be worldwide breaking news of this event. The global news and social media will be pre-occupied with it for months. It is more accurate to say the unbelieving world will not know of the rapture event while it is happening, but they will know minute after it happens. The rapture will take seconds, the time it takes for your eye to blink.
Note well that when Jesus speaks of His return, it is always privately to His followers, not to the unbelieving public. He always speaks of an unannounced calling for them, which means they should be in a constant state of readiness. So, the coming like a thief in the night, or as a delayed bridegroom, or as a merchant returning from a far country must be referring to an event different from His public Second Coming to the earth (Matt.24:42-44,25:5-13). A thief does not announce his visit.
The unannounced event is the Lord calling for His people from the atmospheric heaven, what we refer to as the rapture; the Bible does not give a set day or time for this event. It is imminent! Remember, the Second Coming is the personal, visible, public, and noisy return of Jesus Christ to the earth. Believers who are not ready for the rapture will be left behind like those five foolish virgins of Matthew 25:1-12. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son man comes” (v.13).
The Rapture Happens Before the Great Tribulation
We stated earlier that people who believe in the rapture fall into three groups: Pre-tribulation rapture group (pre-trib), the mid-tribulation rapture group (mid-trib.), and the post-tribulation rapture group.
The post-tribulation position is the weakest, and it does great damage to the scripture. The pre-tribulation position is widely embraced by the preponderance of biblical scholars, and these scholars do not have much argument with the mid-tribulation position because it is seen as a possibility. So, we will not spend time discussing the mid-trib position.
First, we will look at scriptural evidence for the pre-tribulation rapture position (some already given) but we will give others in this section. First Thessalonians 4:16-17 is used by all three groups to support their position. We will quote the passage, then discuss why it is not fitting for the post-tribulation position, but most applicable to the pre-tribulation rapture position.
The Scripture Passage (1Thessalonians 4:16-17)
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that we who are still alive will be caught together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will be with the Lord forever” (1Thess.4:16-17).
If taken by itself, the passage could support the post-tribulation position. But no scripture verse can stand by itself; it must be taken in the light of what other scripture passages say on the subject. When a single passage is taken by itself to establish a doctrine, it does violence to the scripture on a whole, because you must bend and twist other passages to jump through the hoop you set up.
The post-tribulation position teaches that the Church will go through the fire of the Great Tribulation, then rise to meet Jesus in the air at His coming, makes a U-turn, and immediately comes back to earth. That is their understanding of the First Thessalonians passage (4:16-17). But that could not be so, and I will show you why.
The Pre-Tribulation Position
First, what is God’s purpose in The Great Tribulation? His purpose is to prod unbelieving humanity to repent and accept His salvation provision in Jesus Christ before the Final Judgment. God’s wrath or judgment, as seen in the book of Revelation, is intended to make life uncomfortable to the point of moving people to repent and turn to God. Will it produce that result? Yes, many people will turn to God; they are called, tribulation saints. These judgments are administered by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (Revelation 5 and 6). To teach anything different, is to distort the Scriptures. Chapter 6:16-17 clearly states that this is the wrath of the Lamb, the Son God.
Second, the Bible teaches that God will not pour out His wrath upon His redeemed people. Such behavior is contrary or antithetical to the character of God and of Christ. There is evidence in both Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) supporting this truth. Here are some OT examples: 1) for their safety, God locked in Noah and his family in the Ark before the Great Flood began (Gen.7:1-16). 2) God pulled Lot and his family out of Sodom and Gomorrah before fire and brimstone fell on the twin cities (Gen.19:15-26 ). 3) God had secured place to shield the Israelites from the judgment of the 10 plagues upon Egypt (Exodus 11:1-7, 12:12-13 ).
The NT clearly states or implies that God will protect His people from the wrath of divine judgments: 1) It is unthinkable that the bridegroom (Jesus) would pour out His wrath or Judgment upon His Bride (the Church). “There…is no condemnation (wrath, judgment) to them who are in Christ Jesus (Rom.8:1). Why? Because Jesus already bore God’s wrath for His people on the cross (Isa.5:4-5; Rom.5:7–9). 3). For that reason, “God has not appointed us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Thess.5:9).
This summarizes the pre-tribulation position. God will call for his people from earth to a safe place, so they will not be exposed to His wrath or judgment as it poured out upon wicked, unbelieving, humanity during the Great Tribulation.
How Do We Know the Church Will Not Go Through the Great Tribulation?
First, we know the Church will not go through the Great tribulation for the Old and New Testament reasons cited in the previous section. It is fundamentally against the nature and character of God and Christ to pour out judgment or wrath upon the righteous and the wicked together. God always make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. He will move or bring His people to a safe place to protect them from divine wrath.
Second, the book of Revelation gives us picturesque view of what will transpire on earth during the Great Tribulation. Chapters 1-3 the apostle John is on earth as Jesus is reviewing the state of Church. The seven churches really existed during John’s time, but they also represent the diversity of the entire Church during the church age.
In chapter 4, John is caught up to heaven and from there he views the unfolding of the Great Tribulation events on the earth, an example of the rapture (chapters 6-18). In chapter 7, the church is in heaven through chapter 19. How do we know this? It is clearly stated in the chapters, let’s take a quick look at it.
- The Great Tribulation begins in Revelation 6 as the Lamb (Jesus) breaks the first seal of the seven-seal scroll. The first rider on the white horse is not Jesus; the rider is on earth. It is a mistake to think this rider is Jesus, he is not! He is an imposter.
- Revelation 7:1-8, shows the sealing of 144,000 Jewish evangelists to preach the gospel to the Jewish nation. This is a sign that the Great Tribulation, the time of Jacob’s trouble, has begun. The fullness of the gentiles is almost in, and God is focusing on Israel again.
- Revelation 7: 9-17 shows tribulation saints join the rest of the Church in heaven (we know this takes place later in the tribulation). We also know this is the full Church in heaven, including the tribulation saints, because of the language of the text (v.9). Let’s hear it: “I behold a great multitude which no man could number of every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothes with robes, and palms in their hands” (Rev.7:9).
This is the full Church, not just tribulation saints, but the focus is on the new arrivals. The apostle was surprised to see at least part of this group and asked the angel, who are these people and where did they come from? In verse 14 the angel identifies them as Great Tribulation saints. We know from other scripture passages that tribulation saints will join their brothers and sisters in heaven. Because they are part of the Church, they look alike and dress alike. The Church remains in heaven to ending of activities in Revelation 19.
- In Revelation 19, we see the marriage supper of the Lamb, the coronation of Jesus as KING of Kings and LORD of Lords, and we see the Church getting ready to return to earth with Jesus.
Two notable events take place in heaven before the Coronation of Jesus and the Marriage Supper: the believers judgment and the receiving rewards for work done. The believers must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, not to be judge for their sins, but to give account of themselves to Christ Jesus, their Lord (2 Cor.5:9-10). Second, believers’ work will be tested by fire, and rewards will be issued for Christian service that survives this evaluation (1Cor.3:11-15; 2Tim.4:6-8). No believer will lose his or her place heaven, but some believers will not get a reward because they were working for money and self (Matt.6: 1-4). Getting into heaven is not a reward for work done; it is God’s gift of grace (John 3:16; Eph.2:8-9).
- Revelation 19:11-21 shows Jesus returning to earth with saints and angels. Many crowns are on his head. These are crowns that are rewarded to saints for work done for Jesus out of love; they in turn give them back to Jesus out of love. It is like a child hanging his Olympic gold medal on his parents who sacrifice so much for him (see, The Book of Life and the Books of Wrath).
So, without controversy, Revelation 19:1-10 shows the full Church in heaven; she is there from the beginning of the Great Tribulation, and now she is getting ready to return to earth with Jesus (vv.11-21). If this vast multitude is not the Church, who are they and where are they?
What Will Happen When the Rapture Takes Place?
Now let’s go back and look at two notable things that will happen when the rapture takes place:
- First, all the righteous people of God who have died from the time of Adam and Eve to the present time will be resurrected (1Thess.4:16-17, John 5:28).
- Second, all the living righteous people of God will be taken together with their resurrected counterpart to heaven. In the process, their physical bodies will be changed from mortal to immortal (1Cor.15:50-58; 2Cor.5:1-9).
This joint phenomenon of the resurrection of the righteous and the transformation of the living righteous caught up to heaven is called the first resurrection (Rev.20:6). No unbeliever will be among them; unbelievers’ resurrection will be much later. It is called the resurrection of damnation (John 5:28; Rev.20:11-15). Believers will be in heaven until they return to earth with Jesus to end the Great Tribulation as shown in Revelation 19:11-21.
The Second Coming of Jesus
Revelation 19:11-21 shows Jesus returning to earth; this is the Second Coming of Jesus. He returns to earth to bring the tribulation to its climatic end. This is the personal, visible, public, noisy, Second Coming of Jesus to the earth. He is The Commander in Chief at the head of an army of saints and angels. This is the final World War, ending with Armageddon.
The last activity in heave in (Revelation chapter 19:11) is Jesus exiting the portals of heaven to earth on a milk white stallion accompanied by saints and angel. His first order of business as he touches down on earth is to put down the antichrist’s arm forces, arrest the beast (the antichrist) and his sidekick (the false prophet) and promptly throw them into the lake of burning sulfur. He also destroys antichrist’s arm forces (Rev.19:19-21).
Satan, the spiritual leader and god of wicked humankind is taken into custody (Rev.20:1-3).
This article gives you a brief explanation the rapture, an associated event of the Second Coming of Jesus. Some details are left out and some are classified. By classified, I mean God has not revealed them. Most Bible scholars agree not on all details but on the fact that the Bride of Christ, the Church will not go through the fire of the Great Tribulation. By Church, I mean all born-again believers of the various faith traditions.
It would be a good thing to get all Bible teaching right, but no church denomination does. A believer does not have to get this teaching right to go to heaven. Frankly, it has little or nothing to do with your salvation. So, there is no need to get twisted or bent out of shape over it, calling you brothers and sisters for whom Christ died unpleasant names. Visit my Amazon book page.