RAPTURE VS THE SECOND COMING / WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
The Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ are often confused. The Rapture and the Second Coming are similar but separate events. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether a scripture is referring to the Rapture or the Second Coming. Both involve Jesus returning and both are end times events. For us to understand the Scriptures clearly, it is very important to differentiate between the two and recognize the differences.
One thing that we need to keep in mind, and this is of extreme importance, which will help you to rightly divide God’s Word, is to ask yourselves whether the passage is talking about Israel or the Church. They are not the same and this is why there is so much confusion on this subject. One of the gravest errors made is that people confuse prophecy concerning Israel with revelation concerning the church, which is a completely unjustifiable tampering of Holy Scripture and God warns us about doing that. Israel’s sphere is EARTHY, the church’s sphere is HEAVENLY, and they should not be confused. Israel is not the Church, and the throne of David is not in heaven; it is on earth (Jerusalem). Jesus currently shares His Father’s throne. Jesus is not sitting on His own throne and will not do so until He returns to this earth to reign. For example: Matthew 24 is often quoted referring to the Rapture, but it is clearly talking about Israel. During the Tribulation the Church will be gone and God’s attention is once again on Israel, as He is going to bring Israel to repentance.
You should know that there is a clear distinction between the Church and Israel. In 1 Corinthians 10:32, we have a verse that you should become familiar with because it’s very basic to this study. We read: “Give no offence, either to the Jewish people or to the Greeks or to the church of God.” Did you notice there are three distinct groups? The Jewish people, the Gentiles, and the Church – always separate. Even though there are believing Jewish people and believing Gentiles in the Church, it is not the same as Israel. The Church is a distinct unit, begun at Pentecost and ends at the Rapture whereas God started dealing with His people Israel more than 2000 years before Pentecost. Look, Israel rejected Jesus then God moved over to the Gentiles and called out a group (Christ’s body of believers – the Church) and when the fullness of the Gentles come in and the Church is completed Christ comes in the air for His Church and takes us to His home in heaven – known as the rapture of the Church. After the Rapture God goes right back once again to dealing with His people Israel.
THE TRIBULATION PERIOD IS DANIEL’S 70th WEEK
There are some today who teach that the Church, the body of Christ, will have to endure part or all of the Tribulation time period described in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation. One of the primary reasons for this is a lack of understanding concerning what God is doing today in the formation of the Church, the body of Christ. Because of this lack of understanding we need to examine the prophecy of Daniel concerning the 70 weeks of Israel in Daniel 9:24-27. This will help us to understand why the Church, the body of Christ, will not be involved and not go through the 7-year Tribulation period. (To explain Daniel 9 and this prophecy properly really requires a separate posting but we don’t have the space to do it here, so I’ll try to condense it to a few paragraphs as many readers here are probably familiar with Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy).
History has shown that God reveals His prophecies literally and there will be a literal 7-year Tribulation period while the “Great Tribulation” refers to the second half (3 ½ years) of the Tribulation which we read about in Revelation 13-19. In Daniel 9:24-27, the angel Gabriel tells Daniel that from the time the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem is given, to the arrival of the Messiah (Jesus) will be 69 weeks of years. Since God expressed this prophecy in years of 360 days (Jewish calendar) we have 69×7 or 483 years or 173,880 days. The commandment Gabriel spoke of was given by King Artaxerxes about 100 years later in 445 BC (Nehemiah 2:1-6). Exactly 173,880 days later, Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem as King of the Jewish people on Palm Sunday. Gabriel also said that the final 70th week (or the 7-year Tribulation period) would begin when the Antichrist makes his covenant (or treaty) with Israel, and that the Antichrist would then break the covenant at the midpoint of the 7-year Tribulation and this initiates the Great Tribulation or what Jeremiah calls, “the time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble (Jer. 30:7).” Revelation describes the length of the Great Tribulation as 1260 days (v.12:6) and 42 months. (v.13:5). Since God gave us the duration in four different units of time (days, years, months, and weeks of years), can there be any doubt how long it will last? Also, since God fulfilled the first 69 weeks of years literally to the exact day, we know that He will do the same with the 70th week of years – the 7-year Tribulation period.
From Daniel’s prophecy we find that the focus of the end times (Tribulation period) is on Israel and not the present Church. God will deal with Israel as Gabriel said in Daniel 9:24, “Seventy weeks (of years) are determined upon my people (Israel)…” That is, Daniel’s people, the Jewish people and not the Church. The Church is not in the Tribulation as it has been raptured and taken to heaven prior to the Tribulation. This is the Word of God and yet you find post-tribulation believers arguing against God’s word. This is why you find in Revelation chapter 7, the 144,000 evangelists which are chosen are all Jewish people, and their tribes are listed. In chapter 11:7-8 the two Jewish witnesses are martyred in Jerusalem. In Revelation 12:6, the woman flees into the wilderness for 1260 days represents Israel in the Great Tribulation. These are just some of the reasons we know that after the Rapture, Israel is at the center of God’s plan. For a detailed study which explains how the last week of Daniel’s 70 weeks will be a continuation of the old Jewish kingdom program, see the Seven Churches of Revelation. The present, predominantly Gentile church and the doctrines concerning it were a mystery unknown to the Jewish people throughout the first 69 weeks. The Church therefore must be removed (raptured) prior to the beginning of the 70th week, which is determined upon the nation of Israel (Daniel 9:24). According to God’s word, Daniel’s 70th week is determined upon Daniel’s people – Israel. The body of Christ was not in the first 69 weeks, nor will it be in the 70th week – the Tribulation period.
The 7-year Tribulation is an important period in God’s plan. Daniel says a total of 70 weeks have been decreed by God. Based on the timing events Daniel provides in verses 25 and 26, we can see that 69 of the 70 “sevens” have already transpired, leaving just one 7-year period remaining. That remaining 7-year period is the Tribulation period, which has yet to happen (after the Rapture). From Daniel 9 we learn of several purposes God has for Israel during this Tribulation period. One of which is to finish the transgression – to bring Israel’s disobedience to the Old Covenant to an end. Another purpose is to make atonement for inequity – to exact a price for Israel’s sins under the terms of the Old Covenant. To bring in everlasting righteousness – to usher in the Millennial Kingdom on earth. To anoint the most holy place – to set up the Millennial Kingdom temple where Christ will reside.
The Tribulation is called the time of Israel’s distress, and yet Jacob (i.e., the nation of Israel) will be saved from it. Therefore, the chief purpose of the Tribulation is to bring Israel back to the Lord just as Ezekiel teaches (Ezek. 20:36-38). The Lord promises to bring Israel through a time of judgement and inspection so that He may purge Israel’s sin and rebellion thereby bringing them back into the bond of the covenant – the Old Covenant delivered through Moses. Yes, the Bible clearly teaches that the time of Jacob’s trouble, in which the non-elect Jewish people are to be purged out and removed, while the remaining believing remnant will be saved (both spiritually and physically), did not occur through events relating to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as the Amillennialists and others would have us believe. No, only by faith in the Son of Man can Israel be regenerated. Only by calling upon the Name of the Lord can Israel be saved spiritually. Only by the return of the Son of Man can Israel be saved physically. Yet, that is exactly what will happen in the future in the Tribulation period. The Lord is setting the stage for this future event since He has brought His chosen people (Israel) back to their land after nearly 2000 years in anticipation of both the purging of the non-elect and the redemption of the elect.
Now, having learned the true purposes of the Tribulation, we can see why the Church does not experience this period of history when it arrives. Since this period is appointed for Israel, the Church will be removed prior to the beginning of the final seven years of God’s judgement and wrath. This is why Paul says the Lord will return to remove the Church prior to the beginning of the Tribulation. “…. and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath (1 Thess. 1:10). Again, God’s wrath and judgements in the book of Revelation is the 7-year Tribulation period.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE RAPTURE AND THE SECOND COMING
Here are some Key differences that will help you to clarify and rightly divide God’s Word:
- Location of Believers– Meeting in the Air vs Returning with Him – Jesus coming for His saint’s vs Jesus returning from heaven with His saints and the armies of heaven.
In the Rapture, believers are called to meet Christ in the air (1 Thess. 4:17) – Christ coming for His Church. In an instant the dead in Christ will rise and the believers who are left will then be called away – “We who are alive shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. And thus, we shall always be with the Lord.” In the Rapture Christ Jesus returns to remove the church (Christ’s body of believers) from the earth and take them to heaven.
In the case of the Second Coming, the doors of heaven open and we see Jesus on a white horse ready to come down to earth with His saints and the armies of heaven – the glorious coming of Christ to earth in order to put down His enemies and set up His kingdom. Here’s what we read describing the Second Coming of Christ: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose writer is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns. He has a name written on Him that no one knows but He Himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following Him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh, He has this name written: King Of Kings And Lord Of Lords (Rev. 19:11-16).”
This is unbelievable but post-tribulationists would like to have us believe that these verses describe Christ’s coming for his Bride to take Her to heaven. Seriously, do these verses look like it’s describing the Rapture where we meet Jesus in the air? Absolutely not! It is very obvious for anybody who has eyes to see that these verses are not describing the (secret) Rapture but are instead describing Christ coming to conquer His enemies during the war of Armageddon, in which He will be the victor and which all who oppose Him will be slain (vv. 19, 21).
Clearly, when the doors of heaven open and Jesus appears He is not coming back this time as a Lamb, but as a Warrior on a white horse symbolizing victory. Jesus came back the first time as a Lamb to be a sacrifice for sin, but He will return as a Conqueror and King to execute judgement (2 Thess. 1:7-10). Jesus’ first coming brought forgiveness; His Second Coming will bring judgement. The battle lines have been drawn between God and evil, and the world is waiting for the King to ride unto the field.
- Purpose – Deliverance or Judgement?
In the Rapture believers are taken from the earth by God as an act of deliverance: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial (7-year Tribulation) that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth (Rev. 3:10).” Believers are taken from the world so that God’s judgement and wrath can fall on the unbelieving inhabitants of earth. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:9).”
The Second Coming will be an act of judgement. This is the coming of the conquering King that the Jews looked for in His first coming while missing the suffering servant aspect of His mission. When Christ returns it will be a glorious day for those who belong to Him as He establishes His kingdom on earth, but it will be a dreadful day for all those who stand opposed to Him. In the Second Coming unbelievers are removed from the earth by God as an act of judgement: “But the beast was captured and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With the signs, he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshipped its image. The two of them were thrown alive in the fiery lake burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Rev. 19:20-21).”
The key to understanding the Rapture revolves around God’s mercy and His wrath. Scripture makes it clear that believers will not suffer God’s wrath (Rev. 3:10). Scripture clearly tells us in Romans 5:9 that “having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” The Rapture is God’s way to prevent believers from suffering His wrath. It also removes the Church so that God’s focus can return to His people once again – Israel.
3. Secret or Public – Hidden Event or Seen by All
We find that the Rapture will be an instantaneous hidden event (secret), and unbelievers will not see it. We read this in 1 Corinthians: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (v. 15:52).” No one will be able to witness it, only the effects afterward.
On the other hand, the Lord’s return (Second Coming) to the earth will be very visible. Matthew 24:27 & 30 and Revelation 1:7 declare that all will see Him as He returns. “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matt. 24:27, 30).” “Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him. So shall it be! Amen (Rev. 1:7).” The people of the earth will mourn as they witness the Lord’s return.
These differences are of great importance. If the Rapture can take place at any moment, then believers are urged to live holy lives with a sense of urgency to share Christ with other people. In addition, an any-moment rapture shows that God will rescue His people prior to His judgements upon the earth. This perspective resembles the pattern of God rescuing Noah and his family in the ark prior to His judgement of the earth by a flood.
4. At Any Moment or Only After Certain Events
Rapture passages make it clear that the Lord’s return is imminent. The Rapture could happen at any moment. We find from Revelation 3:3 that the Lord’s return will also be like a thief, and you will not know what hour he will come upon you. “I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” It has long been recognized by scholars that the hope of the imminent return of Christ has a sanctifying influence in the life of the believer. He does not want to be doing anything that he would not want to be doing when Christ returns.
The Lord’s Second Coming must be preceded by certain events, however. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 we learn that the Antichrist must first be revealed. He will then be destroyed by the splendor of Christ’s coming. We also learn that the events of Matthew 24:4-30 need to take place before Christ’s Second Coming as well. This passage is often used as “proof” that we are living in the end times and that Christ will soon return. Indeed, we have seen a rise of many of these things in our very lifetime – tribulations of men. The day-to-day tribulations of living in this world. However, there will be a much greater increase during the days of the Tribulation period when God’s wrath is poured upon the unbelieving inhabitants of earth. We know that this passage is not simply referring to the days before the Rapture because in verse 15 of Matthew 24 it speaks of the abomination that causes desolation. We learn from Daniel chapter 9:27 that this abomination occurs in the middle of the final “seven”– the middle of the Tribulation period. The Lord’s return will occur 1260 days (42 months) after the abomination that causes desolation (Daniel 9:24-27; 12:11-12). Again, all these events proceed the Lord’s Second Coming.
- Who Is Taken – Two Different Sets of People
The focus of the Rapture and the Second Coming is placed upon two different sets of people:
The Rapture is the removal of believers from the earth as an act of deliverance (1 Thess. 4:13-17). We also read in Matthew 25:1-13 about the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Those who had extra oil and were waiting and prepared for the return of the bridegroom were taken while those who were foolish (unbelievers) and ran out of oil were left behind.
The Second Coming paints just the opposite picture. The Second Coming includes the removal of unbelievers as an act of judgement (Matt. 24:37-42). In the parable of the tares in Matthew 13, Jesus instructs the harvesters to allow the tares (unbelievers) to grow among the wheat (believers) until the time of the harvest (Christ’s Second Coming). Then at the time of the harvest when Christ returns the tares (unbelievers) are gathered together and thrown into the fire to be burned.
- How does the Rapture and Christ’s Second Coming fit into the Millennial Kingdom?
The Millennial Kingdom follows the Second Coming according to a literal interpretation of Scripture. This causes problems for post-tribulation believers for putting the Rapture and the Second Coming together or immediately one after the other. At the Rapture, believers are immediately changed and given their glorified bodies. This is found in the discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 as well as in 1 John 3:2 which tells us we will be like Christ. We know that Christ’s resurrected body is not like His earthly body but rather it was changed. On the other hand, those believers who have gone through the Tribulation when Christ returns will enter the Millennium with mortal bodies as they have not been changed. The only explanation that allows us to see some entering the kingdom with their glorified bodies and others entering with their physical bodies is only in a pre-tribulation Rapture. Why? Because that is the biblical truth as revealed in His Word – God is not a God of confusion.
One of the strengths of the pre-tribulation position is that it is better able to harmonize the many events of end time prophecy because of its distinction between the Rapture and the Second Coming. Normally, post-tribulation believers do not even attempt to answer such objections and the few that try struggle with the biblical text. Here are some post-tribulation problems:
- Post-tribulation requires that the Church will be present during the 70thweek of Daniel (Dan. 9:24-27) even though it was absent from the first 69 weeks. This is in spite of the fact that Daniel 9:24 says that all 70 weeks are for Israel – not the Church. Pre-tribulationism is not in conflict with this passage since the church departs (raptured) before the beginning of the 7-year Tribulation period.
- Post-tribulationism must deny the New Testament teaching of imminency – that Christ could come at any moment. Pre-tribulationism does not have a problem with these New Testament passages, since they believe that no signs must proceed the Rapture.
- Post-tribulationism has no answer to the problem of who will populate the Millennium if the Rapture and the Second Coming occur at the same time. Since all believers will be translated at the Rapture and all unbelievers judged, because no unrighteous person shall be allowed to enter Christ’s Kingdom, then no one would be left in mortal bodies to start the population base for the Millennium. The pre–tribulation viewpoint fits in nicely with the Rapture and seven years later with Christ’s Second Coming to earth to establish His Millennial Kingdom.
- Post-tribulationism is not able to explain the sheep and goats’ judgement after the Second Coming in Matthew 25:31-46. As in the previous problem, how would there be any believers in mortal bodies, if they were raptured at the Second Coming. Who would be available to enter into Christ’s kingdom? And again, this fits in nicely with the pre-tribulation viewpoint – this causes no problems.
- Since Revelation 19:7-8 indicates that the Church, Christ’s Bride, is made ready after the marriage supper of the Lamb to accompany Christ to earth (Rev. 19:14) before the Second Coming, how could this reasonably happen if part of the church is still on earth awaiting Christ’s coming? If the rapture of the Church takes place at the Second Coming, then how does the Bride (i.e., the Church) also come with Christ at His return? There would not be sufficient time for this to happen within a post-tribulational sequence, but the pre-tribulation position has no such problems.
In closing, never confuse the Second Coming of Christ to earth with the Rapture of the Church, the body of Christ. (1) The Second Coming involves deliverance for Israel; the Rapture involves deliverance for the body of Christ (Romans 11:26-27). (2) At the Second Coming, Christ comes to the earth; at the Rapture, Christ descends from heaven and the body of Christ meets Him in the air. (3) The Second Coming of Christ is a public appearance that the world will witness (Matt. 24:30; Rev.1:7); on the other hand, the Rapture takes place quicker than the blinking of an eye (1 Cor. 15:52) and the world won’t see Him – only the effects afterward.