1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 "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."
Revelation 19:11 "And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war."
I recently began preaching a series of messages that involve describing how Jesus will return to take back history. I began by describing what Bible teachers refer to as the "rapture of the church". In the message, I defined the rapture as follows:
"A predicted event, of unknown date, in which Jesus appears in the clouds to resurrect dead Christians and transform the bodies of living Christians to catch them up to Himself."
The doctrine of the rapture is often associated with another doctrine that figures more prominently in the Bible's presentation of prophecy (also called "eschatology" or "study of last things"), namely, Christ's second coming (also called "second advent" and "return"). In today's post, I want us to briefly consider these two doctrines. Although the rapture and Christ's return are related to one another (like a "part one" and "part two" of Christ's efforts in bringing the church and Israel respectively to Himself at the end of this age), there are distinctions.
Defining what we mean by "pre", "mid" and "post" tribulation views with respect to the relationship of the rapture of the church and second coming
Over the passing of time, I have found that noting the differences and similarities between the rapture and Christ's second advent aids greatly in understanding what the Bible has to say on whether or not the rapture will occur before, mid-way through or after the tribulation period. For readers who may not have familiarity with the term "tribulation" and the prefixes describing viewpoints that attempt to explain the rapture's relationship to it, some definitions are in order. The tribulation describes a period of time, yet future, in which God will pour out wrath to judge the nations, defeat Satan's kingdom and prepare Israel for the arrival of her Messiah at the end of that period. The prefixes "pre", "mid" and "post" respectively argue for the rapture as occurring before, midway or near the end of the tribulation.
Below are a series of charts one typically can find to illustrate each of these views:
As a general rule, post-tribulational Christians will focus only on the similarities and virtually equate the rapture and Christ's second coming. Mid-tribulational Christians and pre-tribulational believers (like myself) will note the similarities between the two events while also noting the clear differences between the two.
Noting the similarities between the rapture and 2nd advent of Jesus Christ
Below I will simply list the similarities and verse references pertaining to the rapture and second coming of Christ.
Similarities between rapture & 2nd Advent
1. Both have the Lord appearing in clouds (1 Thess 4:17 vs Matthew 24:30; Luke 21:27; Rev 11:19, 14:14).
2. Both have righteous people being raised from the dead (1 Thess 4:16-17 vs Rev 20:4)
3. Both are described in the language of Jesus “coming” (John 14:3, 1 Thess 4:13 vs Matt 24:42; Lk 21:27).
4. Both have an uncertainty as to when they will begin (1 Cor 15:52, 2 Thess 2:1-3 vs Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32).
5. Both will affect the entire world (2 Thess 2:7 vs 2 Thess 2:8).
6. Both mark the end of things, the rapture will conclude the church age and 2nd advent will mark the end of the tribulation.
Although both events do have similarities, we must recognize that "similarity" does not equate to "sameness". For instance, as a native-born Pennsylvanian, I can tell you first hand that though the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles might be "similar" in that they are football teams, which are in the NFL and which are stationed in PA, nonetheless, their similarities cease and the differences are far more contrasting (ask any of their respective fans). Similarity does not mean "sameness". To illustrate another way, apples and oranges might very well be fruit, however, they must be distinguished, since an apple is not an orange nor an orange an apple.
Differences between rapture & 2nd Advent
1. The rapture (per a pre-tribulation view) occurs before the tribulation (Thessalonians 4:13-16 & 5:1). The 2nd advent occurs at the end of the tribulation (Revelation 19:11-21).
2. The rapture is taught in roughly twenty passages in the New Testament. The 2nd advent is taught in hundreds of passages, Old and New Testaments.
3. The rapture deals exclusively with the church (1 Thess 4:16-17). The 2nd advent or second coming impacts everyone else and entails Christ's restoring and raising Israel (Daniel 12:1; Matt 24:30; Luke 21:28).
4. The rapture is aimed at comforting the church (1 Thess 4:18), whereas the main theme of the 2nd advent is Christ returning in judgment (Revelation 19:11).
5. Christ appears in the clouds but does not come down to the earth in the rapture (1 Thess 4:13-16). In His second coming at the end of the tribulation, He descends all the way down to earth (Revelation 19:11-21).
6. There are no definitive signs to indicate the exact moment of the rapture. On the other hand, in the 2nd advent, the purpose will be for Christ to war against and defeat His enemies and will be preceded by definitive signs of increasing frequency.
In many ways, such an issue as the relationship of the rapture to the tribulation may not be as weighty for the Christian faith as the Deity of Christ, the inerrancy of scripture and the virgin birth (this author knows many wonderful believers and respects many wonderful Bible teachers who differ on this point). Nonetheless, it is important for Christians to know where they stand on any doctrinal issue. If for anything else, the above comparisons and contrasts will serve to invite the reader to search the scriptures for themselves and to get better acquainted with what the Bible teaches on these subjects.