Three theological subject are the emphasis of this part of the discussion: (1) The concept of the rapture being imminent; (2) the distinctions between the rapture and the second coming; and (3) the needed interval between the rapture and the second coming.
In one of the very last paragraphs penned by the Apostle Paul, he spoke of loving and anticipating the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 4:8). And this should cause each of us to ask ourselves the question, “Do I love His appearing”? “Do I really want to see Him?” And as we discuss and debate the fine points of the coming of Jesus at the Rapture event, we must not lose sight of this most important personal attitude.
In this article, we will finish this short series where we have been setting forth some of the key factors which point to the Rapture being before the start of the period of the Tribulation. So far we have presented four arguments: (1) the distinction that exists between the Church and the nation of Israel which moves us towards a pre-tribulational rapture; (2) the stated purposes for the Tribulation found in the Bible do not include the Church and this points to a pre-tribulational rapture; (3) the lack of evidence for the Church being in the Tribulation in the biblical tribulation passages and this supports a pre-tribulational position; and (4) the clear statement of scripture that the Church is excluded from the coming wrath of God which becomes a compelling support for the pre-tribulational rapture position. Several other evidences will now be presented as we wrap up our abbreviated discussion.
(5) The Concept of the “Imminent” Coming of Christ. The word “imminent” is not found in the Bible but has become the word to express the theological idea of the “any moment” coming of the Lord Jesus. The imminent coming simply means there are no signs or events that must take place before He could return and take His bride (the church) to be with Himself. The imminent coming of Jesus is not the same as saying the “soon coming” of Jesus. Though the return is imminent, it may or may not be soon (unless, of course, you have received some divine revelation on the matter). As the NT writers addressed the issue of Christ’s return, they used terms that anticipated this as an any-moment event; that is, that no intervening events had to take place. So they encouraged readers to be watching and waiting for the Lord’s return. They did not suggest they should be looking for an event or sign which might signal Christ’s coming. We must remember that the Second Coming of Christ has the distinction of not being seen as imminent, since many signs such as the appearing of the Antichrist and the setting up of the “abomination of desolation” in a Jerusalem temple must first take place (cf. 2 Thess. 2:3-4; Matt. 24:15). But the Rapture is an imminent event and the Church is exhorted to look for the Lord’s appearance and not for certain events or some particular signs.
Here are some scriptures, which when read normally, lead to the conclusion that the writers of the NT believed in an imminent coming of Jesus.
- James 5:7-9. Believers are exhorted to live righteously because Judge Jesus is right at the door and could come through it at any time.
- 1 Thessalonians 1:10. Here believers are encouraged to patiently be waiting for Jesus, not for signs or events.
- 1 Corinthians 1:7. Paul praises these believers because they too were anticipating the coming of the Savior, not tribulation events.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:15. Paul clearly saw himself as alive at Jesus’ coming which could happen at any time.
- Titus 2:13. Again, believers are exhorted to be looking for the blessed hope, which is the glorious appearing of Christ and not the tribulation period.
- 1 Corinthians 16:22. The conclusion to this letter includes the use of “Maranatha” which conveys the hope that Jesus could return at any time.
Even more Scriptures suggest that the writers and recipients did anticipate an any-moment return of the Lord (e.g. Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Cor. 15:51-53; Phil. 4:5; and 1 John 2:28-3:3).
(6) The Distinction Between the Events of the Rapture and the Second Coming. There are, of course, some similarities between these two events since both focus on the same Person, Jesus, returning from the same place heaven to deal with the same subjects, namely, human beings. But similarities between two events does not mean that they are the same or that they take place at the same time. (e.g. hearing the national anthem while standing with a crowd of people in a stadium does not mean you are at opening day of the major league baseball season. There are countless events which could match this setting). Some of these distinctions are: (1) at the Rapture the saints meet Jesus in the air while at the 2nd Coming Jesus returns to the earth to the Mount of Olives; (2) There is an unmistakable element of judgment on unbelievers at the 2nd Coming but no such element at the Rapture; (3) There is no mention of the Messianic kingdom (the millennium) being set up in connected with the Rapture, but that is the main reason for the 2nd Coming; (4) At the Rapture both living saints and dead saints receive glorified bodies, but in 2nd Coming passages there is no reference to living believers being changed; (5) The Rapture occurs before the wrath of God is poured out while the 2nd Coming follows the time of wrath in the day of the Lord; (6) The Rapture has no signs that precede it while the 2nd Coming has dozens and dozens of signs and events; (7) At the Rapture, the Lord returns with His people to the “Father’s house” while at the 2nd Coming He returns to the earth and stays there; and (8) At the Rapture all believers are removed from the world leaving just unbelievers, while at the 2nd Coming all unbelievers are removed in judgment leaving only believers in the world.
(7) An Interval is Needed Between the Rapture and the Second Coming to Allow for Three Key Events. This point is directed just to the post-tribulational/pre-millennial view since all other views have some amount of time between the Rapture and the Second Coming. Three events would require some element of time (and would not fit with rising to meet Christ in the air and immediately turning around and descending back to earth). These three events are: (1) the judgment seat of Christ; (2) the marriage of the Lamb; and (3) the salvation of people after the Rapture event who will then populated the earth during the Messianic kingdom.
The judgment seat of Christ will involve hundreds of millions of church age saints. If this time of the evaluation of all believers is to have meaning (not just to the individual but to all of creation) there must needs be time involved. God does not “need” time but He is here dealing with people for whom He created time, and time is significant to the creation.
The marriage of the lamb (Rev. 19:8-9) is a highly important event to the Bridegroom as well as to the Bride. It hardly seems that the dignity and grandeur of the event would be captured “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye”. God’s dealings with man invariably involve some time, whether it is His time of judging the world in the tribulation or in sending the Son in the “fullness of time.”
The Messianic age begins with believers only. But if all believers are raptured and glorified at the 2nd Coming, then there would be no believers with non-glorified bodies left to enter the millennium. Such people are essential for reproduction of human life in the messianic age, since those in glorified bodies do not reproduce.
Those of us who hold to the Pre-tribulational rapture do so with some good, solid biblical and theological supports. This view is not wishful thinking. We can have confidence that when we approach the Scriptures and interpret them normally, as one would any literature, this position rests on a solid foundation. Yet, behind all the discussion lies the key question. “Do I really love His appearing?” This is the question every believer in Jesus Christ is obligated to ask no matter what theological view they take on the timing of the Rapture event.