STUDIES ON THE SECOND COMING

INTRODUCTORY STUDY

.

THE TIMING OF THE RAPTURE
AND THE PURPOSE OF CHRISTIAN SUFFERING

  1. The On-Going Conflict Between Good and Evil
  2. A More Detailed Look at the Christian View of History
  3. The Second Coming Completes What God has Already Started
  4. Different Views About the Second Coming
  5. The Identity of the Antichrist
  6. The Timing of the Rapture
  7. The Purpose of Christian Suffering
  8. The Main Implication of the Second Coming: Judgment
INTRODUCTION

Dealing with the subject of the second coming has almost been a kind of journey for me. I grew up in a very conservative Baptist home which accepted without qualification what we had been taught in church about the second coming. There was little doubt in my mind that we lived in the church age of Laodicea, that Christ was going to rapture the church, that only after the church was raptured would the great tribulation begin, that Christ would return to defeat the Antichrist after the tribulation, and that Christ would then reign upon the earth for 1,000 years. All was so simple back then.

My first encounter with a different view occurred when I was attending a church in north Austin during my senior year at college. The pastor at the church I was attending believed a quite different view about the second coming. I couldn't believe it. I was thoroughly convinced that he was a "liberal" with a big capital "L." Because I really liked the church, I continued to serve there even though I feared that its pastor was going to go to hell. Oh well, churches can't be perfect in every way.

Things took a turn for the worse when I went to seminary. There I encountered some really godly men who believed the Bible to be God's Word and yet who spoke about different views of the second coming. They didn't necessarily promote a certain view about the second coming; they just showed us (in their learned opinion) the strengths and weaknesses of each of the views. Finally, after my first year in seminary I decided to see for myself which view was true. It was only about 10 years later that things began to get clearer and clearer to me.

What helped me the most was first to learn the different views, especially the great 3 views (the 4 discussed in the previous lesson MINUS postmillennialism), and then see which of the 3 really agreed with Scripture. Unfortunately, most of us adopt a view of the second coming and then impose it upon the Scriptures. Just checking out the Scriptures themselves without trying to impose strained interpretations upon them really helped me. I didn't want to know what this view or that view said as much as what Scripture itself said. It was only after 8 years of careful study that I came to believe that the view which harmonized BEST with Scripture was the view that Christians are raptured only AFTER the tribulation and not before.

What we want to do now is look at the major passages on the rapture and try to determine which view they support, the rapture before or the rapture after the tribulation.


MAJOR PASSAGES ON THE RAPTURE (and what they are REALLY saying about the Rapture)

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

THE classic passage on the rapture is found in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. Paul claims that the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and then the dead in Christ will rise first. After the resurrection of dead Christians, Christ will transform Christians who are still alive and snatch them up into the clouds (see 1 Cor. 15:51-52 which discusses the same event). From that time on they will forever be with the Lord.

Just a side note here. Remember that whatever else the rapture involves, it primarily involves the RESURRECTION of Christians. It is not just a snatching up into the clouds; it is RESURRECTION. Later this fact will be huge in our discussion.

At this point some will claim: "There you go. This passage proves that the rapture occurs BEFORE the tribulation BECAUSE Christians go to be with the Lord in heaven after they are raptured. Only AFTER the 7 years of tribulation they will come back down to earth with the Lord so that He can reign for 1,000 years." My response to this: "Where does it say that? Where does it say that Christians go back to heaven with the Lord? It DOESN'T say that. All it says is that we will be with the Lord forever. It doesn't say where that is."

So can we use this passage at all to get some insight as to the timing of the rapture, that is, before or after the tribulation? I believe we can because of the way Paul describes the rapture and also a certain word he uses in this passage.

  1. First of all (this will be important later), keep in mind the way Paul describes the rapture: the Lord descends, the trumpet sounds, the archangel cries, the dead are caught up with Jesus in the clouds. Moreover, according to Paul this is based upon a specific teaching of Jesus when He was on the earth (1 Thess. 4:15). We shall look at that passage in just a moment. Right now keep in mind this description of the rapture.
  2. Second, to describe our "meeting" with the Lord, Paul uses the word apantesis (pron. "ah-pahn-TAY-sis"). This word "meeting" was used to describe the event of a king going out to visit the citizens in a town. He would leave his capital city and head for the town he was going to visit. When he got near the town, the citizens would go out to welcome him. They would then escort him BACK TO THEIR TOWN. They would NOT go back with him to his capital city. THEY WOULD ESCORT HIM TO THEIR TOWN. They actually served as a kind of welcoming committee. If we apply this now to the event in 1 Thess. 4, we see that the rapture then is actually the welcoming of Jesus to earth so that He can reign for 1,000 years upon the earth. (Now this word NEVER means that the king takes the people back with him to his capital; when it is used to refer to a welcoming party, the king always goes with the people to THEIR town.)
  3. Just one more thing. Many NT scholars claim that the situation Paul is describing is that of war because of the military terms Paul uses in this passage: 1. the word "cry" in the phrase "the cry of the Lord" is normally used of a general issuing commands, 2. the only archangel mentioned in the Bible is Michael, the great warrior angel, 3. the trumpet was a major feature of battles in the ancient world. It appears that the Lord returns at the time of battle. (Again, this will play a major role later on in our discussion of the rapture in Revelation.)

Revelation 20:1-6

As we said earlier in 1 Thess. 4, whatever else the rapture involves, it primarily involves the resurrection of dead Christians and the radical transformation of Christians who are alive upon the earth. John speaks about the resurrection of dead Christians in Rev. 20:5-6

According to John, Jesus returns from heaven at the end of the 7 years of tribulation to defeat the Antichrist at the battle of Armageddon (notice that this is a scene of war, just like the scene in 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Christ will bind Satan for 1,000 years, throw the Antichrist and his servant the false prophet into the lake of fire, and THEN RESURRECT DEAD CHRISTIANS.

Notice that it is at the END of the tribulation that Christ resurrects the dead Christians who then reign with Him for 1,000 years. But could this not be the second resurrection, with the first resurrection occurring BEFORE the tribulation? There is a problem saying this. John goes on to say that the resurrection which occurs AFTER the tribulation is actually the FIRST resurrection. Not the SECOND resurrection, but the FIRST resurrection. In fact the way he says it in the Greek emphasizes that this IS the FIRST resurrection: "This is the resurrection--the FIRST one" (Rev. 20:5). Since the rapture IS resurrection, it cannot happen BEFORE the tribulation since John says the first one occurs AFTER the tribulation.

The fact that John calls the resurrection of dead Christians AFTER the tribulation the FIRST one means that one of 3 things is true:

  1. John called the resurrection AFTER the tribulation the first one because he didn't know about the rapture which occurs before the tribulation. (That's possible, but it sure would be weird if that were true.)
  2. He just was flat out wrong because the FIRST resurrection occurs BEFORE the tribulation (with the rapture occurring BEFORE the tribulation).
  3. The rapture/first resurrection occurs AFTER the tribulation.

Take your pick which one of the 3 options is true.


Matthew 24:4-31 (esp. 29-31)

This and Mark 13 are the classic passages on the second coming which come from Jesus Himself. In both passages Jesus teaches that a great time of tribulation is going to fall upon the world, that the key event of the tribulation will be the abomination of desolation, and that He will come to rescue and rapture His followers AFTER the tribulation (Matt. 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27).

Some will claim though that this rapture refers only to those Jews who were saved during the tribulation which occurred BEFORE the tribulation started. While this could be possibly true, there are several problems with this. You pick which one of the following statements is true.

  1. Jesus then NEVER mentions the rapture of the church. This seems not only unlikely but also unconscionable in light of the fact that the rapture is probably the greatest event ever to hit the church after Jesus died and rose from the grave.
  2. Jesus didn't know that there would be a rapture before the tribulation. If that is true, then where did Paul get his knowledge about the rapture? He claimed that he got it from a teaching of Jesus which Jesus gave while on earth (1 Thess. 4:15).
  3. The reason that Jesus mentions only one resurrection/rapture after the tribulation is that that is the time when the rapture/resurrection takes place, that there is no pretribulation rapture, only a postribulation rapture.
Like I said, you pick which one of the above statements seems to be true.

Again, remember the purpose of Jesus' teachings in Matt. 24 and Mark 13. Jesus gives us both Mark 13 and Matt. 24 so that we can be prepared and not be misled by Antichrists who emerge during the tribulation, something we wouldn't have to worry about at all if we are raptured BEFORE the tribulation. In fact look at all the passages about the second coming and discover the purpose Jesus, John, and Paul give in these passages. None of the passages makes sense if we are raptured BEFORE the tribulation since in each of these passages they are warning us not to be misled. You can't be misled if you aren't there!


ORDER OF EVENTS AT THE SECOND COMING

In light of what has been said above, we can outline the events surrounding the second coming as such:

  1. Beginning of the 7 years of tribulation. According to Daniel the Antichrist will make an agreement with God's people (Dan. 9:24-27). This begins the tribulation, not the rapture of the church.
  2. During the middle of the 7 years of tribulation the Antichrist will perform an act so abominable to God that He will pour out great desolation upon Antichrist and his followers.
  3. The Antichrist and his followers will launch a full-scale assault on the people of God (Christians as well as Jews).
  4. At the end of the 7 years Christ returns and destroys Antichrist and his followers at the place called Armageddon.
  5. Upon Christ's return, He will resurrect Christians who are physically dead and will transform those Christians still alive. They will be raptured to meet Him in the air. They will then escort Him to the earth where He and they will reign for 1,000 years.
  6. The 1,000-year reign of Christ.
  7. The final conflict between Christ and Satan (Rev. 20).
  8. Judgment of all mankind.
  9. Christ transforms the heavens and the earth not only for the transformed children of God but also for God Himself.
  10. God Himself will come to live among us forever.
  11. A New Beginning.


OBJECTIONS

Not Fair

Some highly object to the scenario outlined above. First of all they claim that it is not fair that people who became Christians before the tribulation should have to go through the tribulation. Where in the world did they ever get such an argument? Not from the Bible. Moreover, if God were fair, we would all go to hell because hell, not heaven, is what we actually deserve. I'm not glad God is NOT fair.


God Won't Let His People Suffer Like That

Some will claim: "We are God's sons and daughters! He won't let us suffer like that!"

First of all, God's people will NOT suffer the wrath He pours out upon the earth. Just like the Antichrist marks his people with the "666," so God marks His people at the beginning of the tribulation (Rev. 7:1-4). Why? So that they won't be hurt by the wrath He pours out upon the Antichrist and His followers (Rev. 9:4). Just like God protected the Jews from the wrath He poured out upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so He will protect His people from the wrath He pours out upon the Antichrist and his followers during the tribulation.

Second, God WILL let His people suffer like that. If you don't think that God won't let His sons and daughters suffer, then you need to take another good hard look at the cross of Christ. No one will EVER suffer to the extent Jesus did. Well, if God let His favored Son suffer, how much more will He let you and me suffer.


What About the Jew?

Some will claim: "But I thought that the Jew was going to be the focus of the tribulation. Christians have to be raptured so that God can focus once more on the Jew!" I agree that God IS going to focus on the Jew once more before Christ's return; HOWEVER, the Bible does NOT say that the church is to raptured before God can work among the Jews again. It doesn't say that. Moreover, why does the church have to be raptured before God can work powerfully among the Jews once more. The Bible doesn't say that; plus it is not necessary for that to happen.

Just one final note here. All the arguments for the view that the church is raptured before the tribulation are logical. As a matter of fact, ALL the different views about the second coming are "logical." It's just that they are not Bible-based. Nowhere does the Bible put the rapture at the end of the tribulation. It's just that it appears that the only view which is Bible-based is the view stated above.


CHRISTIAN SUFFERING HAS MEANING and REWARDS!

Christian Suffering Has Meaning

The major question remains unanswered: "Why do Christians have to suffer great tribulation?" Before answering that, remember that Revelation states quite clearly that Christians indeed DO suffer during the tribulation. In fact the tribulation will not end, according to John, until every last Christian who is destined to die during the tribulation actually dies (see the fifth seal in Rev. 6:...).

Now as to the purpose of Christian suffering. First, naturally all the reasons Christians suffer before the tribulation also serve as reasons we suffer during the tribulation. Christ uses suffering to transform us into His image. Sufferings help us break free from this world to prepare us for the next. Our sufferings prove that we are truly aligned with Christ, the GREAT sufferer. If He suffered, then it only stands to reason that we suffer too.

More than these reasons seems to be involved here. Jesus claimed that His sufferings on the cross were actually the pangs of child-birth. In other words, on the cross Christ suffered birthpangs in order to produce something new and wonderful (see John 16: where Jesus uses this very imagery). Whereas the mother suffers these birthpangs to produce a baby, Jesus suffers birthpangs to produce a new heaven and a new earth.

As our pastor reminds us, it is really difficult to understand Jesus fully if you don't understand Judaism. Well, one of the major teachings of Judaism was the messianic sufferings. In other words the Jews claimed that there would be great suffering upon the coming of the Messiah. After these sufferings occurred, God would bring about the new age, the new heaven, and the new earth. Jesus seems to have embraced that very concept. Yes, His sufferings did remove the penalty of sin from His followers; however, they also served to produce a new heaven and new earth.

The scene from The Passion of the Christ.

Although all the sufferings needed for our sins were experienced by Christ on the cross, Paul claims that these other sufferings have not yet been completed. He claims: "and am making up in my own life, on behalf of His body, which is the church, the afflictions of Christ which are still lacking" (Col. 1:24). In other words, a certain amount of labor pangs are necessary to produce the new heaven and new earth. Christ indeed suffered extensively in order to produce this new heaven and earth; however, the cross did not fill up those sufferings. More suffering is needed. He suffers more by suffering through His people. Christ allows us to share with Him in His suffering to produce the new heavens and the new earth. The NT seems to be saying that the suffering in the tribulation completes that suffering. YOUR life and YOUR sufferings have great meaning and purpose. YOU are valuable in what God is doing right now!


Christian Suffering Has Rewards

Of course nobody wants to suffer. God did not create us to be masochists. There is nothing wrong with despising the sufferings we have to endure at times. Jesus actually despised the sufferings He had to endure on the cross: "who . . . endured the cross, despising the shame ..." If Christ only endured the cross and despised the shame, then it is OK for us just to endure our cross and despise our shame.

HOWEVER, and this is a HUGE however, we need to remember what awaits us on the other side of suffering. In the Heb. 12 passage the author writes: "[Jesus] for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame." Jesus knew what was waiting for Him after He completed His sufferings. John in Revelation and also Paul inform us what is waiting for us on the other side of suffering:

Christ suffered because of the joy that was set before Him (Heb 12:2)