THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST
The Rapture: Its Nature and Timing
In Matthew 24:14, 15 Jesus stated that 2 conditions must be met before His final return: the evangelization of the world and the abomination of desolation. We saw that the abomination of desolation falls within a definite period of time. Daniel (9:24-27) said that 490 years were critical for the history of the world. He splits this period of 490 years into 2 groups: 483 years and 7 years. The first 483 years started with the Persian decree given to Nehemiah to rebuild the wall and city of Jerusalem in 450 BC. This period terminated with the death of Christ in 33 AD. At the end of that period the Romans came and swept away the city of Jerusalem.
What about the other period of 7 years? These seven years are begun by the prince/ruler/antichrist who makes a treaty with the many. During the middle of those 7 years the antichrist breaks this treaty, putting an end to sacrifice. At this point the prince/antichrist brings about great desolation upon the people of God. According to Rev. 13:1-7 the antichrist is highly successful in his campaign against God’s people. During that time God pours out wrath upon antichrist and his followers. At the end of those final 7 years Christ returns to put away sin and bring about eternal righteousness.
THE RAPTURE: ITS NATURE
According to Jesus after the abomination of desolation has occurred, there will be great wrath and desolation upon the earth, particularly upon the people of God and also upon those who persecute God’s people. In Matthew 24:16-28 Jesus describes that period of time between the abomination of desolation and the coming of Christ. According to Jesus what will happen during that period of time (verses 16-28)?
Has there been any mention of a rapture up until this point in Jesus’ sermon?
Verses 29-31 speak about the second coming of Christ. What happens when Jesus returns according to verse 31? Does this occur at the beginning of the tribulation or at the end of the tribulation?
Look at some of the elements found in v. 31: the return of Christ, the sounding of the trumpet, and the gathering of the saints. Sounds very similar to the rapture.
Some claim that after Jesus discusses His return, He goes back and discuss once more the rapture in Matt. 24:40, 41. Suppose Jesus is speaking about the rapture. Does He discuss at the beginning of His sermon or at the end of His sermon? Does it make a difference at which point He discusses the rapture?
The bottom line is this: whenever a NT writer discusses the rapture, it is always at the end of the tribulation, never at the beginning.
The classic passage on the rapture is found in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. According to 4:13 what is going on in the church of Thessalonica which prompts Paul to discuss the rapture?
Unfortunately because Paul is writing to address a certain situation in the church at Thessalonica, he does not relate it to a specific period of time during the tribulation. Let’s look at the passage though to see if there are any elements in it which help us understand when the rapture itself occurs.
Verse 14 tells us about some of the events which occur during the rapture. What will happen to dead Christians?
At the rapture will Christians alive on earth precede those Christians who have already died (v. 15)? What does Jesus mean by that?
Verses 16-17 give us the sequence of events which occur at the rapture. Write down what that sequence of events is.
The Lord descends with a “shout”. The Greek word for “shout” here is normally used for that of a general who is giving orders. Second, he uses the archangel to give those orders. Who is the only archangel mentioned in the Bible? (It is not Gabriel; to find out look up Jude verse 9.)
This archangel is the angel of war (Rev. 12:7). He fought the Persian prince in order to get a heavenly messenger to Daniel (Dan. 12:1ff.), and he fought Satan in a cosmic battle after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He is the angel of war. Paul is using here the language of war: the general, the warring archangel, and the trumpet which was used during time of war. It appears that the rapture occurs during a time of war.
What does Paul mean when he says in 1 Thess. 4:16 that the “dead in Christ will rise”?
According to v. 17 what will happen to those Christians who are alive on the earth at the time of the rapture?
Where do Christians specifically meet Jesus when He returns?
According to Paul "the air" is whose domain (Eph. 2:1-3)? Why then does Jesus meet His people in the air?
Paul discusses the rapture also in 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52. What happens to the dead Christians and what happens to live Christians at Jesus’ second coming?
In other words we are speaking about resurrection here, the resurrection of dead Christians and the resurrection/transformation of live Christians.
According to 1 Thess. 4: 17 where do Christ and His people go after they meet Him in the air? Not where you think they go but where does Paul say they go?
The Greek word translated “to meet” in v. 17 is not a verb; it is a noun—”the meeting.” Literally Paul says that we will be “caught up together with them in the clouds for the meeting of the Lord in the air.” The Greek word for “the meeting” is a technical Greek term for the visit of a monarch to a city in his country. The king would leave his capital and head for the outlying city. As the king approached the city half-way, the citizens of that city would meet him and escort him BACK TO THEIR CITY. They would not meet him and escort him back to his capital from whence he came; they would meet him and escort him to their city. How does this affect the interpretation of this passage?
This word is actually used in Matt. 25:6 in which the people waiting for the bridegroom to arrive meet him and then escort him NOT back to his home but to the place which has been prepared for the bridal feast.
Maybe the meanings of all these terms don’t affect the rapture; however, I find it hard to believe that Paul is discussing the rapture with terms which don’t apply to the rapture when he could have just as easily used other terms. One final thing before we start tying it all together. According to Jesus in Matt. 24:42-44 Jesus will come like a _ _ _ _ _.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
Revelation is the most detailed explanation of Jesus’ return in the entire Bible. The rapture is an event that is so momentous because it involves the resurrection of every dead Christian and every live Christian at the point of Jesus’ return. Rev. 4 begins the story of Jesus’ coming, while Rev. 19:11-20:6 concludes it. Rev. 4 begins the period of the great tribulation, while Rev. 19:11-20:6 concludes it. Look closely at Rev. 4 and Rev. 19:11-20:6 and compare these 2 passages with what Paul says in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. Which passage in Revelation most closely resembles the rapture passages in 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Thess. 4? (Remember that 2 different authors are writing these 3 passages; therefore, they should not be exactly the same because 2 different authors will describe the same event in different/non-contradictory ways.)
The bottom line is this: if the rapture comes before the tribulation, then the Book of Revelation does not mention it. Now just consider this for a moment. THE book which goes into the greatest detail about the end times does not even mention the rapture--the greatest, momentous event in the last days? I don't think so.
Remember that the rapture involves the resurrection of all dead Christians and live Christians at the time of Jesus’ return. A resurrection occurs in Rev. 20:1-6. According to verse 5, which resurrection is this, the first, second, third, fourth? How does John’s statement here in verse 5 help us locate the timing of the rapture?
According to Jesus, He will come like a thief in the night. According to Revelation does Jesus come like a thief in the night at the beginning of the tribulation (Rev. 4:10) or at the end of the tribulation (Rev. 16:15)?
“But,” you may say, “because Jesus is coming like a thief in the night, we will not know when He is going to come.” Paul discusses this further in 1 Thess. 5:1-11. Read very closely verses 2-4, especially verse 4. According to Paul will Jesus come like a thief in the night for Christians? According to verses 4 and 5, why or why not?
The NT calls Jesus "the light of the world" (John 8:12). When we follow Jesus, we walk in the light. Right now we experience light and darkness. We are at the dawn of a new age. Although we still experience darkness, we as Christians experience the light. Non-Christians, on the other hand, live totally in the darkness. As a result, whenever Jesus returns and it becomes full day, the light will not surprised us because we already partially experience that light. Non-Christians though will be totally surprised because they will go instantly from darkness into light.
OBJECTIONS AGAINST A POST-TRIB RAPTURE
Many sincere Christians seriously object to Jesus coming AFTER the tribulation. Below are a few of their objections:
“It isn’t FAIR that I should have to go through the tribulation because I believed in Christ before the tribulation occurred.” Fair? What does fair have to do with it? If God were fair, we would all be in serious trouble. Second, Paul says it is only fair that we do suffer for the sake of the kingdom of God (2 Thess. 1:5-6). Since heaven was created by the sufferings of Christ, then it is only fair that we who enter that heaven suffer. Our suffering prepares us to be in the presence of Christ who Himself suffered.
A second objection: “God wouldn’t let me go thru something like the Great Tribulation.” Oh, yeah. The sufferings of Christ were a whole lot worse than what God’s people are going to suffer during the tribulation. If God let His beloved Son suffer like He did, what makes you think He is going to let us off the hook? Moreover, remember that there are Christians who ARE alive during the tribulation. Otherwise, just who is the Antichrist persecuting? If God allows Antichrist to persecute these, why won’t He allow Antichrist to persecute you?
A third objection: “But God promised the church of Philadelphia that it would not go through the tribulation (Rev. 3:10).” So, He told the church at Smyrna that it would go thru the tribulation (2:10). Why did you choose the church at Philadelphia over against the church at Smyrna to base your case? Is it quite possible that these promises apply only to these 2 churches and that they just might not apply specifically to us?
A fourth objection: “But Paul says that God has not destined us for wrath (1 Thess. 5:9).” Yes, He has not destined us for HIS wrath. Christians are going to suffer wrath at the hands of Antichrist during the tribulation (Rev. 13:1-7). They will not, however, suffer the wrath God pours out upon the Antichrist and his followers. He seals them so that they will be protected from His wrath (Rev. 7:1-3; 9:1-4).
The greatest biblical example is that of the Jews in Egypt. At that time the Egyptians were persecuting God's people, while God was pouring out His wrath upon the Egyptians. In each situation whereas God's wrath decimated the Egyptians, it never once harmed a single Israelite. The same situation is happening in the tribulation.
A fifth objection: “But God is going to work among the Jews during the tribulation to bring them to salvation.” So! Why does God have to rapture the church in order to work upon the Jews one last time?
Ever since the time of John who wrote Revelation Christians have believed that they would go through the tribulation. For example, Luther even called the Pope of his day the Antichrist. It was not until the 1800’s that a belief in a rapture before the tribulation emerged. Maybe the rapture does occur before the tribulation; up to this point though no conclusive evidence from Scripture has been given to prove it. We will deal with 2 Thess. 2 next week.