Pre or post tribulation rapture?
The Rapture of the church involves
all believers being caught up to heaven -- those just
resurrected, together with those alive at the time
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). If it occurs at the beginning of the
tribulation period, then clearly Christ’s Second Coming at
the end of the Tribulation to rescue Israel in the midst of
Armageddon is a separate event. According to Zechariah 14:3-5,
"all the saints" must accompany Christ back to earth. But if the
Rapture occurs at the end of the Tribulation, it must be
simultaneous with the Second Coming, making them one event. Which
is it: two events separated by seven years, or one event with two
This question, though it has
nothing to do with the gospel of salvation, divides much of the
evangelical church. Happily, it can be settled rather easily. The
descriptions in Scripture of the Rapture and Second Coming
respectively are so different in so many details that they could
not possibly be describing the same occurrence. We can’t
cover all of these distinctions, but here are a few:
1) At the Rapture, Christ does not
return to earth but catches believers up to meet Him above the
earth, taking them directly to heaven: "I will come again, and
receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also"
(John 14:3); "caught up...to meet the Lord in the air: and so
shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
In contrast, at the Second Coming
Christ returns to this earth to rule Israel and the world from
David’s throne in Jerusalem: "his feet shall stand in that
day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem"
(Zechariah 14:4); "the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of
his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for
ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32-33);
"And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that
sat upon him... The armies which are in heaven followed him...
Out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should
smite the nations: and shall rule them with a rod of iron"
2) At the Rapture there is a
resurrection of all believers who have died up to that time: "the
dead shall be raised incorruptible" (1 Corinthians 15:52-53);
"the dead in Christ shall rise first..." (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
In contrast, at the Second Coming
there is no resurrection until Antichrist is defeated, he and the
false prophet have been "cast alive into a lake of fire"
(Revelations 19:20) and Satan has been bound in the "bottomless
pit [for] a thousand years" (Revelations 20:1-3) -- none of
which is even remotely related to the rapture of believers to
heaven. Then, to "the first resurrection" which occurred at the
Rapture are added a unique group: "them that were beheaded for
the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not
worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his
mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands...they lived and
reigned with Christ a thousand years" (4, 5).
3) At the Rapture, the bodies of
living believers (like those who are resurrected) will be changed
to become immortal: "We shall not all sleep [i.e., die], but we
shall all be changed...the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we [who are living] shall be changed. For this corruptible
must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on
immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:51-53); "we which are
alive...shall be caught up together with them [the resurrected
saints]...to meet the Lord in the air [clearly requiring immortal
bodies]" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
In contrast, at the Second Coming
all of the saints return with Christ from heaven and will
therefore already have been changed into immortality: "the Lord
my God shall come, and all the saints with thee" (Zechariah 14:5);
"I saw heaven opened [and one] clothed with a vesture
dipped in blood...and the armies which were in heaven followed
him [to] smite the nations" (Revelations 19:11-15).
4) The Rapture occurs during
relative peace and prosperity, when the world does not expect
judgment from God: "And as it was in the days of Noah [the last
thing they expected was God’s judgment]...they did eat,
they drank...married wives...were given in marriage [and as in]
the days of Lot...they bought, they sold...planted...
builded....Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man
is revealed." (Luke 17:26-30).
Again in complete contrast, the
Second Coming occurs in the midst of the worst war the world has
ever seen and following the greatest devastation this planet has
ever suffered or ever will: "then shall be great tribulation,
such as was not since the beginning of the world...nor ever shall
be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no
flesh be saved" (Matthew 24:21-22); "behold a pale horse: and
his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed...power was
given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with
sword, and with hunger....There was a great earthquake...every
mountain and island were moved out of their places...[men] hid
themselves in the dens and in the rocks...for the great day of
his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Revelations 6:8-17);
"and the four angels were loosed...to slay the third
part of men" (Revelations 9:15); "and the...sea...became as the
blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.
And...the rivers and fountains of waters...became blood...the
fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and...men were
scorched with great heat...and...there was a great earthquake,
such as was not since men were upon the earth....And every island
fled away and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon
men a great hail [of large stones]...every stone about the weight
of a talent" (Revelations 16:3-21); "And I saw heaven opened, and
behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called
Faithful and True....And the armies which were in heaven followed
him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen....And I saw the
beast [Antichrist], and the kings of the earth, and their armies,
gathered together to make war against him that sat upon the
horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and...the
false prophet [and they] were cast alive into a lake of fire..."
5) The Rapture occurs when
conditions in the world seem to indicate that all is well, when
very few expect Christ to return and He catches even the church
by surprise: "of that day and hour knoweth no man...in such an
hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh" (Matthew 24:36,44).
In contrast, when the Second
Coming occurs, not even Antichrist is caught by surprise -- the
many visible signs alert everyone that Christ is right at the
door: "when ye shall see all these things, know that it
[Christ’s coming] is near, even at the doors" (Matthew 24:33);
"the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies,
gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse"
6) The Rapture occurs when the
church is sleeping, with little expectation of the Lord’s
return: "While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and
slept" (Matthew 25:5); "Watch ye therefore...lest coming suddenly
he find you sleeping" (Mark 13:35-36).
In contrast, the Second Coming
occurs at the end of the Tribulation in the midst of worldwide
devastation and hopeless distress; the Antichrist and his armies
are attacking Israel, much of Jerusalem is already captured
(Zechariah 14:1-2), and Israel is on the verge of annihilation.
It is inconceivable that the church, if it were still here, would
be slumbering in complacency and under the delusion that "surely
Christ wouldn’t come now"!
7) Since the Rapture instantly
takes us, without dying, out of this world of sin, pain and
sorrow to be forever with Christ and like Him, never more to
grieve Him, it is called the "blessed hope": "Looking for that
blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our
Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13); "every man that hath this
hope" (1 John 3:3).
In contrast, the Second Coming (or
a post-trib rapture at that time) could hardly be called a
"blessed hope," inasmuch as very few Christians (if the church
were still here) would survive to enjoy it. Having refused to
receive the 666 mark of the beast "in their right hand, or in
their forehead" and therefore being unable to "buy or sell," and
refusing to "worship the image of the beast [they would] be
killed" (Revelations 13:15-17). It makes no sense to suggest that
if you can secretly eat out of enough garbage pails to avoid
starvation and still keep one step ahead of Antichrist’s
world police death squads, "Blessed hope! You’ll be
raptured at Armageddon!"
8) As for the Rapture,
unquestionably, the early church was taught to expect it at any
moment and to eagerly watch, wait and look for Christ’s
return, when He will catch all believers up into His
Father’s house to be with Him eternally: "Let your loins be
girded about, and your lights burning; And ye yourselves like
unto men that wait for their lord..." (Luke 12:35-36); "For our
conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the
Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body,
that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body"
(Philippians 3:20); "...ye turned to God from idols to serve the
living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven...even
Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come"
(1 Thessalonians 1:9-10); "looking for that blessed hope"
(Titus 2:13); "unto them that look for him shall he appear the second
time without sin unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:28). One does not
watch, wait and look each day for something that cannot happen
until Antichrist’s advent or the end of a seven-year
tribulation. Thus, there must be a coming of Christ that could
happen at any moment.
In contrast, the Second Coming, by
very definition as described in Scripture, cannot be expected
momentarily. Therefore, none of the scriptures just quoted
concerning watching and waiting and looking for the Lord could
refer to the Second Coming or to a post-trib rapture of the
church. These scriptures could therefore refer only to a pre-trib
9) The pre-trib Rapture has a
powerful, purifying effect upon those who have this hope in Him.
The fact that it is to be expected at any moment can only mean
that it must come before Antichrist is revealed and before the
Tribulation. If Christ could come at any moment, there is no time
to waste, no time to delay witnessing, no time to indulge in sin
with the idea of repenting and changing one’s ways later:
"And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall
appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at
his coming" (1 John 2:28); "And every man that hath this hope in
him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:3).
In contrast, anticipation of the
Second Coming (or a post-trib rapture at that time) could hardly
have a purifying effect, because it can’t take place for at
least seven years -- plenty of time to delay witnessing, getting
right with the Lord and holy living until later. In fact, the
Lord said that believing he couldn’t come at any moment
would have the opposite effect from purifying believers: "If that
servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall
begin to beat the menservants...and to eat and drink and to be
drunken; the lord of that servant will come at an hour when he is
not aware (Matthew 24:48-49; Luke 12:45-46).
10) The Rapture is not only an
event that we are to expect momentarily and to eagerly
anticipate, but we are to ask our Lord to come immediately. Here
is how the Bible ends: "And the Spirit and the bride say,
Come....Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus"
(Revelations 22:17, 20).
In contrast, the Second Coming is
not of such a nature and timing that we could ask Christ to
effect it right now. Since Christ obviously cannot return to the
earth in judgment to rescue Israel, stop the destruction at
Armageddon and destroy the Antichrist along with his kingdom and
his armies until the end of the Tribulation, for us to cry out to
Christ, "Come, Lord Jesus!" would be like demanding payment on a
debt that isn’t due for seven years. Yet, "the Spirit and
the bride" do cry out, "Come, Lord Jesus." We can only conclude
that there must be a coming of Christ that could occur at any
moment. It cannot be the Second Coming or a post-trib rapture. It
can only be a pre-trib rapture.
11) There are at least two events
which occur in heaven for which the church must be present and
which, therefore, cannot take place until the Rapture occurs: the
judgment seat of Christ, and the marriage of the Lamb to His
bride: "for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of
Christ" (Romans 14:10); "For we must all appear before the
judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things
done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be
good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10); "the marriage of the Lamb is
come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was
granted [to] be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white [as a
result of her cleansing at the judgment seat of Christ]"
(Revelations 19:7, 8). Both these events occur prior to
Christ’s return to earth and thus demand a prior
It is clear that the Second Coming
cannot occur until these two vital events, which demand the
presence of the church in heaven, have taken place. It is only
after the Lamb has been married to His bride that she accompanies
Him back to earth to rescue Israel and to destroy Antichrist and
his armies: "And the armies which were in heaven followed
him...clothed in fine linen, white and clean" (Revelations 19:14).
We know not why the Bridegroom
tarries, but exactly as He foretold, the church is asleep. In
that context, our Lord added: "And at midnight there was a cry
made, Behold the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him"
(Matthew 25:6). May each of us be listening eagerly for that cry
of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Indeed, we ought to be sounding
it aloud, for the Lord could come at any moment to take us to
Himself. So let us watch and wait and look for Him in eager
anticipation -- and encourage others to do the same. It will have
a purifying and motivating effect in our lives.
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