DOES MATTHEW 24 PROVE THE RAPTURE AND VISIBLE RETURN OF CHRIST ARE THE SAME EVENT?

DOES MATTHEW 24:29-31 PROVE THE RAPTURE AND VISIBLE RETURN OF CHRIST ARE THE SAME EVENT?

Introduction

Over the past two weeks, I’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest.  The topic of the rapture has been very much at the forefront of discussions I’ve initiated on Facebook.  Sometimes the topic arose by accident, sometimes it popped up due to reactions from interviews I’ve done lately, posted during April when I was hosting the TV show, Prophecy in the News, specifically with guest Dr. Douglas D. Stauffer.  Dr. Stauffer takes a very strong stand on the Pre-Tribulation Rapture – one of its staunchest advocates. However, there are a number of his views that I do not agree with, yet I continue to hold to the Pre-Trib position.  And while disagreeing on some things, I respect that Dr. Stauffer has done his homework.


BANNER (1)Dr. Stauffer will defend the PRE-TRIB position in THE GREAT RAPTURE DEBATE at the Prophecy in the News Prophecy Summit in Colorado Springs June 17-19, when he squares off with Joe Schimmel, film maker (“Left Behind or Led Astray?”) & proponent for the POST-TRIB position. I hope you can come join us. Yours truly will be moderating the debate.


Christians Are Very Nasty to One Another on This Topic

However, many don’t agree with Dr. Stauffer OR with me.  In fact, the reactions are often acrimonious, even vitriolic. It seems that there are many different supposed “proofs” against the Pre-Trib view.  In dialoguing on Facebook I see them all – most are hurled at me in disgust or disdain because I support the Pre-Trib point of view.  O vey.  Perhaps the most consistent “rebut” to the Pre-Trib position is the argument that Christ’s Olivet Discourse, specifically his statement cited in Matthew 24:29-31 (cited below), presents a strong denial of the Pre-Trib view.  Post-Tribbers see in this passage a clear refutation of the Pre-Trib position.

In writing this article, I found the diagram below that lays out the various degrees of “refutation” of an argument.  To some extent it strikes me funny.  Nevertheless, it might be useful to consider the variations on how we argue and whether our approach is an attack on a person or a careful analysis of what a person asserts and specifically why we disagree and where the person’s arguments goes wrong (from our perspective).  It is known as “Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement”.

In this article I refute the central point of the POST-TRIB reliance on Matthew 24:29-31.  I believe the central point of the POST-TRIB perspective is this:  There is no distinction between the Rapture of the Church and the visible Return of Jesus Christ.  The Post-Trib view states that the passage in Matthew does not mention the Rapture of the Church, therefore it must not be true.

Grahams Hierarchy of Disagreement
Grahams Hierarchy of Disagreement

To begin, let’s squarely ask the simple question,  “Does this passage prove that the PostTrib view is correct?”  As stated above, there are many today that contend that it does just that.  I have found that this assertion constitutes one of the most frequent arguments against the Pre-Tribulation Rapture – that it, the Pre-Trib position is NOT true.  

[Side note: One of the reasons Prophecy in the News and I wanted to hold the debate was to demonstrate that Christians CAN debate the subject rationally, scripturally, truthfully, sincerely, without resorting to name calling and “casting aspersions” at the person taking the opposite point of view, no matter how fervently the topic is debated.  We are hopeful we can do that and set an example for everyone that comes to see the debate.]

HOW LONG WILL IT BE BEFORE THE TRIBULATION BEGINS? COULD IT BEGIN IN 2016-2017?
HOW LONG WILL IT BE BEFORE THE TRIBULATION BEGINS? COULD IT BEGIN IN 2016-2017?

I presume in writing this piece that we must consider this vital matter carefully.   The verses in question are cited here to begin the discussion:

29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

THE RAPTURE - DOES IT HAPPEN BEFORE OR AT THE END OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION?
THE RAPTURE – DOES IT HAPPEN BEFORE OR AT THE END OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION?

It should be noted right up front that if the passage poses an authentic challenge to the concept that the Rapture happens separately from the visible Return of Jesus Christ, it invalidates both the Pre-Trib view AND the Pre-Wrath view.  The Pre-Wrath view as well as the Pre-Trib view both assert that there is a separation/ a gap / a hiatus / a passing of time between the (1) Rapture of the Church in which only believers in Christ are gathered into the clouds to be with Jesus and one another, and (2) the visible Return of Christ where “every eye shall see Him” (“Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” Revelation 1:7).  The former relates only to the Church of Christ; the latter refers to the entire world and everyone in it. [1]  IF there is a gap between these events, then the essential issue amounts to this:  establishing the beginning and ending points of the hiatus (hiatus is “defined as a pause in a sequence, series, or process”).   We know when the gap concludes (at the visible Return of Christ), so the only question is when the hiatus begins. Additionally (if not obviously from our discussion), we know it begins with the Rapture of the Church.  So then the question becomes even more specific, “At what point in the process of redemption, does the Rapture occur?”  

BLOOD MOON - Discussion on True Biblical Signs and the Timing of the Rapture
BLOOD MOON – Discussion on True Biblical Signs and the Timing of the Rapture

Both Pre-Wrath and Pre-Trib are on the defensive here, because both argue that Christians will be “snatched away” (Harpaze in the Greek, Rapturae in the Latin) to join Christ in the clouds and “so shall we ever be with the Lord” (“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17)  This verse , of course, speaks of the Rapture.  In arguing for the Post-Trib point of view and against the Pre-Trib position, many blurt out vigorously if not with a good measure of vitriol, “There is no rapture” or “The rapture is a lie”.  I know because I’ve frequently been the recipient of this condemnation. However, such an assertion plainly is grossly ignorant for any Christian to say.  To say there is no rapture is to say there is no resurrection.  Happily, that is NOT what Pre-Trib opponents are trying to say.  They merely seek (however disrespectful in their tone and phrasing) to deny a distinct Rapture from the visible Return of Christ. Nevertheless, their approach lies at the lower levels of Graham’s pyramid.

To reiterate my point for everyone, however, let me be perfectly clear:  if you believe in the Bible and you believe in the resurrection of the dead, then you MUST believe in a rapture event for there will be those who are alive when Christ comes.  That rapture event remains true without ANY question.  And we should say, “Hallelujah!” that this is so; for as Jesus proclaims, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22)

Now, the Rapture consists of a great “mystery” (mysterion in the Greek – something not previously revealed).  Let’s be clear too that it is not just a passing thought only in two sections of Scripture, one in 1 Thessalonians and another section in 2 Thessalonians.  No, the rapture and resurrection are collectively “the Blessed Hope” as identified in Titus 2:13.   Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 15:51 Paul teaches about the rapture with these very specific “data points”,

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 

52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

The last trumpet I will save for the next article.  It may be the more important of the two halves of my response to the matter of what Matthew 24:29-31 conveys.  But to stay on point here, the issue remains whether there we can make a distinction between the Rapture and the visible Return.  Is there a gap between these events?  Are they the same thing?

Throughout this piece, I use two terms consistently to distinguish my meaning and help keep the reader with me.  First, I employ the term “the Rapture” to refer to the gathering of the Church (the Bride of Church) in the clouds, and its returning to heaven with Jesus for an indeterminate period while other events transpire on Earth (perhaps for 30 days, 3.5 years, 7 years, 10 years, etc.).  Secondly, I use the short phrase, the visible Return of Jesus Christ to refer to the moment when He is revealed to the whole world, aka the Second Coming or the Second Advent. Almost all agree his public appearance occurs at the culminating Battle of Armageddon, although there is some discussion about whether His appearance and the length of that Battle is a mere instant, a full day, or possibly even ten days in duration.  That too is another topic for another time.

So staying focused on the original topic, in a nutshell, the issue is,  “Does the Rapture happen at the same moment that the visible Return transpires?”  Post-Trib believers exclaim with such intensity when they respond, “Yes, it happens at the very same time!”  Conversely, the Pre-Trib view sees these events distinguished both in regard to what happens at these events and when they happen (they do not happen simultaneously).  Now to be fair, Pre-Trib brethren can be every bit as upset when declaring their point of view as the Post-Trib crowd.  And they can spew just as much venom at their Post-Trib brethren.  But at the end of the day, emotion doesn’t add to the weight of the argument.  It just makes everyone mad at each other.  It’s high time that we who are brethren in Christ learn that most vital point.  Our “prime directive” is to love one another – not debate or be contentious with one another. No bashing the other person, please!  When disagreeing, please move up to the upper portions of Graham’s pyramid.

It should go without saying (but unfortunately it doesn’t) that “being nasty” is not a fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:19-21.  There it is characterized with words like, “enmities, strife, outburst of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions”.  To cite this more precisely, we recall what Paul teaches:

19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 

20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,

 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.…

Nonetheless, after reminding myself and the reader we best keep our tempers under control when discussing this most controversial topic, we still remain eager to ask, “Which is it?  Separate or together?  Is the Rapture distinct from the visible Return?”

The Core Issue: Does Our Salvation Include
Being Saved From the Great Tribulation?

To me, the key determinant (determinant means “something that is decisive in determining the outcome”),  has to do with whether Christians are present when the wrath of God (His judgment) overcomes the “earth dwellers”. [2]  Would the Bride of Christ become “collateral damage” when judgment falls upon our planet?  One could certainly argue that we will be preserved THROUGH the Great Tribulation rather than be TAKEN OUT OF IT.  Noah and his family were preserved through the great flood.  But Enoch was raptured before it.  (Regarding how God preserves his saints, the old Bible teacher M.R. DeHaan taught that Noah represented the Jews while Enoch represented the Church.) God can keep the godly safe however He chooses.  Recall Peter’s words, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Peter 2:9).  The Greek word translated “temptations” is peirasmos, the same word used in Revelation 3:10:  “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, (Strong’s G3986) which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”  (The “earth dwellers”, representing those that do NOT believe in the Gospel that could save them – see my endnote on this phrase).

However, when one considers the nature of the judgments, their devastation, and the fact that “Men’s hearts [will be] failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:26), it seems most unlikely that the Lord would allow His Bride to be caught up in such circumstances -cataclysm after cataclysm – for the duration of His Wrath however brief or prolonged in might be.  While I agree the Church could be subject to the wrath of Satan (which is apportioned during the Great Tribulation),  the wrath that God has reserved for the unbelieving world goes well beyond this. It transcends anything that we can imagine.

Do I need to recount the incredible judgments heaped upon the world as described in the pages of Revelation in this article?  I don’t think so.  I trust that if you have read the paper to this point, you are quite familiar with the words of John’s apocalypse from its bright beginning to its extraordinary end. (However, feel free to refresh your memory of God’s judgment by rereading Revelation 16, the seven vials poured out upon the earth, by clicking on THIS LINK).  “Do believers remain on the earth while God unleashes such judgments?”  That question becomes more distressing when we consider the scope and the intensity of such judgments.

Consequently, the issue of the Pre-Trib Rapture boils down, in my view, to this matter – whether or not the Church passes through the Great Tribulation of which Christ spoke and witnesses firsthand the wrath of God and being affected by it to whatever extent – or is “snatched away” from the Earth in order to avoid experiencing the wrath of God.  If we say that Matthew 24:29-31 combines in one event both the Rapture and the visible Return (making no distinction between them) we have then asserted the Church will be subjected to God’s wrath.  It is true that those with the “Mark of the Beast” are singled out for the first vial with its horrible sores, but the remaining vial judgments are harder for earth’s inhabitants to avoid.

In respect to this article, be advised that I’m not hung up on exactly when God’s wrath occurs during the Great Tribulation; rather, just whether or not Christians are present in the world when any of it happens.  We know that His apocalyptic judgment commences during the Day of the Lord.  We may debate exactly when the Day of the Lord begins, but we know it at least continues to and through the visible Return of Christ.   Generally speaking, we are told that the Lord releases His judgment upon the earth with ever increasing ferocity at some point AFTER the Antichrist has been revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:2-4).  Paul’s argument (on which I believe almost all of us agree) conveys at least this much:  We can’t currently be in the Day of the Lord because the Antichrist has not yet been revealed.  We read in Paul’s epistle:

1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,

 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

 3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 

Therefore, that general timeframe is as specific as I need to be for the purposes of the principal point I’m making in this post. I’m content just to assert that it happens at some point during the seven-year period commonly referred to as the Tribulation, or during the last 3.5 year period which we associate with The Great Tribulation.  The wrath of God commences some time during THAT timeframe.

So once more, we return to my question, “Does the Church exist on the Earth when God pours out His wrath?”  Again, my point continues to be that everyone who believes that the Rapture happens before the wrath of God is loosed upon the earth – those who believe that Jesus’ Bride is not subject to the wrath of God (because it has been removed prior to the worldwide destruction predicted in the Book of Revelation) – has a stake in this matter.  Indeed, it is a crucial question for every believer.  We all should want to know the answer to whether Matthew 24:29-31 relates only to the visible Return of Christ, or whether it also includes (concurrently) the Rapture of the Church .

What Does it Mean to be Saved from the Wrath of God?

Recall 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”  However, is the wrath cited in this verse the eternal fire of Hell or just the judgments of the seals/trumpets/vials?  This matter is pivotal to the issue of whether the Rapture and the visible Return are simultaneous. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 refers to protection/salvation from God’s wrath (Strong’s G3709″orge” in the Greek) [3] not the word “tribulation” (thlipsis, Strong’s G2347).  But does our salvation from this wrath deal only with the subject of eternal destruction associated with the Lake of Fire (a salvation which sometimes referenced as the salvific preservation of God)?  Or does it also include the specific judgments of God against an unbelieving world cited in the Book of Revelation, those judgments limited to the period we call “the last days” (that is, the judgments of the apocalypse lasting only for a specified time period, NOT for all eternity where Jesus says the fire is never quenched – Mark 9:44, 48).

What doesn’t matter in considering this issue (to answer the original question posed) is whether we include ALL of Revelation’s seven seals along with the seven trumpets and the seven vials of Revelation within the Tribulation period.  We needn’t become sidetracked with whether the “seals” are or are not part of God’s judgment (which is no small issue to many).  However, it matters expressly to the answer we seek if even (1) just ONE of these 21 events (among the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials) constitutes the wrath of God, AND (2) the Church of Christ happens to be resident when even (hypothetically) just this one judgment falls upon the Earth.  For if we assume Christians are removed from the Earth before any of these judgments are unleashed, then the Rapture must happen separately from the visible Return of Christ – the visible Return which ALL agree happens only after the very last vial has been overturned onto the world’s surface. [4]  And if the Church is removed before even a single judgment from God falls, why would the Church not be removed before all of God’s judgments?  For Matthew 24:29-31 to prove the Post-Trib view and to refute the Pre-Trib and Pre-Wrath views, the Church must experience ALL of the wrath of God, the indignation that consumes almost all living things on the planet during its term, however long it might be.

In the same way, in determining the applicability of Matthew 24:29-31, it doesn’t matter where we draw the line between Satan’s Wrath or God’s Wrath – as long as we believe that believers are not present to experience firsthand the Wrath of God.  The Rapture and the visible Return would still be distinct in respect to the audience and the actions performed (glorification for the Church, indignation toward earth dwellers – Thessalonians 1:9-10).  Additionally, it doesn’t matter whether we see Daniel’s 70th Week as perfectly synonymous with a seven-year Tribulation Period or we don’t.  These spans of time may or may not be identical.  And lastly: it doesn’t matter whether we see the Day of the Lord as synonymous with the Great Tribulation (which lasts the last three and one-half years of the “time of trial” coming upon the Earth (Revelation 3:10).  The Rapture and the visible Return still remain separate and distinct in either case.

TO GO, OR NOT TO GO [THROUGH THE TRIBULATION]:  THAT IS THE QUESTION!

In my book, Blood Moon:  Biblical Signs of the Coming Apocalypse, I spend only a little time on the Blood Moon phenomenon of 2014-2015, while I devote considerable time to the issue of what authentic signs of the apocalypse are – and even more, how we should prepare ourselves spiritually for the days leading up to it. (Such an unfortunate name now!  The Blood Moon discussion lasts for one chapter).  Allow me to share a passage or two from this book that speaks to why believers will NOT experience the wrath of God. (This book happens to be my personal favorite although it is certainly not my best seller).

What does the Bible teach? There are numerous powerful verses which appear to state plainly that true believers will be rescued from the coming judgments. One such verse is from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians: “[We are] … to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, [even] Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” (I Thessalonians 1:10)  And yet, this [statement] sounds like something that happened in the past and is not relevant to the future. Does this reinforce the view that we must pass through the Tribulation?

The key problem with the translation of the King James Version is that it incorrectly translates the Greek verb rhyomai in the past tense. Delivered should be “delivers” (implying present or future tense). Plus, according to the Blue Letter Bible, the verb means “to draw to one’s self, to rescue, to deliver.” Young’s Literal Translation of 1 Thessalonians 1:10, brings the meaning alive: “and to wait for His Son from the heavens, whom He did raise out of the dead – Jesus, who is rescuing us from the anger that is coming.”  The New American Standard Version provides a similar translation: “and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”  The Vines Dictionary of New Testament Words provides this explanation:

Here the AV [King James Authorized Version — AV] wrongly has “which delivered” (the tense is not past); RV, “which delivereth;” the translation might well be (as in Rom 11:26), “our Deliverer,” that is, from the retributive calamities with which God will visit men at the end of the present age. From that wrath believers are to be “delivered.” (Emphasis added) [5]

Later, I continue the discussion which reflects on my personal experience and my avid appreciation for 1 Thessalonians 5:9:

Perhaps one of my favorite verses in this regard is 1 Thessalonians 5:9. I memorized it in college (as translated in the New American Standard Version) and it has stayed with me for 38 years: “For God has not destined us for wrath but to the (full) attainment of salvation for our Lord Jesus Christ.” The King James Version says: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Vines Dictionary explains what the word ‘peripoiēsis’ (obtainment) means in this context: “the act of obtaining” anything, as of salvation in its “completeness” — referencing this verse and 2 Thessalonians 2:14: “Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The connotation of the term comes across in a particularly strong way: If you have it, you have all of it. You will not be partially saved or ‘saved’ metaphorically. You will be completely saved. God intends that you receive all the possible salvation you can get. You will not be left in the lurch when God pours out His judgment upon the world. [6]

To conclude:  God intends to save His Church.  For the Church that is here during the last days, it does not need to dread being present when the wrath of God breaks forth upon the planet.  Matthews 24:29-31 speaks of Christ coming to the Earth.  It mentions the angels gathering the elect (which is a term also used of Israel, not just Christians) as opposed to 1 Thessalonians 4, that declares Christ Himself shall descend to gather His Bride.

16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

In a subsequent article (coming soon), we will continue to evaluate Matthew 24:29-31 from the perspective of “the Last Trump”.


NOTES

[1] The church gathering together in the clouds, presumably would not be seen by the unbelievers on the earth.  It has come to be termed “the secret Rapture” because of this.  However, as popular bumper stickers once testified the 1970s, “Warning:  In case of Rapture Car will be Unmanned.”  From this standpoint, the impact of the Rapture would hardly be secret.

[2] Tommy Ice explains the richness of the phrase “earth dwellers”:

Revelation 3:10 is rightly known as a passage that supports the pre-trib rapture doctrine, but the second half of the verse introduces us to the first use of the term “earthdwellers.” “Because you have keptthe word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.” 3:10 is the first use in Revelation of a phrase I call “earth dwellers” but usually translated” those who dwell upon the earth.” This phrase is used eleven times in nine verses in Revelation (3:10;6:10; 8:13; 11:10 2xs; 13:8, 12, 14 2xs; 14:6; 17:8). “Earth dwellers” is a designation for persistent unbelievers during the tribulation.  (http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/earth-dwellers-of-revelation). 

[3] A study of Paul’s use of the word orge (wrath) in his other epistles demonstrates that he uses the term in both contexts.  See Romans 2:5, “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath G3709 against the day of wrath G3709 and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” And then Romans 5:9, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath G3709 through him.”  The former verse clearly relates to the Day of the Lord; the latter pertains to justification which saves us from eternal damnation, likely the meaning Paul has in mind in this verse.

[4] Even Michael Snyder, who is most vocal about being a Post-Trib believer, indicates that he believes the Rapture may happen at Rosh Hashanah and after the Ten Days of Awe, which culminate in Yom Kippur (ten days after Rosh Hashanah) sees the visible Return.  This perspective is made clear in his brand new book, The Rapture Verdict.  He argues that during the ten-day period, God pours out the seven vials of judgment. Therefore, he argues that believers will be present during some of the judgments, but not all.  It is an interesting twist and thus, his position is neither purely Pre-Wrath nor completely Post-Trib.  Believers will experience all of the seals, all of the trumpets (except for the seventh which unleashes the vials), and thus, “at the last trumpet” (just prior to the vials), the Rapture occurs.  Snyder implies that the real determinant for him is the meaning of “the Last Trumpet”, it being the seventh of the seven trumpets.  For Snyder, that is more decisive than whether Christians go through the Great Tribulation and experience many of the worst judgments.

[5] Excerpt From: S. Douglas Woodward. “Blood Moon – Biblical Signs of the Coming Apocalypse.” iBooks.

[6] Ibid.


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