The most contentious debate among evangelicals is not hard to identify. It consists of whether or not the occurrence of the Rapture of the Church stands as a distinct event from the visible Second Coming of Christ, sometimes referred to as “The Glorious Appearing.”
Indeed, even in the verse where the phrase “the glorious appearing” originates (Titus 2:13), the (1) return of Christ to resurrect the dead “in Christ” and to translate the believers alive at that time appears conflated with (2) the visible return of Christ in glory at the very end of the age at the conclusion of the Great Tribulation. Titus 2:13 reads, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”
However, although confusion exists in some biblical passages like Titus 2:13 (and remains in the minds of many evangelicals), the misunderstanding can be readily resolved once we carefully study the primary biblical passages that discuss at length these two events. Upon analysis, we discern clear differences between the two occasions. In other words, the return of Christ for His church and the return of Christ to judge the unbelieving world, are definitely distinct as I set forth here. Furthermore, once we determine that there are two distinct events, distinguishing between the role and purpose of the Church with the role and purpose of Israel as God’s covenant people, becomes compulsory to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) That is why the Rapture of the Church and the Dispensational approach to interpreting the Bible are so intertwined.
I will not in this effort attempt to demonstrate which position on the timing of the Rapture I favor (Pre-tribulation, Pre-Wrath, etc.) It is momentous enough just to prove the Rapture constitutes a distinct occurrence to the visible return of Christ. Therefore, the key point is that there is some lapse of time between one event and the other.
The crucial passages in question are first, regarding the Rapture, 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15; and secondly, for the visible return of Christ, the Olivet Discourse as presented in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). However, for our purposes here we will primarily reference pertinent verses from Matthew 24 and 25 to compare with the teachings of Paul in his two epistles.
Many who believe in the Second Coming say outright, “There is no Rapture,” primarily because the word rapture is not used in the Greek New Testament. But these same believers certainly would not argue “There is no resurrection,” for they are committed to the essential orthodox doctrines of the Church, of which the resurrection is near the top of the list. And they would acknowledge that when Christ returns, there will be living believers who will be transformed at that time into immortal beings. This is when all believers, asleep or then living, will be glorified and “made like Christ” and share His glory. (Col 1:27, Phi 3:20) The point for these evangelicals remains simply this: they do not admit a distinction between the event popularly known as the Rapture from the visible Second Coming at the culmination of history.
And it should be noted, of course, that the Greek word which conveys the doctrine of the Rapture is transliterated harpazo (har-pod-zoh). Harpazo is Strongs G726. It is used in the New Testament 13 times and is translated in the King James Version six different ways: catch up (4x), take by force (3x), catch away (2x), pluck (2x), catch (1x), pull (1x). Although Hal Lindsey famously called the Rapture, “The Great Snatch,” the King James Version never actually uses the English verb “snatch” much less the phrase. Still, his “translation” is on target.
Six verses from in the New Testament, relevant to the return of Christ, are quoted below:
- “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (Jhn 10:28)
- “And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:39)
- “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one (was) caught up to the third heaven.” (2 Cor 12:2)
- “How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (2 Cor 12:4)
- “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 Ths 4:17)
- “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.” (Rev 12:5)
My purpose in assembling and organizing the Scripture in this manner is to put forth a cogent argument that when we examine the passages side-by-side, the distinction between the Rapture and the visible Second Coming becomes obvious. Indeed, after reviewing the 20 different parameters by which I compare the two events, it becomes most unreasonable to hold that they could occur at the same time. They are different in virtually every way that matters.
Immediately below, I identify the 20 parameters and provide a quick summary of each. Following this summary is a lengthy “table” in a linked PDF document, that identifies and places in context the scriptures from the major passages of interest so that the reader can do the “side-by-side” comparison him or herself. This longer presentation is admittedly elaborate as it consists of 3,200 words and seven or so pages. Given the vital importance of the topic, I hope that readers who have made it this far through my paper will continue on to study the extensive table thoroughly and make the decision whether they believe the Rapture is in fact evidenced by the plain meaning of the Bible and therefore, should be upheld as essential to our faith, especially given the difficult days that await.
Scripture Teaches the Rapture and Visible Second Coming Are Distinct Events: Overview
|1. Who Is the Audience?
Paul teaches his churches, Jesus teaches his disciples.
|2. What is the Context of the Discourses?
Paul teaches about the resurrection, Jesus teaches about the Temple & its destruction.
|3. Are There Any Preconditions?
None for the Rapture. Second coming: Gospel will be preached globally and there will be great tribulation unlike any other ever.
|4. What is the Triggering Event?
For the Rapture, a shout from heaven at the “last trump.” For the Second Coming, the revelation of the Antichrist commences the Great Tribulation and a 1290-day countdown.
|5. Where Does the Event Take Place?
The Rapture takes place “in the clouds” while the Second Coming is in Jerusalem.
|6. What Greek Word Is Used to Convey the Nature of Christ’s Coming?
The Rapture connects with parousia. The Second Coming primarily with erchomai.
|7. Who Comes with Christ at this Coming?
The souls of the dead in Christ at the Rapture. Angels come with Christ at the Second Coming according to Matt 24. Most scholars believe that “the saints” come too (Jude 14).
|8. What are the Signs Beforehand?
There are no signs signaling the Rapture. Hence, the Rapture is often described as a “sign less event.” This does not mean that signs of the soon coming are irrelevant, just that none are specifically identified with the Rapture. The Second Coming has many ominous signs including “the sign of the Son of Man,” a darkened sun and a moon turned to blood, stars falling from heaven, and the powers of the earth shaken.
|9. Who is Resurrected?
Believers living and dead (the “quick and the dead”) during the Church Age. No resurrection is specifically mentioned in Matthew 24 but “the elect shall be gathered” seems to infer that a rapture and resurrection event occurs.
|10. Where are they Gathered?
No earthly location is specified for the Rapture. Jerusalem is the location for the Second Coming.
|11. Is it Visible to All the World?
The Rapture is not witnessed by unbelievers. This is why is it called “the secret Rapture.” The effects of the Rapture may be many and obvious to those “left behind.” The Second Coming is explicitly visible to everyone, “every eye shall see Him.” (Rev 1:7)
|12. How Will the Event Be Announced?
For the Rapture, the voice of God (Jesus) and the voice of an archangel call believers away from the grave and from their mortal bodies. For the Second Coming, a trumpet of alarm sounds.
|13. Who Does the Gathering?
At the Rapture, Jesus comes and does the gathering. At the visible Second Coming, the angels.
|14. Who Knows When This Will Happen?
“No one knows the day nor the hour.” However, this may be an idiom for Rosh Hashanah. The Second Coming traditionally is thought to be at Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
|15. Why Are They Gathered?
The Rapture saves believers from the wrath to come and so they may forever live with Christ and one another. At the Second Coming, the elect is gathered to enter into the Kingdom of God. But the nations are gathered for “the winepress of God” and judgment.
|16. What Judgment Occurs at the Time of This Event?
No judgment is explicitly stated at the Rapture. At the Second Coming, the event seems to be primarily a time of judgment against the enemies of Christ.
|17. What Consequences Are Asserted as a Result of This Event?
At the Rapture, we are together and with Christ. At the Second Coming, those who are not believers and aligned with Christ, are sent into eternal punishment according to Matthew 25.
|18. What Instruction Follows as a Result of the Teaching on This Event?
The Rapture is to comfort believers and encourage us to perform good works. The Second Coming is a warning of eternal punishment if the wicked do not change their ways.
|19. Who or What Comes as a Thief in the Night?
In both contexts, what comes as a thief in the night is “the day of the Lord.” The children of the day do not fear it; unbelievers will be caught off guard.
|20. Any mention or hint of the “other” event?
For those to whom the Rapture is promised, preservation and glory are promised. The passages dealing with the visible Second Coming make no mention of the Rapture.
THE DETAILED COMPARISON TABLE OF THE RAPTURE AND THE VISIBLE RETURN OF CHRIST:
CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO DOWNLOAD THE FULL TABLE
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