Thirteen Scholars Answer Tough Questions about the Rapture, Tribulation and the Second Coming – Program 5
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. John Walvoord, Hal Lindsey, Dr. Zola Levitt, Peter LaLonde, Dr. David Breese, Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. John Feinberg, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Earl Radmacher, Dr. Randall Price, Dave Hunt, Dr. Elwood McQuaid, Dr. Jimmy DeYoung; ©1996|
|Why do biblical scholars separate the rapture and Christ’s Second Coming into two separate events, with the tribulation between them?|
The Rapture and the Second Coming – Part 1
- Dr. John Ankerberg: As we reach the end of this century, people want to know more about biblical prophecy, especially the sequence of the many important events that the Bible says will occur during the end times. Today and in the weeks to come, you will meet and hear thirteen of the most respected and knowledgeable professors and teachers of biblical prophecy in the United States. They will explain in depth some of the key passages concerning end-time events. My guests will be: Professor Dr. John Walvoord, Dr. Zola Levitt, Dr. David Breese, Dr. Earl Radmacher, Dr. Randall Price, Dr. Elwood McQuaid, Peter Lalonde, Dr. Jimmy DeYoung, Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. John Feinberg, and best-selling author Dave Hunt. We invite you to join us.
- Ankerberg: During World War II, when General MacArthur was forced to leave the Philippine Islands, he told the people, “I will return.” General MacArthur kept that promise. While Jesus Christ was on this earth, He said that one day He would return. I believe Jesus Christ will keep that promise. I know many of you believe that. But still, many of you have written and asked me questions about the events surrounding Christ’s Second Coming.
- Today I want to try and answer one of the most important and frequently asked questions we have received. Here it is. Does the Bible teach that the Rapture and Christ’s Second Coming happen at the same time? Doesn’t the Rapture happen when Christ descends to the earth after the Tribulation? My answer is no. I believe there are at least seven important differences revealed in the Scripture which force us to conclude that the Rapture is a separate event from Christ’s Second Coming when He returns to earth to judge and rule. Let me quickly list the differences for you and then we will examine the Scriptures from which these differences derive.
- First, there is a difference in the geographical area or place where the Lord will come to meet believers. The Bible indicates that at the Rapture, Christians will meet the Lord in the air. But at the Second Coming, Christ descends to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
- Second, the Bible indicates there is a difference in who removes people from earth at each event. At the Rapture, Christ Himself comes and takes believers out of the world; but at the Second Coming, Jesus sends His angels to gather people from the face of the earth to judgment.
- Third, the Bible indicates there is a difference in who is taken from the earth and who is left at each event. At the Rapture, believers are taken from the earth, while unbelievers are left on the earth. But at the Second Coming, believers are left on the earth to go into the Millennial Kingdom, while unbelievers are taken from the earth to judgment.
- Fourth, the Bible indicates there is a difference of when Jesus comes in relationship to the Tribulation. At the Rapture, Jesus comes before the hour of trial, the Tribulation, to rescue believers from it; whereas, at the Second Coming Jesus comes after the Tribulation to inflict final punishment, conquer His enemies and begin to rule the world from Jerusalem.
- Fifth, the Bible indicates there is a difference in that which believers are to look for in each event. There are no signs given in Scripture which must take place before the Rapture. But detailed signs are given that must take place before Christ will come to earth. The sixth difference between these two events stems from the fact that in every Rapture passage there is no mention of trial or God’s judgments falling on the earth before the Rapture occurs. There is only the promise and admonition to believers to look for Christ’s return for His own. But on the other hand, every passage that deals with the Second Coming of Christ to earth is set in the context of tribulation and judgment. For example, Zechariah 14:1-2 tells us of a siege of Jerusalem taking place immediately before describing Christ’s return to earth to rule.
- Seventh, the Bible indicates there is a difference in the timing of the resurrections that take place at each event. At the Rapture, a resurrection of the dead in Christ takes place during the descent of Christ. But at the Second Coming, a resurrection of the righteous dead who died during the Tribulation takes place only after Christ has descended to earth. Now, if these seven differences are taught in the Scripture, it would be contradictory to hold that the Rapture of the church saints occurs at the same time as the Second Coming of Christ to earth. The only conclusion these scriptural differences will allow us to hold is that the Rapture must be a separate event from Christ’s Second Coming to earth.
- Now let’s look at the scriptural evidence that undergirds these seven differences. First, the Bible indicates that at the Rapture, Christ will descend to the air above the earth and Christians will be caught up to meet Him there. But at the Second Coming, Christ will descend to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Where does the Bible teach that all Christians alive and dead will be caught up, or raptured, to meet the Lord in the air? 1 Thessalonians 4:17 tells us, “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.” Where will Jesus take Christians at the Rapture? Jesus taught in John 14:2 that He will take us to Heaven. He said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions. The Father’s house is in Heaven. Jesus continues, “If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there you may be also.”
- So these verses indicate Christians will meet Christ where? In the air. Where will Christ take us? To the Father’s house in Heaven.
- But now compare these statements with Zechariah 14:3 where we are told: “Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as he fights in the day of battle. On that day, his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem.” If we say that the Rapture and the Second Coming are the same event, then these verses would contradict each other in indicating where Christ is going to come. Is it to the air above the earth, or is it to Jerusalem where He will stand on the Mount of Olives?
- To harmonize these passages, I believe the Scripture is demanding that we recognize there are two phases of Christ’s coming, two separate events. At the Rapture, Christ comes for His Church and we are caught up to meet Him in the air. Later, at His Second Coming, Christ descends to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem where He conquers His enemies and then begins to rule. Dr. John Walvoord, a professor and chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, tells why the Scripture persuaded him that the Rapture and Christ’s Second Coming are two separate events. This happened as a result of his comparison of 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 with Zech. 14:1-3. Listen:
- Walvoord: Notice the details that he gives us about the Rapture. First of all, the Lord is going to descend bodily from heaven to the earth. This is an important event. He actually comes to the air. He never touches the earth.
- When this happens, then Christians who are living, who remain, will be caught up, raptured—that’s where we get the word “rapture”—”caught up or raptured or snatched together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and thus we shall also always be with the Lord.” And so our prospect is that when the Lord comes, if we’re living we will be changed instantly; if we’re dead as Christians we’ll be raised from the dead and we’ll meet the Lord in the air and then proceed to heaven.
- And so we have this wonderful truth, that Christ is coming, and that when He does, we’re going to be with Christ forever. And we’re going from earth to heaven. Now, it’s very important to notice the results of the Rapture. The Rapture is not a coming of Christ to stay in the earth as a second coming is, but rather a movement from earth to heaven. Just exactly the opposite of what you see about the second coming of Christ, which in my belief, is going to occur sometime later when He comes back to set up His Millennial Kingdom. “And thus we are always going to be with the Lord.” That’s the wonderful prospect that’s before us.
- Ankerberg: Now, the second difference in these two events has to do with who takes whom out of the world. The Bible teaches Christ Himself will come and take believers out of the world in joy and blessing at the Rapture. But at the Second Coming, it is the angels who gather the wicked from off the face of the earth to a terrible judgment.
- Look at the words in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 17 carefully. The Apostle Paul tells us, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God.” It’s interesting that the Bible says the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout. The Greek word for shout, kalousma, is a word of command. It’s a military term. It’s as if all the troops are at ease and the general issues the command to fall in. Luther translated this word “stand up.” It’s a call to the Church to stand up. The Church has been in repose. The bodies of the saints have been lying in the graves and there’s coming a time when Jesus comes, descends out of heaven, and He shouts or commands for those bodies to stand up, and they fall into rank. It’s a gathering up. This is like John 5:25 where Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, an hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live.”
- And just as a military commander issues the order and it’s echoed by one of his subordinates, the Bible says the archangel will add his voice, echoing, as it were, the Lord’s command. Then the trumpet of God sounds. In the Roman Empire the people knew that if the government leaders wanted to make a public announcement, a proclamation, or to meet somebody important like the emperor, they would sound a trumpet to gather the people together. More importantly, in Exodus 19 it was a trumpet that called the people out of the camp to meet God. It was a trumpet of assembly. The trumpet of 1 Thessalonians 4 cannot be referring to one of the trumpet judgments in the Book of Revelation, because the Book of Revelation hadn’t been written yet. But the Thessalonians were familiar with the trumpet call of assembly in the Roman Empire and the trumpet of assembly in Exodus 19.
- Then Paul says that after the Lord issues this command to assemble, the trumpet blows, the archangel echoes what the Lord says, “The dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together, or raptured, with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Christ Himself is clearly the One who takes believers out of the world in joy and blessing at the Rapture; whereas at the Second Coming, Jesus sends the angels to take wicked people out of the world in judgment. In Matthew 13:41 in the parable of the tares, Jesus taught, “The Son of Man will send out his angels and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They,” referring to the angels, “will throw them,” the wicked, “into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” So notice the order of events. At the Second Coming, Jesus sends His angels to remove people from the face of the earth to judgment. This same order of events during the Second Coming can be seen in another parable Jesus gives, and Dr. Renald Showers explains:
- Showers: Now, Jesus taught the same order for His second coming again in what’s called the parable of the dragnet. Let me read to you from Matthew 13:47, “Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind, which, when it was full they drew to shore and sat down and gathered the good in the vessels but cast the bad away.” Now, here Jesus gives the application of that parable to His second coming. “So shall it be at the end of the age. The angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just.” The angels are going to in essence cut off the wicked, remove them, from among the just, the righteous, “and shall cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Notice the same order, for His glorious second coming immediately after the seven year Tribulation period, His holy angels will remove all the unbelievers who are alive on the earth at that time from the earth in judgment and put them into a horrible place of judgment characterized by fire where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth, but the good fish, representing the believers, are left here to go into the Kingdom.
- He’s teaching that the order of things at His second coming will be just the reverse of the order at the Rapture. At the Rapture it’s all the believers who are removed from the earth and blessing to meet Christ in the air to return with Him to His Father’s house in Heaven and it’s the unbelievers who will be left here on the face of the earth. Now, you have identically that same order again for the second coming after the Tribulation period taught by Jesus in Matthew 24.
- And that’s beginning with verse 37 where Jesus says, “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the Flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day that Noah entered into the ark and knew not until the Flood came and took them all away, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” What Jesus is saying here is this: the order at my glorious second coming immediately after the seven year Tribulation period will be identically the same as the order of things in Noah’s day in conjunction with the Flood.
- One of the ways in which the order would be the same is this: the Flood came and took them all away. Which group of people did the Flood take away from planet Earth—the believers or the unbelievers? The Flood removed all the unbelievers of Noah’s day from the earth in judgment. And the believers in Noah’s day, namely, Noah and his family, were left here on the earth in the ark to go into the next period of world history after the Flood. And after pointing that out, Jesus says, again, at the end of v. 39, “So shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” It’ll be the same order of things then as it was in the days of Noah with the Flood.
- And then to illustrate that, He goes on in vv. 40 and 41, “then in the day that the Son of man comes,” after the Tribulation period, “then shall two be in the field, the one shall be taken and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill, the one shall be taken and the other left.” Now the question is, “Who is the one taken from the field? and the one taken from the mill?” If it’s the same order of things as in Noah’s day with the Flood and the Flood took all the unsaved away and Jesus says it’ll be the same order at His second coming, then it seems to me you’re forced to conclude that the one who is taken from the field and the one who is taken from the mill are not believers taken by Rapture but unbelievers who are alive on the earth at Jesus’ second coming. They are taken by Christ’s holy angels from the earth in judgment just as we saw with the parable of the tares and the parable of the dragnet in Matthew Chapter 13, and therefore the one that’s left in the field and the one that’s left at the mill is the believer who is left here on the earth, the believer who is alive at the second coming of Christ after the Tribulation period left here on the earth to go into the next period of history, namely, the Kingdom. Just as in Noah’s day, it was the unbelievers who were removed in judgment, Noah and his family were left here on the earth to go into the next period of world history.
- Ankerberg: The third difference that indicates God in His Word is teaching that the Rapture must be a separate event from Christ’s Second Coming has to do with those who are taken from the earth and those who are left behind. At the Rapture, believers are taken from earth to Heaven, while unbelievers are left on the earth (1 Thessalonians 4:17). But at the Second Coming, it is the unbelievers who are taken from the earth to judgment, and those who are left on the earth are the saints who will go into the Millennial Kingdom.
- But in spite of all this, some Christians still object to this line of reasoning and say there are a few verses in Matthew 24 which do refer to the Rapture and what’s more, these verses place the Rapture at Christ’s coming at the end of the Tribulation. I do not think they are correct, but let’s look at the verses. Matthew 24:31 reads: “And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet. They will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” As a result of these words, some reason as follows: The Bible states Jesus sends forth the angels to gather the elect. The elect must be Christians, and since in Matthew 24 the Tribulation takes place before Christ comes, the Rapture takes place after the Tribulation. Again, I do not believe this is correct, and Dr. Renald Showers will now explain why. Please listen carefully:
- Showers: The question here is this: “Who are the elect that he gathers with a great sound of a trumpet from the four winds of heaven? Are they the Church saints?” I’m convinced that they are not. Let me tell you why. For one thing, if you’re going to say these are Church saints, you’re overlooking some extensive revelation that’s given to us in the Old Testament. What kind of revelation? There are passages in the Old Testament where God calls the whole nation of Israel “His chosen,” literally “His Elect.”
- Then there are passages, these are prophetic promise passages in the Old Testament to the effect that in the end times that He would gather together His chosen ones, His elect, particularly the believing remnant of Israel from all corners of the earth, gather them together even from the four winds, gather them together again so that they could go into the Millennial Kingdom with the Messiah whenever He reigns. Let me read to you a fascinating promise that God delivered to Israel through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah Chapter 27, vv. 12 and 13:
- “O ye children of Israel, and it shall come to pass in that day that the great trumpet shall be blown and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria and the outcasts in the land of Egypt and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount of Jerusalem.” God here was promising toward the end times if you read the whole context that He’s going to re-gather His scattered people of Israel from many different places around the world and He will do that in conjunction with the blowing of the great trumpet. Again, I read to you a literal translation of Matthew 24:31 where Jesus says “immediately after the tribulation…” the cosmic disturbances and then He comes as the Son of man. “He shall send his angels with the sound of a great trumpet and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds from one end of heaven to the other.”
- In light of those Old Testament parallels, I’m convinced that the elect here in Matthew 24:31 are not Church saints but the people of Israel who have been scattered throughout the world, perhaps even more specifically the faithful remnant of Jews who have become believers in the Lord during the seven year Tribulation period and are still alive on the face of the earth at His glorious second coming back to the earth immediately after the Tribulation period. He will gather together this faithful remnant of Jews from all over the world with the sound of a great trumpet back to the land of Israel.
- Now, there’s a second reason I’m convinced this is referring to the elect of Israel and not to the Church elect or Church saints. The whole context of Matthew 24 is a Jewish context, not a Church context. Jesus, as we saw earlier in v. 15, speaking ahead of time to Jews of that future Tribulation period, said, “When you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in your holy place.” Well, who had the holy place? The Gentiles? No, the people of Israel did. That’s a reference to a temple of God in Israel, “standing in your holy place, then let them which be in Judea”—these are Jews living in their own land of Israel, let them “flee unto the mountains. Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house,” etc., and then He says to them that they really ought to be concerned that their flight not be on the sabbath day, verse 20, “but pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day.” He’s talking here about Jews and how this will affect Jews. The whole context is a Jewish context. And so I take it that the elect here are Jewish people whom He will gather together through His holy angels from the four winds, really the idea is from all four directions, under the heavens here on planet Earth back to their homeland of Israel in conjunction with His second coming.
- Ankerberg: So what Dr. Showers has just said, again, leads us to the conclusion that the Rapture must be a separate event from Christ’s Second Coming to earth to judge and rule. Now we’ve only gotten as far as the first three differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming that are taught in Scripture. Next week we will look at the other four. But why is this important?
- If God’s Word teaches us that Christ Himself could come for us at any moment, if we really believe that, it will affect the way we live. To those who are suffering or persecuted right now, the doctrine of the Rapture holds out hope and expectation. As we live our daily lives, the Rapture provides a motivation for godly living in the present. After all, as James said, the holy Son of God could step through the door of Heaven at any moment and we would be in His presence.
- Is this true of you? Do you have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus and are anticipating being with Him? Until Christ returns, our daily living is a test of our loyalty and our faithfulness to Him. Are we living in such a way as to be found pure when He does come from Heaven? The normal Christian life is for a person to yearn for the coming of the Savior. But many times, because Christ does not have first place in our life, we are too busy, we want to do things, we want to accomplish things more than we want to see Him and be with Him. It’s nice that Christ would come, but later. Maybe you’re like the Christians in one of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation where Jesus told them, “I have something against you. You have left your first love for Me.” They didn’t lose it, they left it. They deliberately put it aside, and Christ told them to repent. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind and soul. If that’s not true of you today, why not ask the Lord to help you and restore your first love? Next week we’ll continue looking at the differences that lead us to conclude the Rapture is a separate event from the Second Coming. I hope you’ll join me.