Thirteen Scholars Answer Tough Questions about the Rapture, Tribulation and the Second Coming – Program 7

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
Does it really matter if you believe the rapture happens before the tribulation or at some other point? Does it matter what you believe about when Christ will return?

Contents

The Timing of the Rapture and the Second Coming

Introduction

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: Welcome. You know, when you listen to preachers and teachers talk about biblical prophecy today, many times you come away with interpretations of Scriptures and theories that are more confusing than clarifying. This seems to be particularly true of teaching about the Rapture of the Church and Christ’s Second Advent to earth. Many people have written and said to me they are persuaded that no one really knows what the Bible teaches about the timing, circumstances and order of events associated with the Lord’s return. Others say it doesn’t really matter when the Lord comes back. If He comes back before the Tribulation, fine. If He comes back in the middle or at the end of the Tribulation, that’s fine too. There’s nothing I can do about it. If you are one who has said that, I would strongly advise that you listen to Dr. Earl Radmacher, Chancellor of Western Theological Seminary, explain why your understanding of prophecy matters to God and should matter to you. Listen:
Radmacher: You know, we talk a lot about different viewpoints in prophecy, and we have pre-trib and mid-trib and post-trib and now pre-wrath; and sometimes people take a kind of lackadaisical attitude toward those things and they say, “Well, some believe this and some believe that and really it doesn’t make that much difference because, after all, if the Lord is going to come prior to the Tribulation for the Church, well, He will do that; and if He isn’t, He will come during it and He will preserve us” and all of that kind of thing. And so people kind of take a stand-offish attitude.
Well, I want to ask you: “Does it really make any difference whether I believe right or not?” Ah, yes, it does. That’s a part of the reward that I will have at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Do you know what? As a believer, I am a steward, Paul says, “of the mysteries of God.” In 1 Corinthians Chapter 4 the Apostle Paul says, “Let a man so consider us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” Now, what’s required of a steward? Here it is. “Moreover, it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” Now, from that the apostle goes on, “Therefore, judge nothing before the time until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart and then each one’s praise will come from God.” Ah. So I will be rewarded or suffer loss of reward in keeping with how faithful I have been to “the mysteries of God.”
How can a believer lose reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ? By being an unfaithful steward of the mysteries of God. What is one of the specific mysteries of the New Testament? It’s the doctrine of the Rapture. It’s the translation of the Church. So it behooves you and me to think right about these things.
Ankerberg: Let me add my advice to what Dr. Radmacher just said. You should never, ever say that the study of biblical prophecy is not important, that it doesn’t matter. Prophecy makes up one third of your Bible. Those who say it is not important are simply wrong. Christians, according to God’s Word, are to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God.
The word mystery is easily defined. It is a new truth that God reveals, something not known before. Remember the Prophet Daniel? When God gave Daniel the interpretation for King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the Bible put it this way: “During the night, the mystery was revealed to Daniel” (Dan. 2:19). Once Daniel had the information from God, he told King Nebuchadnezzar, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery (or secret truth) he asked about. But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.” In the New Testament, Jesus told the believers in Mark 4:11: “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God.”
In Romans 11:25 Paul refers to future prophetic events as part of the mysteries of God. He says, “For I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery…that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and then all Israel will be saved….” In Romans 16:25 Paul says Christians will be established by God “according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past but now revealed and made known….”
In 1 Corinthians 15:51 the Rapture is shown to be a part of the mystery of God. Paul says, “Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”
Further, in 1 Thessalonians 4 in describing the Rapture Paul says, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord [again, this is information given by the Lord that only He knows] that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. But the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
Paul states in Ephesians, it is God who has “made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he purposed in Christ to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment” (Eph. 1:9). Dr. Radmacher just showed us that we are to be stewards of the mysteries of God, faithfully holding onto them. Are you holding onto the mysteries of God in a faithful manner?
Also, it’s clear that the Bible tells us that the mysteries of God include end time events. In 2 Thessalonians 2:7 the word mystery refers to the information surrounding the Antichrist.
Other passages show us that the mysteries of God include the teaching of the Rapture, the Second Coming of Christ to earth, the Tribulation time period, and some of the great world events which will happen during the Tribulation.
I also believe it includes the wonderful promise that the Christian church will not go through the Tribulation time period but will be raptured before any of it happens. But on this last point, there is some disagreement among Christians. So we are studying what God has revealed. The question is, “Does the Rapture happen at the same time as Christ returns to earth or are they separate events?” I believe the answer is that the Rapture is a separate event from Christ’s Second Coming. I am attempting to prove this by showing you the differences the Bible reveals in what takes place at the Rapture and what takes place at the Second Coming.
I won’t review the first five differences that we’ve already covered. We will just continue with new material today. Let’s begin. The sixth difference that forces us to conclude that the Rapture of the Church is a separate event from the Second Coming of Christ to earth stems from the fact that in every Rapture passage there is no mention of trial or God’s judgments falling on the earth before or during the Rapture. Rather, there is only the promise and admonition to believers to look for Christ’s return for His own. 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. What is the scriptural basis for saying this? Look at Zechariah 14:1,2. In verse 1 God says, “Behold, the day is coming…when…I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled.”
What is going on here? What the prophet is predicting is the siege of Jerusalem and the gathering of the nations to war. It is during this time that the Bible says, “Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations…And in that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which is in front of Jerusalem on the east.” What do you conclude from these verses? I think we can only conclude that these verses are teaching that Christ returns to the earth in the midst of world war among the nations and the siege of Jerusalem. But none of these events are said to take place in Rapture passages.
At our conference in Dallas, Texas Dr. Zola Levitt stated this same point in these words. Listen:
Zola Levitt: You know, in the previous program we talked about that it’s a surprise. If we agree that it’s a surprise—as the Lord said, “lightning across the sky, in the twinkling of an eye,” things that are extremely sudden—by logic, it can’t come in the middle of the Tribulation. It would be preceded by events of such global cataclysm, no one could miss them. We’re watching peace covenants being made with Israel now and they’re on the front page every day. Imagine one to be made for seven years by some major power who guarantees with a ten nation confederacy and its military and reinstitutes temple worship. We would be howling in the streets if we were here!
There’s no instructions in Revelation from chapter 4 to 19 for the Church and this is the most serious omission we can imagine.
There’s not a breath, not a verse. I think it’s because we’re simply not here.
Ankerberg: Let me give you another example along these same lines. Look at Matthew 24. The same context of war, tribulation and judgment is described, only more of it. The order of events in this chapter according to Jesus are: first, the beginning of birth pangs and tribulations, which refer to such events as false messiahs appearing and deceiving many; nation rising against nation, war, famines, earthquakes, and believers being hunted down and killed worldwide. Then the abomination of desolation takes place, followed by the Great Tribulation. The Great Tribulation ends with Christ’s Second Coming to earth to conquer, judge and rule.
But, once again in the Rapture passages, Christ does not come in the context of Tribulation, war, and world judgment. Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17. It says, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trumpet of God; the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. “Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” Let me ask you, Do you think the Thessalonians would have been comforted if they believed Paul was teaching that Christ would only be coming for them if they could somehow make it through the seven years of tribulation. Of course, to make it through this time, they would face nation rising against nation in war; famines, plagues, earthquakes, worldwide catastrophes and the knowledge that Christians will surely be hunted down and killed worldwide? How could they have been comforted by this teaching? Would it comfort you? We can be sure Paul did not teach them that. Rather, Paul was teaching them that Christians will all be raptured before these terrible events and judgments take place. In 1 Thessalonians 5:4 he specifically says that the Day of the Lord will not overtake these Christians, they are not a part of it.
Then in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 he tells why. He says “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 Paul assures Christians that Jesus will be the One who “delivers us from the wrath to come.” In Rev. 3:10 Jesus Himself promises Christians that He will keep them from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world. Absolutely nothing is said in these passages about Christians experiencing war, tribulation and judgment. We are given no reason to believe that the Rapture occurs in that kind of context. Yet in Zechariah 12 and Matthew 24 and other places the Bible teaches Christ will return to earth in the context of world war, tribulation, and judgment. I believe we can only conclude from these passages that the Bible is teaching that the Rapture of the Church is a separate event from the Second Coming of Christ to judge and rule. From our huge television taping in Orlando, Florida, you’ll hear from best-selling author Dave Hunt talk about why the Rapture must be a separate event from the Second Coming of Christ. Listen:
Hunt: Well, I think Dave alluded to it earlier. He said if Christmas is coming soon, Thanksgiving is coming sooner. And I don’t believe there are any signs of the Rapture. The Bible teaches the imminent return of Christ and there is a moral, there are moral implications to the imminent return of Christ. But, you know, if He could come at any moment we’ve got to be ready. In fact, He warned us. But the signs are for His Second Coming, when He comes with His saints to rescue Israel, to stop the destruction on planet earth. And these are the signs that we’ve been talking about. And they indeed are casting their shadows. This Roman Empire has to be revived. The Antichrist has to be here, but the Rapture takes place first. Otherwise, we’d be looking for the Antichrist. It’s the Second Coming. For example, if you go to Matthew 24, you could say, “Well, it teaches a post-Tribulation Rapture because it says `immediately after the tribulation of those days,’ you know, `he is going to come like lightning and so forth.'” But, it’s talking about a post-Tribulation Second Coming, not a Rapture.
Ankerberg: Next, the seventh difference that reveals the Rapture of the Church is a separate event from the Second Coming of Christ to earth is that the time when believers are resurrected is different. For example, in the Rapture passage there is a resurrection of the dead that takes place during the descent of Christ to the clouds above the earth. But in the Second Coming passages, a resurrection of the righteous dead who died during the Tribulation takes place only after Christ has descended all the way to the earth and begun to rule.
First look at this Rapture passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17. It says, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God.” And while Christ is descending, notice what the Scripture says: “and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Here, the order of events is that the dead in Christ are resurrected, then we which are alive and remain are caught up together with them to meet the Lord, who is descending to the air above the earth.
Do the Second Coming passages teach a different order? The answer is yes. In the Second Coming passages those resurrected are not resurrected at the same time as people are resurrected in those passages describing the Rapture. For example, look at the distinctly Second Coming passage in Revelation Chapter 19:11-21, continued on in Chapter 20:1-8. The order that is given there is as follows: 1.) the descent of Christ; 2.) Christ slays His enemies; 3.) The Antichrist—the beast, and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire; 4.) Satan is then bound and thrown into the pit; and finally 5.) after all of these other events, there is a resurrection of the saints. Notice, this resurrection doesn’t take place during Christ’s descent to the earth, but after He has descended to the earth and begun to rule. So this order of events contradicts the order of events given in the Rapture passage of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. Again, these biblical passages force us to conclude that the Rapture of the Church must be a separate event from Christ’s Second Coming to earth to judge and rule.
Now right along this line, there is an eighth issue that shows us the Rapture and the Second Coming are two separate events. This point also reveals the need for a large period of time to come between the Rapture and the Second Coming. Why do I say this? I believe there must be a large period of time between the Rapture of all Christians and the Second Coming of Christ to earth because there is a need for people to go into Christ’s Millennial Kingdom in non-glorified bodies.
Well, first, what is a glorified body? I’m sure you remember that all Christians who are raptured according to 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 are given new bodies; they are instantly changed—they are given what the Bible calls glorified bodies. Glorified bodies do not sin, get sick, or die. Also, people given glorified bodies do not have children—they are like the angels according to Jesus in Luke 20:34-36 where He says, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” But according to Isa. 66:23 people in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom “will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune, for they will be a people blessed by the Lord.” So, there must be some people who make it through the Tribulation alive and who go into the Millennial Kingdom in non-glorified bodies.
Dr. Renald Showers explains why there must be a long period of time that separates the Rapture of the Church before the Second Coming of Christ to earth. Listen:
Showers: When the Rapture takes place, we’ve already seen that at the Rapture, everybody that’s involved in the Rapture receives a glorified body, which according to Christ, will not marry and therefore will not give birth to children, and because it’s a glorified body also will not experience death. And in addition, because it’s glorified, will be sinless—will not have the sin nature anymore. Now, with that in mind, with that biblical truth solidly in mind, if the Rapture were to take place at the second coming of Christ, everybody at that time who is a believer would receive a glorified body, again, which will not marry, which will not give birth to children, will be sinless, and will not experience death. In light of the fact, this other biblical truth that we’ve seen that all unbelievers alive on the earth at that time will be removed from the earth in judgment, will not be allowed to go into the Kingdom, this would mean therefore that everyone who would go into the Kingdom would go into the Kingdom with glorified bodies, which again, do not marry, do not give birth to children, are sinless and do not die.
Now notice, there are prophecies in the Word of God that teach that during the Millennial Reign of the Messiah on the face of the earth, number one, there will be marriage; number two, there are prophecies to the effect that both Jews and Gentiles will give birth to children during the Thousand Year Reign of the Messiah. Number three, there are Scriptures that indicate that by the end of the Millennium, when Satan is set loose from the abyss and comes back to the earth, there will be a huge horde of human beings who will flock to him and follow him in one final revolt against Christ’s rule. Obviously, those who flock to Satan are unsaved people. Well, if no unbelievers went into the Kingdom at the beginning, then everyone that goes into the Kingdom goes in with mortal bodies who are sinless and who do not die and who don’t give birth to children, where do these unbelievers come from by the end of the Millennium?
In addition, there are prophecies to the effect that at least any who choose to outwardly rebel against Christ during the Millennium will be put to death so that there will be some who will die during the Millennium. But if everyone who went into the Kingdom went in with a mortal body which cannot die, how would that prophecy be fulfilled? So if the Rapture were to take place at the second coming of Christ, the prophecies to the effect of people marrying, people giving birth to children, unsaved rebels being on the face of the earth during that period of time and people dying could not be fulfilled. That fact of Scripture together with the fact that we saw earlier that the order of things at the Rapture, together with the order of things at the second coming, those two facts force me to conclude that the Rapture of the Church and the second coming after the Tribulation period are two totally separate, distinct events separated by a period of time of seven years.
Ankerberg: As we close today, the only question I have for you is this: Are you ready to meet Christ if He were to come today? Do you actually look forward to His coming? Or are you living in such a way right now that you would be ashamed if He came? If you have not received Christ as your Savior, why not invite Him into your life and ask Him to forgive you of your sins? He will come into your life right now and make you a Christian.
If you’re already a believer, whatever you’re going through, realize Jesus is coming. He could come today. The Bible says Christ Himself is coming for us. He is excited about being with us and taking us home to the Father’s house in Heaven. I look forward to that. I trust you do, too.

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