Chapter 7

Return to Chapter list

The Church Gathered—

Secretly or Openly?

 

 

 

Jesus said, “I come as a thief” (Rev. 16:15). Does this imply a secret rapture?

 

Sensational preaching about the secret rapture often depicts the following scenario. Jesus will come quietly as a thief to snatch away His jewels. Autos with Christian drivers, trains with Christian conductors, and aircraft with Christian pilots will crash. Newspaper headlines will announce that multitudes have disappeared. The public will be filled with fear and confusion. Sinners will cry out for their Christian mothers, wives, babies, or other loved ones who are gone. They will be in anguish, knowing that the Lord came secretly as a thief and stole away His Church. They will have to face the Antichrist and the mark of the beast without the Church and the Holy Spirit.

Such preaching may be well–meaning, but it is not scriptural. Jesus isn’t coming “to snatch away” His Church secretly and under cover of darkness to hide what He does. When He comes, “every eye shall see him” (Rev. 1:7). But He is coming as a thief in the sense of bringing sudden destruction upon the unprepared. “But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up” (Matt. 24:43). For this reason Jesus warns, “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24:44).

The apostle Paul illustrated the same truth of the thief’s coming with “sudden destruction” and overtaking the children of darkness, not the children of light: “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (1 Thess. 5:2–5).

 

Does every “thief” reference about the Second Coming teach that Jesus is coming after the Tribulation and that He will bring sudden destruction upon the unprepared?

 

Yes. The verses in the diagram below confirm two things:

1. The Lord is coming as a thief after the Tribulation, on the Day of the Lord.

2. The Lord is described as a thief because He will bring sudden destruction upon the unprepared.

     
Scripture Text The Lord coming as a “thief” after the Tribulation: The Lord described as a “thief” because He will bring sudden destruction upon the unprepared:
     
Matthew 24:29–51 After the tribulation . . . . The thief—Matt. 24:29,43. House to be broken up. . . . Cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites—Matt. 24:43,51.
     
Luke 12:39–46 The thief—Luke 12:39 . Compare with Matt. 24:29,42. House to be broken through. Cut him in sunder . . . appoint him his portion with the unbelievers—Luke 12:39,46.
     
First Thessalonians 4:16 to 5:3 The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief—1 Thess. 5:2. Then sudden destruction cometh upon them . . . and they shall not escape—1 Thess. 5:3.
     
Second Peter 3:7–11 The day of the Lord will come as a thief—2 Pet. 3:10. The heavens shall pass away with a noise—2 Pet. 3:10. Day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men—2 Pet. 3:7.
     
Revelation 3:3 I will come on thee as a thief. Keepeth my works unto the end—Rev. 3:3; 2:26. Repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee—Rev. 3:3.
     
Revelation 16:14–21 That great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief—Rev. 16:14,15. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame—Rev. 16:15.
     

Is a secret rapture described anywhere in the Bible?

 

There is not a hint of a secret rapture in the Bible. In fact, Jesus cautions us not to believe those who attach secrecy to His coming: “Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not” (Matt. 24:26).

First, our Lord’s coming will not be secret, but will be seen by all.

• “Every eye shall see Him” (Rev. 1:7). See also Matt. 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; John 1:51; Rev. 11:11,12.

• “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed [not concealed] . . . in flaming fire” (2 Thess. 1:7,8). “For, behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh: and the slain of the Lord shall be many” (Isa. 66:15,16). See also Psa. 11:6; 21:9; 97:3,5; Isa. 30:30; 33:14; Jer. 51:58; Joel 1:15,19,20; 2:30; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Heb. 10:27; 12:29; Rev. 17:16; 18:8; 20:9.

• The Lord Jesus shall appear, instead of being hidden. It will be a day of “thick darkness” when “the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining” (Joel 2:2,10; Matt. 24:29). Then, “shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth . . . see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 24:30). According to Strong, “appear” means “to lighten (shine), to show, to be seen.” See also Col. 3:4; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1,8; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:7; 5:4; 1 John 2:28; 3:2.

• “His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled” (Psa. 97:4). “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. 24:27). See also Rev. 11:19 and 16:18.

• “All the people [shall] see his glory” (Psa. 97:6); it will be an event too glorious to be hidden. Jesus is coming “with power and great glory,” in His “own glory,” in His “Father’s glory,” and in the glory of all His “holy angels” to be “glorified in his saints” (Luke 9:26; 21:27; 2 Thess. 1:10). See Psa. 102:16; Matt. 16:27; 24:30; 25:31; Mark 8:38; John 1:51; Eph. 5:27.

Second, our Lord’s coming will not be secret, but will be heard by all.

• Jesus will come “with a great sound of a trumpet” (Matt. 24:31). “Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh” (Joel 2:1). See also 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16; Isa. 27:13; Zeph. 1:16.

• He “shall descend from heaven with a shout, [and] with the voice of the arch–angel”; therefore, “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice” (1 Thess. 4:16; John 5:28). According to Strong, “shout” means, “a cry of incitement.” Notice how the prophets describe this same event: “And the Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard” (Isa. 30:30); “The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake” (Joel 3:16); “The Lord thundered from heaven, and the most High uttered his voice” (2 Sam. 22:14). See also Rev. 16:17,18; Isa. 66:6; Joel 2:11; Zeph. 1:14.

• All the tribes of the earth will be mourning (Matt. 24:30), languishing (Isa. 24:4), howling (Isa. 13:6), wailing and gnashing their teeth (Matt. 13:42; Luke 13:28), and crying bitterly (Zeph. 1:14). They will say to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:15,16).

• “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise” (2 Pet. 3:10). See also Matt. 24:35.

Finally, our Lord’s coming will not be secret, but will be felt by all.

• In that day, the Lord will arise “to shake terribly the earth” (Isa. 2:19). There will be “a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth” (Rev. 16:18); “the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (Matt. 24:29); and “the sea and the waves roaring” (Luke 21:25). See also Psa. 18:7; Isa. 13:13; 24:13,18,19; Jer. 10:10; Joel 2:10; 3:16; Hag. 2:6,7,21; Heb. 12:26.

• Every mountain and island will be moved (Rev. 6:14; 16:20). “All the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground” (Ezek. 38:20). See also Psa.18:7–16; 46; Micah 1:3,4; Nah. 1:5,6.

Great hail stones, each weighing one–hundred and thirty pounds, will fall from heaven. “And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent” (Rev. 16:21). See also Rev. 11:19; Ezek. 38:22.

Truly, our Lord’s coming will not be secret or silent. “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence” when He shall gather His saints together (Psa. 50:3,5).

 

Objections Answered

 

Isn’t Christ coming secretly “for his saints” before the Tribulation and openly “with his saints” afterwards?

 

These exact terms “for his saints” and “with his saints” are not found in the Bible but are often used by those who teach two phases of our Lord’s coming, or a split–rapture. The Scripture does not teach a secret rapture before the Tribulation because Christ Himself said that He will come for His saints “immediately after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29–31), which is the Day of the Lord (Acts 2:20). The apostle Paul wrote the same thing—that it will be on the Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16 to 5:2). Therefore, it is clear that Jesus Christ is coming for His saints after the Tribulation on the Day of the Lord, not before.

Moreover, the New Testament shows that He is coming “for his saints” at the same time He comes “with his saints”:

1. For His saints. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven . . . 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” (1 Thess. 4:16,17).

2. With His saints. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (1 Thess. 4:14).

The following scriptures further show that when Christ comes for His saints, they will be “caught up,” glorified, and appear with Him in glory:

“When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

“At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:13).

“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (1 Thess. 2:19).

“Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints” (Jude 1:14). See also Zech. 14:5; Mal. 4:2,3; Rev. 17:14; 19:14.

This truth of the Church’s appearing with Christ in glory is lost to those who are affected by the secret rapture teaching. Christ’s coming “for His saints” and “with His saints” are not two comings or one coming in two phases, but one glorious event that occurs on the Day of the Lord, after the Tribulation.

 

Doesn’t Titus 2:13 teach that the Second Coming will be in two phases—the “blessed hope” (a secret coming) and the “glorious appearing” (Christ appearing openly at the end of the world)?

 

The “blessed hope” and “the glorious appearing” describe the same event. Titus 2:13 tells believers to be “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing.” Elsewhere, they are instructed to be “looking for . . . the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved” and “for new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet. 3:12,13).

Therefore, if the “blessed hope” is supposed to be the secret gathering of believers at the so–called “first phase” of our Lord’s return, why would scripture instruct them to look for the “glorious appearing,” “the day of God,” and the “new heavens and a new earth”?

Scripture confirms that “the blessed hope” is indeed the “glorious appearing.” Notice that the believer’s “hope” is linked not only with “the appearing,” but with “the end”: “Hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation [appearing] of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).

Moreover, Jesus and the apostles used various terms synonymously to describe the Second Coming: His coming (parousia); His revelation (apokalupsis); His appearing (epiphania, phaino, or phaneroo). The following chart shows that these terms, which are associated with the believer’s hope and with the Lord’s appearing, are all associated with one and only one event—“the day of the Lord” or “that day,” which is at the end of the world.

 

Synonymous Terms that Describe the Second Coming and
Show That it Occurs on the Day of the Lord, at the End of the World

       
Coming Greek—Parousia
Revealed–Revelation Apokalupsis
Appear–Appearing Epiphania Phaino–Phaneroo
Day of the Lord “That Day” or The End of the World
       
Matt. 24:27,37,39 Luke 17:30 Matt. 24:30 Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20 The Day of the Lord
       
  1 Cor. 1:7 (“Coming” in Greek is apokalupsis—revelation.)   1 Cor. 1:8 The end The Day of our Lord
       
1 Cor. 15:23     1 Cor. 15:24 The end
       
1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13 ; 4:15; 5:23     1 Thess. 5:2,4 The Day of the Lord
       
  2 Thess. 1:7   2 Thess. 1:10 That day
       
2 Thess. 2:1,8   2 Thess. 2:8 (“Brightness” in Greek is epiphania—appearing.) 2 Thess. 2:2,3 The Day of Christ That day
       
    1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1,8; Titus 2:13 2 Tim. 4:8 That day
       
  1 Pet. 1:7, (“Appearing” in Greek is Apokalupsis—revelation.)    
       
  1 Pet. 1:13; 4:13; 5:1 1 Pet. 5:4

1 Pet. 1:13 The end

       
2 Pet. 1:16     2 Pet. 1:19 The day
       
2 Pet. 3:4     2 Pet. 3:7,10,12 The Day of the Lord
       
1 John 2:28   1 John 2:28; 3:2 1 John 4:17 The Day of Judgment
       

Doesn’t the Word of God teach that our Lord’s return to gather the Church is an event that we should believe can take place at any moment?

 

The New Testament admonishes us to watch and to wait with reference to our Lord’s return:

After the Tribulation—Jesus said, “After that tribulation. . . . then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect. . . . watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is” (Mark 13:24,26,27,33). See also Matt. 24:29–31,42; Luke 21:25–28,36.

On the Day of the Lord—“The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. . . . Let us watch and be sober” (1 Thess. 5:2,6). “If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief” (Rev. 3:3). “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth” (Rev. 16:15). Jesus will come as “a thief” on the Day of the Lord. Compare First Thessalonians 4:16,17 with 5:2.

Paul taught the Church to be “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you to the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor.1:7,8). The Day of the Lord cannot take place just at any moment because certain events must first happen, including the apostasy and the revelation of the man of sin. See 2 Thess. 2:1–3.

When He shall appear—“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifesta-tion of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19). The manifestation of the sons of God is “when he [Jesus Christ] shall appear,” because it is then that “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). He shall “appear” after the Tribulation. See Matt. 24:29 and 30.

On the day of redemption—“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Rom. 8:22–25).

Notice two things in this passage:

1. We are to wait for “the redemption of our body.” According to Luke 21:25–28, the day of redemption is after the Tribulation.

2. We are to wait with patience and with hope. The word “hope” is used six times in Romans 8:20–25. What is the Christian’s hope? It is the “glorious appearing” (Titus 2:13), a hope to “the end” (1 Pet. 1:13). Scripture exhorts believers to watch and to wait for their Lord’s return, which will be after the Tribulation on the Day of the Lord, not an “any moment” rapture before the end.

 

If the gathering of the Church is immediately after the Tribulation, won’t it be possible to calculate “the day and hour” of our Lord’s coming (Matt. 24:36)?

 

Jesus gave this verse with reference to His coming immediately after the Tribulation, not concerning a secret rapture before the Tribulation. (Compare Matthew 24:36 with 24:29–31.) Verse 22 indicates that the days of the Great Tribulation will be shortened for the elect’s sake. Only the Father knows how many days it will be shortened; therefore, it will be impossible to calculate the exact day and hour.

 

Doesn’t Hebrews 9:28 teach that before the Great Tribulation, Jesus will appear only to those who look for Him?

 

No. Hebrews 9:28 states, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” The use of “many” in the first half of the verse is a typical use of understatement in the Bible. “Many” actually represents “all,” namely, Jesus died for all. Similarly, “them that look for him” is simply synonymous with believers, since unbelievers would be those who definitely don’t look for or believe in His Second Coming. Peter exhorted believers to look for Jesus when He returns after the Tribulation, which is the end of the world (2 Pet. 3:12–14). Consider the remaining phrases in this verse:

“Shall he appear”—Jesus Himself tells us that He “shall appear” to gather His Church “after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29–31).

“The second time”—This verse does not say anything about Christ’s coming before the Great Tribulation, but refers to “the second time.” Jesus appeared to the world once when He came to die for our sins. Here He promises to appear the second time; He makes no mention of a third time. When He comes the second and final time, it will be openly and after the Tribulation.

 

Doesn’t Jesus teach a secret rapture in John 14:2,3?

 

John 14:2,3 states, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: 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 ye may be also.” There is no indication here of a secret rapture. Clearly, Jesus is in heaven preparing a place for us and is coming again to receive us to be with Him forever in that place. In Matthew 24:29–31, He tells us when He will come again—“immediately after the tribulation.”

 
Return to Chapter list