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When Will the Rapture Occur?
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When Will the Rapture Occur?

 

Does the Bible teach that the rapture will occur before the Great Tribulation?

 

 We have already seen that Scripture clearly teaches that there is coming a period of intense apostasy (a falling away from one’s faith), the reign of Antichrist, and unprecedented satanic activity on earth known as the Great Tribulation. This truth is seen in Matthew 24:21-24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 and in many other passages of Scripture.

All Christians generally believe that Jesus Christ is coming again and that believers will be “caught up” to meet Him in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). They do not agree, however, as to the timing of believers being “caught up” (not the date, but the sequence of end-time events), which is generally referred to as the rapture or the gathering. Some claim that the rapture will occur before the Tribulation, and others claim that it will occur in the middle of the Tribulation. Then too, there are those who hold to the view that the rapture will occur after the Tribulation. Which view is correct—pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib? One thing is for sure, since the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, they can’t all be right. At least two of these views have to be distorted and unscriptural.

But why raise the issue? As long as we all agree that Jesus is coming again and that believers will be caught up to meet Him in the air—isn’t that sufficient? We will let the Bible speak for itself. In His discourse concerning the end-times and the timing of the rapture, Jesus warned about deception six times (Matt. 24:5,11,23,24,26). He clearly cautioned, “Take heed that no man deceive you (24:4).”

Likewise, when writing to believers about the timing of “the coming of our Lord” and “our gathering together unto him,” the apostle Paul declared in no uncertain terms, “Let no man deceive you by any means” (2 Thess. 2:1-3). He also warned that faulty doctrine, particularly about the resurrection, is like a cancer in the body and can cause one’s faith to be overthrown (2 Tim. 2:17,18). We see, then, that knowing the truth about the timing of the rapture is a key to avoiding deception and being seduced away from the faith.

Knowing the timing of the rapture is also an important key to readiness and godly living. One cannot “be ready” if one does not know precisely what to be ready for, namely Christ’s coming. Jesus and the apostles linked readiness with knowing the times and seasons of His coming (Matt. 24:29-33; 1 Thess. 5:1-6; 2 Pet. 3:4,10-12).

Formerly schooled in the pre-trib rapture teaching, I offer what I now believe is the correct interpretation of Scripture regarding Jesus’ return and the rapture of the Church. Someone has said that “growing in knowledge includes learning new truth, examining old truth, and correcting what was erroneously held as truth. The moment we stop learning, examining, or correcting our doctrine, we stop growing.” Since truth can stand the test of examination, with our Bible in hand let us “search the scriptures” as the Berean Jews did (Acts 17:11) and “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21). Consider five scriptural reasons which clearly show that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation:

 

1. Jesus described the days of the Great Tribulation as being so severe that He will shorten them by His return for “the elect’s sake” (Matt. 24:21,22; Mark 13:20-22; Luke 18:7,8).

Jesus warned of worldwide hatred and persecution against believers. He declared, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (Matt. 24:9,10). He also described the days of the Great Tribulation as being so severe that He will shorten them by His return for “the elect’s sake” (Matt. 24:21,22). We also read His words in Luke 18:7,8, “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”

Since only God knows how many days the Great Tribulation will be shortened, it is impossible to calculate how long it will last. To shorten the Tribulation for the elect’s sake would be unnecessary if the Church had already been gathered. Without the Church there would be no need to shorten those days.

That the elect are the Church is seen as follows: Excluding the six usages in the Olivet Discourse in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, (Matt. 24:22,24,31; Mark 13:20,22,27), the words “elect,” “elect’s,” and “election” are found seventeen times in the New Testament—once of Christ (1 Pet. 2:6); once of the angels (1 Tim. 5:21); and, in every other instance, of the Church.

Therefore, since the elect are the Church, and since Jesus taught that the Great Tribulation will be shortened for the elect’s sake, we know that the rapture will occur after that period of suffering, not before.

 

2. Jesus placed the timing of the rapture “after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27).

In Matthew 24:29-31, we read, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days . . . then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: . . . And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet and they shall gather together his elect.”

That Jesus placed the timing of the rapture “after the tribulation,” is seen in sharp contrast to the fact that there is not one biblical statement to support the idea of a pre- or mid-trib rapture.

In Matthew 24:15, Jesus spoke of “the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel.” If the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks teaches the rapture of the Church before the time of tribulation, as many claim, surely Jesus would have confirmed it here. But He didn’t, instead He placed the rapture of the Church after the “abomination of desolation” and the time of “great tribulation.” Notice the sequence of events in Matthew 24:

• Verse 15, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet . . .”

• Verse 21, “Then shall be great tribulation . . .”

• Verses 29-31, “Immediately after the tribulation . . . then shall appear the sign of the Son of man. . . . And he shall send his angels . . . and they shall gather together his elect.”

Therefore, since Jesus described His coming and the rapture as the climax to the Tribulation, the Church will be here until that time.

Consider a third scriptural reason which shows that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation:

 

3. Paul asserted that the rapture will occur after the Antichrist is revealed, not before (2 Thess. 2:1-3).

When speaking of “the coming of our Lord” and “our gathering together unto him” on “the Day of Christ,” which is another term for the Day of the Lord, Paul solemnly warned, “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 [the Antichrist] be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:1-3).

Here, in unmistakable terms, Paul declared that two things must occur before the coming of the Lord and the rapture—the great apostasy (a departure from the true faith) and the revealing of the man of sin, who brings about the troublesome period called the Tribulation.

Paul further indicated that when our Lord returns, He will destroy the Antichrist with “the brightness of his coming” (v. 8). Taken together, then, these verses show the following order of events:

(1) a falling away first

(2) the man of sin revealed

(3) Jesus’ coming on the Day of the Lord

(4) our gathering together unto Him

(5) the destruction of the man of sin

 

It is important to note that Paul’s description of the reign of the man of sin is the same as Jesus’ description of the Great Tribulation—both are marked by lying wonders and deceit and both occur just before the rapture. This truth is seen by comparing 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 with Matthew 24:24-31.

Therefore, since the Antichrist must be revealed before our Lord’s return, and since his rule will come to an end when Jesus returns to rapture believers, undoubtedly, the Church will pass through the Tribulation.

 

4. Paul linked the rapture with the climactic Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16-5:2; 2 Thess. 2:1-3).

In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, we read the most frequently quoted passage of Scripture concerning the rapture. Paul wrote, “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [or precede] them which are asleep. 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: 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 these verses, Paul clearly described our Lord’s coming and the rapture, but does he tell us when it will occur? Yes, he does. To begin with, in verses 15 and 17, we read these words, “we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord.” Why did Paul use the word “remain”? According to Strong’s Concordance, the word “remain” may be translated “to survive,” which implies great tribulation. In other words, Paul spoke of those who are “alive and survive.” Survival evidently refers to the great persecution of the Church that will occur before the coming of the Lord.

Second, as we continue reading into chapter 5, we find more evidence. Paul continued, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 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. . . . For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 1-3,9).

Here Paul linked the timing of the rapture with the Day of the Lord. He described that day as a day of “salvation” for believers—they will be “caught up” to meet the Lord; but a day of divine “wrath” for unbelievers—they will face “sudden destruction.”

The Day of the Lord is a term referred to repeatedly in the Old and New Testaments. It is one of the most important terms to understand in a discussion of prophetic truth. While many claim that the Day of the Lord is the beginning of the Tribulation, there’s much scriptural evidence to prove otherwise. Many confuse the Day of the Lord with the days of the Great Tribulation, but a vast difference separates these two events.

• The Great Tribulation is that period before the Second Coming (compare Matt. 24:21-24 with 29-31); the Day of the Lord is the day of the Second Coming (compare Matt. 24:29-31 with Acts 2:20).

• During the days of the Tribulation, the man of sin will be exalted (2 Thess. 2:4); on the Day of the Lord, the “Lord alone shall be exalted” (Isa. 2:11,12).

• During the days of the Tribulation, the man of sin will reign (2 Thess. 2:3,4); on the Day of the Lord the man of sin will be destroyed (2 Thess. 2:1-3,8).

• The Day of the Lord is referred to as “the day of the Lord’s wrath” (Zeph. 1:14,18), but not the days of the Great Tribulation.

Thus, it is impossible for the Day of the Lord to include the Great Tribulation. They are two distinct events. One follows the other; the Day of the Lord begins when Jesus returns immediately after the Tribulation.

But that is not all. In our text, Paul declared that “the Day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” According to 2 Peter 3:10, “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

In fact, when describing His coming to gather believers “after the tribulation,” Jesus said, “The sun [shall] 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” (Matt. 24:29). It is to be noted that six times the Bible connects these unmistakable cosmic signs in the sun, moon, and stars with the term, “day of the Lord,” and a synonymous term, “the great day of his wrath” (Isa. 13:9,10; Joel 2:10,11; 2:31; 3:14,15; Acts 2:20; Rev. 6:12,13,17).

Obviously, then, since the Day of the Lord is the Day of Judgment and the end of the world, we see once again that it will occur after the Tribulation—not before.

Lastly, when describing the rapture, Paul wrote, “for this we say unto you by the word of the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15). By comparing Matthew 24 with 1 Thessalonians chapters four and five, we find several striking similarities between the teaching of Jesus and Paul concerning the rapture after the Tribulation. They are as follows:

• Both indicated that intense tribulation will occur just before the rapture (Matt. 24:21-24,29-31; 1 Thess. 4:15,17; 2 Thess. 1:4-10; 2:1-3).

• Both mentioned the sounding of a trumpet (Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:16)

• Both spoke of the accompanying presence of angels (Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:16).

• Both depicted our Lord’s return as a thief coming to bring sudden destruction upon the unprepared, not to secretly steal away His Church before the Tribulation, as some claim (Matt. 24:39-43; 1 Thess. 5:2-4).

• Both associated the timing of the rapture with the end of the world, which Paul referred to as “the day of the Lord” (Matt. 24:29-31; 1 Thess. 4:16-5:2).

Clearly, then, since Paul associated the rapture with believers who survived great affliction, with the climactic Day of the Lord, and with “the word of the Lord” itself, there can be no doubt that he, as His Lord before him, clearly placed the timing of the rapture after the Tribulation.

 

5. Jesus and the apostles related the rapture to the end of the world, not to a secret rapture before the Great Tribulation (Matt. 13:30,39; 2 Pet. 3:10).

Contrary to what many want to believe, the Bible clearly teaches that there is an end, a consummation of all things. Jesus not only associated His coming and the rapture with a vivid description of the end of the world, He clearly stated, “heaven and earth shall pass away” (Matt. 24:29,35; Mark 13:24,31).

In addition, at least twelve of Jesus’ parables indicate that He is coming at the end of the world. To illustrate: In the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, Jesus said, “Let both grow together until the harvest” (Matt. 13:30). Thus, both the righteous and the wicked are to remain on earth until the harvest.

When is the harvest? According to verse 39, “the harvest is the end of the world.” Then the complete and final separation will occur—the righteous will enter the eternal kingdom of God and the wicked will be doomed to a furnace of fire (vv. 39-43). See also the Parable of the Net (Matt. 13:49).

In Matthew 24, Jesus admonished His followers to “endure unto the end” (v. 13) and to preach the gospel of the kingdom until “the end” (v. 14).

Paul encouraged believers to be “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end” (1 Cor. 1:7-8). He also taught that “the end” immediately follows the resurrection of believers at Christ’s coming (1 Cor. 15:22-24).

Then too, Peter admonished believers to “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13) and linked Jesus’ return on the Day of the Lord with the literal end of the world (2 Pet. 3:10-12).

Surely these parables and exhortations about the end would not be given to the Church if her real hope was a secret rapture some years before the end. At all points, the Church is to endure until the end, and the end will be the singular and glorious appearing of Jesus Christ our Lord and the consummation of all things. Once again we have solid evidence that the Church will be raptured after the Tribulation, that is, at the end of the world.

In summary, we have considered five scriptural proofs which should convince any honest heart that the Church will be raptured after the tribulation:

 

1. Jesus described the days of the Great Tribulation as being so severe that He will shorten them by His return for “the elect’s sake” (Matt. 24:21,22; Mark 13:20-22; Luke 18:7,8).

2. Jesus placed the timing of the rapture “after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27).

3. Paul asserted that the rapture will occur after the Antichrist is revealed, not before (2 Thess. 2:1-3).

4. Paul linked the rapture with the climactic Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16-5:2; 2 Thess. 2:1-3).

5. Jesus and the apostles related the rapture to the end of the world, not to a secret rapture before the Great Tribulation (Matt. 13:30,39; 2 Pet. 3:10).

 

Each of these proofs has been backed up with clear and compelling scriptural evidence to show that the coming of our Lord for which we are to be ready will not be a secret coming before the Tribulation. Rather, it will occur after the Tribulation and be the most dramatic, climactic event in the entire history of the universe. This truth is seen in sharp contrast to the fact that there is not one biblical statement, in context, to support the idea of a pre- or mid-trib rapture. We know, therefore, that the teaching of a secret rapture before Christ’s appearing is a cunningly devised fable that opposes God’s Word.

Someone has said, “Better the disappointment of truth than the fair but false promises of error.” For the most part, Christians don’t like to hear about it, and don’t like to think about it, but, as we have seen, the Bible plainly teaches that the Church will not be raptured before the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation.

 

This message is available by tape. For your free copy, write to Agnes Macdonald, 2948 Creekwood Drive, Salem, Virginia 24153.

 

Be sure to tune in tomorrow evening at this same time. God willing, I will continue teaching on this important subject—Does the Bible teach that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation? Invite a friend to listen with you. Until tomorrow, may God bless you and be with you.