The Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ

The differences between the rapture and the Second Coming of Christ have confused a lot of Christians.  Scripture describes several differences between the two events.  Because most post-tribulationists lump the two events together, sometimes as one event, sometimes as consecutive events, this may appear to be an attack on the post-tribulational position.  Likewise, it may appear to have a pre-tribulationist slant to it but the truth is, these arguments may be used in favor of both the pre or mid tribulation views of the rapture.  It is not meant as an attack on the post-tribulation position but simply an attempt to separate the two events.

There are four main passages to read when looking at differences between the events of the rapture and the events of our Lord’s Second Coming.  The rapture passages are 1 Thessalonians 4-5 and 1 Corinthians 15.  The passages concerning the Second Coming are Zechariah 14 and Revelation 19.  These passages won’t be cited for each difference looked at but anything outside of these passages will be cited with each point.

See a quick chart comparing the two events:

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Location of Christians

The first difference to observe is the location of Christians for the events.  In the rapture, believers are called to meet Christ in the air.  In an instant the dead in Christ will rise and the believers who are left will then be called away.  In the case of the Second Coming, Christ returns with angels and thousands upon thousands of His holy ones.  He sets foot on the Mount of Olives and Battles the armies gathered against Him in the Valley of Armageddon.  This can be derived from Rev 16:16, 17:14, 19:11-19.

If not for other descriptions of these two events, it would be feasible that Christians are raptured to meet the Lord in the air and then immediately descend to earth with Him.  This is a mistake many make because they do not look at the other differences surrounding the two events.

Who does He return with?

The next difference is who will be with Christ.  When the rapture is described we are lead to believe that Christ returns alone.  It is an argument from silence because nothing is mentioned one way or another.  When the Second Coming occurs, Christ returns with angels and other Christians.  Jude 14-15 describes this in addition to Zechariah.

Purpose – mercy or judgment?

The purpose of the rapture and the Second Coming must be examined as well.  The rapture is viewed as an act of deliverance as believers are taken from a fallen world to dwell with Christ forever.  The Second Coming will be an act of judgment however.  This is the advent of the conquering king that the Jews looked for in His first coming while missing the suffering servant aspect of His mission.  When Christ returns it will be a glorious day for those who belong to Him as He establishes His kingdom on earth but it will be a dreadful day for all those who stand opposed to Him.

The key to understanding the rapture revolves around God’s mercy and His wrath.  Scripture makes it clear that Christians will not suffer God’s wrath.  In addition to 1 Thessalonians is Revelation 3:10, Luke 21:36, and Romans 5:9.  Many have drawn the conclusion that the Rapture is God’s way to prevent Christians from suffering His wrath.

Who is taken?

The focus of the rapture and the Second Coming is placed upon two different sets of people.  The rapture focuses on Christians as ones who are looking for and awaiting the Lord’s return.  In addition to 1 Thessalonians 4, Matthew 25:1-13 tells the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Those who had extra oil and were waiting and prepared for the return of the bridegroom were taken while those who were foolish and ran out of oil were left.

The Second Coming paints just the opposite picture.  It is the foolish unrepentant ones who did not anticipate the Lord’s return who are taken.  In the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13, Jesus instructs that harvesters to allow the weeds to grow among the wheat until the time of the harvest.  Then the weeds are gathered together and thrown into the fire to be burned.  We see a similar picture of judgment in Matthew 24:37-39.  Here Jesus speaks of the how the days will be like that of Noah and His coming would be unexpected.  Many have mistakenly interpreted this passage to be in reference to the rapture.  However, the subjects of the illustration are important.  In the days of Noah, it was the unrighteous who were not looking for the Lord and went about as they pleased.  These people were swept away in the flood while righteous Noah and his family were all that remained.  The coming of the Lord will be like the flood and will sweep away the wicked.

Who will see it?

From our passage in 1 Corinthians we find that the rapture will be instant and “secret.”  No one will be able to witness it, only the effects afterward.  On the other hand, the Lord’s return to the earth will be very visible.  Matthew 24:27 & 30 and Revelation 1:7 declare that all will see him as He returns.  The people of the earth will mourn as they witness the Lord’s return.

We also learn that Jesus will return in the same way in which he left.  Acts 1:11 tells us that Jesus “will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”  The prior verses tell of a slow return that was visible as the disciples watched until He was hidden by the clouds. 

The timing

It is clear from scripture that no one knows when the Lord’s return will be in regards to both His return in the air and His coming to earth.  However, we find from scripture that the rapture is imminent while Christ’s Second Coming follows certain events.

Our rapture passages make it clear that the Lord’s return is imminent.  We find from Matthew 24:43-44 and Revelation 3:3 that the Lord’s return will also be like a thief in the night.  Those who are not watching will be surprised.

The Lord’s Second Coming must be preceded by certain events however.  In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 we learn that the man of lawlessness must first be revealed.  He will then be destroyed by the splendor of Christ’s coming.

The events of Matthew 24:4-30 need to take place before Christ’s Second Coming as well.  This passage is often used as “proof” that we are living in the end times and that Christ will soon return.  Indeed we have seen a rise in many of these things in our very lifetimes.  However, there will be a much greater increase during the days of the tribulation.  We know that this passage is not simply referring to the days before the rapture because in verse 15 it speaks of the abomination that causes desolation.  We learn from Daniel chapters 9:27 that this abomination occurs in the middle of the final “seven” – the middle of the tribulation.  Likewise, the return of the Lord at verse 30 refers to the Second Coming as we saw above.

The Lord’s return will occur 1260 days after the abomination that causes desolation. (Daniel 9:24-27& 12:11-12.)  Likewise, it will occur after the final 42 months (1260 days or “time, times and half a time” depending on the wording) according to Rev 12:6,14 & 13:5.

Finally, perhaps the weakest argument in favor of events that must precede the Lord’s return to earth – but still in need of mentioning – is the fact that numerous events are recorded in Revelation chapters 6-19 before the Lord’s Second Coming is recorded.  Often prophecy is not recorded chronologically as from our human perspective, but this is still worth mentioning as these are events that must take place and most understand that they will occur before Christ’s return.

The Millennial Kingdom

The Millennial Kingdom follows the Second Coming according to a literal interpretation of scripture.  This causes problems for putting the rapture and the Second Coming together or immediately one after the other.  At the rapture, Christians are immediately changed, made imperishable.  This is found in the discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 as well as 1 John 3:2 which tells us we will be like Christ.  We know that Christ’s resurrected body is not like His earthly body but rather it was changed.

On the other hand, those who are in the Millennium have very mortal bodies as they have not yet been changed.  Isaiah 65:20 records that death will still occur, even if it is at a much slower rate than we presently see.

If the rapture occurs at the same time of Christ’s Second Coming, all Christians will be changed.  This begs the question of who enters the Millennial Kingdom if not the saints who survived the tribulation.  These people would likewise have been raised imperishable and death would not affect them.  Nor would they have children who would be subject to death as Mat 22:30 instructs that there will be no marriage.

It should be noted however, that this is only applicable if one takes a pre-millennial view of the return of Christ.  Other views see the millennium to be figurative rather than literal.  To some, we are living in the millennium currently as the church has inherited the blessings promised to Israel.  According to others of the amillennial view, there is no literal Millennium at all.

The conclusion

This is just one piece of the puzzle in the mystery of what will occur during the end times.  This is not an attempt to persuade one to a certain point of view but rather to show the differences between the rapture and Christ’s Second Coming.  One should educate themselves on the views of the rapture as well as what will occur during the Millennial Kingdom and when it will occur.  (See more on the Millennial Kingdom.)

If scripture were clearer on these issues, there would be less room for argument.  However, this does not excuse us for holding to a certain view and knowing why we believe what we believe.

As Christians we have every reason for hope for the future and we should look forward to the day that the Lord returns for us.

The Millennial Kingdom

The Millennial Kingdom is found specifically in Revelation 20.  Elsewhere throughout prophecy there are events mentioned that will occur during the Millennial Kingdom.  As with all prophecy and all of scripture in general, there are varying viewpoints on the Millennium.  For the purposes of this article, we will be examining the dispensational premillennial view.  We believe this to be the most literal view although we recognize other viewpoints to be derived from the Bible as well and do not look upon them as unbiblical.

Some differences that the other views hold (this is not exhaustive) 

Amillennial – 1,000 years is not literal.  The Millennial Kingdom is occurring now within the hearts of Christians.  The church has taken the place of Israel and has inherited all the blessings promised to Israel. 

Postmillennial – The Millennial Kingdom follows this present age.  It is brought about by an advance of the gospel as the world continues to get better and better.  The church has taken the place of Israel and has inherited all the blessings promised to Israel.  (It should be noted that this view was popular through the 1800’s but lost a lot of followers in the 1900’s after two world wars.) 

Historic premillennial – The second coming of Christ and the rapture occur at the same time just before the millennium.  Christ is currently reigning in heaven but will return to earth but necessarily for a literal 1,000 years.  Israel and the church are distinct but God is not finished with Israel.

To understand the Millennial Kingdom, one must have some understanding of what occurs before it.  Just before or at the very beginning of the tribulation is the rapture of the church.  This is followed by seven years of tribulation.  At the end of the tribulation Satan calls together all of the armies of the world to Armageddon to battle against God.  Christ returns with the armies of heaven of defeats those who are gathered to wage war against him.

At this time the beast and the false prophet are captured and thrown directly into the lake of fire.  Satan is thrown into the abyss and bound for a thousand years.  At this time there is a separation of the sheep and the goats.  There are those who were too young or too old to travel to wage war against Christ but are nevertheless against God.  Also, there are saints who were saved during the tribulation who were not killed.  All people will be called before Christ at this time.

Matthew 25:31-34 describes this: “’When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’”

At this time, those who were martyred during the tribulation will be resurrected.  They will reign alongside those who were raptured earlier and had returned with Christ at Armageddon.  Revelation 20:4-6 describes this: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.  (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

Those who have died or were raptured will reign with Christ over the living during the Millennial Kingdom.  During this time it will be a return to what life was like in the Garden of Eden.  Creation will be restored to the way God had intended it, but not fully.  There will still be sin and death.  Sin will be dealt with quickly however, and death will be rare as the one who dies at 100 years of age will be considered a youth.  Isaiah 65:20-25 describes this.

“Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.  They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.  They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.  Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.”

This passage is why we believe that some other views of the millennium must be rejected.  This does not describe heaven because there is still death.  But likewise, it does not describe our current state.  It must occur sometime between now and when we reach heaven and someplace that is not in heaven.  It is feasible that if given enough time medical science may reach these heights but it has not to this point nor has it for the past 2,000 years.  It is not possible to reason that this is occurring in a spiritual way in the hearts of Christians. 

During the Millennial Kingdom we see God complete His promises to Israel.  This is why the distinction between the church and Israel is important.  If the church has taken the place of Israel as the “spiritual Israel” the promises of God to Israel can also be fulfilled spiritually and not literally.  Promises that have to be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom involve restoration of land to Israel.  (They have never occupied all of the land that God granted them and possess only a small part of it today.)  Likewise, David was promised an heir would sit on his throne but David’s throne has remained empty for almost 2,600 years.  Jeremiah 33:14-21 speaks of this:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.  “‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.’  For this is what the LORD says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel,  nor will the priests, who are Levites, ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.'”  The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah:  “This is what the LORD says: ‘If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant–and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me–can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. 

Those who believe in a spiritual Israel must believe in a spiritual Millennium because of what takes place during that time.  A separate and literal Israel is in line with the view of a literal Millennium.  Undoubtedly the view of a literal Millennium has gained followers since 1948 when Israel regained a national identity and took hold of Jerusalem and a significant part of their Promised Land.

At the end of the Millennium will be one final time of rebellion.  Despite living with Christ and witnessing the miracles of the Millennium, the hearts of men are still hard and some will rebel.  At the end of the thousand years Satan will be released from the Abyss and he will deceive many and gather them for battle against God’s holy city.  However, a battle won’t even take place as fire from heaven will devour them.  At that time, Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown a thousand years earlier.  Thus ends the Millennium.  After the millennium all people will be judged and there will be new heavens and a new earth created. 

Some scholars note that the thousand years may be figurative and may be representative of any long period of time.  While this may be so, we find no reason for not taking the number as literal.  Other views of the Millennium must take the number as figurative because if it is the reign of Christ in the hearts of Christians, we have long since exceeded one thousand years.  Ultimately, we do not believe that the number of years is as important as the fact that the events should be understood to literally occur in the future.

Gog and Magog – A Big Battle Looms

In September 2003 Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat declared, “To Jerusalem we are going as martyrs in the millions.”  Arafat is now gone, but if such an attitude is prevalent in the Arab world, we cannot be far from a massive battle.

The battle of Gog and Magog has often been overlooked in the study of prophecy.  The diligent student of the book of Revelation may recognize the names from chapter 20.  Vs 8 “[Satan] will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth- Gog and Magog- to gather them for battle.”

However, Gog and Magog first appear in Ezekiel 38-39.  In light of recent events in the world today, this prophecy has received more attention.  There are of course no guarantees, but some people, myself included, believe that this could occur at literally any time.

First, some background on the book of Ezekiel.  Ezekiel includes numerous dates within his writing and makes it easy to pinpoint exact dates of his writing.  In short, his first vision comes in 593 BC – seven years before the fall of Jerusalem – and his final vision occurs in 573 – fifteen years after the fall of Jerusalem.

Although the entire book is not chronological in order, at least chapters 36 through the end of the book in 48 would appear to be in order.  Chapter 36 describes the New Covenant, which came in effect with Christ.  Chapter 37 skips ahead over 1900 years to the restoration of Israel.  Many bible scholars, myself included, believe the valley of the dry bones to be in reference to Israel once again becoming a nation in 1948.

Chapters 38-39 are next in the time line as chapter 40 begins the description of the Millennial Kingdom.  This does not mean that these events are imminent, as there is a time span of 1900 years between chapters 36 and 37, but it is next in line by Ezekiel’s timeline.  This does also not mean that other things described in other prophecies will not happen before the battle of Gog and Magog.  It is quite possible that the rapture occurs before this battle, but we have no guarantee.

Chapter 38 begins with a prophecy against Gog.  Verse 3 states, “I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.”  In a short explanation, the names mentioned are sons of Japheth (Noah’s son).  They are also the brothers of Magog, all who settled to the north of present day Israel.  Vss 5,6 “Persia, Cush, and Put will be with them, all with shields and helmets, also Gomer with all its troops, and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its’ troops- the many nations with you.”  Cush is the upper Nile region (presumably northern Egypt ) and Put is modern day Libya.  Gomer is another son of Japheth and Beth Togarmah is Gomer’s son.  Historically, they are regarded to have originated north of the Black Sea .  North of the Black Sea is present day Ukraine and the western most reaches of Russia.  All put together, the nations described are currently Muslim nations that surround Israel from all sides. 

Verse 8 proclaims that these nations will “invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate.”  The land that is invaded can only appear to be Israel, a nation whose people have been gathering from all over the world for 50 years. 

God has intended this invasion however.  In vs. 16 he declares, “In days to come, O Gog, I will bring you against my land so that the nations may know me when I show myself holy though you before their eyes.”  Verses 17-23 describe the exact catastrophes that will befall the invading nations.  They are supernaturally destroyed and no harm is done to Israel.  God will not let his people be harmed.  The miraculous Six Day War of 1967 should have taught everyone that, but the world has turned a blind eye.

Ezekiel 39:9 begins the description of the aftermath.  It is gruesome but also amazing in its detail when looked at in comparison to today.  “Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up – the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears.  For seven years they will use them for fuel.  This statement is remarkable for two reasons.

First is the nature of the weapons.  In the time that Ezekiel wrote this, burning weapons made perfect sense because they were made of wood.  What of today’s weapons however?  How do you burn warplanes and other metals?  Amazingly, Russia has been using Lignostone in the production of its weapons.  Lignostone “is a special kind of wood used for ‘coke breakers.’  It is stronger than steel, is very elastic… and it burns better than coal.”  (90 LaHaye Are We Living in the End Times?)  You can read more about Lignostone on its website at www.lignostone.com.

While a Cold War enemy of the United States, biblical scholars thought for certain that Russia had to be involved in the invasion of Israel.  However, I do not feel certain about this.  If they are not involved in the invasion, it is well known that Russia has supplied weapons to many Middle Eastern countries and their weapons could be used without actually being involved.  Of course it is still plausible that Russia could be involved in any attack against Israel.

The second important part of this passage is the fact that it will take seven years to burn all the weapons.  The tribulation will be seven years, so this gives us some sort of timeline with which to place this event.  This event would either have to come at the very beginning of the tribulation or before to allow seven full years.

However, this event cannot happen at the beginning of the tribulation because the tribulation begins with the antichrist signing a peace treaty with Israel.  This treaty is not going to immediately be broken with this battle.  It won’t be until 3 ½ years that the treaty is broken.

This means that this battle occurs before the tribulation.  While it is purely speculation on my part, I believe that this is the final straw that leaves everyone crying out for peace and the perfect setting for the antichrist to step in and give it to the nations.

Will believers be around for any of this to take place?  I honestly have no idea.  I believe that we will be taken before the tribulation.  However, even if I’m correct, we have no assurance how long before the tribulation we’ll be taken.  The rapture may occur and then this horrific battle takes place.  Or we may be witness to it.  If we are, let the reader know that the prophetic calendar is being fulfilled in our presence.

Chapter 39 continues with the clean up of these armies that are supernaturally destroyed.  Verse 12 says that for seven months people will work nonstop to cleanse the land.  This isn’t hard to imagine after seeing the devastation caused by the destruction of the World Trade Center.  The cleanup took longer than half a year with crews working around the clock and the best equipment available.  Imagine such destruction spread over forty miles, or an area the size of New Jersey .

Even after the seven month period, there will be people employed full time in cleaning up the land.  Every bone will be marked and carried to the Valley of Hamon Gog, a mass grave for all the invaders.  The name simply means hordes of Gog. 

The reason for all of this destruction is for God to be glorified.  In verses 21-22 he says, “I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay upon them.  From that day forward the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God.”

After these events, the Israelites return to their native land in force.  Verse 25, “The Sovereign Lord says: I will now bring Jacob back from captivity and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name.”

Even in such destruction, God has a purpose.  The nations will fear Him and Israel will return to Him and their homeland.  All of this could happen soon.  The world situation is one where any number of  Middle Eastern nations could easily lead a coalition against Israel .  Israel has nothing to fear from their enemies though, because they are protected by the Lord of Hosts.