I. The Rapture — When?
Those who hold what is called the “dispensational” interpretation of prophecy, teach that the Second Coming of Christ will be in two stages: first, the RAPTURE (his coming for the saints), and then later the REVELATION (his coming with the saints). The interval between these two events is generally regarded as seven years (Daniel’s 70th week). During this time, according to this view, the Antichrist will make a seven-year covenant with the Jews in which he will allow them to offer sacrifices in a rebuilt temple at Jerusalem. But then after three and a half years, he will break his covenant and place an idol (the abomination of desolation) in the holy of holies of the temple. The Jews will refuse to bow and a great persecution will result — the time of Jacob’s trouble. Finally, at the close of the tribulation period (the end of the age), Christ will return in power and great glory.
In the chapters that follow, we shall have occasion to examine all of these things in the light of the Scriptures — the tribulation, the abomination of desolation, the 70th week, Jacob’s trouble, the Antichrist, etc. But for now, we shall look at the first point in the dispensational outline: the rapture. Those who hold that the Second Coming of Christ will be in two stages, believe that verses such as Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him”, refer to the REVELATION — his coming in open power and glory. The RAPTURE, on the other hand, is presented as a quiet, invisible, and secret coming of Christ for his church. The following quotations from dispensational writers are representative of this interpretation:
But do the scriptures teach that the rapture will be a secret, invisible, and quiet event? Let us look at the main verse on the rapture and see.
“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” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).
To us, this verse indicates anything but a quiet, secret rapture. Whether we take the “shout”, the “voice”, and the “trump” in a literal sense or as having a figurative meaning, either way, this passage does not convey the idea of a secret and quiet event! If anything, it would indicate that the coming of the Lord will be a loud, noisy, open, and wonderous event. Amid the sound of the Lord himself descending from heaven with a shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God, there will be the sounds of praise and rejoicing from vast multitudes of saints as they are caught up to meet the Lord! Where is any secrecy here? This is not the description of a hidden and quiet event. Nevertheless, in spite of every indication to the contrary, this verse is constantly used as a text for sermons which describe the rapture as a secret, hidden, and quiet coming of Christ!
The scriptures do teach, of course, that Christ will return “as a thief in the night.” This means that the TIME of his coming is unknown. It will come as a complete surprise to those who are not watching for his return. But the use of this term never indicates in any way that the EVENT ITSELF will be secret and quiet. The “thief” passages are found in the words of Jesus, Peter, and Paul, which we will now consider.
First, let us look at the words of Jesus himself: “But know this, that if the good man 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. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Mt. 24:43, 44; also Lk. 12:39, 40). The return of Christ will be like the coming of a thief in the sense that we know not WHEN it will be. We must watch at all times. But there is nothing here to indicate that the event itself will be secret.
Instead of teaching that he would return in a secret coming, Jesus actually warned against this concept: “If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not . . . If they shall say unto you . . . behold, he is in the SECRET chambers; believe it not. FOR as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Mt. 24:23,26,27). Whatever else may be included in these statements, one thing is certain: such wording is surely contrary to the idea of “secrecy” in connection with the coming of Christ.
Also in the context of Matthew 24, Jesus stressed that men do not know the day nor the hour of the Second Coming (Mt. 24:36). It will be “as it was in the days of Noah” when people were eating, drinking, and getting married — not expecting destruction to fall. They “knew not UNTIL the flood came, and took them all away, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (verses 38, 39). The wicked knew not until the flood came — but, obviously, when it came they knew it. It was no secret event. It was observed by believers and unbelievers.
“If therefore thou shalt not watch”, Jesus said, “I will come on thee as a THIEF, and thou shalt not know what hour I shall come upon thee” (Rev. 3:3). “Behold, I come as a THIEF. Blessed is he that watcheth” (Rev. 16:15). Here again is the warning to “watch”, for we know not the time of his coming. He will come as a thief. But there is nothing here to indicate a secret and quiet coming of Christ in which he will mysteriously take believers out of this world so that no one will know what happened to them or who took them. We should not think that the Lord will prowl around like a thief, working in the dark, afraid of being discovered. The meaning is that he will COME “as a thief”, not that he will ACT like a thief!
Next, we look at the words of Peter. Though scoffers will say: “Where is the promise of his coming?”, Peter assures us that the day of the Lord will come. We do not know WHEN, however, for “the day of the Lord will come AS A THIEF IN THE NIGHT” (2 Peter 3:10).
But it is evident that Peter did not mean that the event itself will be quiet, for he goes on to say that it will be accompanied with a great NOISE! “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”! This is just the opposite of what many teach.
The final New Testament “thief” passage is found in the words of Paul. Turning again to the noted rapture passage (1 Thess. 4), we find that after speaking of the Lord’s coming with a shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, Paul goes on to explain that we do not know WHEN this will be, for that day will come as a thief in the night. “But of the times and 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” (1 Thess. 5:1,2). What is unknown and hidden? It cannot be that the coming of Christ will be a secret event, for the context speaks of this as being glorious, open, noisy! Again, we see that it is the TIME that is hidden. We know not the times and seasons.
Paul continues with these words: “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” (verses 3 ,4), for those who truly follow Christ will “watch” at all times and seasons.
Having now examined the rapture passage (1 Thess. 4) and all of the “thief” passages, we fail to find any scriptural basis for the teaching that the rapture will be a secret, invisible, quiet event. If anything, the evidence is to the contrary. Where, then, do the scriptures place the rapture? Will it be before a seven year tribulation period? Or will it be at the end of the age?
Shortly before his death, Jesus spoke these words to his disciples: “In the world ye shall have tribulation . . .” (John 16:33). The verses that follow record the prayer in which Jesus prayed for his disciples. As he prayed to the heavenly Father, he said: “I pray NOT that thou shouldest TAKE THEM OUT OF THE WORLD, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15).
Though it would be no easy task to take a stand for Christ; though they would be persecuted; though in the world they would have tribulation; yet, Jesus did not pray that the church would be taken out of the world! The church was to remain in the world, but it would not be of the world.
Some might object, however, that Jesus was praying only for his immediate disciples of that time. But not so! “Neither pray I for these alone”, he said, “but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (verse 20). Does this not include us today? Have not we believed on Christ as a result of the message that was handed down to us from those original disciples of Christ? Indeed we have. So Jesus was praying for us too! He said so. He prayed we would be kept from the evil of the world, but he did not pray that we would be taken out of the world — even though in the world we would have tribulation!
Let us suppose for a moment that Jesus had told believers: “In the world there shall be tribulation . . . but I will pray that you will be taken out of the world.” If Jesus said this, those who teach a pre-tribulation rapture would have a basis for their position — and this statement would no doubt be quoted often as a proof text. But since this is NOT what the verse says — but just the OPPOSITE — surely this should be regarded as evidence against the idea of a special, “secret” coming of Christ to take the church out of this world.
Instead of the church being taken out of the world, Jesus taught that it would remain in the world to accomplish a definite purpose: to preach the gospel. Jesus commissioned his disciples to “go . . . and teach all nations” and in connection with this commission he promised: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the END of the world [aion - age]” (Mt. 28:19,20).
According to this, how long will the church be in the world fulfilling this divine commission? The answer is that the church will remain in the world until the END of the age. Surely his promise to be with the church until the END of the age would be strange if it is his plan to remove the church seven years before that time! If, when the end of the age comes, the church would no longer be on earth, a promise such as this would be meaningless.
Earlier in the book of Matthew, Jesus made it very clear that the righteous would not be separated from the wicked until the end of the age.
Jesus spoke a parable about “a man which sowed good seed in his field” and while men slept “his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat.” When the crop had grown, the servants discovered what had happened. “So the servants of the householder came and said . . . Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn” (Mt. 13:24-30).
We are not left to speculate as to the proper meaning of this parable, for Jesus himself gave the interpretation. The “good seed”, the wheat, is sown by “the Son of man” — Jesus Christ. The tares, “the children of the wicked one”, are sown by the enemy — “the devil.” They are sown in the same field — “the world” where both grow together until the harvest. And when will this be? “The harvest is the END OF THE WORLD” (Verses 37-39).
“As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in THE END OF THIS WORLD. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire . . . THEN shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (verses 40-43). Plainly, the time of separation between those which do iniquity and the righteous is at the END of this age!
Jesus said that “BOTH” would grow “TOGETHER” until the “END OF THE WORLD” — and THEN the harvest would occur, producing the great separation. This is the Bible teaching. But the pre-tribulation rapture position, to be consistent, would have to say that BOTH will NOT grow together in the field until the end of the world, for they teach that the wheat portion will be harvested sooner, being separated from the wicked seven years BEFORE the end of the world!!
In other words, instead of teaching that the separation of the wheat and the tares will be “at the end of the world”, those who hold the secret rapture position say that the wheat will be gathered FIRST, and then seven years later the tares will be rooted out. This is the point that C. I. Scofield attempts to make in his footnote on page 1016 of the Scofield Reference Bible: “At the end of this age (v. 40) the tares are set apart for burning, but FIRST the wheat is gathered into the barn.” But if anything might be implied as coming “first”, it would be the judgment upon the wicked, for in the parable portion it said: “Gather ye together FIRST the tares” for destruction, “but gather the wheat into my barn” (Mt. 13:30).
What? The scripture says: “First the tares.” Scofield says just the opposite! He says: “First the wheat is gathered.” Such direct contradiction to what the Bible itself says, ought to be enough to made any Christian suspicious of the system of prophetic interpretation that had been incorporated into the notes of the Scofield Bible! And such twisting of terms to uphold a theory ought to immediately make us to see how weak the teaching of a rapture seven years before the end of the age really is!
We repeat: according to Jesus, the righteous and the wicked will both be in the world until the harvest — the end of the world! And if the great separation is not until the end of the world, the idea of the church being removed from the earth seven years before that time is an impossibility.
Looking further in Matthew 13, we find another parable and its interpretation which stresses the end of the world as the time of great separation. Jesus likened the kingdom to a net which was cast into the sea. It gathered fish of every kind — some good, and some bad. Finally, the good were placed into vessels and the bad were cast away. And when, according to the interpretation that Jesus gave, will this great separation occur? “So shall it be at the END of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire” (Mt. 13:47-50).
We see, then, that the parable of the wheat and tares (as well as the parable of the good and bad fish), both clearly pinpoint the time of separation as the end of the world. It should also be noted that the time of this event is based on the words that Jesus gave in explaining these parables. This is important, for doctrine must always be based upon the clear statements, not upon symbolical or parabolic expressions which might be capable of several meanings. According to Jesus, at the end of the world, those that belong to him will be spared, while destruction shall fall upon the wicked.
Jesus further likened this time to the days of Lot. “As it was In the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded” — those common, routine things that people have been doing all along, not expecting any catastrophe — “But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed” (Luke 17:28-30).
Even as Lot, the believer, was spared and all the unbelievers of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, so when Christ returns, believers will be spared (caught up to meet the Lord in the air!) while that “same day” fiery destruction shall fall upon the unbelieving. Needless to say, this passage does NOT say that Lot went out of Sodom and then seven years later the fiery destruction fell upon them! No, it says these things happened the same day.
Jesus also likened his Second Coming to the destruction of the flood in the days of Noah. “But as the days of Noe 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 . . . and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away [or, as Luke’s account says, “destroyed them all” — Lk. 17:27]. SO shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 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. Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Mt. 24:37-42).
When the flood came, Noah was spared and the unbelievers were destroyed. That destruction produced a great separation. So shall it be at the Second Coming of Christ. Christians will be caught up to meet Christ; unbelievers will be destroyed.
Though the “world” was formerly destroyed by water, Peter points out that the destruction the world now faces will be by fire. “The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire” (2 Peter 3:6, 7).
Peter had personally heard Jesus give the promise: “I will come again, and receive you unto myself” (John 14:3). Years passed and apparently some began to scoff at this promise, saying: “Where is the PROMISE of his coming?” To this Peter replied: “The Lord is not slack concerning his PROMISE . . . the day of the Lord will come . . .” (2 Peter 3:4-10). Let us now notice the way in which Peter said this promise will be fulfilled: “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 . . . all the se things shall be dissolved.” (2 Peter 3:10, 11).5 Peter believed the coming of the Lord would be at the very end, when the present “heavens and earth shall pass away”, the end of the age.
“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved”, Peter continues, “what manner of persons ought YE to be in all holy conversation and godliness. LOOKING FOR and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” (verses 11, 12). This day will bring destruction upon the unbelieving world and deliverance for those who believe. But if believers were to be taken out of the world seven years before the end, why would Peter exhort them to be “looking for” the coming of the day of God in which the heavens shall pass away? Surely he would not attempt to encourage them by something that will happen at the END of the age, if their real hope was an event to take place seven years earlier!
According to Peter, “the day of the Lord” which will come “as a thief in the night” is the time when the heavens shall pass away and the earth shall melt with fervent heat. And according to Paul, “the day of the Lord” which “cometh as a thief in the night” (the same expression) is the time of the RAPTURE:
“The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up . . . in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. But of the times and seasons [when this shall happen], 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” (1 Thess. 4:16-5:3). The passage is all connected together.
A study of 2 Peter 3 with 1 Thessalonians 4-5 plainly reveals that the “day of the Lord that cometh as a thief in the night” is the time when Christ will descend from heaven with a shout, believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, destruction will fall upon the unbelieving world and the present heavens and earth shall pass away with a great noise.
Jesus also linked his Second Coming with the time when heaven and earth shall pass away. “Heaven and earth shall pass away . . . But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only . . . Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” This passage clearly refers to the time when Christ will return and gather believers — the time of which “knoweth no man”, and for which we must “watch.” Did Jesus say this would happen before a seven year tribulation period? No. Instead, this passage points to the end of the age — when heaven and earth shall pass away — as the time when Christ will return.
Even the ancient Job implied that the resurrection would not take place until the heavens shall pass away — the end of the age. “Man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? . . . Man lieth down, and riseth not: TILL THE HEAVENS BE NO MORE, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep” (Job 14:10-12; 19:26,27).
Expressions such as “till the heavens be no more”, “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise”, “heaven and earth shall pass away”, and similar expressions all seem to indicate the very end of things as we know them now — the end of the age! Until that time, the dead shall not be resurrected. This conclusion is also seen in the scriptures which say the resurrection will occur at the LAST DAY.
Martha, for example, believed her brother Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection AT THE LAST DAY” (John 11:24). And this belief was not mere speculation on her part, for Jesus repeatedly taught this truth. Jesus said that those who believe on him will be raised up “AT THE LAST DAY” (John 6:39).
“And this is the will of him that sent me”, Jesus said, “that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up AT THE LAST DAY . . . No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up AT THE LAST DAY” (John 6: 40, 44). And again he repeated the words in verse 54: “I will raise him up AT THE LAST DAY.”
With this evidence in mind, certain conclusions are apparent. Since the catching up or rapture occurs at the same time as the resurrection of the dead in Christ (1 Thess. 4:16, 17), it is plain to see that the rapture will take place AT THE LAST DAY and not seven years before the last day!
Not only do the scriptures about the resurrection “at the last day” point to the end of the age as the time of Christ’s return, but the same evidence can be seen from a study of the scriptural expression “the last trump.”
Turning again to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, we read: “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.” Notice three things that are mentioned here: (1) the TRUMPET sounds, (2) the RESURRECTION of the dead in Christ, and (3) the CATCHING UP of believers to meet the Lord in the air.
Basically, these three things are also included in 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last TRUMP: for the TRUMPET shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Again we have the following: (1) the TRUMPET sounds, (2) the RESURRECTION of the dead in Christ, and (3) the living saints are CHANGED (which all agree is when this mortal puts on immortality and believers rise to meet the Lord in the air).
Both of these passages mention the sounding of the trumpet, but the latter passage specifies that this trumpet is the LAST trumpet! Bearing this in mind, we turn to Revelation 8:2 in which we read: “And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.” As each trumpet sounds, certain events take place. There are seven of these trumpets, so the LAST trumpet (in linking this passage with the others) would be the seventh.
Let us now notice what events are connected with the sounding of this LAST trumpet: “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever . . . And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and THE TIME OF THE DEAD, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give REWARD unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:15-18).
Again, we notice the same three things that were included in the other passages: (1) the TRUMPET sounds, the seventh, the last trumpet, (2) the time of the dead to be raised — the RESURRECTION, and (3) the saints REWARDED, which would include their being changed from mortal to immortality, caught up to meet the Lord, etc.
These things indicate that the rapture will be at the end of the age, at the last day, at the last trump! But according to the pre-tribulation rapture teaching, the rapture would have to take place at the time of the FIRST trumpet or before, since — according to this interpretation — the church will be gone when the trumpets of Revelation are sounded! Revelation 11:18 says that the sounding of the seventh trumpet — the last trumpet — will be “the tithe of the dead” to be resurrected. God will then “give REWARD unto . . . the saints.” Where, then, is there any room for the idea that before any of these trumpets sound the saints will have already been raptured to heaven to be rewarded?
In Matthew 16:27, Jesus explained when men will be rewarded. “The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and THEN he shall reward every man according to his works:” But some imply that it is not when Jesus comes with his angels that every man is rewarded, for they say that before this — at an earlier, quiet, and secret coming — believers will be raptured and rewarded!
Jesus made it clear that there will be no “secret” coming before his coming in glory with the holy angels. “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation”, he said, “of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mk. 8:38). In that day, Christ will be ashamed of some; of others, he will not be ashamed. Some will be accepted; some will be rejected. WHEN? “When he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels”! It is agreed that the coming of Christ in glory with the holy angels is at the end of the age, and this verse actually shows that there will be no secret coming prior to this. Why? Because if there had been a secret coming of Christ seven years before his coming in glory with the angels, whether Christ would be ashamed of people or not would have already taken place!
According to the Bible, no man knows the day or hour of the end of the age (Mt. 24). But if the rapture is an event to take place seven years before the end, thousands of people would be able to determine the exact date! All they would have to do is count seven years from the time that all babies and Christians suddenly came up “missing.” If any questions remained, a trip to the cemetery would provide absolute proof that the rapture had occurred. By digging down into the graves of known Christians, it could quickly be determined that the resurrection had taken place. It would not take long for thousands to know what had happened — and to figure the exact date for the end of the age. But since the scriptures teach that no man will know the day or hour when the end of the age will come, it is evident that the rapture will not take place seven years before the end.
The Christians at Thessalonica were enduring “persecutions and tribulations” and were being “troubled” by unbelievers” (2 Thess. 1:4, 7). But Paul encouraged them with the truth that they would be given “rest” from their troubles “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God”, for “he shall come to be glorified in his saints” (See 2 Thess. 1:7-10).
In this passage we notice — as in the others — that the reward of the righteous and the destruction that shall befall the wicked are interwoven with each other as to time, both occurring at the coming of the Lord. We notice also that when Jesus comes for the deliverance of his troubled saints, he comes in “flaming fire.” No “secret” rapture here
When will the Lord render vengeance to the wicked on one hand and comfort to the saints on the other? The answer is clear: “WHEN the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them which know not God.” The time of his being glorified in his saints is also the time when destruction will fall on the wicked. There is no interval of seven years between the two. It does not say that Christ will come to be glorified in the saints and then come again a number of years later to bring destruction upon their oppressors.
Copyrighted material used by permission of the Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association.
PO Box 21, Palm Springs, CA 92263