5. Will Christ Return “At Any
Did the early Christians believe that the rapture could occur at any moment? Or did they believe that there were certain things that would be fulfilled first?
We believe there is conclusive proof in the New Testament that the early church did NOT hold the “any moment” teaching. Jesus pointed out that no man knows the time of his return and that we should live a life of watchfulness and obedience at all times (Mt. 24:36, 42-51, etc.). However, Jesus himself taught that certain definite things would happen first.
When Jesus told his disciples of the Second Coming, he was still with them in person. It is evident that the ascension had to precede the return. And before his ascension, of course, Calvary had to have its fulfillment. Jesus likened his Second Coming to lightning and said: “But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation” (Lk. 17:2 5).
Jesus told his disciples that after his ascension, he would send the Holy Spirit. They would be endued with spiritual power to be witnesses unto him (Acts 1:8). These things were to take place before Christ would come again. Thus, prior to Pentecost, we see the disciples awaiting, not the coming of Christ (in his Second Advent), but the coming of the Holy Spirit — even as Jesus had promised.
Then being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were to go into all the world and teach all nations (Mt. 28:19, 20; Mk. 16:15; Acts 1:8). Time had to be allowed for travel, preaching, baptizing, instructing converts, etc. Surely Christ was not going to return before they would even have time to get properly started on what he had commissioned them to do!
Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and told his disciples: “When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Lk. 20:21). At the Second Coming, there will be no need for Christians to flee into the mountains, for they shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air The destruction of Jerusalem, then, was to be an event which would take place before the Second Coming of Christ. Living on this side of the fulfillment, we know that Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A. D.
Jesus also explained that Peter would grow old and die — BEFORE the Second Coming! In speaking to Peter, Jesus said: “When thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he would glorify God” (John 21:18,19; see also 2 Peter 1:14). According to this, though the time of the Second Coming was unknown, it was definitely implied that it would not take place before Peter’s death.
Then Peter asked a question about John. He wondered if John would live to see the day of Christ’s return. Jesus replied: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple [John] should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” (John 21:20-23).
Concerning John, Jesus simply did not reveal whether he would or would not live until the Second Coming — though a rumor spread that he would live to see that day. But concerning Peter, it was definitely stated that he would grow old and die — and that he would not live to see the Second Coming of Christ.
We believe the early Christians lived in an expectation and hope of the Second Coming; for, whether alive at that time, or because of the resurrection, they knew they would all ultimately share in the glory of that day! But they did not believe in the any moment theory; they knew certain things would happen first.
Even more positive evidence of this fact is found in Paul’s writing to the Thessalonians. In his first epistle he had explained to them about the resurrection and the catching up of believers to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). Later, some confusion had apparently developed in the minds of the people concerning this glorious event, so Paul wrote his second epistle to them in which he clarified the matter. In his remarks, he clearly rejected the any-moment theory.
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by [concerning] the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by [concerning] our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 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 be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:1-3).
Here, then, is the mention of two things Christians would witness BEFORE the day of Christ’s coming to gather believers unto himself. There would be a falling away and the man of sin would be revealed. Concerning these very things, the inspired apostle said: “Let no man deceive you”! Let us beware, then, of a teaching which says the church will be raptured to heaven BEFORE the man of sin is revealed, for such is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what Paul taught!
According to Paul, the order of events would be: (1) a falling away, (2) the man of sin would be revealed, and (3) the coming of Christ and our gathering together unto him. It is plain. But according to the any moment theory, instead of these events being in this order, they would have to be 3, then 1, and then 2! That is, (3) the coming of Christ and our gathering together unto him, (1) a falling away, and (2) the man of sin revealed: 3,1,2, or perhaps 3, 2, 1, instead of 1, 2, 3!
Bible students generally link the “man of sin” in one way or another with the beast of Revelation 13. Dispensationalists claim that when the “beast” takes over, the church will have already been raptured. But this is not what the Bible says. According to the scriptures, the beast would make war with the saints: “And it was given unto him to make war with the SAINTS, and to overcome them . . .” (Rev. 13:7). The beast could not make war with the saints and overcome them if they had all been taken to heaven before the beast comes to power!
Paul knew that the man of sin would be destroyed by the brightness of Christ’s coming (2 Thess. 1:7,8; 2:8); therefore he knew that the man of sin would have to come to power BEFORE the Second Coming of Christ.
Being “troubled” with “persecutions and tribulations”, the Thessalonian believers wondered if the day of Christ was not right “at hand” (2 Thess. 1-2). If Paul had believed in the any moment theory, here was his perfect opportunity to encourage them with the teaching that the day of Christ was possibly right at hand! He might have said something like this: “Now we beseech you, brethren, concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, for nothing needs to happen first. That day shall come before the falling away and before the man of sin is revealed. Yes, our gathering together unto him could happen at any moment!”
But to the contrary, this was NOT his answer. Instead, he explained that the day of the Lord’s coming, the day of Christ, when they would be “gathered” unto him, would NOT take place until there would be a falling away first, and the man of sin would be revealed! This is just the opposite of the any-moment theory.
There can be no mistake that the day of Christ refers to the rapture, for it is used in reference to “our gathering together unto him” (2 Thess. 2). Christians are “waiting” for the “day of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8,9). It is “in the day of the Lord Jesus” that they will be gathered and “rejoice” at seeing each other (2 Cor. 1:14). The “good work” begun in Christians must continue “until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Paul exhorted the Philippian believers to be “sincere and without offence” until “the day of Christ” (verse 10) and mentioned that when he would see them “in the day of Christ”, he would “rejoice”, knowing that his labour had not been in vain (2:16). All of these verses plainly show that the “day of Christ” is the time when believers are gathered to meet Christ. And the same inspired apostle that wrote these things tells us that “the day of Christ” will not come except first the “man of sin be revealed” (2 Thess. 2:1-3).
This conclusion is so obvious that those who hold the any moment teaching try to make the “day of Christ” (in 2 Thess. 2:2) refer to something else! Scofield, for example, says that the authorised version “has ‘day of Christ’, 2 Thess. 2:2, incorrectly, for ‘day of the Lord’.”1 Another dispensational writer says that the day of Christ according to the Greek is really “the day of the Lord” in this passage.2 But a look at Strong’s Concordance reveals that the word translated “Christ” in this verse is “Christos” (number 5547 in Strong’s). This word is used over 500 times in the New Testament and is translated CHRIST! (The Greek word that is translated “Lord” in the New Testament is a different word altogether, number 2962 in Strong’s.) “Day of Christ”, then, is a correct translation.
But what if it did say “the day of the Lord”? What difference would this make? We use the expression “the coming of the Lord” when referring to “the coming of Christ.” Why, then, should some try to make the New Testament expression “the day of the Lord” mean something different than “the day of Christ”?
The following terms are all used interchangeably in the New Testament in reference to the Lord’s coming to gather believers:
“The day of Christ” (Phil. 1:10).
“The day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
“The day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8).
“The day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor. 1:14).
“The day of the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:2).
We think it is very inconsistent to try to make the last expression mean a different “Lord” or a different time than the other terms describe. The day of the Lord is the day of Christ. And according to Paul, the “day of Christ” — when believers will be gathered unto him — will not come until AFTER the man of sin has been revealed!
Copyrighted material used by permission of the Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association.
PO Box 21, Palm Springs, CA 92263