2. Will the Return
of Christ be in Two Stages?
When Jesus ascended into heaven and his disciples stood watching, two angels said: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come IN LIKE MANNER as ye have SEEN him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). According to this verse, the same Jesus that those disciples knew and loved will return “in like manner” as they saw him go into heaven. They did not see him go into heaven in two separate ascensions; and so it is definitely implied that his return will not be in two separate comings.
“Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” — at his FIRST coming — “and unto them that look for him shall he appear the SECOND time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28). Here we read of the SECOND coming of Christ. Those who hold that Christ will return for his church, and then return again seven years later, are actually teaching a doctrine not only of the SECOND coming of Christ, but a THIRD coming as well. However, the idea of a THIRD coming of Christ is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. Such terminology is completely foreign to the scriptures!
Some explain that they believe in one Second Coming of Christ, but that it will be in “two stages.” However, this does not solve the problem. If the rapture is a separate “stage” from the coming of Christ in power and glory, how could each “stage” be the SECOND coming? If they are separate and distinct events, each could not be the second coming, for the coming that would follow the second, would be the third!
Some teach there will be two second comings. But the scriptures speak of the Lord’s second “coming” (singular), never of the second “comingS” (plural). Besides, the term “two second comings” is in itself contradictory.
In attempting to explain this difficulty which the dispensational interpretation must face, we have actually heard it argued that the “rapture” is not the COMING of the Lord! One writer puts it this way: “Strictly speaking the rapture is NOT THE SECOND COMING AT ALL. The second coming is the visible, local, bodily appearing of Christ in the clouds of heaven as he returns to this earth . . . in power and great glory.”1
Another says: “The thrilling event which will both mark the end of the day of Grace and open the door for the Great Tribulation is the rapture . . . Specifically speaking, THIS IS NOT THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST. Rather this is the rapture, or the catching up, of the true church.”2
Another emphatically states that the rapture is NOT the Second Coming and that “the scriptures referring to the rapture could not refer to the second coming.” 3
According to these dispensational writers, the rapture will take place first, and the COMING of Christ will take place seven years later. But attempting to make the rapture a separate and earlier event from the coming of Christ is a teaching that is contrary to the united testimony of the Bible!
For example, Jesus said: “Be ye therefore also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man COMETH” (Mt. 24:44). Why would Jesus warn about being ready for the COMING of the Son of man, if really what we are to be ready for is a secret rapture to take place seven years before his coming?
The same point can be seen in Revelation 16:15: “Behold, I COME as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth.” Why would such a warning be given about his COMING, if seven years before his COMING believers would already be taken to heaven?
Or notice Hebrews 10:36, 37: “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall COME will COME, and will not tarry.” Believers are thus exhorted to be patient until the coming of Christ. But why point them to the coming of Christ if their real hope was something to occur seven years earlier?
“Be patient then, brethren, unto the COMING of the Lord” (James 5:7). Again, why exhort the brethren to be patient unto the COMING of the Lord, if a secret rapture before his coming was when they would be gathered unto him?
Jesus said: “Occupy till I COME” (Lk. 19:13). But how could the church occupy until he COMES, if the church will be taken away seven years before his coming?
Paul speaks of Christians as “waiting for the COMING of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7). If Paul believed Christians would be caught up to heaven in a secret rapture seven years before the Lord’s COMING, why didn’t he speak of Christians as waiting for that? Why would he tell them to wait for something that would take place seven years after they had already been raptured? Obviously, to Paul, the coming of the Lord and the rapture were considered as one and the same event.
Paul prayed that the Christians at Thessalonica would be “preserved blameless unto the COMING of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). Again, the event for which they were watching was the “coming” of Christ. Why pray for them to be preserved blameless unto the “coming” of Christ, if the “rapture” is an event that will take place seven years before the Lord’s coming?
And finally, Jesus said: “I will COME again, and receive you unto myself” (John 14:3). Plainly, it is when Jesus COMES that he receives his people unto himself. It does not say he receives them and then seven years later he comes. The receiving is not seven years before his coming.
Such expressions as these we have given — be ready for the coming of the Lord, watch for his coming, be patient for his coming, waiting for his coming, preserved unto his coming, occupy until he comes, etc. — all show that it is when Christ COMES that believers are gathered to meet the Lord. In view of this, the concept that the rapture is a separate event from the COMING of the Lord is simply not true. The rapture of believers to meet the Lord in the air and the coming of the Lord are one and the same event.
But what about the meaning of the Greek words that are used to describe the Second Coming? Those who believe that Christ will return in two separate phases, commonly teach that a study of the original Greek makes this distinction clear. One writer, for example, says: “The TWO phases of Christ’s second coming are clearly distinguished in the Greek. The ‘parousia ’ . . . is His coming for his saints . . . The ‘apokalupsis’ (the revealing, unveiling, making manifest) is his coming with his saints.”4
But instead of the Greek terms used in describing the Second Coming indicating two separate events, we find that these terms are used interchangeably in such a way that they show there is but ONE Second Coming of Christ — not two!
The following is a list of six words that are used to describe the Second Coming of Christ and the shades of meaning they present:
The first word on our list, parousia, is the one most commonly used in reference to the Lord’s coming. The word stresses the actual personal presence of one that has come and arrived. There is nothing in this word to convey the idea of secrecy. Paul, for example, was comforted by the “coming [parousia] of Titus” who brought word to him from the Corinthian Christians (2 Cor. 7:6). Likewise, he spoke of the “coming [parousia] of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus” (1 Cor. 16:17). In writing to the Philippians, Paul said he would be “coming [parousia]” to see them again (Phil. 1:26).
Paul used this word in the noted “rapture” chapter which speaks of “the coming [parousia] of the Lord” when the dead in Christ will be raised and believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17). But was the parousia to be a pre-tribulation coming? No! Turning to Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul again wrote about “the coming [parousia] of our Lord” and “our gathering together unto him” (2 Thess. 2:1). Here he explained that the “parousia” will not take place until AFTER the man of sin is revealed and has carried out his evil work: “The Lord shall destroy [the man of sin] with the brightness of his coming [parousia]” (2 Thess. 2:8).
According to this, the coming (parousia) of the Lord, the resurrection, and the rapture will come AFTER the reign of the man of sin! — not before.
In 2 Peter 3, we find more proof that the “parousia” is not a secret coming that will take place BEFORE our Lord’s coming in flaming fire and glory. According to Peter, “the promise of his coming [parousia]” will be fulfilled when “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” (2 Peter 3:4-10). And in view of this, Christians are exhorted to be “looking for . . . the coming [parousia] of the thy of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat” (verses 11, 12). The word “parousia” in these places obviously cannot refer to a secret rapture seven years before the end.
Instead of the RAPTURE being a secret and invisible coming to be followed later by the REVELATION, an open and visible coming, the scriptures show that the rapture and the revelation are one and the same event — not two.
The word that is translated “revelation” in connection with Christ’s return is apokalupsis which stresses appearing, revelation. Notice its use in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10: “The Lord Jesus shall be REVEALED [apokalupsis] from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God . . . when he shall come to be glorified in his saints.” According to this, the time when Christ is REVEALED in flaming fire is also the time when he comes to be glorified in his saints. If the rapture had taken place seven years before this, the saints would have already been glorified!
Peter also spoke of the revelation of Christ in 1 Peter 1:13: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the REVELATION [apokalupsis] of Jesus Christ.” Again, it is evident that the rapture is not an earlier event to take place seven years before the “revelation.” If this had been the case, these instructions about being sober and hoping until the REVELATION of Christ would be meaningless. It would not be necessary for believers to hope to the end for the grace to be brought to them at the REVELATION of Christ, if — in reality — this grace was to be brought to them at a separate rapture seven years before!
Likewise in verse 7, Peter spoke of Christians as being “found unto praise and honour and glory at the APPEARING [the revelation, same word, apokalupsis] of Jesus Christ.” But according to the secret rapture position, Christians will have already been taken to heaven and judged before the REVELATION! This is not what the Bible says. Christians are pointed to the appearing or REVELATION of Christ, a fact which clearly indicates that the rapture is the revelation!
The same word that is translated “revelation” and “appearing” (apokalupsis) in the texts we have noticed, is used in 1 Cor. 1:7 which speaks of Christians as “waiting for the coming [apokalupsis] of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Again it is apparent that the gathering of believers (the rapture) is not something that precedes the revelation of Christ. Why would Christians be waiting for the “revelation” if the “rapture” comes seven years sooner?
We learn from these verses that the apokalupsis — the REVELATION — is when Christians will be gathered; this is when they meet the Lord; this is the day for which they are waiting. The rapture is NOT one event and the revelation a different event. Instead of two phases being “clearly distinguished in the Greek” by the terms parousia and apokalupsis, a study of these words and the context in which they are used reveals no such distinction whatsoever. To the contrary, both are used in a way that points us to ONE event, the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the age!
Another word used in describing the return of Christ is EPIPHANEIA, meaning “manifestation” and the glory that will attend our Lord when he comes. This word is not applied to a “secret”, pre-tribulation coming, for Christ will slay the man of sin “with the BRIGHTNESS [epiphaneia] of his coming” (2 Thess.2 :8).
Bearing this in mind, let us look at 1 Timothy 6:14, 15 in which this same word appears: “. . . keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until THE APPEARING (epiphaneia) of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
Now we ask: why would Christians be exhorted to keep the commandment until the “epiphaneia” — the glorious appearing — if seven years before this there was to be a hidden, secret coming to take the church out of the world? The epiphaneia is when the man of sin is slain, it is when Christ comes in open glory and power, and it is until this time that Christians are exhorted to remain faithful. Such instructions would be completely out of place if Christians were to be raptured several years before the epiphaneia.
The fourth word on our list is PHANEROO, meaning “to render apparent”, which also refers to Christ’s coming in open power and glory. “When the chief Shepherd shall APPEAR [phaneroo], ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:4). This verse does not say that when the chief shepherd shall appear — be rendered apparent — that Christians will have already been raptured and crowned! No, the rewarding is when Christ shall APPEAR, and not at a supposed invisible coming seven years before!
John, like Peter, makes the same point: “We know that, when he shall APPEAR (phaneroo), we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2). As Christians it is when Christ shall come and appear — be rendered apparent — that we shall be like him, not at a supposed invisible coming.
Instead of the Greek terms indicating two second comings, just the opposite is the case. This should be carefully noted. We know that the “parousia” is the same event as the “apokalupsis” (revelation), not only by the actual context in which these words are used (as we have seen), but by the way they are used interchangeably.
In Matthew 24:37, for example, we read: “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the COMING [parousia] of the son of man be.” Luke’s account of the same passage says: “As it was in the days of Noah . . . even thus shall it be in the day when the son of man is REVEALED (apokalupsis)” (Lk. 17:26,30). This shows us that the coming (parousia) of Christ and the revelation (apokalupsis) of Christ are the same event!
Looking to Matthew 24 again, we find that “parousia” is used to describe the same event as “erchomai.” “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the COMING (parousia) of the son of man be . . . Therefore be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the son of man COMETH (erchomai)” (Mt.24:37, 44).
“Erchomai”, in turn, is used to describe the same event as “heko”, for in Hebrews 10:37, we read: “For yet a little while, and he that shall COME [erchomai] will COME [heko], and will not tarry.”
“Heko” and “parousia” are used together by Peter. In answer to the question: “Where is the promise of his COMING (parousia]?”, Peter answers: “The day of the Lord will COME [heko] as a thief in the night” (2 Peter 3:10).
The word “parousia” and “epiphaneia” are linked together in 2 Thess. 2:8 in which we read that the man of sin will be destroyed by the “BRIGHTNESS” (epiphaneia) of Christ’s “COMING” (parousia).
And finally, we notice that the “parousia” is also the “phaneroo”, for both expressions are used in the same verse, referring to the same event: “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall APPEAR [phaneroo], we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his COMING [parousia].”
Thus we see that all of these Greek words are used interchangeably. As in English, the different words present varied shades of meaning. But trying to split the Second Coming of Christ into two “stages” or “comings” on a supposed distinction in these Greek terms is completely artificial.
Copyrighted material used by permission of the Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association.
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