Welcome to part two of my up-dated study on the rapture of the Church…
1: THIEF IN THE NIGHT: WILL THE SECOND COMING BE IN TWO STAGES?
Pre-Tribulation believers see the second coming of Jesus Christ happening in two stages, separated by a time period of at least seven years.
The first, they say, will be in secret, like a thief in the night, in the air, to ‘catch up’ the Church into heaven (Revelation 16:15; 2 Peter 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Matthew 24:43; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). The second stage, they say, will be for all the world to see, to bring judgment on those who are left behind (Revelation 19:11-16; Matthew 24:30; Zechariah 12:10).
The phrase ‘thief in the night’, taken from 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, is used by teachers to conjure up visions of the Lord snatching away his Church before any tribulation starts, taking everyone by surprise, and leaving pilot-less planes to fall from the sky. However, the “thief in the night” phrase is taken out of its proper context.
According to Paul it was the day of the Lord which would come like a thief in the night:
“…for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
So what exactly is the day of the Lord? Paul described the day of the Lord not as the “snatching up of the Church”, but the time of destruction of the unsaved:
“While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly…”(verse 3).
Peter also likened the day of the Lord, not Jesus and the rapture, to a thief in the night :
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire…” (2 Peter 3:10).
Peter also said that the day of the Lord would come AFTER the sun turns to darkness and the moon turns blood red:
:“The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord” (Acts 2:20).
Peter was repeating the order of events described by Jesus:
“Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light…At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky…They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29-30).
Christ says in Revelation 16:15, “Behold, I come like a thief”. Note that this is stated between the sixth and the seventh bowls of God’s wrath, near the end of the Tribulation, just before the battle of Armageddon. This coincides with the recognition by people on the earth that the time of God’s wrath has come, which will be after the sun turns black and the moon turns red, and between the sixth and the seventh seals:
They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:16-17).
Talking of the day of the Lord, Paul went on to say, “you are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4). This means that those who know God and their Bible will not be unprepared for the events taking place around them.
2: IS IT TRUE THAT AN IN-THE-AIR GATHERING AND A GLORIOUS APPEARING OF JESUS ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE?
The idea that believers can only join Christ “in the air” if the rapture is before the Tribulation is not logical, because whether the rapture comes before the tribulation, in the middle, or at the end of it, Christ would have to come ‘in the air’ to gather his saints (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), unless he comes by road in a giant bus, or expects everyone to catch buses, planes and trains to get to wherever He is.
3: WILL THE CHURCH GO TO HEAVEN WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT?
In 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8 Paul tells us that the lawless one, or Antichrist, can only be revealed to the world when the Holy Spirit of God, who is now holding him back, is “taken out of the way”. One view drawn from this verse is that the Spirit is going to be taken back into heaven from the earth, and since He indwells all believers (Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:9-11), then all those believers must be taken into heaven with Him, before the Tribulation.
It seems to me that when He is ‘taken out of the way’ (verse 7) He may simply stop restraining the flood of evil, and will not necessarily leave the earth at all. There’s no scriptural statement about the Holy Spirit leaving the earth to go into heaven.
Second, the Antichrist will not be revealed to the world until the mid part of the Tribulation, at the time when he enters the temple and claims to be God (Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 13:5-6). This, and not before, is the time when the restraining power of the Holy Spirit is removed, mid -way through the Tribulation!
Paul spoke to the believers in Thessalonica as though they would witness the revealing of the antichrist. In fact it’s given as one of the two signs to believers that the “day of the Lord” had truly come (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). Jesus spoke of the same initial sign to his disciples (Matthew 24:15-21).
4: THE IMMINENCE OF CHRIST’S COMING
Pre-Tribulation believers say that Christ’s coming is ‘imminent’, so that we cannot know the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36-42). According to this view the rapture will come before anything else that’s prophesied, because in contrast there will be plenty of warning signs of His visible return to the earth. If Christians were around when the “seven year” Tribulation starts, they say, we would know that it would be exactly seven years to the coming of Christ-something we can’t know, since Jesus said we can’t know the day nor the hour. The same people will tell you that there are plenty of signs of the coming Tribulation to be seen now. Hmmm!
In response, I would first like to point out that this view assumes the beginning of the final seven years, including the time of day, will be known by all, so that the date and time of the visible return of Jesus could be marked on a calendar. I suggest that that is not the case: we may not know anything about the covenant being signed-it could be an agreement made behind closed doors. Paul said that the first-not the second-unmistakable sign that the of day of the Lord was coming would be a “falling away”, which surely can’t be fixed to a time or day, and the antichrist going into the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus said that the first unmistakable sign would be antichrist standing in the Holy Place of the temple, and didn’t mention any covenant (Matthew 24).
Secondly and more importantly, this view assumes that if we were to see the signing of the covenant, the rapture would have to occur at exactly the same time as Christ’s visible return to the earth. But there is no reason to make such an assumption. Compounding this fact are the three mysteriously different number of days given to Daniel (Daniel 12). These further confuse the issue, so that we really don’t know the day nor the hour of the rapture, even if we do see Daniel’s covenant being signed.
When Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour” in Matthew 24:36, what had He been speaking of? Was it the rapture? No, in the previous verses He had been speaking solely of the events of the Tribulation and of His physical appearing for the whole world to see (verses 15-35). He was referring to the “day of the Lord”, not the rapture.
I’ve heard one well-known prophecy teacher say that when Jesus said his disciples would see the antichrist in the temple he was not talking to Christians but to Jews. Jews, he said, would be in the Tribulation, but not Gentiles. I instantly realized that Jesus was in truth talking to his closest disciples who, although Jewish, were born-again Church age disciples. There is really no reason to assume that Jesus was speaking of “left-behind” Jewish believers, without using circular reasoning (“We know that Gentile believers will be raptured by then so Jesus must be speaking of Jewish believers”).
Of course we will not all have to flee Jerusalem and Judea, but worldwide television will show the whole world the antichrist entering the temple. Paul gave the same message to the Thessalonians, who were for the most part Gentiles (Acts 17:4; 1 Thess 1:9-10).