Are The Rapture And Second Coming Of Christ The Same?
The Distinction Between the Secret Rapture of Christ and the Open, Public Coming of Christ
In evangelical Christianity there is a unity of belief that the Lord Jesus Christ is returning, there is however a division as the details of this return. There is a major difference in the views of the second coming of Christ, in this paper we want to look the truth of the two advents of Christ’s second coming. The first advent of His coming being what is known as the Rapture and the second advent being that of His Open Coming.
In a summary the Secret Rapture is when the Lord comes to the air to snatch away those of His own, the elect saints of God who are alive and remain. This snatching away will be at an undisclosed time of history, even the Son does not know when it will be. In His kenosis the Son has submitted to the Father’s will that He not be aware of the time of the rapture. The true church will be taken out of the world and God will once again graft in the natural olive branch of Israel and thus will begin the restoration of the Nation of Israel as well as the spiritual heart of the remnant of Israel.
The Open Coming of Christ will be when Christ shall return to the Earth and set foot on the Earth in an open return that all will see. In this return Christ will bring the saints back with and it will bring to an end the age of the Gentiles.
As we look at the distinction of these two advents we want to see the scriptural unfolding of this as well as some of the various different views concerning the rapture and second coming. But we want to come to the final conclusion of a pre-tribulation rapture followed by an open coming of Christ to set up His kingdom for a 1000 year reign on earth. There is a grave importance to see the truth about 1. The existence of a secret rapture and 2. The distinction between the two advents of Christ’s coming as well as the details of it. Some people may dismiss this as unnecessary because it does not affect whether or not a person is saved or if they are a Christian or not. Whilst this is true, no one will be excluded from salvation because of their eschatological beliefs about the second coming of Christ, it is important to have a correct view because it will deeply affect the way in which we live. It will affect how we interpret what is happening around us, it will affect how we view what is happening in the church and despite what people may say it definitely urges the believer on in their pursuit of holiness and readiness for the imminent return of their Saviour.
Whilst the term “rapture” does not appear in the Bible it is a most appropriate word used to describe this event. Other terms which are used is “a snatching away” and “a being caught up”, these too are appropriate as they all emphasize the unexpected and sudden taking away of God’s people upwards to meet Christ in the air. It is the blessed hope of believers and the ever expectant joy that they long for.
A Plenary View
Firstly let us look at how the prophecy unfolds in a plenary view. This will give us an understanding of the distinction between the two events. It will also help clarify as why it is important to discern that these two events are distinct from each other although inextricably tied together.
When the old Testament prophets prophesied of the coming Messiah, they saw two aspects of the Messiah. Firstly they saw his coming as a servant and suffering, they also saw His coming in conquering victory to take up the His rightful reign. They saw both the Lamb and the Lion simultaneously. What it seems that they did not discern was that there would be a time period between these and that there would be two comings of Messiah. With hindsight and the New Testament, we can see that there was a distinction in Christ coming as the suffering servant for the sins of mankind, and Christ coming as the conquering King to rule and reign forever. There is a period of time, which has gone for some 2000 years already between these two comings. This period of time has been the period of the Gentile Church. It has been during this time that Israel has been set aside, but this will soon draw to a close. We must see clearly the second coming of Christ.
We have the record in the Gospel according to John of Christ clearly telling of His second coming.
John14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
John14:28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.
Luke also gives account of what the angels said at the ascension of Jesus Christ after His first coming
Act 1:11 Which also 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.
We also have in Thessalonians some clear accounts of this second coming:
1Th 1:9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; 1Th 1:10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
1Th 2:19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
1Th 3:13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
1Th 4:15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
1Th 4:16 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:
Perhaps one more to include here would be from The Revelation:
Rev 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
Just as Christ fulfilled the prophecies of His first coming, He will return in a second coming to fulfill the remaining prophecies of the Old Testament, and of the New Testament.
The Order Of History
We are presently in the Times of the Gentiles, and we have been in this age since the Babylonian captivity. Christ came the first time amidst the Times of the Gentiles, and lived, died, rose again and ascended back to Heaven. He has been there at the right hand of the Father since that time.
After the ascension the age of the Gentile Church was ushered in and we have gone through 7 distinct church ages within this overall age. We are presently in the last church age. At the culmination of this final church age the Lord will snatch away His saints in a rapture. After this there will be a period of Tribulation which will culminate in a 7 year period of turmoil for the Jewish nation. This will be Jacob’s Trouble or Daniel’s 70th week. On the final day of this Seven Year Tribulation, the Lord Jesus Christ will descend openly and triumphantly and set foot once again on Earth.
Immediately this will commence the Battle of Armageddon, which Christ will war against the anti-christ’s and the world’s army and defeat them. At this time Christ will set up His kingdom on Earth and reign for 1000 years, during which Satan will be bound.
At the culmination of this 1000 year reign Satan will be loosed and there will be a final battle at which time Satan and his hosts will be cast into the Lake of Fire and sin and death will be cast into the same. The Heavens and the Earth will be judged and destroyed by fire and a new (kainos) heaven and a new (kainos) earth will be created.
As we stated in the introduction, the debate around the Second Coming of Christ is not so much ‘if’ He is returning but the details of the return, and on this the rapture is the major sticking point.
For many years the church did not view a secret coming of Christ. Rather, it only saw the open coming of Christ. In order to understand the rapture we need to see some key points from scripture.
A Snatching Away
Of all the details of the Rapture one of great significance is that there will be a sudden snatching away of the saints.
The pre-eminent passage of this snatching away is found in 1Thessalonians 4. We read the following 1Thess 4:16 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: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
The catching up of the saints to meet the Lord in the air, this is the essence of the rapture. We cannot resolve these verses with an open coming of the Lord, for if the Lord is only coming in the open manner which is told of: Zechariah 14:4 And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. For if the Lord is only returning to the clouds, His feet will not touch the earth.
Also, as it says in Revelation 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. This advent is described as every eye seeing Him, so this could not be a catching away, it stands to reason then that the event as described in 1Thessalonians 4 is a different and separate to that of Revelation 1:7.
Rapture — believers meet Christ in the air
Second Coming — Christ returns to the Mount of Olives to meet the believers on earth
Rapture — Mount of Olives is unchanged
Second Coming — Mount of Olives is divided, forming a valley east of Jerusalem
Rapture — living believers obtain glorified bodies
Second Coming — living believers remain in same bodies
Rapture — believers go to heaven
Second Coming — glorified believers come from heaven, earthly believers stay on earth
Rapture — world left unjudged and living in sin
Second Coming — world is judged and righteousness is established
Rapture — depicts deliverance of the Church from wrath
Second Coming — depicts deliverance of believers who endured wrath
Rapture — the signs of the imminent rapture is the falling away of the church
Second Coming — many signs precede it and it will be known to the exact day once the abomination of desolation has been fulfilled at the 3.5 yr mark of Daniel’s 70th week
Rapture — revealed only in New Testament
Second Coming — revealed in both Old and New Testaments
Rapture — deals with only the saved
Second Coming — deals with both the saved and unsaved
Rapture — Satan remains free
Second Coming — Satan is bound and thrown into the Abyss
1Corinthians 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 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. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
Again we see a description here of a sudden event happening, a moment – or a micron – the shortest measurement of time there was, a flicker of the eyelid, this is how quick this rapture will occur. This does not fit with an open and glorious return of Christ with His saints to Earth.
Matthew 24 describes the suddenness of this rapture as well, this passage is a passage that contains prophecy of the open second coming of Christ as well as the secret rapture. But in v 27 – 28 we see the suddenness of it as well as the location of it. The eagles gathering is “in the air” this is where the saints will be gathered together
Matthew 24:27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
Later on in verses 36-51 there is a lot of details given to us. It is here that it is revealed in vs 36 that only the Father knows the time of the return of Christ. Many have likened this to the tradition of the Jews in regards to a marriage. Once the son has been betrothed to a wife, he waits for the Father to give the word to go and take his wife and bring her home. But is the Father’s decision of the timing.
The passage speaks of the unexpected nature of Christs coming, and also of the nature of the snatching away
Matthew 24:40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
This is not an open coming, or return, it is clearly an unexpected snatching away. In the following verses the Lord instructs us to watch for we “know not what hour your Lord returneth”. And “the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of”. This cannot be applied to the open coming of the Lord, for it is clear that the day will be known at that time.
The Church Ages
The book of Revelation was to reveal “the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;”. The past, the present and the future. The first three chapters have in them the things which were at that time. There are the letters to 7 literal churches of that time, dealing with those churches. But secondarily to this, the letters are referring to 7 church ages which at the time of the writing of the book of Revelation were in a future context. For us now though, 6 of these are in a past context and we are in the midst of the 7th. At the culmination of the seventh age the church will be no more, and we find in chapter 4 that John was caught up to heaven.
Rev 4:1 After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. 2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
This we believe to be the picture of the rapture. The church age is finished and the church is caught up to heaven, then what unfolds now will be the tribulation and judgement of the gentiles and the 70th week of Daniel for Israel.
This last age of the church the Laodicean age is clearly an age of apostasy and the spiritual collapse of the church. Then that gentile branch which had been grafted in will be taken out just as the branch of Israel was taken out. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we read very clearly that the distinguishing sign of the imminent rapture of the saints will be the falling away. This falling away will be an apostasy of all things, both of the natural and the spiritual. It also speaks of a time when he who letteth (or restrains) will be taken out of the way and evil will not be restrained as it once was. What or whom is he that letteth. Some argue that he is the Holy Spirit and at the rapture of the saints the Holy Spirit will be removed from Earth. But, how can an omnipresent God be removed from anywhere? And what of those millions who are saved during the tribulation, it is the Holy Spirit that convinces men of these things. Others say it is the Christian representatively as a singular. But we could also say it is both. For it is the Christian who is empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a righteous restraint on the evil of the world.
Again this passage in Thessalonians is giving a clear indication that there will be a removal of the saints and a continuation of mankind in sin for at least a season, how could this be the open coming of Christ.
The Open Second Coming Of Christ
Once the saints have been raptured there will be a period of time to continue on the earth as the rest of the prophecies of the Scriptures are fulfilled concerning Israel and the filling up of the cup of wrath of the nations and the rise of anti-christ. There are those who hold this time period to be a strict 7 years from the time of the rapture until the open coming of Christ, but it does not necessarily have to be so. We do know that there will be a 7 year period, the last week of Daniel’s 70 weeks of prophecy, a time also known as Jacob’s trouble when there will be a pouring out of judgement on Israel like that has never before been seen. But we do not have to emphatically state that the seven years begins straight away.
What we do know is that in the beginning time after the rapture, there is an escalation of tribulations of both natural wonders and also of the turmoil of what man brings about through war and oppression. All these things are providentially ordered by God in judgement on the nations. At some point in time the world turns to a man, they are looking for a saviour, a messiah to deliver them from this mounting terror of nature and of war and so arises the anti-christ as this deliverer and he establishes a world government. As part of this there is a false -prophet who arises with this ant-christ and brings about the spiritual empowerment of this wicked one’s government. There is a one world religion established which worships the anti-christ and Satan who is behind it all empowering him. This is a false trinity with Satan, the anti-christ and the false prophet. This trinity is so deceptive they even deceive the nation of Israel to turn to the anti-christ believing him to be the promised Messiah.
At the 3.5 year mark of the seven years, the anti-christ turns on the nation of Israel and defiles the temple which he has built them and thus begins as period of horrific tribulation for the Jews. 2Thessalonians 2:3 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; 4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
Matthew 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) 16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
Daniel 12:11 And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.
The entire aim of the anti-christ then becomes to achieve what has not been achieved in history, the elimination of God’s elect nation. The crescendo of this is when the armies of the world and anti-christ’s armies are converging on Jerusalem in a final move to destroy the remnant of Israel and it is at this very point in time that the Lord returns with His saints and sets foot on the Mount of Olives from whence he departed to ascend to Heaven and wars against anti-christ and the armies. We find an account of this in Revelation 19
Rev 19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. 12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. 13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.
This will be the final battle of this age, and Christ will destroy the armies of the nations and anti-christ. He will then cast anti-christ and the false prophet alive into the lake of fire, the only two people in history that will receive such a judgement.
Rev 19:19 And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. 20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. 21 And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
After this Christ will establish His reign for 1000 years upon the earth. This is the open second coming of Christ.
There is an imperative need for us to see the great distinction between the two advents of Christ’s Second Coming. As previously stated, this will definitely affect the way we live, our presupposition in discerning the events of the times and even our heart in hope.
1John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
John is giving a blessed hope here, of what will be to come when ‘he shall appear” what a blessed hope this is. But he also points out that this hope is a pressing to those who have it to “purify themselves, even as he (Christ) is pure”. As we see the day approaching those who have this blessed hope are pressed by it to be diligent about their seeking of the Lord and His purifying works in their lives that they may be found a pure and chaste in the day of His return. Like a wise servant who lives in the ever present expectation of the return of his master, so to the one who looks for the rapture lives in the ever expectant return of his Saviour.
Much truth and insight is lost in a wrong view of the second coming of Christ, and for those who mark the book of Revelation as one that is mainly of history there is a profound deficiency of the glorious workings of grace for this hour in history.
And so our hearts reflect the second to last verse of the Holy Word of God Revelation 22:20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Barnes, Albert. Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible. 1798-1870. e-sword.
Bonar, Andrew A. “The Importance of the Doctrine of the Second Advent.” The Hope of the Lord’s Return. Notes of an Address Delivered at the Edinburgh Conference, 1888. Inserted from <http://www.newblehome.co.uk/bonar/sermon-return.html> Monday, April 13, 2009; 10:24 PM.
Clarke, Adam, LL.D., F.S.A. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible. 1715-1832.
Gill, John. John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible. 1690-1771.