I had a friend who was telling me not long ago that he and his brother were having a conversation with another gentleman about the rapture. It seems my friend and his brother disagreed with their friend surrounding the timing of this great event. I can’t help but notice that this is becoming a hot topic lately, in much the same way it was in the 1970’s during the Jesus movement. With the world upside down the way it is, you practically need the bible in order to interpret the latest news headlines! I imagine this leaves a whole lot of folks wondering if it will take place any day now.
In case you are wondering what is the rapture, it is an event that Christians in western cultures identify as the “catching up of the saints” to heaven prior to the second coming of Christ. I say western cultures because it is western cultures who see the rapture as a separate event more than others. Other Christian cultures may not have considered the catching up of the saints to happen separately from Christ’s second coming (they see them as one in the same).
Here in the United States, however, you can hardly be a member of any Christ-centered church for any length of time without hearing about it, and often being a witness to the dissension that takes place as a result. The reason is because no one can agree when the rapture takes place. Although it would seem that most believe the rapture occurs prior to the start of a seven year period in history that theologians refer to as the reign of the Antichrist, there are at least half a dozen major splinters. Here’s the ones I know of off the top of my head:
- Some believe the rapture occurs prior to what scripture notes as the Great Tribulation, which occurs 3 ½ years into the reign of the Antichrist (this group is often called “pre-tribbers”).
- There are also those who don’t fully understand that the tribulation starts 3 ½ years in, and so believe that the catching away will occur prior to the beginning of the reign of the Antichrist (they also call themselves “pre-tribbers”).
- Others say that it occurs at the end of the reign of the Antichrist (or “post-tribbers”)
- While still others believe that it is simultaneous with the second coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Those who think it is simultaneous are splintered still, as
- Some believe Christ’s second coming is prior His to millennial reign (“pre-millennialists”)
- While others think it happens at the end of His millennial reign (“post millennialists).
- And even still then there is a group that refer to themselves as “AH-millennialists”, which, don’t even get me started!
Hopefully I didn’t leave your favorite group out! Just thinking about all of it can give one a major headache.
One thing is clear about the second coming of Christ, the bible tells us clearly that no one knows the hour or the day except for God the Father. But it does not mean that there are things that we can know, as even Jesus Himself tells us to be on the alert. And if you are a true student of the bible then I’m sure you will agree there are certain things (you can’t help but notice) that must take place prior to either the rapture or the second coming. WHAAAAT? Here’s my shock face for all of you who may have thought Christ would gather us all willy-nilly at the whim of the Father’s good pleasure without providing a check list. Just as with anything else, our great God brings order out of chaos. First things first. AHHH, is that one reason there are so many scripture references to the fullness of time? Bingo 😊
So, you might be asking, what are the things? You know, all the things that must take place prior? Well, I know this post might be a bit lengthy but if you’re willing to stick with me, we can journey this out together. And then you can get alone with the Holy Spirit, where the two of you can have a conversation about the differences between what is actually scriptural and what might have been held up as religious belief based on tradition instead. And then you can decide for yourself when the rapture will take place. O Come on, it will be fun!
Ready? Okay, here we go! Keeping in mind that our premise is to note all the things the new testament records that must take place prior to the rapture and/or the second coming of our Lord, let’s have a look at four major passages together.
The first passage is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (click on the link and take a moment to read through this passage). Verse 17 is our key reference: “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
This is likely the most widely used passage that Christians use whenever speaking about the rapture. Although the word rapture is not found in scripture, the meaning of the word is noted in verse 17 when it says Then those who remain will be caught up together… Did you notice this verse begins with the word then? What things happen just prior to this moment?
- Verse 14: Jesus brings with Him those who have fallen asleep (died)
- Verses 15 & 16: Those who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall not proceed those who have died
- Verse 16: The Lord will descend with the voice of the archangel AND the trumpet of God
Okay, we’re off to a good start! Let’s continue with Thessalonians and look this time at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. There is a lot here that is noted must take place, so I will highlight the major ones. Verses 1-3 speak in reference to the day of the Lord and the gathering, so we know this is also a reference to the second coming/rapture.
- Verse 3: The coming of the Lord will not come until the man of lawlessness (otherwise known as the Antichrist) is revealed (this is a packed full verse, so look at all the things rolled into it). See also Daniel 9:27
- Verses 6-8: Both what restrains and He who restrains must be taken out of the way before the man of lawlessness is revealed
Now we’re on a roll, so let’s keep going to 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. Verse 52 is the key “rapture/second coming” verse here.
- Verse 52 tells us it happens at the LAST trumpet (see Revelation 11:15 to read more about the only “last” trumpet noted in scripture)
- Verses 54-55 note that death is swallowed up in victory, so no more death occurs after this time (see Revelation 20:14 for a verse that talks about when death is abolished)
Okay the last major portion of scripture I’ll pull from is Matthew chapter 24, the whole chapter, although for this exercise we’ll look specifically at Matthew 24:29-31. Verse 31 is the key reference here to the second coming/rapture (as well again to the great trumpet). This verse is also the key to verse 29, because one happens after the other.
- Verse 29: Tells us that what is about to occur happens immediately after the great tribulation
- Verse 29: the sun and moon go dark, stars fall from the sky, all the tribes of the earth mourn, everyone sees His second coming
- A QUICK HOP over to verse 14 of Matthew tells us one more “first”: This gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come”. I will leave it up to you if you want to include this in our official “firsts” list.
For anyone who cares to go the extra mile, I believe 1 Corinthians 15:20-29 is also a good reference to the second coming and also notes things that occur prior. It also notes the “last enemy to be abolished is death”, which coincide with the 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 20 passages). But even without that, we have a fairly substantial list of things that “must take place prior” to research out on our own sometime. Here’s the full list of what we’ve noted:
- Jesus brings with Him those who have fallen asleep (died)
- The Lord will descend with the voice of the archangel AND the trumpet of God
- The man of lawlessness must be revealed (and the package full of events around this)
- The what and who restraints must be removed
- The last trumpet sounds
- Death is abolished
- The great tribulation occurs first
- The sun, moon go dark
- Stars fall from the sky
- All the tribes of the earth mourn
- Everyone will see Him coming
- The gospel of the Kingdom preached throughout
That gives us 12 things to take back and research with the help of scripture and the Holy Spirit, who will guide us into all truth. Can the Lord come back before all 12 are fulfilled? Sure. Will He? That is the question you want to ask. Why would we be given an understanding of these things if they were not relevant to the subject? If you discount one, you risk discounting them all. If you say some are metaphors and others are literal, fine. Which ones are which, and why? The Holy Spirit will help answer all these questions and more.
Whatever your current beliefs are surrounding the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, be encouraged. There is not one thing currently happening that is taking Him by surprise. Read John 15 as a means of comfort, and abide in Him.