The Rapture Event
The timing of the rapture is an issue of such great debate that eschatology is divided into groups over this issue. Likewise, the very existence of a rapture creates yet another division in eschatology.
As noted earlier, this work is not an attempt to identify and explain all eschatological theories, but rather is a conclusion drawn from the examination of scripture which will define itself. That end result becomes clearly known here by the placing of the rapture prior to the tribulation from observation of scripture on the subject.
John 14:1-4 (NIV) 1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Jesus states in verse 2 that he is preparing a place for his disciples in his “Father’s house,” or in Heaven proper, God’s throne. Jesus then promises to “come back” and take his followers to where he is. Where he will be has already been established; Heaven.
This text alone refutes post-tribulational theories, because Jesus’ promise to take us to Heaven does not leave room for the typical Post-tribulational assertions. Post-tribulational theories generally (though with variation) teach that during the rapture we meet Christ in the air & then return to earth to reign with him here during his millennial kingdom. If that is the case, where is he preparing a place for us right now? He was on earth when he made this statement, so where did he have to go in order to prepare this place? He clearly stipulated where he was to go and from where he would come from to take his people back. Thus, Jesus cannot establish his kingdom on earth as he meets his church. He must take them back to Heaven, then establish his kingdom on earth at a later time.
Likewise, this text contains difficulties for Amillennial views as well. The Amillennial position teaches that Christ will return to Earth and establish his permanent kingdom of Heaven here, without a millennial reign or a rapture. If this position is true, then how will Jesus both “come back” and “take you to be with me” if he will not be returning to Heaven after coming back? It would make more sense to believe Amillennialism if Jesus had said “I will come back and remain with you,” but that is not what Jesus said. Clearly Jesus is teaching that he will leave Heaven, return to earth and collect his saints, then return.
“I will come back” is indicative of both his return for the rapturing of the saints, and of the fact that the place he is preparing for us is not here- but somewhere else – in his Father’s house. Thus, the rapture is best understood as an event taking the church from the earth and to Heaven proper. The timing of the rapture will be discussed shortly.
Some take issue with the pre-tribulational rapture position claiming this process demands both a second and “third” return of Christ to the earth. The contention is that Jesus must have a second coming to receive the church, as noted here in John 14, and that he must then return a third time to establish his millennial kingdom.
I Thessalonians 4, which will be the substance of the next section, states, however, that the church will “meet the Lord in the air” during this rapture process. The second coming of Christ, however, is described in detail in Zechariah with the Lord’s feet firmly planted on the Mount of Olives:
Zechariah 14:4-5 (NIV)
4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. 5 You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.
In the rapture process the Lord’s action of meeting the church in the air does not fulfill the description of Zechariah for the event commonly known as “the second coming.” Therefore, the rapture is not to be understood as a second of three “comings” of Christ. His feet do not touch ground, but rather he will “pass by” the earth while collecting his bride in the air. Thus, the rapture is not a second coming while the return of Christ to rule is a “third” coming. The rapture is an event contrary to the description of the second coming. It is a collection of the church from the air. There are several texts, however, which speak of a return of Christ, which can be understood contextually to speak of the rapture rather than his second coming to rule. Other texts speaking of a return, do speak of his return to rule. One must observe context carefully to determine the differences. This work will explain numerous such texts, that the reader can see the contextual qualities which differentiate between the two.