Jesus was intentionally vague about when He would appear for the purpose of taking His bride, the Church, away from the world, and when He would return to establish His kingdom on earth. What He was very clear about was that we should not set dates or think He was appearing in some secret place or time. Both His appearing and return will be global phenomena that no one will be able to avoid.
Some definitions are in order:
- The Church is not an organization. It is composed of everyone who has put their faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, repented of their sins, and participate in His rulership in their lives (Colossians 1:18).
- The “last days” or “end times” are synonyms and refer to the Church age following the first coming of Jesus, His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into Heaven. In our day, we use these terms to refer to the end of the Church age.
- The Church age began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), after Jesus ascension and 50 days after the Passover which coincided with His resurrection.
- The “rapture” is when Jesus will take the Church out of he world, described in Matthew 24:32-50, 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. He will appear in the sky in the same way as the disciples saw Him leave in Mark 18:19, Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:6-11. The term “rapture” comes from from rapio (“Latin: “to snatch away”), which is found in the Latin Vulgate Bible in 1 Thessalonian 4:17 (translated “caught up” in English translations).
- The Second Coming is when Jesus will return to set up an earthly kingdom described in Matthew 24:15-31, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 and Revelation 20:1-6. Sometimes this term is used to refer to all the events from the rapture to the end of the Tribulation.
- The Great Tribulation is the last half of seven years of tribulation while the Anti-Christ is ruling the earth. It will be a time of judgments poured out that will be worse than anything mankind has ever experienced (Matthew 24:21-22; Revelation 15-16)
In Acts 2:17, Peter told the assembled crowd, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,” quoting Joel 2:28. And Peter said, “This is it!” I.e., these are the last days, beginning in Acts 2, about 2000 years ago! This is what Joel prophesied 800 years earlier, and NOW, Peter said we were entering the last days of which Joel spoke. But some of what Joel prophesied did not begin to happen that day.
Peter continued quoting Joel:
“And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (2:19-20; see Joel 2:28-32)
These are things that have not yet happened but are waiting for “the Day of the Lord.” That specific day, referred to also in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 will be when Jesus returns to set up His kingdom on earth, seven years after He has taken the Church out of the world. This is not the same as His “appearing” referenced in 1 Timothy 6:14, 2 Timothy 4:1 and Titus 2:13.
In these references, Jesus appears in the sky to catch away His Church, those who have put their faith in Him, repented of their sins and are living for Him. The rapture (or “being caught up”) is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and will occur “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). Note also, the “last trumpet” mentioned in Corinthians is not one of the trumpets of judgment listed in Revelation 8, but a reference to the last trumpet the Church will hear on earth.
We should not confuse The Day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3 with the rapture. The rapture is described by Jesus in Matthew 24:32-50, after He had answered the disciples’ questions about “the coming of the Son of Man,” the time at which Jesus will come to earth to set up His rulership.
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessnes is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5)
This “coming” is distinguished from “our being gathered,” but is referenced here together because of false teaching that claimed Jesus had already come to establish His kingdom “in men’s hearts.” (On a side note, this heresy was also promulgated in the 20th century and continues in some fringe religions.) As I have described, the “gathering” is a reference to the rapture.
A final note: Whatever we believe about the timing of the rapture, there are two realities all Christ-followers must keep in mind.
- First, no difference of opinion among Christians justifies unkindness toward those who hold different views. Jesus commands us to love one another, just as He loved us. He also said that our love for one another would be the evidence to all people that we are His disciples (John 13:34-35). Wrangling over issues such as the timing of the rapture does not exhibit Christ’s love (Titus 3:10).
- Second, the most important aspect of the end times is not the timing of the rapture but the absolute certainty of the return of Jesus Christ to the world in these last days (Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11-16). The timing does not alter the fact that those who belong to Him will enjoy eternal life and those who do not will be separated from Him for eternity (John 3:18). Only faith in Jesus as the our savior will distinguish the saved from the unsaved, regardless of our views on the rapture. So pray earnestly for those who do not know Him yet! They need Jesus.
We shall behold HIM!! Maranatha, even so, Lord Jesus, come.