THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST – While we know for certain that Christ will someday return (He said He would), the manner of His return has been the subject of great debate.
The Rapture: Sudden and Secretive – Many believe that while there may be many signs indicating the end is approaching, few or none of the events prophesied in the book of Revelation need to occur before Jesus returns “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2) for His saints. In this view, it will take place “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52) and that it could occur at any time. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 Paul used the pronoun we, (“we who are still alive and are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”) suggesting that even he may have expected to be alive when the Lord returned. (1) This sudden yet somewhat secretive return of Christ is what is most often referred to as the Rapture.
Rapture is an English word meaning a state or experience of being carried away. It is derived from the Latin term rapio or rapturo, which means to snatch away or carry off. It is generally understood to mean God taking believers out of the world instantaneously (snatching). The main biblical passage used to describe the rapture of the church is 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 (“meet the Lord in the air”). Other texts often used to support the doctrine of the rapture are John 14:1–3 (“I will come back and take you to be with me”) and 1 Corinthians 15:51–52 (“we will not all sleep, but we will be changed”).
The Parousia: Dramatic and Visible – Others believe that Christ’s return will be more dramatic. In their view, certain signs and events must precede Christ’s physical return to the earth (Matthew 24:33). This return will be considerably different than the “like a thief” viewpoint described above. On the contrary, as “lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27), such that “every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7). This dramatic and visible return of Christ is referred to as the Parousia.
This Parousia is a transliteration (the spelling of a word in one language with the alphabet of another language) of a Greek word that means presence, arrival, appearance, or coming. The word is employed most frequently with reference to Christ (Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8. As such, the Parousia has come to denote the visible second coming of Christ at the end of the age. (2)
Yes to Both – Of course these two views are not necessarily mutually exclusive (not either or). In fact, it appears from the descriptions above that the Rapture (no signs appear to precede it and it is likely not visible) and the Parousia (signs clearly precede it and it is openly visible) must be two separate events. They would have to be for them both to be true (yes to both). See Figures 1.2 and 1.3 for how these two events are often distinguished.
SEQUENCE AND TIMING – If the Rapture and the Parousia are two separate events, the obvious question then becomes how long is the interval that separates them? Closely related to this interval is the Tribulation (discussed in the next musing), and how it relates to the Rapture and the Parousia.
There are four main viewpoints on how the interval between the Rapture and the Parousia relates to the Tribulation.
Pretribulational View – In this view, Christ will rapture (carry away) the Church before any part of the Tribulation begins (Daniel. 9:24–27; Matthew 24:3–28; Revelation. 11:2; 12:14). Upon Christ’s coming in the air, which is seen as distinct from and preceding His coming to the earth, believers will be “caught up together … in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). In this view believers are delivered from “the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10) and “the hour of trial” (Revelation 3:10) by being taken out of the world before the Tribulation.
Midtribulational View – This view also sees the Rapture as a distinct event that precedes Christ’s second coming. It differs from the pretribulational view in that believers go through the first half of the Tribulation but are delivered from the last half (often referred to as the “Great” Tribulation – Matthew 24:15–28; Revelation 16–18).
Posttribulational View – The Rapture and the Parousia occur at virtually the same time or in fairly rapid succession after the Tribulation. Therefore, the Church remains on earth during that the “time of trouble for Jacob” (Jeremiah. 30:7). Unlike the rest of the world, however, believers will largely be protected during (“saved out of it”) the devastating outpouring of God’s wrath and judgment, “for God did not appoint us to suffer wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). (3)
Pre-Wrath Rapture View – The Pre-Wrath view of the Rapture argues that the first three-fourths of the Tribulation is the wrath of man and the wrath of Satan, and not the wrath of God. Proponents of this view argue that the Church will suffer through the first three-quarters of the Tribulation since the Church is promised protection only from the wrath of God. Those who espouse this viewpoint of the Rapture’s timing believe that the Seal Judgments are the wrath of man and Satan and that they continue throughout the first half of the Tribulation and into the second half, right up to the three-quarters point, or shortly thereafter. They place the Trumpet Judgments in the last quarter of the Tribulation and the Bowl Judgments in the first 30 days following the end of Daniel’s 70th Week of Years (discussed later in a future musing). This is a fairly recent interpretation of the Rapture that was developed in the 1970’s and popularized in the 1990’s. (4)
Next Up – The Tribulation.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 179). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1616). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
- Schemm, P. (2003). Rapture. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1366). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Reprinted from Prophecy, by Charles R. Swindoll.