The Rapture: Sudden and Secretive – “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:40-44).
While Jesus’ Olivet Discourse mentions many signs to indicate the end is approaching, many believe that 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) Thus, Jesus may be speaking about a different “coming” (Rapture) that precedes His physical return to the earth (Parousia).
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 – “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31)
Others believe that Christ’s return will be more dramatic, and 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.
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)
Exactly what the sign of the Son of Man will be is unknown. The sign that God had abandoned the nation of Israel was the departure of His Shekinah glory from the temple (Ezekiel 10:3, 18; 11:23). Perhaps the sign of the Lord’s return will involve a visible (and if so likely unmistakable) return of His Shekinah glory. Some believe the sign may involve the heavenly city, New Jerusalem, which may descend at this time (Revelation 21:2–3). Or the sign may literally be lightning, a cross, or perhaps merely the Lord Himself.
Whatever the sign, it will be visible for all to see, “for the Lord will return on the clouds … with power and great glory” (Daniel 7:13). He will then send His angels forth to gather His elect from the four winds of the earth (Mark 13:27). This involves the gathering of those who will have become believers during the Great Tribulation and who will have been scattered into various parts of the world because of persecution (Matthew 24:16). (3) This does seem to imply that the “one will be taken and the other left” (the Rapture) is separated from His “gather[ing] his elect from the four winds” (the Parousia) by a sufficient period of time to allow for a significant number of global converts after the rapture.
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). However, nowhere in the Bible is it clearly spelled out that there will be a pre-tribulation (or mid-tribulation) rapture. This could simply be Jesus separating the sheep from the goats.
- 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.
- Barbieri, L. A., Jr. (1985). Matthew. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 78). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.