The Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ

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The Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ

Copyright © March 2011 Douglas W. Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
-- First Thessalonians 4: 13-18.

A friend recently expressed her concern about the “catching away” (or “rapture” as it is popularly called) that is mentioned by Paul in 1 Thess 4:13-18. How it is related to the Second Coming of Christ? She gave me a small text document that went into some details, without a commitment to any particular point of view. It was probably written as part of a survey of the various views, and as such, was quite general. My friend asked for my thoughts on these matters, and that is the basis for this article.

I have no problem with a survey of ideas about how the Church views the rapture, yet I find such an approach provides no real answers. I can’t fault the authors however, since this question is many sided and has lots of pitfalls. Many writers on end-time events are not sure what they themselves believe, and have a huge misunderstanding of what others believe. This can lead to prejudices toward those who hold opposing views. It may also lead, at times, to very un-Christian charges against other camps based simply upon their views of the end times. Just because someone does not have the same views on the events surrounding Christ’s return, does not mean they are not God-fearing Christians who are truly seeking His face.

My friend states that a certain person “believes that the rapture will occur sometime in this generation. I'm just not exactly 100% sure that we will all ‘disappear into thin air.’ So I need your thoughts on this please…”

This is what I believed for most of my Christian life. I was saved at 12, and almost immediately studied Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth. He taught that Jesus would return in the generation that Israel became a nation (according to his first edition of the book), or in the generation that Jerusalem came back under the authority of the Jewish State (according to later editions of the book). Since a generation in Scripture appears to be about 40 years, this meant that Jesus would return somewhere between 1948 and 1988 using the first date, or between 1967 and 2007 using the second date. Obviously both of those dates have been proven wrong! We’re still here. The problem must be in the way Hal Lindsey was interpreting the Bible. But this has not stopped a thousand other date setters from trying to come up with a date for either the rapture, or for Christ’s return. It seems to me that there is a great market out there for books of this sort, and most of the end-time prognosticators out there see their meal ticket in the writing of useless books like this. Face it, we all want to know when Jesus will return, but we have to remember that Jesus said “No man knows the day or the hour”, not even Him in his time on earth. (Surely He knows now when He will return, but I don’t think He has an obligation to share it with us.)

From the survey article we read “The Rapture is a reference to the catching up of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 when Christians will be gathered together in the air to meet Christ.”

This is what 1 Thess 4 teaches! Note that more than just professing Christians will be partakers of this event however, since Paul says “the dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together in the clouds...” The phrase “in Christ” is a technical (theological) term which speaks of all those for whom Jesus’ work of redemption on the cross was accomplished and applied. That redemption obviously includes all the Old Testament believers from Adam and Eve to Simeon and John the Baptist! We are all in Christ. He died on the cross as our representative before God, taking our punishment so that we could be saved. That is why you will often see my own letters and emails end with “En Christo, Doug Jerving”. En Christo is Greek (the language of the New Testament) for In Christ. I am using one of Paul’s most important theological word-phrases to identify myself with those to whom I write. My words are intended for those fellow believers who are “In Christ”.

Survey: “The event is mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 where the Latin Vulgate has rapiemur, which may be translated as ‘we shall be raptured’ or ‘we shall be caught up.’ Along with the Rapture it is said that Christians will be gathered together in the air to meet Christ.”

The beautiful thing about this is that at the rapture (catching away, translation, whatever you want to call it) those who are En Christo, IN Christ, will, at last be WITH Him! We will finally experience all that we hope and long for; we will finally receive the fullness of the blessings we have waited for, enduring hardship, pain, sorrow, persecution, and even death, often at the hands of tormentors who destroyed us in order to destroy the One we love and serve. But even more than that, death is finally destroyed, and resurrection to a new body that can never experience these earthly pains and sorrows is given to us.

This is clear from the fact that the dead in Christ rise first! What is rising? It is coming out of the grave in the same manner that Jesus was raised. We can no more deny this resurrection from the dead than we can deny Jesus’ resurrection! If He was raised, with a new body impervious to corruption, than so shall we be in that day! The whole context of Paul’s message to the Thessalonians is the resurrection! The Thessalonian believers were concerned about their loved ones who were dead (asleep)and what would happen to them. Paul says they will be resurrected. This implies that the rapture is really an aspect of the resurrection. Even though we have not yet died physically, we who are alive and remain participate in the resurrection. Our bodies, too, are “changed from corruptible to incorruptible” “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye”. Thus we see that the rapture is actually a part of the resurrection.

Survey: “However, the Rapture's relationship to other eschatological events is a matter of hot dispute: second coming of Christ to take over the earth, Daniel's 70th Week, the "tribulation." Simultaneously at issue is whether or not the tribulation (or events of Revelation 6-18) are past, present, or future, literal or figurative.”

Obviously from the above quote, there are two issues here that need to be addressed. I will only briefly touch on these points since there is so much that can be said, and many books have been written on the many views on these two subjects.

The first issue relates to the events surrounding the resurrection of the saints, and the second is related to how we interpret what has been called the Great Tribulation.

First, from 1 Thess 4 we see that Christ is returning. Verse 15 of the Thessalonians passage makes the context of the rapture/resurrection the second coming of Christ. It seems obvious that these are all facets of one great event.

Does Jesus come to take over the earth in the sense that premillenialists believe? In other words, does he come to establish a literal 1000 year reign as King over all the earth from Jerusalem? That is not what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4. It is not what any single writer in the entire New Testament says as a matter of fact. You will search in vain for this concept in the New Testament. It does not exist except in the interpretive fancies of those who transpose the figurative language of the book of Revelation upon the rest of the New Testament.

One of the greatest errors of the last 200 years has been the tendency to interpret the whole of the New Testament by the book of Revelation, rather than to interpret the book of Revelation by the New Testament. This same error has been fostered upon the book of Daniel prophesies (the 70 weeks can easily be seen to end at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, i.e., in the framework of Christ’s first coming).

The error again rises in premillenial thought regarding the Great Tribulation, which is taught by Jesus in Matt 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13. The fact is, these events all take place in the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. The book of Revelation deals with all these 70 AD events in a figurative way. The intention of John was to write in a way that was cryptic. He wanted his readers to understand because of their knowledge of Jesus’ prophesies in the afore-mentioned scriptures. But he did not want the Roman empire to be able to use his words as a cause for further persecution of the early Church.

The second issue has to do with the timing and literalness of the tribulation. My friend says “I'm pretty sure they are literal” In a sense, you are correct, and in another sense, you are nearly correct. These things literally happened (the events Jesus describes in the Gospels that we call the Great Tribulation). Josephus documents the fall of Jerusalem and shows us unequivocally that the events of 70 AD fit perfectly the events that Jesus prophesied as judgment upon ancient Judaism, including Jerusalem. These things literally happened and were documented by an unbelieving Jew who was there! Josephus was not a Christian, but he was honest about the horrific judgment that fell upon ancient Judaism after their rejection of the Messiah. As a matter of fact, this judgment upon ancient Judaism was one of the preeminent themes of all three Gospels mentioned above. That message permeates all three of the synoptic Gospels, and is hinted at strongly in John’s Gospel. So, yes. They are literal.

You are nearly correct in your comment with regards to the book of Revelation’s prophesies. The book of Revelation must be interpreted based on the New Testament, not the other way around. Revelation is highly figurative throughout. It is not literal for the most part, but it does figuratively describe the same judgments that the Gospels pronounce against ancient Judaism. It needs to be understood in the light of those Gospels. What John did not say in the Gospel, he does say in cryptic form to the persecuted churches of Asia Minor. He condemns the failed religious systems of ancient Judaism, and the emperor worship of ancient Rome, and throughout, declares the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the whole earth. That is the whole message of the book of Revelation in a nutshell. While John writes in cryptic, figurative and poetic style, his message is that God has literally judged both Judaism and her Roman support mechanism, and that Jesus Christ literally and for ever has taken back the rule of this world’s kingdoms as His very own.

It is evident that Paul’s theology is directly based upon the teachings of Christ since he refers to the word of the Lord in verse 15. The return of Christ and the resurrection from the dead, the last trump, and the angels, are all themes taken from Jesus’ own teaching. Nowhere in Jesus’ teachings do we find a rapture that will be followed by seven years of tribulation, and then 1000 years of an earthly reign of Christ on earth and then, finally a second resurrection of the wicked unto judgment.

There is no indication in Jesus or Paul that the resurrection is divided into two different groups, righteous and unrighteous, split by a period of 1007 years. When Jesus comes, every eye sees Him, righteous and wicked. The second coming is one of judgment – both upon the righteous and the wicked. If one is taken and the other left, that implies one judgment that affects both groups, not two separate judgments at different times in history separated by a millennium.

None of this effects your salvation or your relationship to your Christian family. The endless study of end-time events often is just a diversion from pursuing God’s will now in the life of every believer.

The New Testament does not emphasize end-time events. It emphasizes faith that works by love for all men, hoping that they might be saved. The great message of Paul in 1 Thess 4 and of all the New Testament is this: Jesus is Lord of the whole world, and He will judge all of us based upon our acceptance or rejection of Him. The times and Seasons, the days and the hours are in God’s foreknowledge, but they will surely come to pass. As ancient Judaism and ancient Rome came into judgment, so will all the nations. As the righteous from Adam to Simeon came into God’s grace through Christ’s redeeming love, so do we. God’s judgment is in all the earth and He perfects that which concerns His own chosen ones. When He returns, as the Apostles’ Creed says, He will judge the living and the dead.

Even so, Come quickly, Lord Jesus.


Doug Jerving is the publisher of the You may contact him at


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