I’m often confused as to why there are so many views to Christ’s second coming. Just wondering if there is a way to know what God intended it to be and how I can be certain of God’s plan. I hope to seek answers to the above and find scriptural support that help me with a clearer understanding of this topic. Thanks!
I empathize with your confusion because I have gone through this myself. When I started reading to understand the second coming of Christ, it was easy to get lost in the multitude of ideas. It was not only confusing but also discouraging because like you, I was wondering what the ‘real truth’ was. There is pre-millennialsim, post-millennialism, amillenialism and then there is pre-trib, mid-trib and post-trib rapture - the rabbit hole goes deeper and deeper.
Genuine Bible-believing and sincere Christians can hold varying opinions on some issues. The details of the second coming, water baptism, free-will and sovereignty of God etc. This is a part of being a fallen humanity, that we do not understand things clearly. The problem is not that the Bible is unclear but that our vision is limited. However, there are central and core teachings that are clear which we should not compromise on.
As for being certain of God’s plan, I would suggest that you go through the scriptures yourself, sitting at the Lord’s feet everyday in regular study and prayer. Use the insights of others (a good commentary or study bible) to guide you in your study, but don’t rely on them completely especially when it comes to issues that have differing opinions. Once you are convinced about a certain explanation, thank God for it, while at the same time having the humility to accept that there may be sincere fellow believers who may disagree with your view. Let us not major on the minor issues.
Here are some conclusions regarding the second coming that I have reached through this process that I will share hoping that it will be useful in your journey.
- Jesus is coming again - no doubt about that.
- There is going to be a great tribulation, and an experience of believers being caught-up (rapture) with Christ - no doubt about that.
- There is some difference of opinion on the timing of this so-called rapture - I have my own view and am willing to accept that I may be wrong. As a believer I will be happy to be spared the trouble of the great tribulation but if I have to go through it, then I will prepare myself for it.
- The millennium - I believe in a literal millennium, 1000 years of the righteous rule of Christ before the end of the age and the inauguration of the new heavens and the new earth. Again there are those who differ on the details and I am willing to accept that.
- The study of the book of Revelations, which I avoided for a very long time because of the varying opinions, has been the most encouraging to me personally. I really, really look forward to the coming of Christ, and the new heavens and the new earth.
There are others who will be able to guide you better in this. There are scriptural references for this all over the new and old testaments. The deeper you study this, the more references you will find. The book of Revelation, Jesus’ teachings in Mathew 24-26, Paul’s letters to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:1–10, the prophecies in Isaiah 2, 65:17-25 are some references to guide you in this as a starting point.
There are plenty of resources online as well. I have used the teaching videos and books of John Macarthur and David Pawson (who hold differing views) to understand this issue a little better.
May I encourage you not be discouraged in this aspect - the study of the end of the age and the second coming of Christ. To me personally it is a very encouraging study.
I’ll let others more versed in the alternate views share with you any thoughts they have in defense of theirs. But I will gladly lay out for you the biblical reasons why I believe the Rapture does precede the Tribulation. These are not necessarily in any priority, and some you may find to be stronger than others. But taken together, they make a case that is convincing enough to me. See what you think.
First, God does not subject His children to wrath.
The NT repeatedly says that Christians are saved from wrath through Christ (Romans 5:9), that Jesus has delivered us from the wrath to come (I Thessalonians 1:10), that God hath not appointed us to wrath (I Thessalonians 5:9), and so on.
But the Revelation repeatedly describes this seven-year war by such expressions as the wrath of the lamb, the wrath of God, the great day of his wrath, the wine of his wrath, the fierceness of his wrath, and so forth. In fact, the word wrath is used 13 times throughout the Revelation – once in 12:12 it’s the devil’s wrath, but all the rest are about the wrath of God.
Now, the devil being wrathful is hardly unusual. But for God, Whose patience and mercy is unparalleled, to finally display His wrath – I think that’s really epic!
And God reserves His wrath for the lost who are by nature the children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience (Colossians 3:6), the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost (I Thessalonians 2:16), etc.
In I Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul describes the Rapture. But in the beginning of the very next chapter, he continues by describing the Tribulation in verse 2 as the day of the Lord, as a thief in the night; in verse 3 he says sudden destruction cometh as travail upon a woman with child; in verse 4, the day of darkness that overtakes people as a thief.
But then he begins describing how these things will not come upon the brethren, the children of light, and he encourages them for a couple of verses before saying in verse 9, For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Rapture described in the end of chapter 4; the Tribulation immediately afterward in the beginning of chapter 5; and then the conclusion down in verse 9 that we’re not appointed to wrath – I have to say, it really looks like the Tribulation is the wrath of God that He has not appointed us to endure!
Second, the conspicuous absence of any mention of the Church throughout the Tribulation chapters (Revelation 4-19).
Churches are mentioned repeatedly in chapters 1-3.
Then in Revelation 4:1, John sees a door opened in heaven and he hears a voice like a trumpet saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee things that must be hereafter . And immediately he’s caught up in the spirit before the throne.
That sounds like a pretty good representation of the Rapture!
And from there on through the whole Tribulation saga, the church is never mentioned again until the last chapter of the book in the bliss of eternal heaven.
Now if throughout this war, the church is supposed to be the devil’s target and the Bridegroom’s love, then that is a fantastic omission!
Now someone might call that an argument from silence. Well, it certainly is – but I’d call this one a very “thunderous” silence!
Third, the imminent return of Christ
We’ve mentioned already how Jesus frequently describes His coming as a thief in the night – no man would know the day nor the hour – the times nor the seasons – in such a time as ye think not – be always ready – and so forth. His whole point seems to be that if you are caught off-guard when it begins, there will be no time to change your lot afterward. We generally summarize this concept as the “imminent return” of Christ.
Now, the key events that take place from the appearance of the antichrist through various series of judgments all the way to Armageddon are fairly well mapped out in the Revelation. So if the Bible taught that the Rapture came at the end of the Tribulation, then it wouldn’t really be that hard to estimate the time or season of it. I mean, once the antichrist appeared on the scene and all the Tribulation judgments began to fall, you could easily predict that the Rapture was now seven years away. The only point in the drama where it can be completely unpredictable is at the very start.
But when people see the many signs such as the sun darkening, the moon turning red, the stars falling and so forth, then they can know that the day of His appearing in clouds with power and glory is at hand. Every eye shall see Him as He goes to battle against the antichrist at Armageddon, rescues Jerusalem, and sets up His Kingdom.
So obviously when Jesus says in Matthew 24:36 that of that day and hour knows no man, not even the angels – when He tells His disciples in Acts 1:7 that it is not for them to know the times or the seasons , then He cannot be talking about the revelation of Christ at the end of the Tribulation. He is talking about when His second coming unexpectedly begins at the rapture. Anyone who had been putting off salvation by that point is left behind – foolish virgins with no oil.
Fourth, the Church’s restraint of the antichrist.
All the way back in NT times, there were false teachers saying that the Rapture would not deliver Christians from the Tribulation. But Paul refutes this in II Thessalonians 2:1-8.
In verse 1, Paul beseeches his readers based on the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him – that’s the Rapture. He beseeches them not to be deceived into thinking that the Tribulation, the day of Christ (verse 2), is already at hand . Don’t believe people who are telling you that you’re going through the Tribulation.
He says in verse 3 that the Tribulation cannot come before a great falling away – and the Greek word is “apostasia” – or apostasy. This describes the moral freefall that will overcome the world when the salt and light is abruptly removed by our gathering together unto Christ – leaving the world in decadence and darkness. For the first time in history, there will be no believers anywhere on earth.
And in that spiritual midnight, the antichrist, the man of sin… the son of perdition , will finally be revealed (verse 3) and assume power (verse 4).
Paul beseeches them on the basis of these things. And he says in verse 5 that they should remember this from his teaching when he had been with them. And now that he’s reminded them of it, in verse 6 he’s confident that they now know what withholds the antichrist that he might be revealed in his time. So who did he just remind them was going to be taken out of the way in verse 1? Themselves, of course!
In verse 7, Paul says that the mystery of iniquity , the unseen forces ever seeking to bring the antichrist to power, are always at work in this world. I John 4:3 calls it the spirit of antichrist that even now already is… in the world. But verse 7 also says that He Who is currently hindering this will continue to hinder it until He’s taken out of the way . That’s talking about the Holy Spirit working through the body of Christ until that body of believers is gathered together unto him (verse 1).
And in verse 8, he repeats that only then – after we’re taken out of the way, gathered together unto him – only then shall that Wicked [one] be revealed.
The point is that so long as the Church remains in this world, the antichrist will never be able to rise. Jesus said that the gates of hell could not prevail against the Church. We must be removed through the Rapture before the apostasy or the antichrist or any other of the dominos can fall. The Church is the only thing holding the antichrist back!
In Ephesians 3:1-6, Paul describes the NT Church as a mystery. So here in II Thessalonians 2 we see that the mystery of iniquity can only be stopped by the mystery of the Church.
Never underestimate how powerful you - you members of the body of Christ, you through whom the Holy Spirit is working – your testimony, your service, your prayers, your worship, your fellowship, your evangelism, your Spiritual influence both in the unseen world as well as the seen – never underestimate the power of what God is doing through your life!
How ironic that the world so desperately wants to be rid of Christians, of the Church – but when they finally get their wish, that’s when the nightmare begins!
Fifth, the mortals who enter the Millennial Kingdom.
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus describes how He will purge out any unbelieving Tribulation survivors at the very beginning of the Kingdom, and only the believing survivors will be allowed to enter the Kingdom and repopulate the world for a thousand years.
But if the Rapture came at the end of the Tribulation, then all the believers would receive resurrected bodies just as the Millennial Kingdom is about to start. And all the unbelievers would be wiped out. So who’s left with mortal bodies to enter the Kingdom, marry, bear children and repopulate the world? No one! They’re all either glorified or dead!
But the Church being raptured at the start of the Tribulation gives the nation of Israel seven years to evangelize the world and bring multitudes into the Kingdom.
Sixth, the purpose of the Tribulation.
One reason that some people believe Christians will suffer the Tribulation is because there are clearly followers of God who are being persecuted throughout it. So who are they if not the Church?
Well, we all agree that God’s people will endure many hardships during the Tribulation. If one assumes that the Rapture is at the end , then they’ll say that the people of God who are being persecuted in it are Christians, the Church. If one assumes that the Rapture is at the beginning , then they’ll say that the persecuted people of God are the Jews who’ve finally recognized Jesus as their true Messiah - and their Tribulation converts.
One of the biggest reasons that I believe the rapture is first is because of how I view the purpose of the Tribulation to begin with. The Tribulation is all about how God saves Israel – not how He saves the Church.
I’ve noted earlier that the Church is never mentioned in the Tribulation story. But believing Jews are repeatedly identified as the overcomers in that trial.
There are the two witnesses, “Moses and Elijah”-like figures (possibly even Moses and Elijah themselves), who preach in Jerusalem from the beginning of the Tribulation until the middle of it.
There are the 144,000 Jewish evangelists – called “first fruits” – presumably Moses and Elijah’s first converts. As God promised through Abraham, all nations are finally being blessed through Israel.
There is the conversion of Jerusalem (Revelation 12:8) after the earthquake in Revelation 12:13…
…and this conversion incites Satan’s wrath and the antichrist’s persecution of Israel – the woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and the twelve stars about her head – an obvious reference to Israel from Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9-11.
The plagues upon the antichrist in Revelation 16 parallel the plagues upon Pharaoh in the time of Moses.
The symbolisms throughout these chapters come from Old Testament books like Daniel and Zechariah – books Jews should be familiar with – not from imagery elsewhere in the New Testament that Jews would not recognize.
And both the Old and New Testament references to the Tribulation identify it as a time of trouble for Israel – but never for the church.
Jeremiah 30:7 – Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.
Daniel 12:1, And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people : and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered , every one that shall be found written in the book.
Matthew 24:14-15, When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
Romans 11:25-26, *blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.
Seventh, the Tribulation is the last seven years of Old Testament chronology.
Daniel 9:24 describes several things that God will accomplish during the last 490 years (seventy weeks) of the Old Testament era when God was working primarily through Israel. After 483 of those years, the Messiah was cut off (verses 25-26). Jerusalem and the temple were soon destroyed by the Romans (verse 26). Then the antichrist makes a seven-year peace treaty that he himself will break (verse 27).
But between the beginning of verse 26 and verse 27 is the entire Church Age that was never revealed in Old Testament times (Ephesians 3:1-6) – like a parenthesis in history. The Church Age did not end the Old Testament era – it interrupted it.
There are still seven more years of Old Testament prophecies to be fulfilled after the Church is gone.
I know this was a bit long, and it may have been more “answer” than you were looking for. But you asked a big question, and it could not be adequately answered in a few words.
I hope these thoughts will help you to see the biblical case for the pre-tribulation Rapture.
Sue Thanks for the question and @jlyons and @tonyabthomas answered your questions with lots of scripture references. So, I will take a slightly different approach to answer your questions because I had the exact same questions a while ago. No matter who answers this question, there will always be some unknowns and we are all gifted with curious minds and it may seek to find the last bit of details that we don’t know or the last bit of details that we may never know.
Because it is not revealed by God to the extent we all want to know. Daniel 12:4 says “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”
Matthew 24:36 also confirms God’s intention not to disclose the details - “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
Few more reasons,
• Bible is not crystal clear on pre/mid/post-tribulation and I believe it is for a reason known only to God based on the references that I quoted above.
• Matthew 24:22 supports Mid-Tribulation scenarios because of the promise in Romans 5:9
• 1 Thessalonians 4:17 supports post-tribulation arguments. But this verse is not clearly stating whether or not “Caught up together” happens before 7 years, after 3.5 years, or after 7 years.
• Interestingly pre-tribulation arguments divide the second coming into two stages. First Jesus comes for the church, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and then the second stage is to set up His kingdom, Revelation 19:11-21.
We all would agree that Jesus is definitely coming again. Though I struggled for a while to get comfortable with what’s going to happen, I started to focus on the promises that are clearer, confirming his plans with certainty. The two verses that I always use for prayers and I hope this gives you the certainty.
Matthew 24:14 And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Wycliffe’s web site and 10/40 window updates encourage me to pray for this verse to become a reality soon. Though more work to be done, this verse makes me certain of God’s plan and His consistency in redeeming as many people as possible.
Though many believers anticipate a great revival across the world, the Bible actually talks about an apostasy - 2 Peter 2:20-22, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 6:4-6. I still believe that this is yet to occur and this one bothers me the most, especially when the churches around the world are not standing up for God’s truth without any deviations.