Differences Between The Rapture and The Second Coming
Dr. Thomas Ice
When considering the issue of the rapture of the Church, especially the timing, it is essential that one observe the differences between these two events. I strongly believe the New Testament indicates the Church will be raptured before the seventieth week of Daniel. A key reason is because the Bible teaches that the rapture is a distinct event from Christ’s second coming to the earth. In any consideration of the truthfulness of the timing of the rapture this issue is of crucial importance.
Importance of Distinctions
Dr. John Feinberg notes that distinguishing between Christ’s rapture and His return is of foundational importance in establishing pretribulationism against the non-pre-trib claim that Scripture does not teach such a view.
. . . the pretribulationist must show that there is enough dissimilarity between clear rapture and clear second advent passages as to warrant the claim that the two kinds of passages could be speaking about two events which could occur at different times. The pretribulationist does not have to prove at this point . . . that the two events must occur at different times, but only that the exegetical data from rapture and second coming advent passages do not make it impossible for the events to occur at different times. If he can do that, the pretribulationist has shown that his view is not impossible. And, he has answered the posttribulationist’s strongest line of evidence.
A key factor in understanding the New Testament’s teaching of the pre-trib rapture revolves around the fact that two future comings of Christ are presented. The first coming is the catching up into the clouds of the church before the seven-year tribulation and the second coming that occurs at the end of the tribulation when Christ returns to the earth to begin His thousand-year kingdom. Anyone desirous of insight into the biblical teaching of the rapture and second advent must study and decide whether Scripture speaks of one or two future events. Yet, many non-pretribulationists never deal with this issue.
Framing the Issue
Posttribulationists usually contend that if the rapture and the second coming are two distinct events, separated by at least seven years, then there ought to be at least one passage in Scripture which clearly teaches this in the way they have stated it. However, the Bible does not always teach God’s truth in accordance with out preconceived notions or man-made formulations in such a way that answers directly all of our questions. For example, a Unitarian could design a similar kind of question regarding the Trinity that is not answered directly in the Bible. “Where does the Bible teach the Trinity?” We who believe the Trinity reply that the Bible teaches the Trinity but reveals it in a different way.
Many important biblical doctrines are not given to us directly from a single verse in the way one thinks it should be stated. One often needs to harmonize passages into systematic conclusions. Some truths are directly stated in the Bible, such as the deity of Christ (John 1:1; Titus 2:13). But doctrines like the Trinity and the incarnate nature of Christ are the product of biblical harmonization. Taking into account all biblical texts that touch on a matter, orthodox theologians, over time, recognized and stated that God is a Trinity and that Christ is the God-Man. Similarly, a systematic consideration of all biblical passages reveals two future comings. I am NOT saying the Bible does not teach a pre-trib rapture, as some have misconstrued similar comments in the past. The New Testament does teach pretribulationism, even though it may not be presented in a way that seems clear to some.
Posttribulationists often contend that pretribulationism is built merely upon an assumption that certain verses “make sense” if and only if the pre-trib model of the rapture is assumed. However, they often fail to realize that they are just as dependent upon similar assumptions. Their error arises from failure to observe actual distinctions in the biblical text because of their blinding assumption of a single future coming of Christ.
We all agree that the career of Messiah takes place in history around two major phases related to His two comings to planet earth. Phase one took place at His first coming when He came in humiliation. Phase two will begin at His second advent when He will come in power and glory. Failure to distinguish these two phases was a key factor in Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. In the same way, failure to see clear distinctions between the rapture and second coming lead many to a misinterpretation of God’s future plan.
The Nature of the Rapture
The rapture is first introduced by Jesus (John 14:1–3) in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13—16) when He disclosed to His disciples new church age truth the night before His death. Paul expands upon Jesus’ introduction of the rapture in one of his earliest Epistles in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. The English phrase “caught up” (1 Thess. 4:17) translates the Greek word harpazo, which means “to seize upon with force” or “to snatch up.” Latin translators of the Bible used the word rapere, the root of the English term “rapture.” At the rapture living believers will be “caught up” into the air, translated into the clouds where Christ will hover, in a moment of time.
The rapture is characterized as a “translation coming” (1 Cor. 15:51–52; 1 Thess. 4:15–17) in which Christ comes for His church. The second advent is Christ returning with His previously raptured saints, descending from heaven to establish His earthly kingdom (Zech. 14:4–5; Matt. 24:27–31).
Differences between the two events are harmonized naturally by the pre-trib position, while other views are not able to account naturally from biblical texts for distinctions. The following graphic lists a compilation of rapture passages set opposite to many verses that refer to the second coming.
RAPTURE AND SECOND COMING PASSAGES
Based upon the references above, we can see a vast difference between the character of passages referencing the rapture when compared to those of the second advent as summarized in the following chart:
RAPTURE AND SECOND COMING CONTRASTS
Rapture/Translation 2nd Coming/Estab. Kingdom
1 Translation of all believers 1 No translation at all
2 Translated saints go to 2 Translated saints return to
3 Earth not judged 3 Earth judged & righteousness
4 Imminent, any-moment, 4 Follows definite predicted
signless signs including tribulation
5 Not in the Old Testament 5 Predicted often in Old Testament
6 Believers only 6 Affects all men
7 Before the day of wrath 7 Concluding the day of wrath
8 No reference to Satan 8 Satan bound
9 Christ comes for His own 9 Christ comes with His own
10 He comes in the air 10 He comes to the earth
11 He claims His bride 11 He comes with His bride
12 Only His own see Him 12 Every eye shall see Him
13 Tribulation begins 13 Millennial Kingdom begins
Paul speaks of the rapture as a “mystery” (1 Cor. 15:51–54), that is a truth not revealed until its disclosure for the Church (Col. 1:26), making it a separate event. On the other hand, the second coming was predicted in the Old Testament (Dan. 12:1–3; Zech. 12:10; 14:4).
The movement for the believer at the rapture is from earth to heaven, while it is from heaven to earth at the second advent. At the rapture, the Lord comes for His saints (1 Thess. 4:16), while at the second coming He comes with His saints (1 Thess. 3:13). At the rapture, Christ comes only for believers, but His return to earth will impact all people. The rapture is a translation/resurrection event where the Lord takes believers “to the Father’s house” in heaven (John 14:3), while at the second advent believers return from heaven to earth (Matt. 24:30). Ed Hindson says, “The different aspects of our Lord’s return are clearly delineated in the scriptures themselves. The only real issue in the eschatological debate is the time interval between them.”
One of the strengths of the pre-trib position is that it is best able to harmonize the many events of end-time prophecy because of its distinction between the rapture and the second coming. Posttribulationists rarely attempt to answer such objections and the few who try struggle with the biblical text resulting in strained interpretations. Pretribulationists do not struggle to provide answers. What are some post-trib problems?
First, posttribulationism requires that the church will be present during the seventieth week of Daniel (Dan. 9:24–27) even though it was absent from the first sixty-nine. Daniel 9:24 says, all seventy weeks are for Israel. Pretribulationism is not in conflict with this passage, as is posttribulationism, since the church departs before the beginning of the seven-year period.
Second, posttribbers must deny the New Testament teaching of imminency—that Christ could come at any-moment. Pretribulationism has no problem since it holds that no signs or events must precede the rapture.
Third, premillennial posttribulationism has no answer to the problem of who will populate the millennium if the rapture and second coming occur together. Since all believers will be translated at the rapture and all unbelievers judged, because no unrighteous shall be allowed to enter Christ’s kingdom, then no one would be left in mortal bodies to populate the millennium.
Fourth, posttribulationism is not able to satisfactorily explain the sheep and goat judgment after the second coming (Matt. 25:31–46). The rapture would have removed believers from unbelievers at Christ’s return rendering the sheep/goat judgment a non-necessity. On the other hand, it is necessary if pretribulationism is true.
Fifth, Revelation 19:7–8 identifies the church as the Bride of Christ who has made herself ready and accompanies Christ from heaven to earth at the second coming (Rev. 19:14). How could this happen if the church is still on earth awaiting Christ’s deliverance while at the same time returning with Him? Once again, posttribulationism requires an impossible scenario, while the clear statements of the biblical text fit nicely into pretribulationism.
The clear differences between Christ’s coming in the air to rapture His church and His return to planet earth with the church are too great to be seen as a single event. These biblical distinctions provide a strong basis for pretribulationism. When one considers that the church is promised exemption from Israel’s tribulation (Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:1:9; Rev. 3:10), then it only follows that the church will be raptured before the tribulation. Such a hope is indeed a “Blessed Hope” (Titus 2:13). Even so, come Lord Jesus? Maranatha!
 John S. Feinberg, “Arguing for the Rapture: Who Must Prove What and How” in Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, editors, When The Trumpet Sounds (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), p. 195.
 (emphasis original) Edward E. Hindson, “The Rapture and the Return: Two Aspects of Christ’s Coming” in Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, editors, When The Trumpet Sounds (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), p. 157.