Does it matter?
In response to these promises from Christ, "the Spirit and the bride say, Come" (Rv 22:17), to which John adds his glad "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
Who is this Bride? After declaring that husband and wife are "one flesh," Paul explains: "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Eph. 5:22-32).
Neither the words of Christ and John nor those of the Spirit and the Bride would make any sense if this coming to catch away the believers to Himself had to await the appearance of Antichrist (prewrath view) or the consummation of the Great Tribulation (post-trib view). A post-anything coming of Christ for His bride simply doesn't fit these words of Scripture. If the Great Tribulation must occur first, for the Spirit and the Bride to cry "Come, Lord Jesus!" would be like demanding payment on a debt that wasn't due for seven years!
A post-anything rapture flies in the face of many scriptures which clearly demand a coming of Christ that could occur at any moment. Christ himself said, "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord..." (Lk 12:35). Such a command would mock us if Christ could not come until after seven years of tribulation.
That the coming which Christ's bride longs for will bring the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of the living into new bodies is clear not only from 1 Thessalonians 4, but from other passages such as "...from whence [heaven] also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Phil 3:20-21). Many other passages also call upon believers to watch and wait expectantly. Such exhortations make sense only if Christ could catch His bride to heaven at any moment:
...waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:7); ...ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven... (1 Thes1:9-10); Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of...our Saviour Jesus Christ (Ti 2:13); ...unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time... (Heb 9:28); Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord (Jas 5:7); etc.
Opinions about the Rapture do not affect salvation -- but we would seek to understand what the Bible says. The early church was clearly expecting Christ at any moment. To be watching and waiting for Christ if Antichrist must appear first would be like expecting Christmas before Thanksgiving. Yet Christ exhorted, "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh ...Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch" (Mt 25:13; Mk 13:36-37).
Nor does the following from Christ fit a post-trib coming: "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh" (Mt 24:44). It is absurd to imagine that anyone who had survived the Great Tribulation and had seen the prophesied events (the plagues and judgment poured out upon earth; Antichrist's image in the temple; the mark imposed to buy and sell; all killed who would not worship Antichrist's image; the three witnesses in Jerusalem killed, then resurrected and caught up to heaven; Jerusalem surrounded by the world's armies, etc.), and who had counted the foretold 1,260 days, could possibly imagine at that hour that Christ was not about to return! There is simply no way to reconcile a post-trib coming of Christ with His warning that He would come when He would not be expected.
That statement alone distinguishes the Rapture (catching the church up from earth to heaven) from the Second Coming (to rescue Israel at Armageddon), for the latter will surprise almost no one. In contrast to His warning that even many in the church will not be expecting Him, numerous scriptures foretell another coming of Christ when all the signs have been fulfilled and everyone knows that He is coming. To unbelieving Israel, Christ declared, "when ye shall see all these things, know that it [My coming] is near, even at the doors" (Mt 24:33). Even Antichrist will know: "And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army" (Rv 19:19).
Either Christ is contradicting himself (impossible!) or He is speaking of two events. Christ says He will come at a time of peace and prosperity when even His bride will not expect Him: "Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not" (Lk 12:40). Not only the foolish, but even the wise, will be asleep: "While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept" (Mt 25:5)!
Yet Scripture says that the Messiah comes when the world is almost destroyed by war, famine and God's judgment and Israel is about to go down in defeat. Then, Jahweh declares, "they shall look upon me whom they have pierced" (Zec 12:10) and all Jews alive on earth will recognize their returning messiah as the "mighty God, the everlasting Father" (Is 9:6) who, exactly as their prophets foretold, came as a man, died for their sins, and has come again, this time to rescue Israel. Of this climactic moment, Christ declares, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Mt 24:13). Paul adds, "And so all Israel [still living] shall be saved.... " (Rom 11:26).
It is inescapable that two comings are yet future: one that could catch even His bride by surprise, and another that will hardly be a surprise to anyone. These cannot be the same event. But where does the New Testament say that two comings remain? Every Christian believes in two comings: Christ came once to earth, died for our sins, rose from the dead, returned to heaven and is coming again. Yet nowhere did the Old Testament say there would be two distinct comings.
That fact caused confusion for the rabbis, for Christ's disciples,and even for John the Baptist. "Filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb" (Lk 1:15, 41, 44), John had testified that Jesus was "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29). Yet this last of the Old Testament prophets, of whom there was none greater "born of women" (Lk 7:28), began to doubt: "Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?" (Lk :19).
Only one coming of the Messiah was anticipated. He would deliver Israel and establish His kingdom upon David's throne in Jerusalem. Thus the rabbis, soldiers and jeering onlookers mocked Him on the cross (Mt 27:40-44; Mk 15:18-20, 29-32; Lk 23:35-37)! In spite of all the miracles He had done, the disciples likewise took His crucifixion to be conclusive proof that He could not have been the Messiah. The two on the road to Emmaus said, "...we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel" (Lk 24:19-21)-but now He was dead.
Christ rebuked them for failing "to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (Lk 24:25). That was the common problem -- failure to consider all prophecies. Israel had a one-sided view of the Messiah's coming (and still does today) which allows her to see only His triumphant reign and blinds her to His sacrifice for sin. Even many Christians are so obsessed with thoughts of "conquering" and "dominion" that they imagine it is the church's responsibility to take over the world and to establish the Kingdom so that the King can then return to earth to reign. They forget His promise to His bride to take her to heaven, from whence she shall return with Him to help rule the world.
How could Christ come from heaven to execute judgment upon earth "with ten thousands of his saints [i.e., multitudes]" (Jude 14) if He had not first taken them to heaven? Here we have another reason for a pretrib rapture. Amazingly, Michael Horton, in Putting Amazing Back into Grace (p. 198), imagines that 1Thessalonians 4:14 refers to Christ's Second Coming "with the saints" ("so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him"). On the contrary, it is the disembodied souls and spirits of physically dead believers which Christ brings at the Rapture to be reunited with their bodies at the resurrection and takes them and the transformed living to heaven. At the Second Coming it is living saints who have already been resurrected and previously taken to heaven whom He brings with Him back to earth.
Prior to Christ's return with His saints there has been a wedding in heaven of the Lamb to His bride (Rv 19:7). Having undergone the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:12-15; 2 Cor 5:10, etc.), the saints are "arrayed in fine linen, clean and white" (Rv 19:8). Surely they must also be the army "clothed in fine linen, white and clean" (19:14) that comes with Christ to destroy Antichrist. When were they taken to heaven? Certainly not at the Second Coming, for that would leave time neither for the judgment seat of Christ nor for the wedding. The Rapture must be a prior event.
Those who are looking forward to meeting a "Christ" with their feet planted on this earth have forgotten that the true Christ will catch us up to meet Him in the air and take us to His Father's house. They have forgotten, too, that Antichrist will establish an earthly kingdom before the true King returns to reign. Sadly, those who are working to establish a kingdom on this earth are preparing the world for the counterfeit reign of "that man of sin."
How could anyone in Old Testament times have known that there would be two comings of the Messiah? By implication only. Either the prophets contradicted themselves when they foretold that the Messiah would be rejected and crucified and yet that He would be hailed as King and reign upon David's throne forever-or they were speaking of two comings.
There was no way to put into one event what the prophets said. There simply had to be two comings of the Messiah: first as the Lamb of God to die for our sins, then as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Hos 5:14-15; Rv 5:5) in power and glory to rescue Israel in the midst of Armageddon.
And so it is in the New Testament. Notice the many contradictions unless these are two events: 1) He comes for His saints and at a time when no one expects Him; but He comes with His saints and at a time when everyone knows He is coming; 2) He doesn't come to earth but catches the saints up to meet Him in the air (1 Thes 4:17); but He comes to this earth, His "feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives" (Zec 14:4) and the saints come to earth with Him; 3) He takes the saints to heaven to His Father's house of many mansions to be with Him (Jn 14:3); but He brings the saints from heaven (Zec 14:5; Jude 14); 4) He comes for His bride at a time of peace and prospering, business and pleasure (Lk 17:26-30); but He comes to rescue His people Israel when the world has practically been destroyed and in the midst of earth's worst war, Armageddon.
Christ declared: "And as it was in the days of Noe...they did eat, they drank, they married wives;...also as it was in the days of Lot;...they bought, they sold, they planted, ...they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven....Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed [to His own]" (Lk 17:26-30). These world conditions at the Rapture could only be before the tribulation period; they certainly could not be at its conclusion!
Rapture? Critics claim that the word "rapture" isn't even in the Bible! In fact, it is and has been since Jerome's fifth-century Latin Vulgate translated the Greek harpazo (to snatch suddenly) as raeptius, from which "rapture" comes. The KJV renders harpazo "caught up." That is what Christ promised in John 14-to catch us up to heaven.
Other critics parrot Dave MacPherson's myth that a pretrib Rapture came from Darby early in the nineteenth century, who learned it from a Margaret MacDonald, who got it from Edward Irving, who learned it from the writings of the Jesuit Emmanuel Lacunza. That is simply not true (see Reprints, June 1995). A number of much earlier writers expressed this belief. One is Ephraem of Nisibis (306-73), well-known in Syrian church history. He stated, "All the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord...." That sermon was popularly circulated in several languages.
Yes, there is a post-trib coming: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days... they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Mt 24:29-30). For His angels to "gather together his elect from the four winds" (vv. 29-31) is certainly not Christ himself rapturing His church to heaven, but the gathering of scattered Israel back to her land at the Second Coming.
Christ associated evil with the thought that His coming would be delayed: "But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming" (Mt 24:48; Lk 12:45). Again, that statement is senseless if the Rapture is post-trib. There is no greater motive for holy living and diligent evangelism than knowing that Christ could take us to heaven at any moment. May the Bride awaken from her sleep, fall in love again with the Bridegroom, and from her heart and by her daily life call out continually, "Come, Lord Jesus, come!"