7 Reasons to Regard the Rapture as a Unique Event, Part 2
By Jonathan C. Brentner
In my last post, I began listing reasons why we should regard the rapture as a separate event from the Second Coming. Much confusion exists today over this mater.
Because so many today fail to make the distinction between the two events, or fail to even believe in a rapture, it’s important to understand why it is different than the Second Coming.
As in part 1, I include this important note: In making my distinctions between the rapture and second coming, I am assuming a premillennial belief. Without beliefs in a literal seven year tribulation, Jesus return to earth after this time, and the setting of a millennial rule that includes Israel, these distinctions would be mute.
Here are my remaining 3 reasons why we should regard the rapture as a unique event.
5. The Differing Emphasis of Each Event
The emphasis of Jesus’ Second Coming is judgment. He judges the armies gathered against him, the antichrist, locks up Satan, and then gathers all who dwell on earth for sentencing. The overriding theme of the Second Coming is the judgment of all who dwell on the earth at that time.
The message of the rapture, on the other hand, consists of comfort and encouragement (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11). This is when Jesus raises the “dead in Christ,” gives them and living believers immortal bodies, and takes us all home to his Father’s house (1 Cor. 15:50-57; John 14:2-3).
These passages console believers when someone we love dies or when our lives turn upside down and we despair regarding our future. They speak hope for us as followers of Christ, not judgment. Scripture only includes believers in the rapture; only the “dead in Christ” rise from the dead and only living saints are caught up to be with Jesus.
6. The Presence of Living Believers to Populate the Earth During the Millennium
When Jesus returns to earth, as noted in part 1, he judges all who are alive at the time. Matthew 25:31-46 depicts Jesus separating the sheep from the goats, believers from those who are not. The former group enters the kingdom while Jesus sends the others away to “eternal punishment.” Believers enter the kingdom in natural bodies; Scripture does not say they receive imperishable bodies at this time, but suggests quite the opposite.
If the rapture and the second coming are the same the event, then all the believers would already possess glorified bodies before this judgment. There would be no need for the separation of the goats from the sheep. Everyone with a glorified body would automatically be a part of God’s kingdom while all others would face his condemnation. No one would enter the thousand year reign of Jesus in natural bodies; everyone would possess immortal ones.
This is far, far different from what both the Old and New Testament tell us about the millennium. John MacArthur says this about the distinction:
“If God raptures and glorifies all believers just prior to the inauguration of the millennial kingdom (as a posttribulational Rapture demands), no one would be left to populate and propagate the earthly kingdom of Christ promised to Israel. It is not within the Lord’s plan and purpose to use glorified individuals to propagate the earth during the Millennium. Therefore, the Rapture needs to occur earlier so that after God has raptured all believers, He can save more souls—including Israel’s remnant—during the seven-year Tribulation. Those people can then enter the millennial kingdom in earthly form.”[i]
Many Old Testament passages such as Zechariah 14:9-19 refer to people alive during the millennium that will possess natural bodies as well as the capacity to sin. Zechariah 14 denotes the possibility of nations rebelling against the King by refusing to come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. In addition, at the end of the millennium there will be a rebellion against the Lord (Rev. 20:7-9). Such scenarios cannot exist if the rapture and second coming are the same event or even if one happens shortly after the other.
Furthermore, Isaiah 65:19-20 refers to a time after Jesus’ return when there will be infants signifying marriage and reproduction. The passage also refers to death and sin, things not possible in the eternal state of Revelation 21-22. In order for these things to be true, living believers at the end of the tribulation must enter the millennium in natural bodies.
7. The Rapture is a Mystery
In 1 Corinthians 15:51, the apostle Paul begins his description of the rapture with these words, “Behold! I tell you a mystery.” Last year, my wife and I saw the movie Murder on the Orient Express, a depiction of the novel written by Agatha Christie. This story is a mystery; we do not know who murdered the man on the train until the end of the story. This is what we typically think of when we hear that something is a “mystery.”
The use of the word “mystery” in the New Testament differs much from this definition. The word as the apostles used it designates something new, a truth God did not reveal in the Old Testament. When Paul introduces the Lord’s return for his church in the book of 1 Thessalonians he says, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord…” (4:15). He was telling the Thessalonians something new.
On the other hand, we find references to the second coming all through the Old Testament. We even see from the book of Jude that God revealed the Lord’s second coming to Enoch who lived before the flood in Noah’s day (see Jude 14-15). The Second Coming was not something new in the church era; God had revealed facts about it many centuries before the time of Christ.
The New Testament nowhere describes the Second Coming as a mystery, as something new. The rapture, however, is described as a mystery, a new and fresh revelation for the church!
Why all the fuss in separating the rapture from the Second Coming? It matters because it relates to our expectation of what comes next for us.
If they are the same event, then our immediate prospect is not Jesus’ appearing but seven frightful years of devastating tribulation on the earth for which we need to prepare as we see the many signs of the approaching tribulation. On the other hand, if they are distinct events separated by seven years, then we live in anticipation of suddenly being in Jesus’ presence.
This is the essence of biblical perspective on life, that of living in hope of Jesus’ imminent appearing to take us home!