Have you been taught all your life that the rapture and Second Coming are distinct events, years apart? Is it difficult to change your cherished belief? The belief about the Second Coming in the earliest apostolic community was unified, without complications. Here’s the plentiful biblical and nonsymbolic and direct evidence.
In this post I interpret straightforward and nonsymbolic teachings about the last day and the return of the Lord in John’s Gospel and Paul’s epistles and some verses in Hebrews, and quick reference in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). What do these passages teach?
I don’t appeal to the most symbolic book in the Bible–Revelation–except in passing.
The ESV is used here. If, however, readers would like to read other translations, they are welcome to click on biblegateway.com.
The main thesis: the rapture and the Second Coming are the same event.
Second thesis: the plain and clear passage must guide our interpretation of the symbolic passages.
These verses in John’s Gospel are about final judgment:
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)
Both the good-deed doers and the bad-deed doers will rise together at final judgment. The resurrection of the redeemed and unredeemed happen at the same time. Those verses supply an additional context for the ones in John 6, next.
Jesus focused on one idea in John 6:39, 40, 44, 54. In those verses he said that on the last day he will raise up (from the dead) everyone who believes in him. Once again, this resurrection happens on the last day. Emphasis added:
39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” …
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. …
54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54, emphasis added)
Paul agrees with the idea of last day. In 1 Cor. 15:51-54 the Second Coming will happen at the resurrection of the dead at the last trumpet.
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality… (1 Cor. 15:51-54, emphasis added)
Further, in 1 Cor. 15:26 Paul said that the last enemy to be defeated will be death.
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26, emphasis added).
It’s hard to believe that death will still defeat people after a secret rapture. No, death will no longer defeat people only at the Second Coming, and the rapture and Second Coming are the same event and happen on the last day, as we see in the next passage.
Here is the clearest teaching in the NT about the rapture, which means, in Latin, “snatching up” or catching up” (Latin: rapto, raptura). In Greek, the language of the NT, the verb harpazô (pronounced hahr-pah-zoh) means the exact same thing: “snatching up” or “catching up.” In the next passage, the dead in Christ will rise first (cf. John 6:39, 40, 44, 54), which is also a kind of rapture, and then the clause “we who are alive” (Paul and the Thessalonians and now us) is linked with the rapture.
15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming [parousia] of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep [died]. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up [harpazô = rapture] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:15-17)
And so in 1 Thess. 4:15-17, the trumpet and the raising of the dead and the snatching up (rapture) occur at the same time or are the same event. And therefore the Second Coming and the rapture occur at the same time. That above passage coordinates perfectly with 1 Cor. 15:25, 51-52 and John 39, 40, 44, 54. Then we will descend with him and be with him on the (transformed) earth forever.
Why will we descend with him down to earth and remain down here and not shoot back into heaven in the secret rapture? The Parousia (see 1 Thess. 4:15) by definition typically means arrival or being there. In its historical context, a parousia happens when a Roman dignitary, like a senator or even the emperor, arrived (parousia) in a Roman colony, e.g. Corinth. At his arrival (parousia), the dignitaries of the city went out to meet him, and they escorted him back into their city. Then they had feasts and games to celebrate his arrival (parousia). The dignitaries in the colony did not board the senator’s or emperor’s ship and abscond away for three-and-a-half or seven years.
At the Parousia, the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thess. 4:16). Recall that John 6:39, 40, 44, 54 say that the dead will rise on the last day. Paul said the last enemy to be defeated will be death (1 Cor. 15:26). He likewise says this will happen with the blast of the last trumpet (1 Cor. 15:52; see 1 Thess. 4:16).
Hebrews and Titus
The author of Hebrews says that there are only two comings: the first and second:
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb. 9:26-28; emphasis added)
Jesus first and once appeared at his birth, and then ministered and put away sin by sacrificing himself. Then he will appear a second time for those eagerly waiting for him. This saving will be a deliverance from the present evil age and from a negative judgment. Why didn’t the author of Hebrews discuss a secret rapture? Here was his perfect chance.
Of course a teacher of the secret rapture could say that those verses do speak of a secret rapture because he comes a second time to save those who wait for him. In reply, however, v. 27 is about the judgment of everyone; this secret rapture only shifts the question to why the author did not speak of the Second Coming. He was keeping the church “noninformed.”
The truth is simpler: He did not warn the church about a secret rapture because he believed only in two comings: the first and second.
Paul in his epistle to his mentee or disciple Titus says the same, but without the “first” and “second” qualifiers, though it is clear enough there are only two comings:
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ …. (Titus 2:11-13)
In both Hebrews and Titus, we have this simple sequence of eras (the arrows mean a continuous chronological flow of events without mathematical precision):
First Coming → Church Age —————————→ Second Coming
So Jesus came the first time and offered grace and salvation to all people. Before his Second Coming, we are to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and live self-controlled, upright and godly lives. Then the Second Coming happens, which ends the Church Age as we are currently living it. The Second Coming will be glorious (Ti. 2:13; Matt. 24:30), not secretive. This was Paul’s perfect chance to insert a teaching about a secret rapture, but he did not. Why not? No complicated, convoluted reasoning here: he simply believed in a first coming of the Son of God and a second coming of the Son of God.
Three other main chapters in passing
I further note in passing that Matt. 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21:5-38, all parallel eschatological (end-time) passages in the Synoptic Gospels, nowhere teach a separate and distinct secret rapture happening before the Second Coming. Those verses teach only the globally clear and universally visible Second Coming. It is is unwise hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) to split verses in half and say this clause refers to a secret rapture, while the next clause is about the Second Coming. To find in those three chapters a secret rapture separated by years from the Second Coming is to import this prior belief into them and atomize them beyond reason.
This is eisegesis (reading into a text), not exegesis (taking out of a text). Exegesis is better than eisegesis. Such complications violate the best biblical hermeneutics: keep things clear and simple.
Finally for this section, I note this verse about the trumpet sounding at the Second Coming: “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt. 24:31). The Second Coming is sounded by the trumpet, which happens, as we read in Paul’s epistles, during the rapture and the Second coming.
The Revelation in passing
Paul and the author of Hebrews knew nothing about the most symbolic book in the Bible because they lived before it was written in the 90s. (Or if they lived around the same time it was written in the 60s, as very few interpreters believe, then in the normal flow of events, documents take a long time to circulate, and Paul and the author of Hebrews show no sign that they knew of it.) It is a sure thing that John wrote his Gospel before he got his visions in the Revelation. But even if he did not, then Jesus’s teachings in the Gospel still stand as clearly as can be in straightforward, nonsymbolic, didactic words.
I have not gone into detail about debatable verses in the Revelation, because no one interpretation can dominate it and clear away all other interpretations. It is unwise hermeneutics, therefore, to impose Revelation–the most symbolic book in all of the Bible–on the clear and straightforward and didactic teachings in the epistles and the Gospel of John and Hebrews and the three parallel passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Just the opposite is true. The clear verses interpret and guide us to interpret the unclear, symbolic ones.
I note in passing, nonetheless, that even Rev. 11:15-19 says that the seventh and last trumpet is blown after the mighty tribulation when God finally and at last wins the complete victory. But my thesis does not stand or fall on this book.
Please see the addendum below for how I view Revelation in this specific post.
Summary and Conclusion
The main goal of Bible interpretation (hermeneutics) is to keep the plain thing the main thing. Imposing complicated and apocalyptic and debatable verses from Daniel 7 or 9 or 11 or from the Revelation on the clearest verses in Scripture is not the best approach to interpreting the Bible.
All of those verses in John and the synoptic Gospels and Paul’s epistles and Hebrews are not complicated symbol that we find in the book of Revelation, the most symbolic book in the Bible. I quickly noted one section in that symbolic book about the seventh and last trumpet, but my thesis does not stand or fall on the Revelation.
And the bottom line is this: the Second Coming and the rapture happen at the same time and on the last day. The verses we looked at in the Gospel of John and Paul’s epistles and Hebrews are straightforward and direct teachings in the context of the end times and the Second Coming. None of those verses teach a secret rapture between now and before the last day, but Paul’s epistles tell us that the rapture happens at the Second Coming. They are the same event. Further, nowhere do the eschatological chapters in the synoptic Gospels teach a secret rapture before the Second Coming or teach a secret rapture at all. All of theses verses are straightforward and didactic, not symbolic (except a few elements, like the terrible scene in the sky that happens to the sun and stars and so on).
It seems that the powerful image of the trumpet stuck in the apostolic community’s mind. The trumpet heralds the Second Coming, which entails the raising the dead and rapture of the Church on the last day.
One more time, for clarity and conciseness, the teaching circulating throughout the earliest apostolic churches was this one:
The Rapture = the Second Coming at the Same Time, on the Last Day
When this one event happens, death will finally and at last be defeated because our bodies will be miraculously transformed into immortal ones, once and for all and forever–on the last day.
If the secret rapture were such a vital teaching in the original apostolic community, then the writers of Scripture were remiss because they did not clearly warn the church about it. Why not? For them the truth was simpler and they did not multiply complications, as many teachers do today. They earliest apostolic teachers, closest to Jesus’s teachings, believed that there was only a two-time coming: first and second. The first happened at Jesus’s birth; the second will be in the future when he will come in full power and glory and defeat death and set up his eternal kingdom, all heralded by the trumpet blast.
So how does this post help me grow in Christ and wait in purity for the Second Coming?
1 John 3:2-3 says:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3).
The Second Coming will happen in God’s time. We don’t need to be scared of it, nor do we get to live a life of sin, because we think we can get away with it. No, the Scriptures tell us everywhere to live godly lives. And we don’t need to be scared into living such lives, either. John 3:3 says it is the hope (not the fear) of his appearing that causes us to purify our lives.
Addendum: Clearing up my passing reference to Revelation
Some online commenters have said that I don’t emphasize Revelation enough. One even asked, ironically, whether we should discard it.
No, we should not discard it, but we should no longer stomp through it as if the issues are settled in our tidy systems.
My further reply is that the clearer texts should guide people’s interpretation of the less clear ones. For example, Rev. 4:1 is not a rapture verse, but believers in the secret rapture before the tribulation have to say it is, because the church must not be around during the tribulation, in their system that they impose on the text with a rapture template. John himself and by himself was called by the Spirit to go up and see the visions, alone, not the church as a whole. The clear and didactic and straightforward texts I cite in this post should clarify these teachers’ interpretations of Revelation, so that they don’t import a strange reading into a plain verse.
Another example: some interpreters believe that the seven churches represent different ages within the large Church Age. So the seventh church, Laodicea, which was neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, was counseled to buy gold refined by fire (purity coming out of trials or persecution), represents this present church age. This typological reading is very stretched. Such interpretations of historical verses–not symbolic ones–need to be reined in. However, I can’t say that this symbolic, dispensational reading is so far off-base that it adds up to heresy, and maybe some tiny elements can be gleaned from the Laodicean church that may be relevant today. Nonetheless, I am so convinced that if we would just take the verses in their textual context and not “out-insight” the original writers, the Bible would become as it should be: streamlined and simpler, without a messy entanglement of complications.
I am also reluctant, for a third example that goes beyond the Revelation, to drag Ezekiel’s temple forward to our world today (or the Millennium), when Ezekiel himself said it was conditional (Ezek. 43:9-11). What was the clearest teaching in the apostolic community about the temple? Peter says God’s new temple is his church, writing this while the temple was still up and running in Jerusalem (1 Pet. 2:4-8). Paul also says the church is the temple, while the Jerusalem temple was going strong (1 Cor. 3:17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22). Therefore, the teaching that the church = the temple was a widespread belief in the apostolic community as represented by those two lead apostles and references. I don’t see the apostolic community talking about bringing Ezekiel’s temple forward to their day (or any day in a new millennium), where animal sacrifices would be reinstituted, to supposedly commemorate the sacrifice of Christ. It seems to me, as I read Galatians, Paul would be so offended by this teaching that he might have put a curse on anyone who taught it (Gal. 1:8-9). It also denies the clearest theme of the epistle to the Hebrews, particularly Chapters 8 to 10. Christ’s once-and-all sacrifice was more than sufficient. In short, the apostolic community would have seen this teaching as bizarre and distracting from how Christ told us to commemorate his death: the cup and bread (1 Cor. 11:23-26). They would have seen Ezekiel’s rebuilt temple even in the Messianic Age as irrelevant to how God was building a new temple–his global church, where his presence would live forever.
Back to Revelation. To me, it was written first for the seven churches in Asia Minor and then by extension for the church of all ages, to warn them of the troubles to come. It is a book about martyrs. Therefore, it is a good idea to let the clear and didactic and straightforward verses laid out in this post guide all interpretations of the most symbolic book in the Bible.
In sum, I would like, in my own small way, to bring some interpretive boundaries (and dare I say sanity?) back to the church and Bible interpretation today.
My main point: keep the plain thing the main thing in hermeneutics.