The second coming of [Jesus] is quite possibly the most important doctrine contained in the Scriptures. It is said that more space is given in the New Testament to the second coming, than to the atonement. Where the atonement is mentioned once, the second advent is referred to twice. Where the first coming of [Jesus] is mentioned once, His second coming is mentioned eight times.
Redemption is not complete until [Jesus] returns to reward His church and pronounce judgement on an unbelieving world. The second coming of Jesus is an absolutely indispensable doctrine in the Biblical teaching of redemption. Apart from the glorious return of [Jesus], God's work will forever be incomplete.
The controversy today rests not in the fact of [Jesus'] return, for almost all conservative theologians expect a literal, visible, bodily return of [Jesus] in the like manner of His earthly departure (Acts 1:11). The controversy arises when we are presented with the question of when [Jesus] will return.
The theologian Augustus H. Strong summarizes his thoughts concerning the time as such:
Although [Jesus'] prophecy of this event, in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, so connects it with the destruction of Jerusalem that the apostles and the early Christians seemed to have hoped for its occurrence during their life-time, yet neither [Jesus] nor the apostles definitely taught when the end should be, but rather declared the knowledge of it to be reserved in the counsels of God, that men might ever recognize it as possibly at hand, and so might live in the attitude of constant expectation.
There has been much speculation as to the time of [Jesus'] return. Those who expect a personal return of Jesus agree that it will occur sometime in relation to the seventieth week of Daniel as indicated in the ninth chapter of Daniel. The time is referred to as the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21) or the time of Jacob's trouble (Jer. 30:7).
There are three prominent views today concerning the coming of [Jesus] for His saints (rapture). These are classified as pretribulation rapture, midtribulation rapture, and posttribulation rapture.
We will begin our study[sic] by first examining the least prominent view, that of the midtribulation rapture theory. Advocates of this theory state that the church will be raptured three and one half years after the beginning of the tribulation period or precisely at the time of the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel (Daniel 9:27) and Jesus (Matt. 24:15).
To substantiate this view, midtribulation rapturists try to deny the belief in an imminent return of [Jesus]. Norman B. Harrison writes, We see from the Scriptures that [Jesus] could not have returned in the lifetime of Peter; nor yet in the days of the apostles; nor yet before the reformation; nor yet before the missionary program is completed; nor yet before the apostasy has overtaken us; nor yet before the last days in which we seem to be living.
While it has been attempted to disprove the doctrine of imminence, Scripture consistently teaches that the coming of [Jesus] could be at any time (John 14:2-3; 1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 4:16-17; 5:5-9; etc.).
Another argument of the midtribulationist is that the church was promised tribulation and, therefore, can expect to experience the first half of the tribulation period. Many verses are used to substantiate this theory such as Luke 23:27-31; Matt. 24:9-11; and Mark 13:9-13 which are addressed to Israel, as well as John 15:18-19; and 16:1-2, 33, which are addressed to the church. It is argued that because these verses speak of tribulation for the church, it would be logical to assume the church will experience a portion of the Great Tribulation. They often cite Acts 8:1-3; 11:19; 14:22; and Romans 12:12 which refer to actual persecution of the saints as a partial fulfillment of the tribulation to come.
In answer to this argument we must first distinguish between Israel and the church in the economy of God. Israel and the church are two distinct entities in the plan of God and must be so regarded. Those scriptures which promise tribulation to Israel can not be made to teach that the church is to experience the tribulation period. Furthermore, we must observe the usage of the word tribulation in Scripture. In one sense it is used in a non-technical or non- prophetic sense in reference to any time of suffering or testing into which one goes (Matt. 13:21; Mark 4:17; John 16:33; Romans 5:3; etc.). It is also used in a technical or prophetical sense in reference to the whole period of seven years of tribulation (Revelation 2::2 and Matt. 24:29). We must be careful in applying the prophetic reference to the church when in fact it seems to be referring to Israel during the tribulation period.
The second most common view, and perhaps the oldest is the posttribulation rapture theory. This theory suggests that believers will be raptured at the end of the tribulation period only to return again immediately again when [Jesus] comes to pronounce judgement on the world.
The most common mistake made by supporters of this view is that they avoid a literal interpretation of Scripture and often spiritualize or interpret Scripture allegorically. James McKeever, a leading supporter of posttribulationism says this, "I would encourage you to read the book of Revelation, asking God to show you the spiritual interpretations, which are equally as valid as physical interpretations." To interpret Scripture in such a way is dangerous to say the least.
Mr. McKeever argues that the word "last" is significant in 1 Cor. 15:52. He points out that this last trumpet is synonymous with the last trumpet in Rev. 11:15. He states that because there are no other trumpets recorded in Scripture after this one, this must refer to the rapture at the end of the tribulation. Also, since 1 Thess. 4:16 makes mention of a shout accompanying the trumpet, he feels it is significant to find loud voices (or shouts) at the seventh trumpet in Rev. 11:15.
While this may appear to be a valid argument, a closer look will indicate that this line of reasoning is faulty. First of all, the word "last" may signify that which concludes a program, but is not necessarily the last that will ever exist. Secondly, the trumpet that summons the church is called the trump of God, while the seventh trump is an angel's trumpet. Also we notice that the trumpet in 1 Thessalonians issues in blessing in life, in glory, while the trumpet in Revelation issues in judgement upon the enemies of God.
Another prominent argument supporting posttribulationism is the historical argument. It is said that the idea of a pretribulation rapture did not appear in prophetic interpretation until the nineteenth century. This is illustrated by the fact that many of the early church fathers indicated a belief in a second coming following the tribulation period. George Ladd, a leading posttribulationist supports this view with many non-inspired writings such as the Didache, the epistle of Barnabus, the Shepherd of Hermes, and writings from other church fathers. In addition to this we are told that S.P. Tregelles, a member of the early Plymouth Brethren church, said that the idea of a secret rapture at a secret coming of [Jesus] had its origin in an "utterance" in Edward Irving's church, and this was taken to be the voice of the Spirit.
In reply to the historical argument, we must note that the failure to discern the teaching of the Scripture does not nullify that teaching, and furthermore, the early church lived in light of the belief in an imminent return of [Jesus]. The doctrine of imminency is plainly taught in Scripture in such passages as John 14:2-3; 1 Cor. 1:7; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 4:16-17; 5:5-9; and others.
Posttribulationists will also argue that the church must suffer tribulation and therefore will not be raptured until after the tribulation period. This line of reasoning has already been dealt with, but we must remember that there are two types of usage for the word tribulation: the technical and the non-technical.
One of the major arguments in support of a posttribulation rapture deals with resurrection. Mr. McKeever summarizes this argument as such:
1 Thessalonians 4:16 makes reference to a resurrection of the dead in [Jesus]. Revelation 20:1-6 speaks of the first resurrection. There could not be a resurrection at the beginning of the tribulation, or this one in Revelation 20 could not be the first.
A similar argument by Mr. Ladd is as follows:
Revelation 20 is the only passage which describes the resurrection of martyrs. This passage locates the resurrection both of saints and martyrs at the "revelation" of [Jesus] and not at the "rapture".
Again this appears to be a valid argument. However, it would be wise to examine other portions or Scripture with deal with the resurrection. Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians deals extensively with the doctrine of resurrection. In verse 23 we see the phrase "But every man in his own order." It is assumed by some that this means that the first resurrection is composed of different groups: church saints, Old Testament saints, and tribulation saints. This passage seems to indicate a natural progression of resurrection. [Jesus] is said to be the "firstfruits" of them that slept. This phase of the resurrection program was accomplished at the time of [Jesus'] resurrection on the third day and marks the beginning of this whole resurrection program.
A second group is introduced by the word "afterward." This word (epeita) signifies a lapse of time of undesignated duration. This would allow for a lapse of time between [Jesus'] resurrection and the resurrection of believers.
Even though there are different times of resurrection, they are still a part of the first resurrection program and are "orders" in that program. Therefore the resurrection of tribulation saints at the time of the second advent does not prove that all who are resurrected unto life are raised at this time.
The third and final theory concerning the rapture deals with a rapture of all believers in this present church age prior to the seven year tribulation period. The key passage for this event is found in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 which describes the resurrection of all born again believers and the meeting of [Jesus] in the air.
Probably the most significant and common of the arguments for this theory deals with the nature of the seventieth week of Daniel (the tribulation period). The "tribulation" describes a period of suffering unsurpassed, "such as was not since there was a nation, no, nor shall be" (Dan. 12:1). The suffering is to be greater than anything that has yet been seen. The very nature of the tribulation period is that of wrath (Rev. 6:16-17,; 11:18; 14:19; Zeph. 1:15, 18). Yet we see in 1 Thess. 5:9 that the church is not appointed unto wrath, but unto salvation by Jesus. The simple use of logic would indicate that the church would have to be gone during this time of wrath.
It is also important to look at God's purpose for this world during the seven year tribulation period. The first great purpose of this time is to prepare the nation Israel for her Messiah. Mal. 4:5-6 tells us that God will send Elijah to preach to prepare Israel for the second advent. The tribulation is primarily Jewish. We see many Scriptures that indicate the "Jewishness" of this time. It is said to the "the time of Jacob's trouble." It concerns "Daniel's people," a "false Messiah," the city of Jerusalem, the twelve "tribes of Israel," the "son of Moses," and flight on the "Sabbath." All of these speak of Israel and prove that the tribulation is a time that God will deal with His ancient people. Another purpose of God at this time is to pour out judgement on unbelieving man and nations Isa. 26:21; 2 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 16:5-7). God has not appointed His children to wrath, nor to judgement resulting in punishment. Christians will be judged at the judgement seat of [Jesus] (2 Cor. 5:10) but this is not a judgement in the sense of a trial, to determine whether the judged are guilty (lost) or innocent (saved), for all present will be saved. At the cross the believer's sins were judged and punished in the person of his substitute Savior (Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:25-28; Gal. 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24).
Nowhere in Scripture are we told that God will make special provisions for the church to escape this wrath and judgement during the time of tribulation. The only special provisions we see are for the 144,000 which are of the tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:14). Therefore, it is clear that the church will not be on the earth during this time and has obviously been raptured according to 1 Thess. 4:13-18.
Many Posttribulationists argue that the rapture and revelation of [Jesus] is one and the same event. However, it is important to distinguish the differences between the two events. Emery Bancroft illustrates this fact perfectly:
In the first stage He comes as the "Morning Star" (Rev. 22:16); in the second, as the "Sun of Righteousness" (Mal. 4:1,2). In the first He comes "into the air" (1 Thess. 4:17); in the second, He descends to the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:3,4). In the first, He comes to receive His bride to Himself (John 14:3); in the second, He comes to be received by repentant Israel (Zech. 12:10). The first stage is called "our gathering together unto Him" (2 Thess. 2:1); while the second stage is called "The revelation of Jesus from heaven" (2 Thess. 1:7).
After examining the major premises of the posttribulation view and the midtribulation view, we must conclude that these views are unwarranted. The pretribulation view is the only view that can be accepted based on a literal interpretation of Scripture.
Truly this is a source of hope, for no person wants to suffer the wrath and judgement of God almighty. We must continually thank God for delivering us from the judgement and tribulation to come, and prepare ourselves for the day that we will meet our Savior in the air.
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee (Titus 2:13-15).
Beechick, Allen. The Pre-Tribulation Rapture. Denver, Colorado: Accent Books, 1981.
Bancroft, Emery H. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: rvan, 1976.
Ladd, George Allen. The Blessed Hope. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956.
McKeever, James M. Christians Will Go Through the Tribulation and How to Prepare for It. Medford, Oregon: Omega Publications, 1978.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grands Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1958.
Strong, Augustus H. Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907.