Connecting the Dots Regarding the Rapture

One of the biggest debates among prophecy-minded, pre-millennial, Christians regarding the return of Jesus Christ in the Last Days, is the timing and even definition of “the Rapture.” The reason that there is so much controversy has to do with the fact that there are a number of possible literal interpretations of the text. A typical response to this dilemma is to pick the view that is believed to be the most correct, and then to just move forward under firm conviction.

I think we should consider, though, that God intentionally left some open degrees of freedom here so that we would need to reserve final judgment and remain in a state of watchfulness. However, He did leave some very important clues…

[This is a long post, and there are a lot of details, but if you can hang on and work through it, I think you’ll find this to be a trustworthy analysis of a pretty tough but critical topic.]

While I don’t think we can perfectly pin this all down yet, a very strong scriptural case can be made for not expecting the rapture prior to the Abomination of Desolation or the Sixth Seal, based on a comparative study of the Gospels, Paul’s testimony in his letters to the Thessalonians, and John’s Book of Revelation. The implications of ruling out a rapture before those things happen is important, because it widens the range of prophetic events that we should be watching for to include events from the first three and half years of the Tribulation. The consequences of watching for those things, but being raptured first are minimal; however, the consequences for being unprepared for facing at least the first half of the Tribulation could be much more serious. 

To begin with, there are multiple locations in both the Old and New Testaments where the return of the Lord, the Day of the Lord, the time of Jacob’s trouble, the Great Tribulation, the gathering of the saints, etc. are described. In most cases, similar but also unique elements are included in each description. This creates multiple synoptic accounts that have to be sorted and interpreted. Are the events being described fundamentally the same, as in many of the accounts described in the Gospels where each witness conveys a unique frame of reference, or are they separate and unique events? One of the most controversial questions relates to understanding the difference between Christ coming on the clouds to gather his elect (harpazo) and Christ coming on a white horse with his elect to the Earth to execute his judgment on the nations (Revelation 19:11-21). Traditionally, these are referred to as the Rapture and the Second Coming. There is also some debate about whether or not the rapture will be “secret,” so that no one but raptured saints will know what happened or will it be something seen by all? In other words, will everyone raptured just vanish mysteriously into thin air one day, or will Christ coming on the clouds to gather his elect be widely witnessed and a fearful sign of God’s imminent unfolding judgment? 

Few Christians would disagree with the fact that Christ will return bodily to gather His elect, just as the Scriptures foretell; however, the timing and details of that return with respect to the seven years of Daniel 9:27 and the tribulations described in John’s Revelation is another matter. The primary pre-millennial rapture timing viewpoints are: 1) Before the 7 years of Daniel, or pre-tribulation rapture, 2) In the middle of Daniel’s 70th week, or mid-tribulation rapture, 3) At the Sixth Seal (before the trumpets and bowls) or sometimes at the Seventh Trumpet (before the bowls of God’s wrath), known as pre-wrath rapture, or 4) At or very near the end of the Great Tribulation, called a post-tribulation rapture. While many people have already settled on one of the above viewpoints, I would like to point out that the most prominent proponents of these views cannot fully prove their positions. For example, John Walvoord, the former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, said that he regards the pre-tribulation rapture view as “a default position against less satisfying arguments.” So what does that mean? Clearly, even John Walvoord was acknowledging that his arguments were not watertight. Nevertheless, over time these positions have been solidified by continual repetition into doctrines that no longer acknowledge the serious questions and the numerous tenuous assumptions and inferences that they contain. In Walvoord’s book, The Rapture Question, he presented 50 arguments for the pre-tribulation rapture view, and yet not a single one of them would be capable of standing on its own. Rather, the weight of his case rests on the number of circumstantial arguments that he was able to construct, which in some cases are quite imaginative. Hence, upon close inspection, the assertion of a pre-tribulation rapture, for example, is not nearly as solid as its proponents often insinuate. But then again, neither are the traditional mid-tribulation, pre-wrath, or post-tribulation viewpoints in the forms that they are generally expressed. All of these formally proposed views have been found, at least by their opponents, to have significant flaws in their reasoning, as they have been presented.

As an initial neutral position, I suggest that until a more satisfying explanation can be found, the best approach is to remember that our assurance rests on the physical return of Christ to the Earth to gather us to Himself, not on knowing the precise timing of His return with respect to the coming judgment. Furthermore, the wise man will hope for the pre-tribulation rapture, but prepare to pass through it, knowing that while some pastors today are preaching health, prosperity, and an easy life, Jesus never did. We were never promised to escape trials and tribulations, just ask believers in China, India, Iran, Pakistan, and the like who are currently suffering terrible persecutions, probably even as you are reading this. While it is true that Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 that we are not appointed to wrath, it does not necessarily follow that passing through tribulation on this earth would violate that statement. It certainly does not preclude that we could be present for at least some part of Daniel’s 70th week. We definitely will not face God’s Wrath for our sins on account of the imputed righteousness of Christ, and so, in the ultimate sense, the words of Paul are satisfied by the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. I do however agree that it seems reasonable to assume that we will not experience the bowls of God’s wrath or the great winepress of His wrath talked about in Revelation chapters 14 & 16. And I do not think it is a coincidence that it does not say that God’s Wrath has come on the earth until we read that the 6th seal has been opened (Rev. 6:16-17). So with that introduction, I think the first place to look when asking the question about the timing of the Lord’s Return is in Mathew 24. If you’ve studied prophecy at all, you should be familiar with this chapter. It begins like this:  

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Matthew 24:3

So by the introduction of this passage, we know that we are being told about the last days return of Jesus Christ. But here is the big question, to what other passages of scripture can we compare his answer? Some would suggest that we should look to the image of Christ riding on a white horse to execute his judgment on the nations which is found in Revelation chapter 19. But does this description really fit, or should we consider earlier events in the Tribulation?

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many crowns; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written: “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great feast of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, both free and slaves, and small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse, and against His army.

Revelation 19:11-18

While we do see Christ and his elect together, they are riding on white horses and they are coming from heaven, because they were already there with Christ. This presents a challenge to associating the gathering of the saints described in Matthew 24 with this event, which would have had to have taken place before this, since the saints are already in heaven. However, not everyone realizes how closely Matthew 24 parallels the first six seals of Revelation and the description of the great multitude mentioned in Revelation 7:9 and then again in 19:1. Let’s look at the parallels between the different accounts, and then, having recognized the similarities, discuss the potential implications.

First Seal–Conquering…But Not by War – Presumably by Deceit & Intrigue* (Rev. 6:1-2)
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. 
*If the first seal marks the beginning of the rise of the Antichrist, then passages like Daniel 8:23-25 and 11:21-23, as well 2 John 1:7b “Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist,” suggest that the conquering of the rider on the white horse is by deceit and intrigue, not war, which comes with the second horse.
Deception (Matt. 24:4-5)
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.
Deception
(2 Thess. 2:11-12)
For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
Second Seal–War (Rev. 6:3-4)
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword. 
Wars (Matt. 24:6-7a)
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.

Third Seal–Famine (Rev. 6:5-6)
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand.Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”
Famine (Matt. 24:7b)
There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.

Fourth Seal–Death (Rev. 6:7-8)
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Tribulation & Death (Matt. 24:8)
All these are the beginning of birth pains.
 
Fifth Seal–Martyrs and Persecution (Rev. 6:9-11)
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
Persecution & Apostasy (Matt. 24:9-14)
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3a) Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion (apostasy) occurs…
Abomination of Desolation* (Daniel 9:27) And he will confirm a covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come the one who makes desolate, until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, gushes forth on the one who makes desolate.”
*Not mentioned specifically in Revelation, but presumably occurs at the beginning of the Sixth Seal and initiates the 42 months mentioned in Revelation 11:2 “Leave out the courtyard which is outside the temple and do not measure it, because it has been given to the nations; and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.”
Abomination of Desolation (Matt. 6:15-21)
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
Antichrist & Abomination of Desolation
(2 Thess. 2:3b-4, 8-10)
…and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 
Then that lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will eliminate with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not accept the love of the truth so as to be saved.  
Sixth Seal (Rev. 6:12-17)
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Coming on the Clouds (Rev. 1:7)
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.
Rapture / Coming On the Clouds
(Matt. 24:29-30)

Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.
Rapture / Coming on the Clouds
 (1 Thess. 4:16-17)

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 
Mourning Over Coming Judgment (Rev. 6:12-17)
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?
Mourning over the Coming Judgment
(Matt. 24: 30b)

And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn…
Judgment of the Wicked When Christ Gathers His Elect
(2 Thess. 1:9-10a)
These people will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified among His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed…
The Great Multitude That No One Can Count (Rev. 7:9-14)
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen!
Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Rapture/Gathering the Elect
(Matt. 24:31)

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.
Rapture / Coming On the Clouds
(Matt. 24:29-30)

Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.
Rapture/Gathering the Elect
(1 Thess. 4:16b-17)

… with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
Comparison Summary Revelation 6 & 7
1) First Five Seals of Revelation


2) sun turned black like sackcloth
3) whole moon turned blood red
4) stars in the sky fell to earth
5) The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up…
6) the powers of the heavens will be shaken
7) All the tribes of the Earth will mourn over Him…Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!
8) After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
Comparison Summary Matthew 24
1) Immediately after the distress of those days (described in Matt. 24:4-28 that closely follows the order described in the first five seals)
2) sun will be darkened
3) moon will not give its light
4) the stars will fall from the sky
5) Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. 
6) every island and mountain were moved from their places
7) And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven
8) 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.
Comparison with  1 & 2 Thessalonians
1) According to the Lord’s own word…Unless the apostasy comes first and the Man of Lawlessness is revealed (Fifth Seal followed by the Abomination of Desolation – described in Matt. 24:9-15)



5) The Lord will descend from heaven to meet us in the clouds

7) Judgment beginning when saints are gathered to be with Christ

8) At the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, we will be caught up together with resurrected saints to the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

So in the final comparison chart, there are eight similarities that can be seen between Revelation chapters 6 & 7 and the return of Christ described in Matthew 24:

  1. The events described in the first five seals are reasonably similar in description, and are in the same chronological order as the preceding tribulation events described by Jesus in Matthew 24 (“and after the tribulation of those days”).
  2. The sun darkens in both accounts. Whether this is from a solar eclipse or some other natural or supernatural cause is unclear.
  3. The moon doesn’t give its light in one and turns red in the other. Both of those statements would be an accurate description of a total lunar eclipse, which is often called a “blood moon.” It could also be some other natural or supernatural phenomenon, though. 
  4. The stars of the sky will fall in both instances. The reference in Revelation 6:13 to “unripe figs” could also be a parallel to Matt. 24:32 “learn the parable of the fig tree.” 
  5. Both describe a shaking. Matt. 24:29 says that “the powers of the heavens will be shaken,” while Rev. 6:14 says there will be a great earthquake and that every island and mountain will be moved from their places. A shaking in heaven and one on earth are not exactly the same, but it’s not hard to imagine a shaking in the heavens causing or occurring concurrently with a shaking on the earth also. 
  6. The statement that the sky will split apart like a scroll in Revelation 6:14 would be a good way to describe a window into heaven opening up in the sky. If we understand it in that way, then it is easy to also see such an event described as the sign of the Son of Man appearing in the sky, which Jesus stated in Matthew 24:30a. 
  7. We also see all the world mourning over the coming destruction. Matt. 24:30b says that “all the tribes of the earth will mourn,” while Rev. 6:16-17 refers to everyone on the face of the earth from the rich and famous to the slave. If we understand that these are the same events, then we are even told what the people of the earth will cry out, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” 
  8. Finally, both have descriptions that can be understood to be the rapture of God’s people. In Revelation 7:9-17 we see a great multitude that no one could count which can easily be the same group that we see gathered from the four winds to meet the Lord in the air. 

Also, by saying “But immediately after the tribulation of those days…” in Matthew 24:29, it implies that the wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, persecution of the saints, apostasy of the church, and the “Abomination of Desolation” will all precede these similarly described signs in the heavens. Except for the apostasy and Abomination of Desolation, all of those events are also explicitly described in the first five seals of Revelation, and arguably, apostasy is implied with the persecution of the saints at the fifth seal. As for the Abomination of Desolation, it is not specifically mentioned at all in the book of Revelation, but I don’t believe anyone holding a pre-millennial viewpoint seriously supposes that it isn’t part of the Antichrist trampling the holy city for 42 months (Rev. 11:2).

Going on, Matthew 24:30-31 describes the gathering of the elect. While it is argued that this is a reference to the second coming and not the rapture, the similarities to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 should be unmistakable. The description by Matthew is also paralleled by John using language that implies a new vision which takes place chronologically after the events of the sixth seal in Revelation 7:9 “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count…”  Many people have discussed the great multitude in white robes. One thing that is sometimes missed is that the saints are composed of two groups: fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been (Rev 6:11). Also, it is said that they “are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation” in Rev. 7:14 which could be compared to the “after the tribulation of those days” referred to in Matt. 24:29.  Some assert that the rapture cannot be in view in Matthew 24, because it is an instantaneous event, and the Greek phrase “those who have come out of” depicts a prolonged process (have come out and continue to come out); however, if the “great multitude” includes raptured saints (group 1) as well as martyrs (group 2), then the verb usage would still be correct for describing both an instantaneous event and further growth of the saints in heaven through the death of more tribulation martyrs during the last 3 ½ years of Daniels 70th week. This view also explains how a rapture could have occurred at the sixth seal, even though passages like Revelation 13:7-10 and 14:9-13 make it clear that there are still saints on the earth during the Great Tribulation. 

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority was given to him over every tribe, people, language, and nation. All who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slaughtered. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.

Revelation 13:7-10

Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors,
for their deeds follow with them.”

Revelation 14:9-13

Another evidence for a rapture after the sixth seal comes from Luke…

And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so will it also be in the days of the Son of Man: people were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, and they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, and they were building; but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. 

Luke 17:26-30

When Luke recorded that Jesus said, “but on the day Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all,” he also wrote that Jesus said, “It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.”  I believe the plain meaning of this passage is that fire and brimstone will literally rain down on the earth on the same day that Christ comes to gather his church. If the great multitude in Revelation 7 is understood to represent the rapture of the church, then the next event is the seventh seal—”and there was silence in heaven for about half and hour” (Rev. 8:1)—which then releases the seven trumpets. So what will be the first trumpet? 

The first sounded, and there was hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

Revelation 8:7

Now, while the description of “hail and fire mixed with blood” may sound different to some from “it rained fire and brimstone,” I would argue that these are just different ways of saying the same thing. Therefore, it looks like a literal interpretation of Luke 17:29-30 is also found in the order of events described in Revelation after the sixth seal. In that light, let’s examine a passage from II Thessalonians, which is also referenced above in the comparison chart. 

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? 

2 Thessalonians 1:1-5

This simple reminder from Paul seems to be referring to the teachings of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, which Paul may be alluding to when he says in the last verse, “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” This is Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians.  In the first letter he told them about the catching up of the saints to meet the Lord in the air at “the coming of the Lord” (I Thes 4:13-18), but in the second letter Paul implies that the Thessalonians had been unsettled by a false teaching that the Day of the Lord had already come, i.e. they feared that they had been “left behind.”  But Paul writes to assure them of some signs that they must watch for before the Day of the Lord comes, namely the apostasy and the revealing of the man of lawlessness, which is exactly what a reading of Matthew 24 would suggest, if we understand 1 Thessalonians 4 to be an inspired exposition of Matthew 24. Why? Because in Mathew 24, we have wars and rumors of wars followed by famines and earthquakes (v. 6-8), and then apostasy (v. 9-14), followed by the Abomination of Desolation (v. 15). All of that is before Jesus says, “after the tribulation of those days” in verse 29. The strength of these parallel events, which are also covered in the same chronological order, weigh heavily to the side that Paul is talking about the same event Jesus discussed, rather than being a new and different revelation about something other than what Jesus was telling to his disciples.

So why does this matter so much? Well, for one, because Paul warns us not to be deceived about this issue in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. That is why I think we need to let scripture interpret scripture for us, by comparing similar passages, rather than forcing a particular viewpoint onto the scriptures and interpreting them separately from one another. Furthermore, if this understanding is correct, then we should now be looking for the signs of when Daniel’s 70th week will begin, because those are the next signs that will happen, if the final seven years truly begin before the Rapture will occur. And in particular, we should be thinking about how to prepare for the time of the opening of the seals, because we are told that the fourth seal will usher in a time when ¼ of the world’s population will be destroyed by sword, famine, pestilence, and by the “wild beasts of the earth.” Also, since the temple is referred to in Matthew 24, then it follows that we should be watching for the Jews to rebuild the temple and reinstate the priest-hood and the offering of sacrifices.

That is the main reason I began looking into the question of the temple location in the first place, which you can find out more about in my book, The Temple Revealed.

In fact, I think that Ezekiel 37:27-28 is a prophecy that the rebuilding of the temple will be a sign to the nations, before the great tribulation. It can’t be a reference to the old temple, because it was destroyed and the scripture reference says “among them forever.” It is also unlikely to be a millennial reference because Jesus will already be reigning on the earth, and so calling the temple a sign is unnecessary.

“My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.
Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy,
when my sanctuary is among them forever.”

Ezekiel 37:27-28

The reason this point is so important is that a correct understanding of the church’s role in end times events has immense ramifications. If the church is present during the first part of the tribulation but don’t expect to be, then they may not be adequately prepared to minister to the millions upon millions of people who are going to be suffering and dying and they also may not be prepared to take advantage of the unparalleled outpouring of God’s spirit for evangelism. Furthermore, we need to know the signs that God has given us to watch for, so that we will be ready and not miss things being fulfilled right before our eyes, like the Pharisees did at Jesus’ first visitation.

Check out my other blog on that subject here: Recognizing the Time of His Appearing

As for the overall timing of the rapture, well, truly, no man knows the day or the hour. Many different inferences and assumptions can be made to try and determine a time, but ultimately, there is just not enough information given to us to pin it down. From this article, I hope you will see that a rapture can’t be expected until after the mid-point of the tribulation, when the Abomination of Desolation is set up, and after the sixth seal is opened, which could theoretically be much later. I think a good case can be made for a rapture immediately after the sixth seal, but it could also be at the seventh trumpet. I’m not quite settled on the full ordering of events that come after the sixth seal just yet, or even the timing of the sixth seal within the last three and half years of the tribulation, i.e. immediately after the abomination of desolation or perhaps one or even two years into it. Of course arguments can be made for a variety of different positions, but I don’t think any of them are airtight. Consequently, I think it is best to try and keep an open mind until we can see more clearly. Think of it like driving in the fog. I’m sharing what I think can be seen clearly now and relied upon. Perhaps as we move forward we’ll be able to see even more, but I feel that what I am sharing now is trustworthy and will be helpful to the Church as we approach these last days. The danger is that we settle our minds on one particular option which gives us a wrong expectation and causes us to miss things that are happening right in front of us or just leaves us totally unprepared for the coming troubles, perhaps even destroying the faith of some.

May God bless you all and grant you strength and perseverance for the days ahead!

Maranatha!

Blog image: Ceiling of Church of the Gesù (Rome) by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639–1709), Triumph of the Name of Jesus

One Comment on “Connecting the Dots Regarding the Rapture

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