The Pre-Tribulation Rapture and “Three” Comings of Jesus Christ

“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.”

[Hebrews 9:28]

Like so many who have been raised within the context of a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church, I have heard the following statement all my life.

“Nobody knows when Jesus will return. He could come back at any moment. He could even come back today … So we better be ready.”

In theological language, the belief that the Lord Jesus can return at any moment is called imminency. Imminency is the eschatological concept that there are no other signs or events on the prophetic timeline that must take place before Jesus comes again. In short, the very next event that the church should be anticipating is the coming of Jesus.

Well … sort of.

You see, this teaching of imminency is directly connected to dispensationalism and more specifically to the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. So when someone says Jesus could come at any moment, some clarification is needed.

For example, exactly which Second Coming can happen at any moment? The First Second Coming or the Second Second Coming?

Wait. What?

Yeah … that’s what I said.

The “TWO PHASES” of the SECOND COMING

What is really meant by the concept of imminency is that the “FIRST PHASE” of Jesus’ Second Coming could happen at any moment, which involves the rapture of the church. According to dispensationalists, this “FIRST PHASE” of Jesus’ second coming is a secret, mysterious event, where the LORD “comes” and raptures the church out of the world and then returns to heaven to wait out the tribulation period. Then after the great tribulation, the “SECOND PHASE” of Jesus’ second coming will take place, when the LORD finally returns to the earth.

Confused yet? Yeah … me too.

Unfortunately, I have yet to have anyone provide a reasonable explanation for the TWO PHASES or TWO STAGES of Christ’s second coming. Not only is this concept confusing and contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine, but even worse it is downright unbiblical. Let me explain.

TWO or THREE Comings

To be clear, the historical, theological, and eschatological position of orthodox Christianity for the last 2,000 years has emphasized the SECOND COMING of Jesus Christ. The very integrity of the gospel itself is bound by the doctrine of the Second Coming.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

The gospel truth is that Jesus Christ came the first time to suffer and die for sinners on the cross. He was raised on the third day, and after showing Himself to hundreds of eyewitness for a period of 40 days, Christ ascended to heaven where He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father. This same Jesus will return from heaven a second time as King of kings to judge the living and the dead.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

[Titus 2:11-13]

But to believe in a pre-tribulation rapture one must divide, or split, the Second Coming of Jesus into TWO PHASES, which effectively creates a THIRD COMING of Jesus. Obviously a “third coming” is never found in the pages of Scripture, but then why do so many embrace a teaching that necessitates a third coming of Christ?

In my opinion, this is one of the major flaws in the dispensational teaching of a pre-tribulation rapture that too often gets neglected.

Consider the necessary conclusion of a pre-tribulation rapture.

  1. Jesus Christ came the first time, born of a virgin, God the Son, to suffer, die and be raised from the dead.
  2. Jesus Christ will come again the second time before the tribulation period to rapture the church, resurrect the dead, and take believers back to heaven.
  3. Jesus Christ will come again a third time after the great tribulation to judge the living and dead and to establish his kingdom on earth.

Clearly, we see three comings of Christ. No matter how anyone wants to parse it or interpret it, there is no other way around it. All who embrace the teaching of a pre-tribulation rapture of the church must also affirm and embrace a third coming of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to divide up the Second Coming of Christ into two distinct parts without creating a third coming.

My question is why would the Holy Spirit and the Biblical authors emphasize the plain understanding of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ when what they really meant to communicate is that there would be three comings of Christ? And just exactly which passages of Scripture actually distinguish the second coming (aka rapture) from the third coming?

Even Tim LaHaye, who perhaps did more to popularize the teaching of a pre-tribulation rapture than anyone in history, admitted that not one verse of Scripture supported a pre-tribulation rapture.

One objection to the pre-Tribulation Rapture is that not one passage of Scripture teaches the two aspects of His Second Coming separated by the Tribulation. This is true. But then, no one passage teaches a post-trib or mid-trib Rapture, either.”

“No single verse specifically states, ‘Christ will come before the Tribulation.’ On the other hand, no single passage teaches He will not come before the Tribulation, or that He will come in the middle or at the end of the Tribulation. Any such explicit declaration would end the debate immediately.”

Tim LaHaye, “No Fear of the Storm: Why Christians Will Escape All the Tribulation” (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1992), pp. 69, 188.

Even though LaHaye was honest about the absence of Biblical support for a pre-tribulation rapture, I must take issue with his statement that “no single passage teaches … that He will come at the end of the Tribulation.” That statement is flat out false. There is overwhelming Biblical evidence that provides clear elements of timing concerning the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, as I will show over the following posts.

Until then … here is just one key passage that does indeed teach that Jesus will return at the end of the tribulation — at His SECOND COMING!

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” 

[Matthew 24:29-30]

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