Will Jesus Secretly “Appear” at the Rapture and “Come” Again Later?

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”

[1 John 2:28]
Gustave Dore – 1868

We have all seen the bumper sticker that says … “Warning: In case of the rapture, this vehicle will be unmanned.”

Millions have seen the Left Behind films and read the books that portray the rapture of the church as a secret event, where Christians all over the world suddenly disappear leaving the rest of the world in utter amazement and confusion.

This idea of a secret rapture of the church makes for a good plot line in popular books and movies. The only problem is … it’s not biblical.

Instead of being mesmerized by popular fiction, we should be asking the question, “how does the Bible describe the rapture of the church and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?”

When we turn to the Word of God, we find an entirely different picture of the rapture of the church. Every clear Biblical reference to the rapture of the church is connected to the public, conspicuous, visible, supernatural, unmistaken, glorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth.

There is nothing secret about it. There is no confusion as to who is coming or what is happening. Every eye will see Jesus at His coming and all the people on the earth will know what is happening on that DAY.

Although I am looking forward breaking down these primary rapture passages for later posts, today I would like to present just one key objection to the pre-tribulation rapture argument.

Appearing vs. Coming

Words have meaning and words matter, especially when trying to responsibly interpret complex Biblical passages that deal with the last days and the second coming of Christ. The proponents of the pre-tribulation rapture position often rely on taking entire Biblical passages and specific words out of context and applying their own meaning to them, while trying to force them to fit their view.

Case in point. One of the primary arguments of the pre-tribulation position is that when Jesus comes secretly to rapture His church before the beginning of the tribulation period, He only “appears” in the sky and then just as quickly disappears with the church. Many dispensationalists go as far as saying that only the church will be able to see Jesus during this mysterious, secret event, and the rest of the people of the world will have no clue as to what just transpired. They use the motif of Jesus coming like thief in the night to support their view.

Here is one of the go-to passages used to support this view of the secret appearing of Jesus at the rapture.

“As we wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

[Titus 2:13]

The pre-tribulation position makes a distinction between the “appearing” of Christ at the first phase of the second coming and the “coming” of Christ during the second phase of the second coming. The first “appearing” is invisible, secret, and heavenly, where as the second “coming” is visible, public, and earthly.

But does this distinction pass the test of responsible, accurate Biblical interpretation?

Not even close.

Synonymous Terms for the Return of Jesus

First of all, there are four primary Greek words used in the New Testament to describe the return of Jesus Christ. They are …

  1. Coming (parousia),
  2. Revealing (apokalupsis)
  3. Appearing (epiphaneia) and
  4. Appearing (phanaroo)

All four words are used interchangeably in referring to the Second Coming of Christ and cannot be distinguished. There is no Biblical evidence that supports a distinction between the appearing of Christ and the coming of Christ. For example …

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom … Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

[2 Timothy 4:1, 8]

Notice that Paul uses the Greek word, appearing [epiphaneia], to describe when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead and reward believers “on that day.” Any elementary study of the Scriptures clearly places the final judgment and the Day of the Lord as taking place at the second coming of Christ at the end of the great tribulation. So this passage places the appearing of Jesus as synonymous with His coming at the end of the age — not at some secret rapture 7 years prior.

“So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

[1 Peter 1:7]

Just for clarity, Peter agrees with Paul by placing the reward of the saints at the “revelation” of Jesus Christ, which is the Greek word, apokalupsis. So now we have the appearance and revelation of Christ as being the same event. In case you were wondering when the revelation of Jesus Christ takes place, Paul makes it abundantly clear that this is the final and only second coming of Christ. In the following passage, he uses the very same word, apokalupsis, as Peter does to refer to the second coming of Christ.

“To grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” 

[2 Thessalonians 1:7-8]

In 1 John 2:28, John literally uses both appearing [phanaroo] and coming [parousia] in the same verse to refer to the return of Jesus, which in and of itself destroys the argument of a distinction between terms.

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”

[1 John 2:28]

Of course there are multiple passages that use the word, coming [parousia], to describe the return of Jesus, and they are all synonymous with the other Greek terms. These include Matthew 24:29-31, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, just to name a few.

Now for one last passage, let’s again examine Titus 2:13, which is the primary go-to passage used by the pre-tribulation camp to draw a distinction between the appearing and coming of Christ. But this time, let’s read it in context.

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

[Titus 2:11-13 NIV]

Notice that Paul uses the same Greek word, appearing [epiphaneia], to describe both the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. He says that the grace of God revealed in Jesus “has appeared,” referring to the first coming of Jesus, and then he says believers are awaiting His second appearing. What can we learn about this wonderful passage?

  1. Paul uses the word “appeared” to describe the first coming of Jesus — which was physical, public, bodily, visible, and on the earth. Not secret, invisible, spiritual and in heaven.
  2. Paul uses the same word to describe the second coming of Jesus — which also will be physical, public, visible, and on the earth. Not secret, invisible and in the heavens.
  3. Paul also connects this second “appearing” of Jesus Christ with the glory of God. If this appearing is glorious, then how can it secret or hidden?
  4. Many other second coming passages also mention the glory of God as revealed in the Lord Jesus when He comes on the clouds with power for all to see.
  5. There is nothing in this passage that would lead anyone to believe that our blessed hope is some secret, hidden event that could happen at any moment. This passage actually describes the exact opposite.
  6. Jesus will appear (come) a second time in all His power and glory and His heavenly host at the end of the age to resurrect the dead, gather his saints in the rapture, destroy His enemies, judge the earth, and establish His kingdom once and for all.

As we will see next time, there are several key events that coincide with the rapture of the church that provide the specific timing of the rapture.

Our Blessed Hope is not the rapture … Our Blessed Hope is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is the one we are waiting for.

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