As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”Matthew 24:3
Over the last century, a majority of Christian churches in America have taught that Jesus Christ can come at any moment for His church — otherwise know as the rapture. But is the rapture the same thing as the 2nd Coming? Well, apparently it depends.
Few would argue that the 2nd Coming of Christ is one of the most essential, non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian faith. Christ has come. Christ will come again. Sounds simple, right?
Unfortunately, because of a man-made doctrine — namely dispensationalism — the 2nd Coming of Christ has been distorted into a convoluted belief system that unnecessarily complicates the clear teaching of Scripture. For example, when dispensationalists say “second coming” they don’t really mean second coming. What they mean is that Jesus can “come” at any moment to rapture His church back to heaven, but also that He will “come” again to judge the earth.
In other words, the dispensational belief system has to divide the coming of Christ into two “phases” or “stages” in order to make sense of it all. Taken to its logical conclusion, there are not two “comings” of Christ, but rather … three!
Having been raised on the dispensational doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture of the church, I once affirmed this man-made system without question.
But then one day … I started reading the Bible for myself.
What I discovered was that the Scriptures did not align with dispensational theology, especially the notion that the church would be whisked away to heaven before the great tribulation. Nothing could be further from the truth!
I began to see that the Scriptures plainly teach that the “coming” of the Lord immediately follows the great tribulation at the end of the age on the Day of the LORD [see Matthew 24:27-31, Mark 13:24-27, Luke 21:25-28]. In other words, there is only one 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ. The 2nd coming of Christ is one event, one advent. Not one verse in all of Scripture presents the Second Coming of Christ in “two phases” or “two stages.” Once I came to that very important conclusion, the Scriptures began to make perfect sense.
Since dispensationalists refer almost exclusively to the writings of the Apostle Paul to support their view of a pre-tribulation rapture of the church, I thought it would be worth some print to demonstrate how the Apostle Paul actually destroys the pre-tribulation argument in his epistles.
Using only his letters to the church in Thessalonica, I will demonstrate how Paul understood and taught the essential doctrine of the 2nd coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Greek word used predominantly in regard to the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ is the word — parousia [παρουσία] — which means “coming, presence, arrival, advent.” Jesus Himself used this word to describe His return, as did Peter and John, but Paul used parousia more than any other New Testament writer.
For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.Jesus Christ — Matthew 24:27
By using this very specific and technical term as a thread in Paul’s letters to the church in Thessalonica, all the unnecessary confusion about the 2nd Coming of Christ becomes crystal clear. Let’s take a closer look.
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
Paul’s message to the saints in Thessalonica was one of encouragement and hope due to the intense persecution the church was suffering at the time. Here in the first chapter of his letter, Paul commends the church for turning from idolatry to the “living and true God,” and he encourages them to wait for His son “from heaven.” Although parousia is not used here, clearly Paul is referring to the 2nd Coming of Christ when He returns from heaven to earth. Notably, it is at this time that Jesus will deliver the saints from the wrath to come.
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20For you are our glory and joy.1 Thessalonians 2:19-20
Paul first uses the term parousia here in chapter two. He says that the church has become his crown of boasting, which he will present before the Lord Jesus “at his coming.” Paul invokes the very same imagery in his second letter to Timothy, when he says, “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 4:8]
So Paul is expecting to receive his reward from the Lord “on that day” — the Day of the LORD and of His appearing.
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
The next time Paul uses the word parousia he provides more detail. He says that the coming of Jesus is “with all his saints” — or holy ones. The 2nd coming of Christ is often characterized by the heavenly host, dressed in white robes of righteousness, coming with Jesus to earth. [see Matthew 25:31, Jude 1:14-15, Revelation 19:11-16]
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For 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. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The passage above has been branded as the “classic” rapture passage in all of Scripture, and while it certainly describes the catching up [Greek harpazó] and gathering of believers to meet Christ in the air, we interpret this event within the context of the passage. This “rapture” event is connected to the parousia — the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ [see 1 Thessalonians 4:15]. This is the visible, public, glorious return of Jesus Christ from heaven to earth with loud shouts from heaven and the sound of the trumpet of God.
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.1 Thessalonians 5:1-5
Staying consistent with the theme of his letter, Paul finishes by encouraging believers that the parousia — the coming Day of the Lord — will NOT take believers by surprise! As children of light and of the day, true believers will be ready in hopeful expectation and will be aware of the signs and seasons preceding the coming of the Lord.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
Paul concludes his letter by reminding us that our complete redemption will take place “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which includes our “bodies” to be resurrected on the last day at the end of the age.
Before we move to 2nd Thessalonians, let’s recap Paul’s teaching about the second coming.
- Jesus is coming from heaven to earth.
- Jesus is coming with his reward.
- Jesus is coming with the saints.
- Jesus is coming down visibly on the clouds.
- Jesus is coming with loud shouts from heaven and the voice of the archangel.
- Jesus is coming with the trumpet blast.
- Jesus is coming to raise the righteous dead.
- Jesus is coming to gather all believers who remain alive until His return.
- Jesus is coming like a thief in the night to surprise those in darkness.
- Jesus is coming to judge the wicked.
Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica picks up right where it left off in his first letter, emphasizing the coming of the Lord Jesus and the Day of the LORD. We can begin to complete our list of details with Paul’s words.
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and 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 8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
Paul opens his letter by providing one of the most comprehensive accounts in all of Scripture of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He says that God ultimately will grant relief to believers when “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire!” No one can dispute that this is the second coming of Christ. He goes on to describe both the judgment of the wicked and the triumph of the saints “when he comes on that day.”
Up until now, Paul has been speaking about the same singular event when Christ comes in glory — the day of the Lord. This is the parousia — the very same coming that Jesus Himself predicted. The language only allows for one event, and Paul will drive the proverbial nail in the pre-tribulation coffin in the next chapter.
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
Once again, Paul wants the believers in Thessalonica to make sure there is no confusion concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus and the rapture of the church — “our being gathered together to him.” Paul is adamant that believers will not be deceived or surprised at the coming of the Lord because there are several clear signs that must take place before the day of the Lord and the rapture of the church.
Paul could not be more straightforward. He says, “for that day will not come, unless the rebellion (apostasy) comes first, and the man of lawlessness (Beast) is revealed.” The reason believers will not be deceived or surprised is because we will know that the Lord will not come until these two major signs take place. First there will be a great falling away from the faith in the last days and then son of destruction — aka the “antichrist” — will be revealed and will enter the temple to set up the abomination that causes desolation [see Matthew 24:15].
And if that weren’t enough, Paul ties a massive bow on his teaching about the 2nd coming of Christ by giving us the precise element of timing. That’s right. Paul tells us exactly when Jesus is coming back — speaking of the parousia.
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.2 Thessalonians 2:8
Jesus Christ will destroy the lawless one — the son of destruction — how and when?
Jesus will kill the Beast with the “breath of his mouth” by the “appearance of HIS COMING!“
It could not be more clear. Paul builds His entire case of the singular event — called the coming of the Lord — and he provides as many possible details connected to this singular event to help believers understand the key elements of timing that accompany the return of Jesus and the day of the LORD.
The final detail Paul provides is the most telling. Jesus Christ will destroy the Beast when He comes on that Day in flaming fire with His mighty angels to be glorified in His saints!
Case closed! This happens at the end of the great tribulation, which means that there is no “pre-tribulation” or “mid-tribulation” rapture of the church. The rapture of the church coincides with the 2nd coming of Jesus, which is precisely when Jesus kills the antichrist by the breath of His mouth.
The book of Revelation describes this very even in more detail, which again supports the timing of the post-tribulation rapture of the saints during the 2nd coming of the Lord at the end of the age.
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.Revelation 19:19-21