Millions of Christians believe they will not have to face the cataclysmic events the Bible prophesies for the end times. They believe they will be taken to heaven before the Tribulation-the time period the Bible describes as ” . . . a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. . . ” (Dan. 12:1). During the first phase of His Second Coming, these Christians believe Christ will come secretly to “snatch away His Bride”-the Church. Either three and one half or seven years later, during the “Day of the Lord,” the second phase of His coming will take place. At that time Christ will come visibly with all power and authority to establish His kingdom on earth. According to this view the saints will spend the intervening time in heaven before returning with Christ. Christ will come for the saints during the first phase, and with the saints in the second phase. Christ is coming to rapture the saints before the Tribulation-but returning with them afterward, the time when He pours out His wrath in divine vengeance. Is this view correct? Can it be substantiated in the Bible?
In the Olivet prophecy, Jesus gave the sequence of events leading up to the “time of the end.” He was asked about the sign of His coming and the end of the world.
Notice what Jesus described:
And Jesus answered and said to them: Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places (Matt. 24:4-7).
The order is as follows: First we see religious deception, then wars and rumors of wars. Next, we see famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. What follows? “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Matt. 24:9). This time of trouble is reemphasized in verses 21 and 22: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.” This is a reference to the Great Tribulation. But will Christ return before this time to rapture the saints?
In Matthew 24:29-30, Jesus said something very significant. He stated: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, 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.” The sequence here is plain. Christ will not return until after the Tribulation! There is no indication He will return “secretly” to rapture His saints before the Tribulation!
What has happened is that many have confused the Tribulation with the Day of the Lord. They have lumped together the two events as if they were one and the same. What is the difference? The Tribulation is Satan’s wrath upon the Church and the world. It is a time of martyrdom when the saints will be delivered, afflicted, and killed (Matt. 24:9). Daniel described this time period: “At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book . . . ” (Dan. 12:1-2). This same period is also described in Revelation 12:12-13, 17: ” . . . Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time. Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child . . . . And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
By contrast, the Day of the Lord is the time of God’s wrath upon a sinning world. In time sequence, the Day of the Lord follows the Tribulation. How can we tell? Notice again Matthew 24: 29: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The prophet Joel tells us: “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” (Joel 2:30-31). The Bible speaks of this time period more than 30 times.
Notice, for example, Isaiah 2:12, 17-19:
For the day of the LORD of hosts Shall come upon everything proud and lofty, Upon everything lifted up — And it shall be brought low . . . . The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, And the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; The LORD alone will be exalted in that day, But the idols He shall utterly abolish. They shall go into the holes of the rocks, And into the caves of the earth, From the terror of the LORD And the glory of His majesty, When He arises to shake the earth mightily.
Also, Revelation 6:12-13, 15-17:
I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind . . . . And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and 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 His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?
Jesus Christ will return at the climax of this period. This is why we read in Matthew 24:29-30: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, 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.” Christ does not come before the Tribulation, but after it-at the climax of the Day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord is the time of God’s Wrath. Here is what the prophets wrote:
For behold, the LORD will come with fire And with His chariots, like a whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword The LORD will judge all flesh; And the slain of the LORD shall be many (Isa. 66:15-16).
A noise will come to the ends of the earth — For the LORD has a controversy with the nations; He will plead His case with all flesh. He will give those who are wicked to the sword, says the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, disaster shall go forth From nation to nation, And a great whirlwind shall be raised up From the farthest parts of the earth. And at that day the slain of the LORD shall be from one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall become refuse on the ground (Jer. 25:31-33).
The book of Revelation adds this important event:
Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever! . . . We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth (Rev. 11:15, 17-18).
What does it mean, “. . . You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints . . . “? How are they rewarded? By the resurrection from the dead and eternal life! At that exact time-the climax of the Day of the Lord, Christ will return and the dead will be raised. This is when the seventh trump will sound.
The Apostle Paul tells us:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thess. 4:16).
The fact is: The elect of God will not be raptured. At the sound of a great trumpet, they will be resurrected from the dead, or if still alive changed from mortal to immortal.
Notice again the time sequence:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, 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. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt. 24:29-31).
Paul describes this event in 1 Thessalonians 4:17: “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” So the saints will meet the Lord in the air, and will always be with Him. Where are they going to be? In heaven?
Zechariah the prophet gives the answer:
Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, And your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; The city shall be taken, The houses rifled, And the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go forth And fight against those nations, As He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives . . . (Zech. 14:1-4).
Along with the resurrected and changed saints, Christ is returning to the Mount of Olives. Where will He be then? Christ is coming to set up His kingdom and to rule this earth. “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15) ! Zechariah tells us: ” . . . Thus the LORD my God will come, And all the saints with You” (Zech. 14:5). The resurrected saints will be with Christ to rule on the earth (Rev. 5:10). There is no Bible substantiation for the idea that the saints will be raptured and taken to heaven either before or after the Tribulation.
But some will escape the coming Tribulation. Jesus said: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). The prophet Daniel affirmed this when he wrote: “At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book” (Dan. 12:1).
God makes this promise to those who are truly righteous:
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked. Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways (Ps. 91:5-11).
The Second Coming of Christ will be dramatic and visible. It will not be in two phases. And it will not be in secret. After Christ’s ascension into heaven, the Apostles were told: ” . . . Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him . . . ” (Rev. 1:7).
An examination of the various texts often quoted to “prove” a rapture turn out to be references to the events surrounding the return of Jesus Christ. They offer no support for rapture before the tribulation, or any other time.
Note: All Scriptures in this article are quoted from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.