On the Second Coming of Jesus

What follows is not so much an in-depth defense of a theological position as it is a general statement regarding the main points of what I believe about the second coming of Jesus. I will provide appropriate Scriptural references at key points along the way, and I will highlight points of commonality with the Pre-Tribulation Rapture (PTR) position along with points of divergence in the two eschatological systems as well. Even so, the reader should consider this treatment as something akin to an opening statement in a debate, not the sum-total of the breadth and depth of the arguments to be made.

PTR Agreement

Like the PTR position, the Pre-Wrath Rapture* (PWR) position is premillennial in its approach to the last things, meaning that, among other things, PWR affirms that Jesus will reign for a literal 1000 years on the earth at the end of Daniel’s 70th week. Satan will be released for a final time at the end of the 1000 years, will incite one final rebellion, will be defeated, and will then be thrown into the lake of fire for eternity (Revelation 20:1-10).

Furthermore, like the PTR position, PWR affirms that the Church will not face the wrath of God.

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Thessalonians 5:9

Unlike the Post-Tribulation Rapture position, both PTR and PWR interpret this to mean that God’s Church will not be present on the earth during His final outpouring of wrath on the ungodly, having been raptured from the earth prior to its inception (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Where PTR and PWR diverge is primarily in the definition of what part of the seals, trumpets, and bowls of Revelation actually constitute God’s wrath. This point of divergence leads to a cascade of logically-dependent arguments on both sides, creating two interpretive frameworks that are essentially mutually exclusive for the period of events in between PTR’s and PWR’s placement of the Rapture on the timeline of the future, with the PTR Rapture occurring several years prior to the PWR Rapture.

The Day of the Lord

Isaiah, Obadiah, Joel, Zephaniah and Malachi all speak of “the day of the Lord” as a future judgment against the whole earth. Isaiah the prophet recorded:

9 Look, the day of the Lord is coming—
cruel, with rage and burning anger—
to make the earth a desolation
and to destroy the sinners on it.
10 Indeed, the stars of the sky and its constellations
will not give their light.
The sun will be dark when it rises,
and the moon will not shine.
11 I will bring disaster on the world,
and their own iniquity, on the wicked.
I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant
and humiliate the insolence of tyrants.
Isaiah 13:9-11

And the prophet Zephaniah foretold that the Day of the Lord will be “a day of wrath” (Zephaniah 2:15) and that God will “make a complete … horrifying end of all the inhabitants of the earth.” (1:18) The Day of the Lord is God’s final judgment on the wicked, and it will be judgment on the whole earth.

In the book of Revelation, John recorded a significant detail about the nature of one of the seals, the sixth seal.

15 Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?” Revelation 6:15-17 (emphasis mine)

John says specifically of the sixth seal that the people of the earth will recognize it as heralding the beginning of the day of the Lord’s wrath. They will seek to hide themselves from “the wrath of the Lamb” among the caves and the rocks of the mountains. This is nearly identical language to what Isaiah describes will happen in the Day of the Lord:

People will go into caves in the rocks and holes in the ground, away from the terror of the Lord and from His majestic splendor, when He rises to terrify the earth. Isaiah 2:19

John and Isaiah (and the other prophets) are talking about the same event, God’s final judgment on the earth, and John says specifically that it begins with the sixth seal of Revelation.

The First Five Seals

If the Day of the Lord begins with the sixth seal of Revelation, then it is logical to interpret the first five seals which precede it as not being the wrath of God but as something else. In one of the interludes to the sequence of seals, trumpets, and bowls, John records in Revelation 12:13-17 that Satan will attempt to make war against the remnant of the nation of Israel but that God will rescue them. As a result, he turns his attention to the “offspring” of Israel, “those who keep God’s commands and have the testimony about Jesus” (v 17), that is, Christians. And in the fifth seal, we see an interesting conversation in heaven between God and those who were martyred because of their faith in Jesus.

10 They cried out with a loud voice: “Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” 11 So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer until the number would be completed of their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been. Revelation 6:10-11

These martyrs asking the question could be from the previous four seals, from throughout history, or both. That is immaterial. What matters is that in response, they are told that many more are about to be killed for their faith. In keeping with the idea of 1 Thessalonians 5:9, these believers dying for their faith cannot be as the result of the wrath of God as God has promised that those who are appointed to salvation through Jesus are not appointed to wrath. Revelation 12:12 says that Satan comes on the earth “in great wrath” (ESV). The fifth seal is martyrdom of the saints as a result of the wrath of Satan.

Furthermore, there are distinct parallels between the first five seals of Revelation and the events that Jesus describes as the “beginning of birth pangs” in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21**.
  1. Seal 1: Antichrists
    • The rider on the white horse will be given a crown and will come as a conqueror, imitating Jesus coming on a white horse (Rev 6:1-2, 19:11)
    • Many will come in the name of Christ (Matthew 24:5, Mark 13:6, Luke 21:8)
  2. Seal 2: War
    • The rider on the red horse will take peace from the earth (Rev 6:4)
    • There will be wars and rumors of wars, and nation will rise against nation. (Matthew 24:6-7, Mark 13:7-8, Luke 21:9-10)
  3. Seal 3: Famine through excessive inflation
    • The rider on the black horse will cause a quart of wheat to cost a day’s wage (Rev 6:5-6)
    • Famines are predicted (Matthew 24:7, Mark 13:8, Luke 21:11)
  4. Seal 4: Death
    • The rider on the pale horse will bring death to ¼ of the earth through famine and pestilence (Rev 6:8)
    • Famines are predicted, as well as pestilence in Luke (Matthew 24:7, Mark 13:8, Luke 21:11)
  5. Seal 5: Martyrdom of the Saints
    • Many saints will be martyred (Rev 6:11)
    • Believers will be delivered up to persecution and death (Matthew 24:9-14,Mark 13:9-13)

Timing the Rapture

Every reference to the nature of the second coming of Christ that I have been able to find each refers to Him coming visibly in the clouds. This begins with the angels speaking to the disciples after Jesus’ ascension:

9 After He had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. 10 While He was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.Acts 1:9-11 (emphasis mine)

Matthew says that “all the peoples of the earth” will see Jesus “coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 24:30). Mark says “they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). Luke says the same thing in chapter 21, verse 27, as does John in Revelation 1:7. Similar statements are made in Matthew 26:64 and Mark 14:62.

We know from 1 Thessalonians 4:17 that the Rapture will involve believers being “caught up with [the dead in Christ] to meet the Lord in the air.” That is exactly what Mark says will happen when the whole world sees Jesus coming in the clouds:

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. Mark 13:24-27 (ESV, emphasis mine)

When Jesus returns visibly for the whole world to see, it is at that time that He gathers all His saints to Himself from the “four winds” and the “ends of the earth” to be with Himself and the saints who were already in heaven. And to anchor this event temporally with respect to the birth pangs, Mark says this appearance of Jesus will happen “after that tribulation” that happens at the time of the abomination that causes desolation. Matthew is even more explicit in saying it happens “immediately” after this great tribulation.

I have one final note on this point, from Joel chapter 2. Both Matthew and Mark, and to some extent Luke, record that immediately prior to the visible second coming of Christ to gather His elect, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light” (Matthew 24:29). This parallels the language of the events that Joel says will precede the Day of the Lord.

The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood
before the great and awe-inspiring Day of the Lord comes.
Joel 2:31

The weight of these passages together leads me to conclude that the second coming of Christ, the Rapture, and the start of the Day of the Lord will all occur simultaneously or within moments of each other, and this will begin with the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6.

Watch for the Signs

Numerous times in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, Jesus gives the disciples clues what to expect just prior to His second coming and the beginning of the Day of the Lord. The language used bears the common theme of “watch for the signs”. Consider just a couple of verses:
  • “You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet.” (Matthew 24:6, cf Mark 13:7) Jesus tells his disciples that wars are coming but exhorts them to not be alarmed. These things “must take place” first before the end will come. This will be a sign that the end is near.
  • 32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: As soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near—at the door! (Matthew 24:32-33, cf Mark 13:28-29, Luke 21:29-31). In all three accounts, this parable follows Jesus explaining that His second coming will be accompanied by many signs in the sun, moon, and stars. In the Matthew and Mark accounts, the phrase “all these things” is quite likely referring to all the prophetic events He told them up to that point, namely the birth pangs and martyrdom of the saints. Jesus tells them to understand that in the same way a fig tree gives indications of new leaves coming before they appear, these signs will signal that the time of His return is very near.
  • At many more points throughout the Matthew and Mark accounts, Jesus uses phrases such as “And you must watch! I have told you everything in advance” and “Watch! Be alert!”. The numerous warnings to pay attention to what will happen strongly support the idea that Jesus wants His followers to be on the lookout for the signs He has predicted.
Likewise, in 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul is comforting and encouraging the saints not to believe that the Day of the Lord is such that it could come without them knowing about it. Apparently there were those who were teaching this, and it disturbed the church at Thessalonica. But in keeping with Jesus’ teachings to watch for the signs, Paul tells them that the Day of the Lord will not come unless the man of lawlessness is first revealed and declares himself to be God.

I believe the message is clear: there will be signs leading up to the Rapture of the Church, the Second Coming of Christ and the start of the Day of the Lord, and we are to watch for them.

Final Thoughts

Much, much more could be said on this topic. I have not addressed imminency vs. expectancy, the “thief in the night” ideas, or any number of other points that would require me to actively engage in tearing down the sincerely-held beliefs of my brothers and sisters who subscribe to the PTR position.

If I am right in holding to the PWR stance, then as these things start happening and my PTR siblings are around to see them, they will be forced to reevaluate what they “know” to be true. Hopefully my fellow PWR brethren will be able to guide them to new understanding in love. If I am wrong, then I will not be around to care about it, as I will be too busy basking in God’s glory. The bottom line is that PTR or PWR, the final result is the same: Jesus comes back, Satan is forever defeated, and we live for all eternity with God.

I have read a number of statements of faith over the last few months for various reasons. Many have included explicit statements stating that the return of Jesus is imminent. These organizations have usually required complete agreement with the SoF on all points before allowing membership in or service with said organization.

This issue is not one to divide over. Rather, we should unite under the glory of a Triune God, through the deliverance of salvation by faith through grace alone purchased by the the blood of Jesus Christ, and in the mission of making disciples of all nations. There are certainly a handful of doctrines in Scripture that are essential to having a biblical worldview. This is not one of them.

* For the sake of simplicity, I refer to my position throughout as the Pre-Wrath Rapture position. However, the conclusions illustrated herein are primarily the result of my own study of Scripture which I later verified against the views of prominent teachers of the PWR position. Using the term “Pre-Wrath Rapture” to describe my views should not be viewed as being an authoritative teaching of the PWR position nor as a full, unqualified endorsement of more “official” explanations of the position.
** Luke does not record Jesus using the birth pangs analogy, but he does record several statements that parallel Matthew and Mark’s accounts. References to Luke are included for the sake of completeness.

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