157 - Rapture, Second Coming [b]
Rapture, Second Coming
Matthew Lesson #157
April 2, 2017
“Father, we’re thankful that You have revealed to us in Your Word who You are, who we are, and the desperate nature of human sin. Because of sin, we are spiritually dead. We have no hope, we have no life, and we have no eternal life or relationship with You. There’s no real joy, there’s no real stability, there’s no real future for those without Christ.
Father, we’re thankful that we have an understanding of the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ because of Your Word that has revealed to us that He is the One who has come to deliver us, to rescue us, to save us, and that this is ours by a free gift. All we must do is accepted by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
Father, as we study today, we are continually reminded that we live in light of Your plan and in light of Your future plan—in light of eternity. That Jesus Christ has come in the past where He suffered and died for us, where He experienced the cross, but He will come in the future when He will receive a crown and a kingdom.
As we study that today, may we recognize that though these principles focus on Your plan for Israel; nevertheless, their implications for each of us as believers in terms of our own spiritual preparation for the future.
We pray this in Christ’s Name, Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 24. We’re continuing our study in Matthew and the Olivet Discourse, which covers Matthew 24 and Matthew 25. This morning we will look at a number of things but primarily we’re going to look at the distinction between the Rapture of the Church and the Second Coming.
This is not something that’s new to many of you, but this is a problem for many people, and it’s also part of some of the discussion related to the interpretation of the latter part of Matthew 24.
So it’s important for us to stop—as we did in the previous lesson, where we talked about what is revealed about the day of the Lord—and to talk about the Rapture and the distinction between the Rapture and the Second Coming.
As we look at our passage, I want to do three things:
- First of all, we’re going to review: take a look at what we’ve learned so far in Matthew 24.
I keep doing this because this seems to me to be foundational to truly understanding some of the debates, discussions and differences of opinion even among dispensational futurists. I remind you that dispensationalism is a theology that is based upon:
1. Number one: a consistent, literal interpretation of Scripture.
That word “consistent” is so important because there are many people who follow the dictates of Bertrand Russell who said, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Consistency is important in Scripture.
Literal interpretation doesn’t mean what those who disagree with us claim, which is some sort of wooden literalism. It is to use language in its plain normal sense, recognizing that language is composed of numerous idioms. Language is composed of lots of figures of speech, and all of these, though, have set stable meanings.
It’s very important to interpret those aspects of language the way they were used at the time the Bible was written. So we believe in a consistent literal interpretation.
2. The second feature of dispensationalism is that there is a distinction in God’s plan for Israel and His plan for the Church.
God made promises and covenants with Israel in the Old Testament, and God plans to fulfill each of those literally to the letter.
He has not replaced Israel with the Church and the Church Age, but the Church is a distinct, separate body of saints—body of believers—who have a distinct future in God’s plan and purpose.
God’s plan for Israel will be fulfilled. The nation will be redeemed as a nation; individuals will be redeemed. They will be given the kingdom that was promised in the Old Testament.
We’ve seen over and again in our study of Matthew that Matthew is all about the coming Kingdom, and a focus on Jesus as that promised and prophesied Messianic King.
When we understand that, a lot of the problems in Matthew fade away—if it’s interpreted in light of what Matthew is emphasizing. Thus this is very, very important in understanding some of the things in Matthew 24.
3. The third aspect is that dispensationalists believe that the organizing theme of Scripture and of God’s plan in history is God’s glory.
Most other systems think that the organizing principle is redemption. Problem with that is it’s terribly limited, doesn’t include anything about the angels or God’s plan and purposes for the angelic creation, yet that’s part of God’s revelation. We have to have a broad enough overall principle. We’ve studied that many times in our studies on God’s plan for the ages. That’s a dispensationalist.
Dispensationalists disagree in places over how they understand prophecy. We’ve seen that in the first 13 verses especially, that I identified in six different views there. I explained the strengths and weaknesses of those, and there are some other problems in this second half as well, and we will be facing those.
We believe in futurism. That’s very important because there are a lot of people who hold to what is called Preterism, which is that everything in Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the past: it’s all symbolic language used to talk about the coming judgment in AD 70.
So Jesus came—the Second Coming was fulfilled in AD 70 when Jesus came in the clouds in judgment—y’all knew that, right? We’re really living in the Millennium, that’s what happened. That’s their view that’s gained a resurgence in the last 30 or 40 years.
There is the Historicists’ view that somehow we are somewhere along this timescale, and we can look at between Revelation 4 and Revelation 19 and somehow figure out where we are in there because it’s all translated in some sort of symbolic code. That is very popular and very common. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
We believe that the Bible teaches that these things are all in the future, that Matthew 24 and 25 talk about future events that come not only after the present Church Age, but after those last seven years in God’s plan for Israel, known as the Tribulation.
We are futurists: we believe everything in Revelation 4 through the end of the book focuses on that which is future: that which is subsequent to the present Church Age. These things are important for understanding what Jesus is talking about here.
- We will also look at the difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming.
Because, as we concluded in our study of verses 29 through 31—the coming of the Son of Man in glory—there’s a lot of confusion. Those who believe in a post-Tribulation Rapture go there and identify that as the Rapture as well, and we will see why that is a fallacious interpretation.
- We will briefly introduce the next two verses, which help to focus on the next section of Matthew 24: the Parable of the Fig Tree.
What did we learned so far in Matthew 24? Matthew 24 is Jewish in context. It’s not talking about the Church Age, it is focusing on the end times of Israel. It is Jewish in context, He is talking to the disciples as Jewish believers, answering a specific question that is Jewish in nature.
He has just announced judgment on the religious leaders of Israel and the nation of Israel, in Matthew 23 that will culminate in the destruction of the temple. So the disciples ask a very important question, “When will this take place? What are the signs of your coming and the end of the age?”
These are very Jewish terms, and we must interpret this within that framework. It’s not talking about the Church.
In the Jewish framework Daniel 9:24-27, Daniel predicted there would be a period of 490 years decreed by God for the Jewish people. What would begin that 490-year period was a decree for the people to rebuild and re-fortify the City of Jerusalem. That occurred in 444 BC when Artaxerxes gave a commission to Nehemiah to go back to Jerusalem and complete the building of the walls in the fortifications.
You can track this chronologically: 173,880 days later, that period was completed—that timeframe of the first 69 weeks—ended with what we call Palm Sunday, the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
Then there’s a pause because Daniel is told that after that 69th period, the Messiah is cut off, and then the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. There’s clearly a pause between the 69th week and the 70th week, and the 70th week hasn’t occurred yet. It will occur in the future.
It begins when the prince who is to come, signs a peace treaty— a covenant—with Israel. The first period of this last 70th week or seven-year period is called the “time of Jacob’s trouble” in Jeremiah 30:7. In Matthew 24:8, we saw that Jesus said this would be the beginning of the labor pains, but the end is not yet.
Then there will be the midpoint of the Tribulation Period when the Antichrist will desecrate the temple and set up his idol in the temple, and this is called the “abomination of desolation.” Then the second half, and that’s when the end will then come, Matthew 24:14.
These two questions the disciples ask are, when will these things be? And that really isn’t addressed in Matthew’s rendition of the Olivet Discourse. He doesn’t focus on that. Luke does in Luke 21:20-24, which was fulfilled in AD 70. “When will these things be?”—when will the temple be destroyed, in other words.
That’s part of Luke’s focus. Jerusalem, he says, will be captured, the Jews will be led away captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will begin to be trampled by the Gentiles until the end of the time of the Gentiles. So those five verses focus on the beginning of the times of the Gentiles, which is now: we’re in the Church Age.
The second part of this question is really a two part question, “When will be the sign of Your Coming and the end of the age?” Because in Jewish rabbinical thought, these were connected together: they were in the present age, and then there was the age to come.
The present age, in their thinking, would end when the Messiah came and established His Kingdom. So the present age was now, and then the kingdom would come. Remember, this is the main theme in Matthew: focusing on the coming of the Kingdom.
Their question is a kingdom-related question. It has nothing at all to do with the Church or the Church Age. Their questions are related to God’s plan for the future of Israel and the temple, and that excludes a Church Age focus anywhere in Matthew 24 and 25.
We must remember that as they asked this question, “What will be the sign of Your Coming?” that “sign” is the first mention. There are many things mentioned that are precursors, but “the sign” is specific. As I’ve pointed out, we often hear people say, “What are the signs?” It’s a singular word.
“The sign” is specific, according to Jesus, Matthew 24:30, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven.”
I think that is not a cross; we studied this in the past couple of lessons. That is a brilliant flash of light, piercing this incredible darkness that comes at the end of The Day of the Lord, when the sun is darkened and the moon won’t give its light. Of course if the sun’s dark, the moon won’t give its light because it reflects the sun.
Into that darkness will pierce the Shekinah Glory of the Second Person of the Trinity: the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will then descend to the earth.
They had “the sign”, and then “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
As I pointed out, this is not talking about the Church. Let’s talk about that for just a minute. I’ve alluded to this in the past, and I want to put these verses up.
The word “church” is the Greek word EKKLESIA. It’s only used two times in Matthew; it’s not used at all in Mark, Luke, or John. The focus of the Gospels is not on the church. The focus of the Gospels is mostly on Israel and God’s plan for Israel.
The two uses of EKKLESIA in Matthew are instructive. Only Matthew 16:18 uses it in the sense of the church. The basic meaning of the word EKKLESIA is an assembly or gathering, and it becomes a technical use after its use in Acts 5:11 for the church as we know it today.
Matthew 16:18, Jesus is asking Peter, “Who do men say that I am?” He praises Peter for what he has said and He says, “… on this rock I will build My church.”
Two things: it’s future—there wasn’t a church then. He doesn’t say, “I’m building My church;” He said, “I will build my church”—it’s future. That’s the only time He uses it in the technical sense that we think of it.
Do they have any content to that word “church” at this point? Absolutely not. They probably heard that and thought—in their frame of reference—He’s going to build a new kind of assembly because they haven’t been given any content to this new church.
The mystery doctrine of the church—the unrevealed doctrine of the church—has not been revealed to Paul yet or any of the other apostles, so that’s technical.
Matthew 18:17 is talking about if a believer or if another person offends you, go to them personally, and then if you don’t have resolution, then take somebody else, and then eventually if there’s no resolution, tell it to the assembly.
This is not talking about the church: it’s not prophetic, it’s not future; it would’ve just been used in its generic sense. So before Matthew 24, we only have one technical use of the word church, but it really doesn’t involve any teaching whatsoever about what that is.
So to introduce the concept of the church suddenly into Matthew 24 doesn’t make sense. As a lawyer in a courtroom would say, there’s no foundation. There’s nothing given that would indicate that. What we do have throughout Matthew is this emphasis on the kingdom.
The third thing we should note is that Matthew 24, by its context, is not talking about anything related to the church, the Church Age, or the Rapture of the church. It is talking about this period that will precede the coming. That’s what the question is. Jesus isn’t answering another question, He is answering the question they asked.
What we’ve seen is that Matthew 24:4-8 talks about the first half of Daniel’s 70th week, called “the beginning of labor pains”.
In Matthew 24:9-14, we see that He’s talking about the second half of the Tribulation, where there is an increased persecution of Israel and Jewish believers. In the first half there’s no persecution towards Jewish believers, towards Jews, because they’re under the peace treaty of the antichrist. But he violates that: stops the morning and evening sacrifices when he commits the abomination of desolation. And from the midpoint on, all hell will literally break loose towards Israel.
That’s why starting in Matthew 24:15-24, Jesus begins to address Jewish believers: that when you see the abomination of desolation, flee; you who are in Judea, in Jerusalem. Not Houston, not Los Angeles, not New York, London, Moscow or anywhere else.
Those of you who are in Judea and Jerusalem, flee to the mountains. We believe in the literal interpretation. Jerusalem means Jerusalem, Judea means Judea, Rome means Rome. They aren’t secret code words for something else.
When they flee, they’re not to be deceived by false reports—fake news—about Jesus’ coming, that, “Oh! He’s over here!” Or “He’s hiding over here; y’all come out of hiding, come out of the wilderness.” That’s what the antichrist is going to do to try to trap them, so that he can slaughter them.
In Matthew 24:25-29, we see the specific statement that after the tribulation of those days the sign of the Son of Man will come and appear in Heaven.
Verse 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 heaven will be shaken.”
I looked at this in the previous lesson: a parallel in Mark 13:24 states the same thing. It’s “after the tribulation,” so this is talking about something that occurs at the end of the Tribulation Period, not at the beginning. Also that it is accompanied by certain signs in the heavens: the sun darkened, the moon won’t give its light. Other passages talk about “looks like the moon is turned to blood”.
That’s not John Hagee’s blood moons. He was completely off on that whole thing, didn’t read the context of any of the passages he was talking about.
This occurs at the end of the Tribulation, and it all happens at the same time: the sun’s dark and the moon doesn’t give its light, all at the same time. It creates this hyper darkness on the planet that the return of Christ will penetrate.
This is all proceeded by—as we’ve studied in Revelation and in the previous weeks:
- The seal judgments. That’s covered in Revelation 6, but it’s outlined in Matthew 24:4-7.
- It’s also preceded by the abomination of desolation described in Matthew 24:15.
- It’s preceded by the most intense period of the Tribulation, Matthew 24:21
Matthew talks about the fact that this is going to be a unique time period. There will be a great Tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time no nor ever shall be again.
- This then is immediately after that period when this occurs.
This is related, as we studied the last time, to what is described as “the great and awesome day of the Lord” in Joel 2:3.
Though some uses of the term “day of the Lord” refer to God’s judgments in history—either against Israel or against some other nations—those are just two or three of the uses. It generally refers to a time of divine judgment.
Although some future uses may include the entire seven-year period of the Tribulation, from the numerous verses we looked at the last time, we saw that the term “day of the Lord” refers to this period immediately preceding the Second Coming of Christ—the event where these cosmological events that take place: the sun being darkened, and the moon not giving its light.
But it’s not to be confused with other similar events that we see—like in Revelation 6:14—which is at the end of the seal judgments. There’s a series of judgments described in Revelation:
- First the seal judgments, then the trumpet judgments, then the bowl judgments.
- There are seven seal judgments. When the seventh seal is open, it reveals seven trumpet judgments. These are consecutive.
- When the seventh trumpet judgment blows, it reveals seven bowl judgments.
- It’s after the last bowl judgment that we have the day of the Lord, the campaign of Armageddon, and Jesus returning to the earth.
They are similar things, but as we will see in our study, a key principle in interpretation hermeneutics—which is constantly violated by many scholars and preachers—is that similarities don’t equal sameness. Just because something is described in generally similar terms doesn’t mean they’re the same thing.
The second question is, what are the differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming?
There are too many scholars that come along and talk about the various passages, and they say that because they include these cosmological disturbances, because they talk about Jesus coming, they talk about clouds, they talk about angels that they’re talking about the same thing but they’re not.
Similarities do not mean that things are the same. We all know that there is a difference between cars and trucks, but there are a lot of similarities: they have two axles, they have four tires, they have an engine in the front, and they have some carrying capacity. Some can carry only two passengers; some can carry four passengers, but the difference between a car and a truck is that a truck has carrying capacity in the back for a lot of different things.
We are going to have a picnic next Saturday. We need folks who have trucks who can help. We always have three or four or five trucks to carry tables and different things out there. If everybody showed up with a car, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish the mission, but we all automatically understand that they have a lot of similarities, but that’s not the point.
The point is the differences, and that’s the same thing with these various passages in Scripture. When Wayne House was here for the pastor’s conference and taught on interpretation, he used the illustration of the difference between a bush and a tree. There are many similarities between bushes and trees, but bushes are not trees and trees are not bushes.
We could also use an illustration of the difference between an F-35 jet fighter and a C-130 transport. They both have powerful engines; they are both airplanes. They both fly, they both have instrumentation, they both have cockpits. You can go on with all the similarities, but they’re very, very different in what they can do and what they can accomplish and you would never confuse the two.
There’s a lot of similarities between a daffodil and a daisy, but daffodils are not daisies. There are differences. It’s the differences that are important.
That reminds me of a line from the musical “Gigi” from Maurice Chevalier talking about the difference between men and women. There are a lot of similarities between men and women, but as he said, “Vive la différence.” It’s the difference that’s important.
We need to talk a little bit about the Rapture. What exactly is the Rapture? You will hear from a lot of people, scholars at times say, “Well, the Bible doesn’t talk about the Rapture. I don’t see that word anywhere in my Bible.”
Well, you don’t see the word Trinity anywhere in your Bible either. Trinity was a word coined by Tertullian in the late second century to describe accurately what the Bible teaches.
There are a lot of words that we use to describe biblical doctrines that those words aren’t actually found in the English. They may not be found in the Greek or the Hebrew, but in this case, the root word for Rapture is found in the Latin translation.
First of all, the definition the Rapture: the translation of all living believers from the earth at the end of the Church Age, immediately following the resurrection of all dead Church Age believers; the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation begins.
Even though some people may not believe in a pre-Trib Rapture, they believe in some sense that there is a Rapture. The indisputable verse for the Rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18—the broad context—which I had John read this morning.
The central passage is in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. Paul says, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord.” What he’s addressing is the fact that the Thessalonian believers had become somewhat confused about what happens when a believer dies, because Paul had taught them about this, as we see in this passage.
He taught them about prophecy. Some people say, “Well, we don’t need to study prophecy. That’s going to happen hundreds of years from now. We need practical things on how to live today.”
The Bible teaches us about everything, and we’re to learn about everything that God has revealed to us, not just what we in our limited finite knowledge think might be applicable to our lives. When somebody dies, we immediately want to know what happened to them.
That’s what happened after Paul had spent two, possibly three months with the Thessalonian believers, they asked him questions. They thought Jesus would come back at any moment because Paul believed in the imminent—or at any moment—return of Jesus. When the first believer died, they were wondering, “What happens? What do we do?”
That’s when Paul says that we grieve, but not like those who have no hope. And he goes on to say, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord.” This is what Jesus taught.
I wonder how many here can tell me where Jesus taught about the Rapture. John 14:1-3. In fact, there are a number of different words that are seen in both passages, but that’s another topic, another message, another lesson. That’s where Jesus taught about it. “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you may be also.”
That indicates that Jesus is in some heavenly area, not on the earth. So the Rapture didn’t occur at the end of the Tribulation where Jesus is coming down and there’d be this really OOP! Down, where Christians would be raptured and keep coming down with Him.
John 14:1-3, He’s going somewhere where He’s creating living spaces for us so that we can be with Him in heaven, not on the earth. If the Rapture occurs at the end of the Tribulation, we’re going to end up on the earth, not in heaven.
Paul says, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
In other words, for those of us who are still alive, something will happen, but it won’t happen before something happens to those who have already died. The word “asleep” is just a euphemism; it doesn’t mean soul sleep. It just is a euphemism that’s only applied in the New Testament to those who are Christians—to believers—who have died. It just refers to the fact and emphasizes that they will be waking up: that is, the resurrection.
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven.” Three things happen: there’s going to be a shout, there’s going to be the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. What we see are phrases like “coming of the Lord,” “Angel”—there’s an angel accompanying this, there is a trumpet of God, and then there’s resurrection—“the dead in Christ will rise first.”
There are those who come along and say, “See! That’s similar to the passages over here, so they must be talking about the same thing. This is just at the end of the Tribulation.” No, similarity doesn’t mean they’re identical.
1 Thessalonians 4:17 then tells us what happens after—immediately after—the dead in Christ rise first. “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.”
Some people stop there, but you see Paul is very practical. After he’s talked about what some people think is an esoteric doctrine about prophecy and why do we need to know about end times and all that stuff anyway? I need to solve problems with the way I spend money and with my personal problems with sin, etc., etc.
Paul shows us how practical it is. The last verse, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
I would suggest that many of us have been in circumstances and situations where we have been with people who have had a close friend or spouse or family member die. How many times does the Bible talk about comforting people at the time of death? May be one or two other times generally, but this is the specific passage.
What does God say we are to do? How are we to comfort people? Give them a hug? Well, that’s nice. Send them a card? That’s nice. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do any of those things, but what Paul says is to comfort them with the doctrine of the Rapture.
We’re to teach them about what is going to happen to believers who have died: that Jesus will return and there will be a physical bodily resurrection in the air. Then if we’re still alive—“we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with Him in the clouds”—and will be reunited. We will all be spending eternity in heaven, and this will just be a vague foggy memory.
The word “caught up together” was translated into the Latin Vulgate with the Latin word RAPIO, which is where we get our English word, “Rapture.” So when people say, “Well, you can’t find the Rapture anywhere in the Bible, they’re just not looking in the right language. Most of them probably aren’t even looking in Greek either.
The word that is used here is HARPAZO in the Greek, which means to be caught up or to seize something. Sometimes it was used to describe a thief coming in and seizing or stealing something. It’s used here as a term for a Rapture.
What we see between the Matthew 24 passage and 1 Thessalonians 4 is the similarities: clouds, air, the Lord, the word “coming” and also “a resurrection”. But it’s not the similarities, it’s the differences that matter.
Let’s review some of the distinctions between the Rapture and the Second Coming.
1) At the Rapture, there will be a translation of all believers. All believers are instantly translated: we receive our resurrection body. But that’s not what happens at the Second Coming at all. When you read Revelation 19, Jesus is coming with the angels and with the saints to the earth, and there is no translation associated with that at all.
2) At the Rapture the translated saints go to Heaven. John 14, “That where I am, you may be also.” But at the Second Coming, you have translated saints that are coming with the Lord to the earth. Where is he coming from? He’s coming from Heaven.
3) At the Rapture, when you look at Rapture passages, the earth is not judged. But what happens subsequent to Jesus’ return to the earth is the earth is judged. There are various judgments that take place immediately following His return. We’ll see in Matthew 25 a judgment on the Gentiles: it’s called the Sheep and the Goat Judgment. There is a judgment of surviving Jewish believers at the first part of Matthew 25. There is a judgment of the nations. All of this takes place when Jesus returns at the Second Coming.
4) The Rapture is an imminent event. It can happen at any moment. There’s nothing that must take place before the Rapture occurs. It can be at any moment. It’s the doctrine of Imminency. Imminency means it’s unexpected. We’re not looking for anything to precede the Rapture.
That doesn’t mean that some things that are going to happen after the Rapture can’t have some preparation taking place before the Rapture, but that’s not a fulfillment that is necessary for the Rapture to occur. It doesn’t tell us it is any sooner, doesn’t mean it’s any quicker.
It could happen at any moment: it can happen now, tomorrow, it could happen a hundred years from now. Stage-setting doesn’t mean it is closer. Progression of time means it’s closer: it’s closer for us than it was for the apostle Paul. That’s just basic logic. But it doesn’t mean that just because we see things that seem to be setting up the Tribulation Period more and more that it’s going to happen very soon.
There are a lot of wonderful Bible scholars and prophecy teachers who were convinced that the Rapture would occur in their life, especially after the resurrection of the Jewish state, but it didn’t happen.
5) The Rapture is not predicted at all in the Old Testament. Why not? Well, there’s no mention of the Church in the Old Testament. If God had told Israel in the Old Testament that there’s going to be a future body, a future spiritual organism called the Church, that would raise the question of why, and the answer to that is because you can fail.
Well, that sort of predetermines your outcome, so the Church was never mentioned in the Old Testament. That’s why Paul calls it a mystery doctrine. Mystery in the New Testament mean something that has never before been revealed.
It’s not predicted it all in the Old Testament, but the Second Coming—the coming of the Messiah to establish His Kingdom—is mentioned again and again throughout all of the prophets in the Old Testament.
6) The Rapture is for believers only: those who are dead in Christ and those who are living believers. Now some people think that there are a lot of people in Christian churches who are dead in Christ. Some of them are asleep in Jesus also. They come to church on Sunday morning or during the week, and they’re asleep in Jesus after five minutes of the message.
This is talking about those who have physically died and are in Christ. The Rapture is for believers only, but the Second Coming affects everyone because Jesus is going to come back. He’s going to rescue Israel, destroy the armies of the Antichrist and the false prophet, He judges the Antichrist and the false prophet. The Antichrist is killed; according to Isaiah 14, he will be resurrected, probably the false prophet also, although he is not mentioned, and then sent to the lake of fire.
These various judgments affect the whole world, and Jesus establishes His kingdom. The curse is rolled back, and it is a very different environment than what we have today.
7) The Rapture occurs before the day of wrath. Paul talks in 1 Thessalonians about the fact that we are not destined for the wrath to come. Wrath is not used of an eschatological punishment, it’s not used of the lake of fire, it’s used of the wrath of God that is revealed and poured out on man during history.
Wrath of God always refers to God’s judgment on man during history. When the day of wrath was mentioned, the Rapture occurred before that. We are not destined for that, but the Second Coming of Christ ends the day of wrath. The day of wrath is another term for the Tribulation.
8) At the Rapture, in rapture passages, there’s no reference to Satan, but at the Second Coming we’re told that Satan is bound for a thousand years. He is removed from the earth so people can no longer say, “the devil made me do it”. We don’t have that scapegoat anymore. We can only say, “it’s me, it’s my own sin nature”.
That’s a lesson that will be taught in the millennial kingdom. Perfect environment: no Satan, no fallen Angels, none of that to influence man. But people with sin natures will grow and mature and reject Jesus, reject God so that when Satan is released at the end of the thousand years, he will lead a multitude in rebellion against Christ and His kingdom and God. God will destroy them with fire and brimstone.
9) At the Rapture Jesus Christ comes for His own, but at the Second Coming Christ comes with His own. Clouds are mentioned both times.
10) In the Rapture, the clouds are in the air. Christ comes in the clouds and we meet him in the clouds. But at the Second Coming Christ comes from the clouds to the earth, and at that time He will establish His kingdom.
11) At the Rapture, Christ will claim His bride, the Church, and there will be a wedding feast that occurs after that. The wedding feast is analogous; the banquet is analogous to the whole Millennial Kingdom, that thousand year period. At the Second Coming, the wedding has taken place. Christ comes with His bride, the church, to establish the Kingdom.
12) At the Rapture only His own see him. The only ones who see Him are those who are called to Him “and those who are dead in Christ and alive and remain shall be caught up with Him in the clouds.”
12th point on the Second Coming, every eye will see Him, and they will mourn Him. This occurs at the Second Coming.
13) After the Rapture, the Tribulation begins. Not immediately. You’ll hear some people say the Rapture begins the Tribulation. But according to Daniel 9 the 70th week begins when the Antichrist—the prince who is to come—signs the contract or covenant peace treaty with Israel. That kicks off that period.
The Rapture occurs and after that the Tribulation begins.
After the Second Coming, the Messianic Kingdom begins. And it doesn’t begin immediately. There is a transition period, a time of judgments that take place between the Second Coming and the actual inauguration of the kingdom.
So far we’ve looked at the difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming, and third is what’s the meaning and significance of the parable of the fig tree.
This is given in Matthew 24:32-33. Jesus says, “Now”—and what He’s doing is taking a step back. He’s doing sort of what I’ve done today. We’ve gone verse by verse through Matthew 24.
I did an excursus on the day of the Lord in the last lesson. Today there’s been an excursus—or side trip—to the contrast between the Second Coming and the Rapture. That’s what Jesus does. He steps back from the chronological flow of events, and now He’s going to give a parable to make a point. This is crucial for what’s coming.
Matthew 24:32, “Now learn this parable from the fig tree.” A parable is a story of focusing on a real life situation that is used to illustrate an abstract or spiritual principle. He says, “… learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.”
That particular fig tree there—you can’t tell from the background—but I saw that the first year I went to Israel. That’s on the southern steps of the Temple Mount, and it was a huge beautiful luxuriant fig tree. It is not there anymore.
The word “parable” comes from the Greek word PARABOLE, which has a broad meaning. It can be anything from allegory to a poem or a proverb, but the way Jesus uses it is more technical. I believe all the parables relate to the kingdom and relate to Israel in the kingdom. A parable is a real-life illustration used to instruct about some abstract or spiritual principle of truth.
People commit one of two errors with parables. One is they read too little into it, one is they read too much into it. We don’t listen to Jesus tell us what it means, and He always tells us what it means in the context.
Sometimes people want to make every detail in the parable walk on all fours, and that’s not the point of a parable. Sometimes they don’t want to stick with what Jesus says He’s talking about, and they reduce it and make hardly any significance out of it all.
He uses this real-life illustration: that when the branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. And that happens year after year like clockwork. Every spring the fig tree sprouts.
When I was a little kid, my parents put a fig tree in the backyard, and it was still there up until the time I sold the house about four years ago. It still produced an abundance of figs. Every year once you saw the leaves coming out and the blooms, you would know that summer was near, and that it wasn’t long before there be fruit on the tree. It worked like clockwork.
That’s the analogy Jesus is saying, “When you see these things take place.” What are “these things?” What He’s just talked about. When you see those events in the first half of the Tribulation, when you see the abomination of desolation, when you see the events in the second half of the Tribulation, when you see the sun darkened and the moon not giving its light, you’re going to know, as a result of that, that something’s coming.
Jesus is coming: that’s what’s near. You will know when you watch those events in the 70th week—not the Church Age, but within the 70th week—you will know. You will be able to tell that the end is near.
Matthew 24:34 He says, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away until all these things take place.”
There’ve been a lot of misinterpretations of this verse. First time I read anything about this was in a little book some of you have read called The Late Great Plant Earth by Hal Lindsey.
In almost every congregation including this one, I’ve had people who got saved by reading Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Plant Earth. There are some things in there I disagree with; broadly I agree with most of it.
I remember some years ago, Pastor Thieme was having lunch with Earl Radmacher and asked Earl what he thought of Hal Lindsey’s book, and Radmacher said, “Well, I really didn’t think much about it, but apparently God does.” Because there are truly tens of thousands of people who have come to understand the gospel through reading that book.
Prophecy is a great study as a prelude to people being saved, but Hal was a bit historicist instead of a futurist. At this point he said, “But the most important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel.”
He was interpreting the fig tree to be the nation Israel. The fig tree often stands for the nation Israel in Scripture. I think that even though that’s not the point of this parable—it is not talking about Israel per se—there’s an implication there by using the fig tree as the illustration. Jesus is making it clear that what He’s talking about is related to Israel not related to the church. I think that’s important.
Lindsey says what this means is the rebirth of Israel. “Even the figure of speech ‘fig tree’ has been a historic symbol of national Israel. When the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the ‘fig tree’ put forth its first leaves.”
See how he’s saying this is the fulfillment of prophecy. Well, that violates the principle of imminency, it violates futurism. He’s violated his own hermeneutic at this point. He goes on to say, “Jesus said that this would indicate that He was ‘at the door’ ready to return. Then He said ‘Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.’”
What he did with that: he said, “What generation? Obviously in context the generation that would see the signs.”
But he puts the signs in the Church Age, and he said, “Chief among them is the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like 40 years. If this is a correct deduction (and it’s not), then within 40 years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who study Bible prophecy all their lives believe this is so.”
That’s not exactly true, but if you took 40 and added it to 48, you’d come out to 88, and subtract seven years for the Tribulation, you end up with 1981. When I first read that I said, “The Rapture is going to occur before 1981!” See he’s date setting.
He’s not any different from the person who wrote the little book 88 Reasons Why Jesus Will Return in 88. When He didn’t, he wrote another book called 89 Reasons Why Jesus Will Return in 89. You can’t date set! That’s where we’re going to get to next time when Jesus talks about “No one knows the day or the hour.”
But this sets the stage for Tribulation believers: when you see the signs, you know that His coming is near, so you need to be ready. That’s going to be the thrust of all the parables that follow this.
They’re not talking about the Church Age, they’re talking about the failure of some to be ready—and they’re unbelievers—the failure of some to be ready for the Second Coming.
But there’s application for the Church Age believer because Jesus can come in the Rapture for us at any moment, and we need to be ready. We need to be living our lives today in light of eternity because what immediately follows the Rapture of the church is the Judgment Seat of Christ—the Bema seat—where we will be evaluated.
Some will receive rewards; some will not. All will be saved; otherwise they wouldn’t be there. All will spend eternity in the kingdom, and then heaven, but some will be rewarded and have positions of responsibility and ruling in the Kingdom, and others will not.
What makes the difference is how we use our time. As Paul said we are to redeem the time; we’re to grow and mature spiritually because that prepares us—builds the capacity for us—to be able to serve and reign in the coming kingdom with the Lord Jesus Christ.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and be reminded of Your future plan and that just as Tribulation believers will need to be ready for Your coming, so too Church Age believers need to be ready for the Rapture.
We need to be living today in light of eternity—in light of Your plan for us in the kingdom—that we will come with the Lord to the earth. We will be His cadre. Those who are rewarded will rule and reign with Him as a kingdom of priests in the kingdom.
Father, we pray that we might be motivated to live for the Lord Jesus Christ, to serve Him, to grow and mature through the study and application of Your Word in this Church Age.
But above all, if anyone is here, anyone is listening that has never trusted in Jesus as Savior, that is the key, the starting point. We’re born spiritually dead. The only way to become spiritually alive, to have eternal life, is to believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and that nothing else contributes to that salvation.
When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” the answer was to the point: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” He didn’t say “believe and repent”, he didn’t say “believe and join the church”, he didn’t say “believe and be baptized”.
He said “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” because it is the work of Christ at the cross that is determinative, and believing on Him identifies us with His death, burial and resurrection.
Father, we pray that You would drive these truths home to each one of us through God the Holy Spirit and that we might respond to the challenge, to live today in light of eternity.
We pray in Christ’s Name, Amen.”