|By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1996|
|Bible Prophecy Questions Answered by Leading Christian Scholars.|
Dr. John Ankerberg: You should never, ever say that the study of biblical prophecy is not important, that it doesn’t matter. Prophecy makes up one third of your Bible. Those who say it is not important are simply wrong. Christians, according to God’s Word, are to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God. The word mystery is easily defined. It is a new truth that God reveals, something not known before. Remember the Prophet Daniel? When God gave Daniel the interpretation for King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the Bible put it this way: "During the night, the mystery was revealed to Daniel" (Dan. 2:19). Once Daniel had the information from God, he told King Nebuchadnezzar, "No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery [or secret truth] he asked about. But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come." In the New Testament, Jesus told the believers in Mark 4:11: "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God."
In Romans 11:25 Paul refers to future prophetic events as part of the mysteries of God. He says, "For I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery... that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and then all Israel will be saved...." In Romans 16:25 Paul says Christians will be established by God "according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past but now revealed and made known...."
In 1 Corinthians 15:51 the Rapture is shown to be a part of the mystery of God. Paul says, "Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye."
Further, in 1 Thessalonians 4 in describing the Rapture Paul says, "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord [again, this is information given by the Lord that only He knows] that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. But the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall 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."
Paul states in Ephesians, it is God who has "made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he purposed in Christ to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment" (Eph. 1:9). We are to be stewards of the mysteries of God, faithfully holding onto them. Are you holding onto the mysteries of God in a faithful manner?
Also, it’s clear that the Bible tells us that the mysteries of God include end time events. In 2 Thessalonians 2:7 the word mystery refers to the information surrounding the Antichrist.
Other passages show us that the mysteries of God include the teaching of the Rapture, the Second Coming of Christ to earth, the Tribulation time period, and some of the great world events which will happen during the Tribulation.
I also believe it includes the wonderful promise that the Christian church will not go through the Tribulation time period but will be raptured before any of it happens.
6. One event involves God’s judgment falling on the earth, the other does not.
Dr. John Ankerberg: The sixth difference that forces us to conclude that the Rapture of the Church is a separate event from the Second Coming of Christ to earth stems from the fact that in every Rapture passage there is no mention of trial or God’s judgments falling on the earth before or during the Rapture. Rather, there is only the promise and admonition to believers to look for Christ’s return for His own. On the other hand, every passage that deals with the Second Coming of Christ to earth is set in the context of tribulation and judgment. What is the scriptural basis for saying this? Look at Zechariah 14:1-2. God says, "Behold, the day is coming... when... I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled."
What is going on here? What the prophet is predicting is the siege of Jerusalem and the gathering of the nations to war. It is during this time that the Bible says, "Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations... And in that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which is in front of Jerusalem on the east." What do you conclude from these verses? I think we can only conclude that these verses are teaching that Christ returns to the earth in the midst of world war among the nations and the siege of Jerusalem. But none of these events are said to take place in Rapture passages.
Let me give you another example. Look at Matthew 24. The same context of war, tribulation and judgment is described, only more of it. The order of events in this chapter according to Jesus are: first, the beginning of birth pangs and tribulations, which refer to such events as false messiahs appearing and deceiving many; nation rising against nation, war, famines, earthquakes, and believers being hunted down and killed worldwide. Then the abomination of desolation takes place, followed by the Great Tribulation. The Great Tribulation ends with Christ’s Second Coming to earth to conquer, judge and rule.
But, once again in the Rapture passages, Christ does not come in the context of Tribulation, war, and world judgment. Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17. It says, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trumpet of God; the dead in Christ shall 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. "Therefore, comfort one another with these words." Let me ask you, do you think the Thessalonians would have been comforted if they believed Paul was teaching that Christ would only be coming for them if they could somehow make it through the seven years of tribulation? Of course, to make it through this time, they would face nation rising against nation in war; famines, plagues, earthquakes, worldwide catastrophes and the knowledge that Christians will surely be hunted down and killed worldwide. How could they have been comforted by this teaching? Would it comfort you? We can be sure Paul did not teach them that. Rather, Paul was teaching them that Christians will all be raptured before these terrible events and judgments take place. In 1 Thessalonians 5:4 he specifically says that the Day of the Lord will not overtake these Christians, they are not a part of it.
Then in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 he tells why. He says "God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 Paul assures Christians that Jesus will be the One who "delivers us from the wrath to come." In Revelation 3:10 Jesus Himself promises Christians that He will keep them from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world. Absolutely nothing is said in these passages about Christians experiencing war, tribulation and judgment. We are given no reason to believe that the Rapture occurs in that kind of context. Yet in Zechariah 12 and Matthew 24 and other places the Bible teaches Christ will return to earth in the context of world war, tribulation, and judgment. I believe we can only conclude from these passages that the Bible is teaching that the Rapture of the Church is a separate event from the Second Coming of Christ to judge and rule.
7. A different time when believers are resurrected indicates two different events
Dr. John Ankerberg: The seventh difference that reveals the Rapture of the Church is a separate event from the Second Coming of Christ to earth is that the time when believers are resurrected is different. For example, in the Rapture passage there is a resurrection of the dead that takes place during the descent of Christ to the clouds above the earth. But in the Second Coming passages, a resurrection of the righteous dead who died during the Tribulation takes place only after Christ has descended all the way to the earth and begun to rule.
First look at this Rapture passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God." And while Christ is descending, notice what the Scripture says: "and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." Here, the order of events is that the dead in Christ are resurrected, then we which are alive and remain are caught up together with them to meet the Lord, who is descending to the air above the earth.
Do the Second Coming passages teach a different order? The answer is yes. In the Second Coming passages those resurrected are not resurrected at the same time as people are resurrected in those passages describing the Rapture. For example, look at the distinctly Second Coming passage in Revelation Chapter 19:11-21, continued on in Chapter 20:1-8. The order that is given there is as follows: 1.) the descent of Christ; 2.) Christ slays His enemies; 3.) The Antichrist—the beast, and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire; 4.) Satan is then bound and thrown into the pit; and finally 5.) after all of these other events, there is a resurrection of the saints. Notice, this resurrection doesn’t take place during Christ’s descent to the earth, but after He has descended to the earth and begun to rule. So this order of events contradicts the order of events given in the Rapture passage of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. Again, these biblical passages force us to conclude that the Rapture of the Church must be a separate event from Christ’s Second Coming to earth to judge and rule.
8. The need for a large period of time between the Rapture and the Second Coming requires two separate events.
Dr. John Ankerberg: There is an eighth issue that shows us the Rapture and the Second Coming are two separate events. This point also reveals the need for a large period of time to come between the Rapture and the Second Coming. Why do I say this? I believe there must be a large period of time between the Rapture of all Christians and the Second Coming of Christ to earth because there is a need for people to go into Christ’s Millennial Kingdom in non-glorified bodies.
Well, first, what is a glorified body? I’m sure you remember that all Christians who are raptured according to 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 are given new bodies; they are instantly changed—they are given what the Bible calls glorified bodies. Glorified bodies do not sin, get sick, or die. Also, people given glorified bodies do not have children—they are like the angels according to Jesus in Luke 20:34-36 where He says, "The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection."
But according to Isaiah 66:23 people in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom "will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune, for they will be a people blessed by the Lord." So, there must be some people who make it through the Tribulation alive and who go into the Millennial Kingdom in non-glorified bodies.