As Christians, our great expectation is the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. From Scripture, we know this involves two essential phases. First, Jesus will come for his church to collect us to himself and rescue us from death and the tribulation (this event is commonly known as, “the rapture”). Jesus describes the rapture in John 14:1 – 4 and Paul does so further in 1 Corinthians 15:51 – 56 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 18. Jesus promises obedient believers will be raptured before “the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10, NIV). Second, Jesus will come with his church to establish his kingdom over the whole world and govern, along with us, in perfect righteousness. This coming is described in countless passages, such as Matthew 24:27 – 51, Jude 14 & 15, and Revelation 19:11 – 16. Scripture calls these two phases of his coming, “the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13, NKJV). Both stages are also delineated in a single text found in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 2:1 – 8). It is needless to say that we deeply anticipate and eagerly look for the blessed hope and the appearing of our Savior’s glory.
Most Bible expositors have attempted to combine these two, very distinct events associated with the Lord’s coming. Mistakenly, they insist that every unfulfilled prophetic word must be fulfilled in a single day. Of course, this is not the reality taught in Scripture, and it overlooks a wealth of prophecy which reveals God’s plan to send forth his Son both before the tribulation and before the commencement of his millennial reign upon the earth. After the church has been raptured, judged, rewarded, and is capable of reigning for 1,000 years in immortal bodies, she may return with the Son of God and exercise authority with him over the nations (cf. Psa. 2:7 – 9; Rev. 2:26, 27). Before the rapture, this would be impossible! Simply put, Jesus Christ must come for us in order to come with us and fulfill all the prophetic promises related to the final dispensation of world history – the golden age of the millennial kingdom.
Tragically, the majority of Christians today prefer the simpler explanation called, “Amillennialism” (a means “no” and millennial means “thousand”). This unbiblical doctrine claims there will be no 1,000-year reign of Christ on the earth. Roughly 90% of Christendom adheres to this fallacious view. This doctrine may also be considered, “Atribulational”, because it also claims there will be no seven-year tribulation on the earth. Proponents of this doctrine of denial hold that Jesus does not need to rescue his church from the tribulation because there will not be one. He also does not need to return to the earth, because there will be no millennial reign upon it. They believe the Lord is coming, but they insist his coming has no other purpose but to “wrap things up” and take the saved to heaven to be with him. He will never set foot on this earth again. Furthermore, the entire physical universe will be annihilated, since it will then be useless to saved humanity. While this view certainly makes it easier to avoid questions about the prophetic order of events, it does nothing to assist us in explaining Scripture. In order to hold such a view, one must disregard most of prophecy, which comprises nearly two-thirds of the Bible. As long as one refuses to take prophecy seriously, this is not a problem, but our purpose is to understand which viewpoint is supported by Bible teaching.
Since Amillennialism denies the entire premise of anything taking place on earth after the Lord comes, it also necessarily denies the rapture because the rapture assumes deliverance from the tribulation and reward to be enjoyed in the millennium. Does the amillennial paradigm, along with its rapture denial, carry any weight, or does Scripture favor the premillennial paradigm and a rapture of the Body of Christ? Let us consider why the critics of the rapture cannot present a feasible explanation in view of prophetic events which are sure to take place. The root cause of their rapture rejection is the premise that Christ will not return to this earth. If it can be demonstrated that Christ must truly return, their denial loses its appeal.
First of all, we can easily establish from Scripture that Christ will, in fact, physically return to this earth. After Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, we are told that two angels appeared to his disciples, stating, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11, NIV). Since Jesus departed Mount Olivet, and his return will be, “in like manner” (KJV), it only makes sense that his second coming will be accomplished by descent to the same location he departed. However, one need not assume such is the case, since the prophet Zechariah specifically predicts Messiah’s return to the same location (Zech. 14:4). Furthermore, the context of this prophecy communicates precise detail which helps us understand what it describes. The mountain is said to split in two and many other identifiable, historical events are said to take place in conjunction with the Savior’s feet being planted firmly on Mount Olivet. Since it never split in two at any time in the past and the other accompanying prophetic events have never transpired in recorded history, we know that it speaks of something yet future, certainly related to the Lord’s second coming.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25, ESV). Amillennialism fiercely denies that Jesus will set foot on the earth again, but Job plainly states that he will do so “in the end” (NIV), or, “at the latter day” (KJV). Can there be any question what Job was referring to? In the context, he spoke of the resurrection of his body (vv. 26, 27). Clearly, he was not talking about Christ’s first advent when he predicted that his Savior would stand on the dust and he would see him with his own eyes.
Consider the prophetic utterances concerning Messiah’s glorious reign. The Psalms foretell his rule even to “the ends of the earth” (Psa. 22:27 – 31). He will be “a great King over all the earth” who will “subdue nations under us” (Psa. 47:2, 3, 7 – 9; 67:4). His coming rule will be “in the midst of” his enemies, which shows it is not heavenly in nature. He will “crush kings” and “judge the nations” at his glorious return (Psa. 110:1 – 6). His dwelling will be in Zion (Jerusalem) which is found on earth, and not in heaven. He will rule there “forever and ever” (Psa. 132:13, 14). Isaiah the prophet expected Messiah’s reign to be established “as chief among the mountains”, with “many peoples” urging travel to the holy hill in order to receive teaching from Messiah himself (Isa. 2:2, 3). Nations will be judged, disputes will be settled, war will be abolished, and all men will walk in the light of God (vv. 4, 5). Christ must return to the earth to enact this glorious future foretold by Isaiah (cf. Isa. 11:3 – 9). Jeremiah prophesied Christ will reign, act wisely, do justice and righteousness “in the land” (Jer. 23:5 cf. 33:6 – 18). Ezekiel prophesied a regathering of Israel to serve Messiah “in the land” (Ezek. 20:33 -44; 37:24 – 28). The Lord said, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever.” (Ezek. 43:7, NASB). Joel anticipated Messiah “dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain” (Joel 3:17). Micah said, “the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion” (Mic. 4:7). Daniel wrote, “the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One” (Dan. 7:27). What a specific and detailed promise of magnificent events to take place “under” heaven! This local aspect demands that it must be addressing something which will take place on earth, in the future. As Peter later said, Jesus must “remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21).
As these Old Testament passages signal, Christ must return to the earth in order to reign upon it. This necessarily requires the rapture of the church, which accomplishes her glorification and preparation for exercising dominion with him during the millennial reign. We can easily see the amillennial doctrine’s denial of the rapture is weighed on the scales and found wanting. In the second part of our study, we will recognize additional reasons for the rapture of the church in view of the tribulation prophesied in Scripture. (To be continued in the April issue of KPG). – MAH