Many of us have heard a message that describes the second coming of Jesus to happen willy-nilly, at any given moment, and with no warning. This pre-tribulation rapture theory is interpreted from a few passages in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 23:37-25:46) that I hope to get into briefly. As there are over 150 end-time chapters in the Bible, it is a deep topic. The Olivet Discourse must be read and outlined carefully along with (at least) Daniel (70 weeks vision), and Revelation for a fuller understanding.
- “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)
This is correct, no one in the world, not even Jesus himself knows the day or hour of his second coming and the end of the age. However, as seen in the verses leading up to Matthew 24:36, in the parable of the fig tree, we are commanded to know the generation of the Lord’s return. “So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” “All these things” referring to his warning sings of the end of the age in the beginning of chapter 24.
- “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:37)
The descriptions of the days of Noah make the coming of the Son of man predictable. In the days of Noah, wickedness reigned on the earth; there were only a very few people, 8 persons, living righteously. God’s description of humanity’s lowest state “in the days of Noah” was that, “every imagination of the thoughts of his [humanity] heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) That’s pretty intense, taking into consideration that God doesn’t exaggerate. We do not know how many people were living on the earth in the days of Noah, but we have a world now filled with about 7 billion people. The coming of the son of man is contingent on the world regressing to as it was “in the days of Noah” (and therefore identifiable). I would say that we are not, really, altogether in the days of Noah, but the events leading up to the end of the age could turn that into our reality rather quickly, as the world has become ripe to regress into such behavior.
- “For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”
This is another passage some use to support pre-tribulation rapture. Some interpret the people who are being “taken” away, as the righteous. However, this passage is paralleling the days of Noah, when there was a great flood taking away the wicked. This is further clarified in context to Matthew 24:27-28 along with Revelation 19:17-21, “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together”. The outright wicked (who join or submit to the antichrist as seen in Revelation 13:16) are taken away. The righteous who survived the persecution and tribulation will be gathered together at the sound of the last trumpet. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:52)
We see this pattern again in the parable of the wheat and the tares. Matthew 13:24-30 is explained in Matthew 13:37-43, “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The taking away is of the wicked from God’s kingdom, and of the righteous who are cleaned by the blood of Christ to glory.
God is a righteous Judge of all. By the time Christ returns, atheism doesn’t even exist. There is only an open cursing/rejection of God (Revelation 6:15-17). The “signs of the times” (Matthew 24:3-31) occur in three stages described in the same chapter as “the beginning of sorrows”(Matthew 24:8), “the tribulation” (Matthew 24:9a), and “the great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21). The second coming of Christ comes after these signs of the times in Matthew 24: 3-28 and the 21 judgments of Revelation. Approaching, and throughout the 7 year period of Daniel 9:27 (which involves 3 ½ years of “peace” and 3 ½ years of the great tribulation) there are clear, laid out signs of the end of the age and the second coming of Christ.
Think of the nature of a sign, it is a message that is as clear and bright as possible for everyone to see. Like a stop sign, for example. The tribulation, great tribulation, and 21 judgments are like 21 huge speed bumps before the final judgment, end of the age, and second coming of Christ (Revelation 16:9).
Finally, is the coming of Christ (Matthew 24:29-31; Revelation 19:11-21). These passage clearly mark out how there will be signs and wonders in the heavens and sky, the sign of the Son of man appears in the heavens, the earth mourns, the Son of man comes, and finally, the angels gather together his elect as wickedness is taken from the earth. Matthew 24 makes it clear that believers are resurrected at the very end of the age (after the great tribulation).
Many justify a pre-tribulation rapture out of fear of the end of the age, and the inability to imagine suffering with the rest of the world, let alone persecution. The judgments in Revelation parallel the judgments in Egypt, where God’s people are protected from the plagues, but are not spared from living as a sign and a witness to God’s forgiveness and protection.