I. The Time is Unknown
Matt. 24:36 – many sects try to predict the coming of Christ. But Jesus says, “no one but the Father knows the day and the hour.” The sects that try to predict Christ’s coming ignore these words.
Matt. 24:36 – we should also note that Jesus’ statement does not mean than Jesus does not know the day of His Second Coming. Jesus does know, because He is God. With this statement, Jesus explains that He chose to know by His human knowledge only that which He wanted to know for His mission of salvation. In other words, Jesus could have chosen not to know everything by His own human knowledge, but Jesus knew everything in His human knowledge through its hypostatic union to His eternal and infinite divine knowledge.
Matt. 24:44 – Jesus warns us that the Son of Man is coming at an hour we do not expect.
Matt. 25:13 – Jesus says “watch therefore, and be prepared, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Mark 13:35-37 – Jesus says “watch because you do not know when the Master of the House will come – watch!”
Luke 12:46 – the Master will come on a day and at an hour when He is not expected.
Acts 1:7 – Jesus says it is not for us to know the times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.
1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 3:3 – the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
James 5:7 – be patient until the coming of the Lord. Those who try to predict disregard this inspired teaching.
Rev. 22:20 – Jesus says He is coming soon, but He does not tell us when He is coming. Because Jesus says we do not know the day or the hour and will be surprised at His coming, it is silly, and disobedient, for people and groups to predict His coming. We, instead, need to be about the business of growing in holiness, so that we are prepared for our Lord when He comes again, no matter when that will be.
II. The Rapture
1 Thess. 4:16-17 – Paul writes that “we will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Many Protestants call this experience the “rapture” (even though the word “rapture” is not found in the Bible, although is derived from the Latin vulgate of this verse – “rapiemur”). John 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:52 – these are other passages that Protestants use to support the rapture experience. The question Protestantism has raised is “when will the rapture occur?” They have developed three theories – (1) post-tribulation; (2) pre-tribulation; and, (3) mid-tribulation. We address these theories later on. But first, here is some more background.
Rev. 20:2-3; 7-8 – John sees the vision of an angel who seizes satan and binds him for a period of a thousand years. Protestants generally call this period of a thousand years the “millennium.” The “millennium” is a harbinger of the end of the world, and the theories of when the “rapture” will occur center around this period of time. We should also note that the “thousand years” language is part of apocalyptic literature and should not be interpreted literally. For example, in Psalm 50:10, we see the cattle on a “thousand hills.” The word “thousand” here obviously means a lot of hills. In Dan. 7:10, a “thousand thousands” served him. Again, “thousand” means a lot. In 2 Peter 3:8, with God one day is a “thousand” years and a “thousand” years is one day. “Thousand” is symbolic for a long time. It is not to be taken literally.
There are three ways that Protestants interpret the meaning of the thousand year “millennium” (and the interpretation leads to answering when they think the rapture will occur).
(1) Post-millennialism – this view interprets the “thousand years” as a very long time. This view also holds that God’s kingdom is being advanced in the world by His grace and the world will eventually be Christianized. Then Christ will return at the close of this period during a time of righteousness and peace. The problem with this view is that the Scriptures do not teach that the world will be even relatively Christianized before the Second Coming. For example, in Matt. 13:24-30;36-43, Jesus says the wicked and the righteous will co-exist until the end of the world, when they will be judged, and either inherit eternal life, or be thrown into eternal fire.
(2) Pre-millenialism (also called “millenarianism”) – like post-millennialists, this view also interprets the “thousand years” as a golden age on earth when the world will be Christianized. But they believe that this period will occur after Christ’s second coming, during which time Christ will reign physically on earth. They believe the Final Judgment occurs when the millennium is over. But Scripture does not teach that there is a thousand year span between the Second Coming and Final Judgment. Instead, Jesus said that when He comes a second time in glory, He will immediately repay every man for what he has done. Matt. 16:27. When Jesus comes, He will separate the sheep from the goats and render judgment. Matt. 25:31-46. There is nothing about any period of time between His coming and final judgment.
(3) Amillennialism – this view also interprets the “thousand years” symbolically, but, ulike the pre and post views, not as a golden age on earth. This view believes the millennium is the period of Christ’s rule in heaven and on earth through His Church. This is because the saints who reign with Christ and to whom judgment has been committed are said to be on their thrones in heaven. Rev. 20:4; cf. 4:4; 11:16. During this time, satan is bound and cannot hinder the spread of the gospel. Rev. 20:3. This is why, they explain, Jesus teaches the necessity of binding the “strong man” (satan) in order to plunder his house and rescue people from his grip. Matt. 12:29. This is also why, after the disciples preached the gospel and rejoiced that the demons were even subject to them, Jesus declared, “I saw satan fall like lightening from heaven.” Luke 10:18. Nevertheless, during this period, the world will not be entirely Christianized because satan, though bound, is still in some sense able to prowl around and attack souls. cf. 1 Peter 5:8. Of the three, this position is most consistent with Catholic teaching (the pre and post-millennium views have been rejected by the Church).
2 Thess. 2:1-4 – concerning the Second Coming of Christ, Scripture teaches (and most Protestants believe) that Christ’s coming will be preceded by a time of rebellion, lawlessness and persecution. Protestants often refer to this period as the “tribulation” (although the word “tribulation” cannot be found in the Scripture passages Protestants use to support the “rapture”). So the question is, when will the 1 Thess. 4:16-17 “rapture” occur, in light of the tribulation and Christ’s Second Coming? Here are the three theories previously mentioned:
(1) Post-tribulational view – this view holds that the rapture will occur right after the tribulation and immediately before the Second Coming of Christ. This view can be consistent with Scripture and Catholic teaching to the extent it holds that the rapture and Christ’s Second Coming occur together, after the tribulation and the Church Militant on earth. See, for example, Matt. 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; 2 Thess. 1:1-12.
(2) Pre-tribulational view – this view holds that the rapture will occur before the tribulation. The problem with this view is that it requires three comings of Christ – first, when He was born in Bethlehem; second, when He returns for the rapture before the tribulation; third, when He returns at the end of the tribulation and establishes the millennium. Scripture rejects three comings of Christ. In Heb. 9:28, it is clear that Christ will appear a second and final time, when he comes in glory to save us. This view also is inconsistent with Matt. 24:24-31; Mark 13:24-27; and 2 Thess. 2:1-12 where the rapture and the Second Coming occur together.
(3) Mid-tribulational view – this view holds that the rapture will occur during the middle of the tribulation. The problem with this view is that it also requires three comings of Christ – first, when He was born in Bethlehem; second, when He returns for the rapture during the middle of the tribulation; third, when He returns at the end of the tribulation and establishes the millennium. As seen in Heb. 9:28, Scripture rejects three comings of Christ. The view is also inconsistent with Matt. 24:24-31; Mark. 13:24-27; and 2 Thess. 2:1-12.
2 Peter 3:8-15 – instead of worrying about when the rapture will occur, Christians should follow Peter’s instruction to repent of their sins, live lives of holiness and godliness, be zealous and at peace, and wait for the Lord’s coming with forbearance and joy!