In January of 1961, a few days before his Inauguration as the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy invited evangelist Billy Graham to visit him in Florida to play golf. The invitation surprised people because of Kennedy’s well-known dislike for the famous evangelist. As they were returning from the golf course, the President-elect pulled the car off to the side of the road, stopped the engine, and said, “Billy, do you believe Jesus Christ is coming back to earth one day?” Yes sir, I do, Graham answered; Kennedy replied, “Then why do I hear so little about it today?”
The second coming of Jesus Christ to earthy is a well-kept secret in far too many churches today, but the message of the Bible could not be clearer: Jesus is returning to earth one day to reward the righteous and to judge the unrighteous.
However, even among Christians who believe that Christ is coming back again, there is a great deal of confusion between the rapture of the church, which is the next event on God’s prophetic timeline, and the second coming of Christ, which happens seven years later.
There are similarities between the rapture and the second coming. However, the differences between the two events are quite pronounced. Let’s look at what the Bible says about the rapture and what the Bible says about the second coming, and then we’ll observe some of the differences between these two events.
Not all Christians agree on the timing of the rapture.
Some Christians hold to a posttribulation rapture view. They believe the snatching away of believers will occur at the end of the seven-year tribulation and will be almost concurrent with the second coming of Christ.
Some Christians hold to a midtribulation rapture view. They believe Christians will be present during the first three and a half years of the tribulation, but they will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air before the most intense suffering occurs.
Many other Christians, like myself, hold to a pretribulation rapture view. We believe the rapture will occur before the tribulation, that Christians will be spared the torment of those seven years because we are safe and secure from God’s wrath.
Three Reasons For a Pretribulation Rapture
- The Promise of God (2 Peter 2:5-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9; Revelation 3:10)
- The Absence of the Church in Revelation 6–18
- The Purpose of the Tribulation (Romans 8:1)
The first purpose is the salvation of Israel. Daniel 9 reveals that God will give Israel one last chance to respond. It’s an act of God’s mercy to motivate them to repentance.
The second purpose is the condemnation of unbelievers. God will pour out His wrath on unbelievers, and the tribulation is the time that happens on earth before an eternity in hell. Neither purpose is meant for the church.
2. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:11-16)
Why Is the Second Coming of Christ Necessary?
- Christ’s second coming is necessary to fulfill the prophecies of Scripture.
If Christ doesn’t return, many prophecies will not be fulfilled, rendering God’s Word untrustworthy. Did you know there are eighteen hundred references in the Old Testament to the second coming?
In fact, for every prophecy about Christ’s first coming, there are eight about His second coming. In the New Testament, there are more than 300 references to the return of Jesus Christ. The second coming is not just incidental; it’s essential. It is the theme of the entire Bible.
- Christ’s second coming is necessary to judge unbelievers for their sins.
If Christ doesn’t return, then sin and wickedness will increase and intensify.
- Christ’s second coming is necessary to depose Satan from his earthly dominion.
If Christ doesn’t return, then Satan will continue to lord over the earth, bringing greater destruction and death. If Christ doesn’t come back to reclaim this earth, then Satan has won. Do you think God is going to allow Satan to do that? Not on your life!
- Christ’s second coming is necessary to establish God’s kingdom on earth.
If Christ doesn’t return, then the earth will never know justice, righteousness, and peace. Over and over again, the Bible promises that the Son of God will return to rule this earth in justice and righteousness in His thousand-year millennial kingdom—just as he promised Abraham in Genesis.
God promised Abraham a land that would belong to his descendants on earth. They have never inhabited all of that land, but one day they will.
God promised to make Israel a nation that would dwell in peace and safety. They are regathered in the land now, but they are hardly dwelling in peace. But one day, they will.
- The Triumphal Entry of the King (Revelation 19:11-16)
The world’s forces are fighting to overthrow the Antichrist when they look up into the sky and see the warrior King, Jesus Christ. Suddenly, that divided human army united to fight against Christ. That’s where we read about the coming King.
The King’s eyes are a blazing fire, symbolizing His piercing judgment. The “many diadems” are regal crowns symbolizing His right to rule. It was this picture that caused Matthew Bridges to write the great hymn with the opening line, “Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.”
The King also has a name that only He knows. The blood on His robe is not His own but the blood of His enemies on earth who are fighting Him.
His coming was anticipated in Zechariah 14:3–4, which describes Jesus returning to earth at the Mount of Olives, causing such a reaction that the mount will split in two. This is the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
John describes the King’s army that accompanies Him: “And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses” (Revelation 19:14).
And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.” This army from heaven that follows Him is the church. It is you and me. How do I know that? A few verses earlier, the church is described as clothed “in fine linen,” which is “the righteous acts of the saints” (v. 8). The army is the church, and the church is the bride of Christ, who is making herself ready for the wedding.
The final description in Revelation 19:15–16 is that of Jesus, the warrior King.
That “sharp sword” is the Word of God, which is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God brings life to those who believe it, and it brings eternal death to those who reject it.
At God’s appointed time, Jesus Christ will trample the grapes of wrath. He is going to bring judgment to all the unbelievers on earth, and their blood will splatter forth like the juice from an overly ripe grape. In fact, at the battle of Armageddon, the death will be so great that blood will splatter up to the bridle of a horse. This is a fulfillment of Jude 14–15.
The unbelievers on earth had their opportunity to accept the truth of Jesus, but they spurned the grace of God. Now, there is no more room for grace—only wrath.
3. Nine Differences Between the Rapture and the Second Coming
- Many prophecies must be fulfilled prior to the Second Coming of Christ, including the return of Israel to her homeland, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, and the events of the tribulation described in Revelation. However, no prophecies must be fulfilled before the Rapture of the church occurs. At any moment, the trumpet could sound, and believers could be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). That is why we say that the rapture is imminent—it could happen at any moment.
- At the Rapture, Christ’s feet never touch the earth. Instead, He appears to meet believers “in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). But at the Second Coming, the Lord’s feet will touch the earth, and when they do, what a topological reaction there will be! Not long ago, I stood on the Mount of Olives and read to our tour group this verse, which describes what will happen at the second coming: “In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south” (Zechariah 14:4). When Jesus returns, the Mount of Olives will split in two!
- At the Rapture, Jesus will return to heaven with His believers. But at the Second Coming, Jesus will return to earth with believers to establish His kingdom.
- The Rapture is a mystery that is not mentioned in the Old Testament and involves only the church. But the Second Coming is predicted many times in the Old Testament since it involves God’s program for Israel, the church, and the world.
- After the Rapture, believers will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). The result of this judgment determines believers’ rewards in heaven. But after the Second Coming, unbelievers will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). This is the final judgment of all unbelievers at the end of time.
- After the Rapture, there is no physical change in the earth. But after the Second Coming, part of the curse against the Earth is removed, and the planet will enjoy a partial renovation.
- After the Rapture, Satan runs rampant on the earth for seven years. But after the Second Coming, Satan is bound for one thousand years.
- The Rapture will occur instantaneously (“in the twinkling of an eye,” as 1 Corinthians 15:52 says. But the Second Coming will be the climax of a seven-year-long worldwide conflict involving millions of people.
- Finally, at the Rapture, only believers will see the Lord Jesus Christ. But at the Second Coming, unbelievers will “Look on [Him] whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10) and “Every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11).
One day, Jesus is going to win, but let’s be honest: As we look at the world today, it doesn’t look like Jesus is winning, does it? We look around and see a world that’s filled with sadness, with disease, with broken relationships, and with death. What we feel and what we see is real, but it’s also temporary. The Bible says one day, Jesus is going to win. One day, Jesus is coming back again to reclaim and re-create that which has been lost.
Full Passage: Selected Scriptures