The Return and the Rapture

This section of the Olivet Discourse all sounds very familiar to an event of which Paul wrote, one that is undoubtedly the Rapture of the church, yet one which many commentators say occurs before the tribulation period begins. Consider the following scripture that we examined earlier in this chapter:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord , shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words. Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape (1 Thes. 4:13 – 5:3, emphasis added).

Paul wrote of Jesus coming from heaven with the trumpet of God and of believers being caught up “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” It sounds just like what Jesus was describing in Matthew 24:30-31, what clearly occurs after the rise of the antichrist and tribulation.

Moreover, as Paul continued writing about Christ’s return, he mentioned the subject of when it would occur, “the times and epochs,” and he reminded his readers that they already knew full well that “the day of the Lord [would] come just like a thief in the night.” Paul believed that Christ’s return and the Rapture of believers would occur on “the day of the Lord,” a day when terrible wrath and destruction would fall upon those who were expecting “peace and safety.” As Christ returns to catch away His church, His wrath will fall on the world.

This harmonizes perfectly with what Paul wrote in a later letter to the Thessalonians concerning Christ’s wrathful return:

For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed–for our testimony to you was believed (2 Thes. 1:6-10, emphasis added)

Paul stated that when Jesus returned to give relief to the persecuted Thessalonian Christians (see 2 Thes. 1:7), He would appear “with His mighty angels in flaming fire” to afflict those who had afflicted them, dealing out just retribution. This hardly sounds like what so many describe as the pre-tribulation Rapture, when the church is supposedly caught up by Christ before the seven-year tribulation period begins, and what is normally described as a secret appearance of Jesus and a quiet catching away of the church. No, this sounds exactly like what Jesus described in Matthew 24:30-31, His return at or near the end of the tribulation period, when He catches away believers and pours out His wrath on unbelievers.