HERE'S THE DIFFERENCE
A Study of Important Biblical Distinctions
By William MacDonald
PHASES OF CHRIST'S RETURN
In the previous lesson we saw that it is necessary to differentiate between the first and second advents of Christ. The first belongs to history; it took place almost 2000 years ago. The second belongs to prophecy; it is still future.
But it is necessary to realize that the Second Coming of Christ is not a single event. Rather, it stretches over a period of time and has four stages or phases. So in this lesson we want to distinguish these phases.
In the original language of the New Testament the common word for "coming" means "a presence" or "a coming alongside." It denotes an arrival and a subsequent presence. It was commonly used in connection with the arrival of a king and the visit that followed.
Even in the English language the word "coming" is used in this way. For instance, Christ's coming to Galilee brought healing to multitudes. Here we do not mean simply the day He arrived in Galilee, but the whole period of time He spent in that area.
So when we think of Christ's Second Coming we should think of a period of time rather than an isolated event. This period of time has four stages, as follows:
- 1. A beginning
2. A course
3. A manifestation
4. A climax
1. The Beginning of Christ's Coming
The beginning of Christ's Coming is the Rapture, that is, the Coming of Christ for His saints. He will come to the air, the dead in Christ will be raised, living believers will be changed, and all will go to the Father's house. This could take place at any moment and will take place in a moment of time.
- For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then they that are Christ's at his coming (1 Cor. 15:22, 23 ERV).
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. For If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18 ERV).
Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him (2 Thess. 2:1 ERV).
Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; establish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:7, 8 ERV).
And now, my little children, abide in him, that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming (1 John 2:28 ERV).
2. The Course of Christ's Coming
The second stage, the course of Christ's coming, includes the Judgment Seat of Christ, when rewards will be given to believers for faithful service.
- For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye before our Lord Jesus at his coming? (1 Thess. 2:19 ERV).
And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23 ERV).
See also Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8.
Another event which should probably be included in the course of Christ's Coming is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. From its location in the Book of Revelation we know it will take place prior to Christ's glorious reign. We include it here even if the word "coming" is not used in connection with it.
- And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunders, saying, Hallelujah, for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth. Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are true words of God (Rev. 19:6-9 ERV).
While these events are taking place in heaven the earth will be experiencing a time of tribulation. This will be a period of approximately seven years during which God will pour out judgments of ever-increasing intensity upon the earth (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:4-28; Rev. 6-19). The last half of the period is known as the Great Tribulation; it will witness distress and disasters of unprecedented severity (Matt. 24:15-31).
3. The Manifestation of Christ's Coming
The third phase is the manifestation of Christ's coming, that is, His return to earth in power and great glory to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. The Rapture will not be seen by the world; it will take place in a split second. But every eye will see Christ when He comes to reign. Therefore it is called the manifestation of His coming. This is the third phase of His coming.
- And as he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (Matt. 24:3 ERV).
For as the lightning cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west, so shall be the coming of the Son of man (Matt. 24:27 ERV).
And as were the days of Noah, so shall be the coming of the Son of man (Matt. 24:37 ERV).
And they knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be the coming of the Son of man (Matt. 24:39 ERV).
To the end he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints (1 Thess. 3:13 ERV).
And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming (2 Thess. 2:8 ERV).
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Pet. 1:16 ERV). (Here Peter is speaking about the manifestation of Christ's coming as it was pre-pictured on the Mount of Transfiguration.)
4. The Climax of Christ's Coming
The final stage is the climax of Christ's coming, the destruction of the heavens and earth by fire. It follows the thousand year reign of Christ on earth. It is referred to in 2 Peter 3:4, 7-13:
- And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For from the day that the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.... But the heavens and the earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat! Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
In this chapter we read of scoffers who will arise in the last days, denying the probability of Christ's Return. What aspect of His coming do they mean?
Are they referring to the Rapture? No. They probably know nothing about the Rapture. Are they referring to Christ's Coming to Reign? No. It is apparent that they are not. The entire context indicates that what they are ridiculing is the final punishment of all evil doers by the Lord. They mean a last climactic judgment of God on the earth, or what they call "the end of the world." Their argument is that they have nothing to worry about. God hasn't intervened in history and He won't intervene in the future. So they feel free to continue in their evil words and deeds.
Peter answers their scoffing by pointing forward to the time, after the thousand-year reign of Christ, when the heavens and the earth as we now know them will be utterly destroyed. This climax of Christ's coming will occur after the Millennium and at the inauguration of the Eternal State.
"But," someone may ask, "How do you know that the first and third stages, the Rapture and Revelation, are separate events?" The answer is that they are differentiated in the Scriptures in the following ways:
|The Rapture||The Revelation|
|1. Christ comes to the air (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).||1. He comes to the earth (Zech. 14:4).|
|2. He comes for His saints (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).||2. He comes with His saints (1 Thess. 3:13; Jude 14).|
|3. The Rapture is a mystery, i.e., a truth unknown in Old Testament times (1 Cor. 15:51).||3. The Revelation is not a mystery; it is the subject of many Old Testament prophecies (Psa. 72; Isa. 11; Zech. 14).|
|4. Christ's Coming for His saints is never said to be preceded by signs in the heavens||4. Christ's Coming with His saints will be heralded by signs in the heavens. (Matt. 24:29, 30).|
|5. The Rapture is identified with the Day of Christ (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10).||5. The Revelation is identified with the Day of the Lord (2 Thess. 2:1-12, ASV).|
|6. The Rapture is presented as a time of blessing ( 1 Thess. 4:18).||6. The main emphasis of the Revelation is on judgment (2 Thess. 2:8-12).|
|7. The Rapture takes place in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:52). This strongly implies that it will not be witnessed by the world.||7. The Revelation will be visible worldwide (Matt. 24:27; Rev. 1:7).|
|8. The Rapture seems to involve the Church primarily (John 14:1-4; 1 Cor. 15:51- 58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).||8. The Revelation involves Israel primarily, then also the Gentile nations (Matt. 24:1-25:46).|
|9. Christ comes as the Bright and Morning Star (Rev. 22:16).||9. Christ comes as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2).|