When will Christ appear and gather His people? The question has captivated many Christians over the lifetime of the Church. Will He gather us before the great tribulation, in the middle, before God’s wrath is poured out, or afterwards? Or was the great tribulation fulfilled in the first century when Rome destroyed the temple, or over the lifespan of the Church?
Editor’s note, they use the New King James Version as referral material, which I would not recommend, however, keep that in mind and be aware, later versions of the Bible has been distorted, still articles like this bring value to the table, but raise awareness and use discernment by the by holy spirit, to see through any smoke and mirrors. The oldest KJV is recommended, but I have not found it online, so I use this one KJV archive where it can be compared to many later heavy or lightly edited versions.
Some call to remembrance how most of the Jews got the prophecy about Jesus’ first coming wrong (it’s true), and extrapolate forward, suggesting we’ll probably get the end times prophecy wrong, too. The important thing, they say, is to believe the gospel. We’ll understand it when it happens. “Jesus wins in the end!” That defeats the point of end times prophecy, though, which is to prepare us. Rv 1:1 begins, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.” Sandwiched between four warnings about end times deceptions, Jesus says, “See, I have told you beforehand” (Mt 24:25). He cares about us finishing well—that’s why He tells us what to expect, and what He expects of us. Whether we care is up to each one of us.
Others go even further, saying, “I can’t understand it, and you can’t either.” They point to all the conflicting beliefs of smart men as evidence the Scriptures are unclear. I call this “agnostic eschatology.” If you are not acquainted with the word “eschatology”, it comes from the Greek eskhatos (“last”), Theo (“God”) and -logy (“the study of”). New Oxford American Dictionary defines it: “the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind”—a broad term which includes end times prophecy. I think agnostic eschatology is often a smoke screen for, “Don’t try to convince me,” but some may earnestly believe it. Being honest about what we do and don’t know concerning God’s Word is a good trait, but agnostic eschatology is dangerous because it encourages hearers to apathy concerning a portion of God’s Word. Jesus said: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Lk 6:39-40).
How does a person find clarity when conflicting teachings are swirling about? They go to the authoritative source of truth—God’s Word!
When Paul came to town and shared the gospel, the Bereans withheld immediate judgment. With eagerness, they searched the Scriptures to see if Paul’s testimony (about salvation in Christ) was true (Jn 5:39). The Holy Spirit illuminated His Word and many believed (Ac 17:10-12). I admire their love for the LORD and for the truth, and have tried to live my life this way.
For as long as I can remember, I believed Jesus could appear at any moment and take the Christians to heaven so they wouldn’t have to suffer during the horrible days of the great Tribulation. My parents don’t recall teaching me this, but nonetheless I learned it from a young age while growing up in the church.
An answered prayer to understand Jesus’ reply in Lk 17:37 caused me to doubt my Pre-Tribulation “Rapture” conviction. If you have not read it, I encourage you to take a short detour to my blog post, “The Carcasses, the Eagles, and the Taken” before continuing here.
God gave me a strong faith in the integrity of His Word since I was young. I had already learned how people can have wrong beliefs about the Bible, but the Word of God does not have error. I also had faith that God’s Word would provide clarity—it was just a matter of searching it.
“A Pre-Tribulation Rapture isn’t in Luke 17 or Matthew 24. If it exists, where is it?” I began to search the Scriptures.
I have prayed for you, dear reader (God knows who you are), that when you read the Scriptures I am about to share, the Holy Spirit would illumine your heart as He did mine.
1 Th 4:13-18, particularly verses 15-17, was the first passage that helped me. When you read it, what do you see about the timing of the gathering of the living? Said another way, when are those who are alive and remain caught up in the clouds?
1 Th 4:15-17, NKJV
15 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 will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 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.
I noticed the Lord describes two groups of people—those who are alive and remain [in Christ] until the coming of the Lord, and those who are asleep in the Lord. Asleep, in this context, refers to physical death—a point clear from its use in 1 Th 4:13-14. Jesus also referred to Jairus’ dead daughter as “asleep” (Lk 8:49-56), and likewise, Lazarus (Jn 11:11-15).
I have highlighted the alive in gray and the dead in red. “Caught up” is translated from the Greek verb harpazo. The noun “rapture” derives from the Latin translation of harpazo: rapiemur or rapturo. The timing words I highlighted in yellow.
I saw the dead in Christ rise first before those who are alive and remain are caught up. Therefore, to understand when the living will be gathered to the Lord, we need to know when the dead rise.
Later, I read about the first resurrection in Rv 20:4-6. For full context, verse 1 is the best place to begin.
Rv 20:1-6, NKJV
20 1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3 and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
I noticed the first resurrection cannot be before the Tribulation, since it includes people who refused to worship the beast or his image, or receive his mark on their foreheads or on their hands (Rv 13:15-17; 14:9-13). Further, they rise to reign with Christ a thousand years while Satan is bound for a thousand years unable to deceive anyone. Satan will certainly be deceiving people up until Jesus returns in Rv 19:19-21. So, our gathering is at His coming, after the [entire] Tribulation. Since the bodies of the slain (Rv 19:21) are a sign to us (Lk 17:37, Mt 24:28), the gathering of the living is also post-wrath.
I closed my Bible and praised the Lord for answering my prayer. Immediately I knew when I was older that I wanted to write down these verses (and others like them) in an orderly way to share them with others.
Nobody looks forward to the hard days described by the Bible, but I am convinced understanding/believing the basic timeline (post-Tribulation resurrection-gathering) is one key to being prepared to overcome in the Tribulation.
I don’t remember how long it actually took to see these things, but I think it was less than a month. If you are not convinced today, I encourage you to look deeper into the matter.
The Bereans also put time into their pursuit of truth. It says they “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Ac 17:11). They did not give up after reading one chapter, or one day—but they apparently kept searching every day until they reached a conclusion. I urge you not to trust anyone else’s journey/conclusions, but make your own by studying the authoritative truth source—the Holy Scriptures. It doesn’t matter if you’re six or 96—God wrote His Word to be understood by those who love the truth.
I will write frequently about end times prophecy here on Overcoming the Tribulation. If you would like, you can subscribe to receive my blog in your e-mail.
God bless you.