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Q330 : Discerning Rapture from Second Coming Passages

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Q330 : Discerning Rapture from Second Coming Passages

Hello Dr. Garland:

Your website and articles have formed the foundation of my study of Revelation.

You research has been extremely helpful and I truly appreciate all of the work you have done.

I am continuing, with what appears to be, my never ending study of eschatology.

Here are beliefs leading to my question:

  • I believe the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation.
  • I believe the coming of the Son of Man refers to the Second Coming of Christ, which occurs after the Tribulation.
  • I believe the Olivet Discourse exclusively refers to the Second Coming and not the Rapture.
  • In the Olivet Discourse, I believe Jesus is saying that the people living during the Tribulation must be ready for His Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation. Specifically Matthew 24:44: For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
However, I am now having difficulty rationalizing Luke 12:40: You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.

My question is: Is Jesus referring to the Rapture or the Second Coming in Luke 12:40? It seems in the verses leading up to this verse and including the verse, Jesus is actually referring to the Rapture. I know that during Jesus' life on earth He never openly taught about the Rapture, but Luke 12:40 seems to be referring to the Rapture.

Why would Jesus tell this group to be ready for the Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation, when Jesus knew they would not be living during the Tribulation?

Am I incorrect in believing that the coming of the Son of Man refers exclusively to the Second Coming?

Could the coming of the Son of Man refer to both the Rapture and the Second Coming?

I would truly appreciate any insight you give me in understanding this. Thank you.

A330 : by Tony Garland

It is my belief that Jesus is referring to the Second Coming in Luke 12:40. A primary clue is His use of the thief metaphor—which always carries with it a negative connotation (cf. Job 24:14; Joel 2:9). (Unfortunately, some have missed this detail and erroneously taught that Jesus will come as a thief for His Church at the rapture.). When we look at the various "thief" passages, they are consistently connected with coming judgment (1Th. 5:2-4; 2Pe. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15).

In addition to the "thief" passages, numerous other passages warn of unpreparedness with consequences for those who fail to watch (Mat. 24:36, 42, 44, 50; 25:13; Mark 13:32-35; Luke 21:34-36). In my view, Luke 12:37-40 falls into this category: it has in view the thief-like coming, but doesn't explicitly use that terminology. A number of these same prophetic settings refer to Jesus' arrival in judgment as the coming of the Son of Man (Mat. 25:13; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27) as does Luke 12:40.

You asked, Why would Jesus tell this group to be ready for the Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation, when Jesus knew they would not be living during the Tribulation? The key to understanding this warning passage, and others like it, is that they are "timeless" and use what I like to call the "prophetic you."  Remember that Jesus told the Church to preserve the things He taught— to pass them on to His disciples until the end of the age (Mat. 28:19-20). This means that many teachings of Jesus that are spoken in the second-person plural (you-all) are given to his immediate listeners with the expectation that they will be preserved and passed on to successive generations of disciples until He returns.  Take, for example, His statement to Jerusalem (and by extension, the people living in it) at the end of Matthew 23, For I say to you-all [ὑμιν [hymin], 2nd-person, plural pronoun] no, not me you-all shall see [ιδητε [idēte], 2nd-person plural] until . . .

Interestingly, His use of the plural pronoun shows that He is not just talking to the city (He would have referred to the city using a singular pronoun). His words are spoken to His contemporaries—the people (plural) who occupy the city.  Yet, we know that nobody alive in Jerusalem at the time He made this statement will be there when the Jews eventually awaken to the truth of Jesus as their Messiah and call Him blessed: baruch ha ba b'shem adonai (the transliterated Hebrew equivalent of "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"). It is a future generation who will see Him again.

There are numerous passages where people are spoken to, but it is their forebears or generations to follow who are actually in view (Deu. 1:26; 18:15; 30:1; Isa. 7:14; Zec. 14:5; Mat. 5:11; 10:17-23; Mat. 23:35-39; 24:34; 26:64; Luke 11:51). In this same way, the Church is following the instructions Jesus gave and in every generation the warning to "you be watchful" applies.

Another aspect to consider is that, although the coming of the Son of Man occurs physically at the end of the Tribulation, God initially "arrives" upon the sleeping, unwatching world "suddenly" in the events which trigger the start of the Day of the Lord. (If it were not so, how could it be a surprise—how could there be peace and safety and people going about normal day-to-day living?). 

There are contexts, such as this, where Jesus seems to speak of His return in a broader sense connected with the Day of the Lord—the time in history where God "returns" to intervene in the affairs of the world in a dramatic way which sets off the series of judgments which lead inexorably to the physical return of Jesus. His coming has a broad and a narrow sense: broad in that He "comes as a thief" ushering in the unexpected events of the Day of the Lord; narrow in the sense of the actual day His feet touch the earth at His physical return to take up His throne.

In His Olivet Discourse Jesus gave detailed answers concerning the temple, His coming, and the end of the age. Then in Mat. 24:36 He declared: But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Here Jesus is referring to the events of the Day of the Lord that culminate in His personal return to earth. Thus, this is an explicit statement that the Son does not know the day or the hour concerning the Day of the Lord's arrival, but the Father alone does. [Michael J. Vlack, “The Trinity and Eschatology”]1

This is how I understand Luke 12:40 and similar passages.  There is a sense in which watchfulness is to characterize all saints of every age: Scripture doesn't reveal the timing of the Rapture or the Day of the Lord—so no matter in which period one lives, there is always the need for watchfulness. However, it is my contention that the "thief" analogy is never applied to the rapture.

The day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night, but this is for the unbelieving world, the unregenerate. During the day of the Lord, toward the end of the great tribulation, Christ will return in wrath (1Th. 5:2,4; 2Pe. 3:10). Jesus Christ will not come for His bride from heaven as a thief in the night especially in wrath (1Th. 1:10).2

[The Thessalonians] were not waiting for a thief in the night (2Th 5:2,2Th 5:4; 2Pe. 3:10). They were waiting for the One Who loved them most and Whom they loved and would be with forever (1Th. 4:17).3

However, as you observe, there are also some interesting details in what Jesus told Peter at the end of the passage in Luke 12:35-40:

Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?4

This raises the possibility that this prediction by Jesus contains two referencesa. Watchfulness will be needed by believers of all ages: (1) During the Church age (which includes the lives of Peter and the Apostles), watchfulness is needed for the arrival of the rapture. (2) After the rapture, following the Church age, watchfulness will be needed for the arrival of the Day of the Lord on an unsuspecting world.5

Even so, the major thrust of the passage involves the arrival of the Day of the Lord.

I hope that helps.


Endnotes:

1.TMSJ, Ref-0164
2.Ref-1216, 108
3.Ref-1216, 113-114
4.Luke 12:40-41, NKJV
5.Scripture is silent as to the amount of time which may transpire following the rapture until the arrival of the Day of the Lord.


Sources:

Luke 12:40-41Unless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ref-1216David Olander, The Greatness of the Rapture (Ft. Worth, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2009). ISBN:978-0-9814791-6-3b.
TMSJ24/2 (Fall 2013) 199-215, p. 207, emphasis mine]


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