Many people today are confused about the connection between the Rapture of the Church and the Second Coming of Jesus. Some, the post-Tribulationists, think that these events will occur together at the end of the Tribulation period, while others, the mid-Tribulationists, think that the Rapture will occur in the middle of the Tribulation. The view that agrees most closely with that of the early Church is that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation period starts and that Jesus will return to earth with His Church at the end of the Tribulation. I believe that one of the reasons for the confusion is that believers today have little or no knowledge of Jewish culture and tradition and thus, have no understanding of the metaphors used in the New Testament writings.
When reading the New Testament, we must take into consideration that the great majority of the early believers were very familiar with Jewish traditions and cultural references. For example, Revelation 16:15 says, "Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed." The Jewish people understood that the "thief" referred to the supervisor of the Temple watch who made unannounced checks on the Levites and priests who were in charge of guarding the Temple. If the supervisor found one of the guards sleeping on duty, he would set his garments on fire at which point the guard would be shamefully exposed. The people knew that Jesus was telling them to stay alert, to be watchful, to take His commandments and commission seriously. If one does not know the metaphoric language, he would not realize the correct interpretation of the phrase. But, one who knows the metaphor has no difficulty making the link.
There was no confusion for the early believers in regards to a Rapture separate from the Second Coming any more than they would mistake a wedding (which must come first) with the birth/revealing of a child (which would come at a later point). When Jesus told His disciples that He went to "prepare a place for you," they knew that He was referring to the groom preparing the bridal chamber (John 14:2). They knew that the Bridegroom would come for His Bride when the Father told Him it was time. They knew that the phrase, "No man knows the day or the hour, but only the Father knows," (Matt. 24:36) was the phrase that a bridegroom would say if someone asked him when the wedding would occur. He said this because the father would watch over the preparation of the bridal chamber, and when it was completed to the father's satisfaction, he would tell his son to go and get his bride. This could happen at any time, day or night. Remember the parable that Jesus told about the wise virgins and the foolish virgins in Matthew 25. He was telling the people to be ready for the wedding departure ("nazal"(Heb.)-catching away, departure= rapture) at any time, just as the bride had to be in constant readiness. They knew that the Father's command to the Bridegroom to go and get His Bride could occur at any instant. The people also knew that immediately after the wedding ceremony, the Bridegroom and the Bride entered into the bridal chamber at the Father's house and stayed in seclusion for 7 days. They did not go out among the people, but rather were hidden away for a week which is a picture of the Church being hidden away or secluded in the heavenly wedding chamber with Jesus for the 7 years of the Tribulation. After this seven-year period, Jesus will return and be revealed to the earth (Second Coming) and will sit on His throne and judge the nations.
Prior to the Rapture and the Second Coming, Jesus said that there would be specific signs in the heavens and in the earth. In Matthew 24:1-35, Jesus spoke about these signs which include the destruction of the Temple, false Messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes and persecution. He told them that the signs of His coming would resemble a woman's labor pains which increase in intensity and frequency as the birth draws near. In Luke 17:26-36, Jesus compares that time to the times of Noah and Lot. On the day that Noah and his family entered the ark, the flood came to destroy the wicked. Likewise, on the day that Lot and his daughters left Sodom, fire fell from heaven and destroyed the wicked. After Jesus takes His Bride away in the Rapture, the Tribulation will begin and destruction will come upon the earth. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells what will happen when He returns to the earth at the end of the Tribulation. Every eye will see Him as He "comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." At this time, He will bring the righteous into His kingdom and send the unrighteous away to eternal punishment.
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