Friday, August 31, 2012

The Day of the Lord Will Come as a Thief in the Night

Part 2 of Tribulation is Not the Wrath of God

By:  DeAnne Loper

"Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail beause of Him.  Even so, Amen."
Revelation 1:7

In Christian circles, whether among the best of friends or between casual aquaintances, the discussion (or debate!) of the rapture is one of the most controversial subjects in the Church today, and rightly so.  The coming tribulation will be the greatest time of distress the world has ever known.  Speaking of those days, Jesus said to the disciples, "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be (Matthew 24:21)."

For many years Christians have been taught that the Church will not go through tribulation but will be taken out of this world seven years before Christ returns on the day of the Lord.  It's an appealing message.  After all, who wants to be left behind?  But in all honesty, how often do believers seek the Lord on this subject by studying the Scriptures for themselves, versus accepting what they hear from the pulpit and through popular books and movies?  Just like the contemporary Left Behind books, the 1970s movie, A Thief in the Night, was widely used in churches to promote a pre-tribulation rapture and the message was quite effective.  As a young girl growing up in the church I can remember hearing strong warnings that the rapture could happen at any moment, just as a thief comes unexpectedly, and that this would be followed by seven years of persecution upon those left behind.  But is this really what the Bible reveals?  Let's take a look.

- 1 Thessalonians 5: 2 & 4  -  For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night...But  ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.  
- 2 Peter 3:10  -  But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the 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. 
- Revelation 16:15  -  Behold, I come as a thief.  Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. 

It is clear from the above Scriptures that it is the day of the Lord and not a secret rapture that comes as a thief in the night.  Jesus said He is coming as a thief in Revelation 16:15.  However, this Scripture must be read in its context which takes place between the sixth and seventh bowl judgments, when "the kings of the earth" are gathered "to the battle of that great day of God Almighty...into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon (verses 12-17)."  Peter also describes the day of the Lord in apocalyptic terms with the passing away of the heavens and the earth, which will come as a thief in the night

Because of tradition these words, a thief in the night, have long been applied to verses like Matthew 24:40-41 to create a pre-tribulation rapture scenario in which two people are in the field or in the bed or grinding at the mill while one is secretly taken away seven years before tribulation begins; but nowhere do the Scriptures teach this (see Part 1 of this teaching).  Most Christians will agree that 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 is in the context of the day of the Lord.  The verse itself clearly indicates this.  And so the question must be asked, where do the words, a thief in the night, fit in Biblical prophecy?  They cannot possibly fit into a pre-tribulation rapture because it is the day of the Lord - the second coming of Christ - which comes as a thief in the night and this takes place "immediately after the tribulation of those days (Matthew 24:29). 

Another passage of Scripture that has traditionally been used to support a pre-tribulation rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.  These verses are also taught in the context of a secret catching away of Believers seven years before the day of the Lord.  Let's look at this passage beginning with verse 15 through 17. 

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (shall not go before) them which are 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 which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 

As you can see I have highlighted some of the words with bold type.  These are key words to understanding this Scripture and other Scriptures on this subject because Scripture confirms Scripture.  A much overlooked verse pertaining to the timing of the rapture and the day of the Lord is Revelation 1:7 which gives the simplest yet clearest description of the second coming of Christ. 

-  Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.  Even so, Amen. 

It is clear from this verse that the second coming of Christ will not be a secret but will be seen by all who are on the earth when He returns.  When the disciples asked Jesus about the sign of His coming in Matthew 24:3, Jesus described a single second coming, not a two-part second coming split into several phases and separated by seven years.  Matthew 24:29-31 is an amazing parallel to 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and also describes the coming of the Lord as being seen and heard by all tribes of the earth immediately after the tribulation. 

-  Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not giver her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:  And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven:  and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24:29-31).

If we compare these three passages - Revelation 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and Matthew 24:29-31 - we can see that they are all referring to the same event:  the second coming of Christ, the day of the Lord, which Jesus also referred to as the last day (John 6:39-40, 44, 54).  Remember, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 is the classic scriptural reference used to support the teaching that the rapture will happen before the tribulation.  This event is supposed to be a secret, quiet snatching away of the Church that leaves the world confused and wondering.  Yet verse 16 of this passage says the Lord will descend "with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God."  

The second coming of Christ will contain the following elements, all of which can be found in Revelation 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and Matthew 24:29-31:

-    HE IS COMING IN THE CLOUDS - Rev. 1:7, Matt. 24:30
-    EVERY EYE WILL SEE HIM - Rev. 1:7, Matt. 24:30

As disciples of Jesus Christ we must prayerfully study the Bible for ourselves.  We simply cannot afford to be passive; neither can we insert our desired hopes or opinions into the Scriptures.  A sincere love for God and the truth of His Word above all tradition, signs and lying wonders will keep us from the strong delusion of the last days (2 Thess. 2:9-12).  Jesus promised, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33). 

In part three we will study the timing of the rapture in further detail and will see from Christ's own words that He revealed exactly when the "catching away" will take place.