The ‘secret’ rapture doctrine holds that the second coming of Christ will consist of two phases, one for the saints (the Rapture) and the other with the saints (the Revelation of Christ), and the intervening period between the two is the time when the world will experience the Great Tribulation, involving the reign of Antichrist and the outpouring of God’s wrath on the wicked
Here is what the Assemblies of God teaches about the second coming of Christ: ‘A comparison of passages of Scripture relating to the Second Coming shows that some speak of a visible event seen by all mankind and involving the judgement of sinners. Others describe a coming known only to believers and resulting in their deliverance from earth. The latter is referred to among evangelicals as the Rapture. …. Passages which pertain to the Rapture describe the coming of the Lord for His people. Passages which refer to the revelation of Christ describe the coming of the Lord with His saints. …. Since Scripture does not contradict itself, it seems reasonable to conclude that the passages describing Christ’s coming for the saints and with the saints indicate two phases of His coming. We believe it is scripturally correct to assume that the intervening period between the two is the time when the world will experience the Great Tribulation, involving the reign of Antichrist and the outpouring of God’s wrath on the wicked …. Although God’s people may endure severe trials before the Lord comes, the Church will be raptured before the period called the Great Tribulation’ (The Rapture of the Church, General Council of the Assemblies of God, August 14, 1979. From. http://www.ag.org).
The above mentioned teaching, according to which the Church will be caught up to heaven before the reign of the antichrist (called also ‘the man of sin’ or ‘lawless one’), is held by most of the Trinitarian Pentecostals and many other Evangelicals. It is held also by the United Pentecostal Church (one of the Oneness Pentecostal sects) which affirms: ‘God will take the church out of the world before the Tribulation’ (J. L. Hall and David K. Bernard, editors, Doctrines of the Bible, Word Aflame Press, Hazelwood, MO, USA, 1998, page 272),
The Rapture doctrine appeared in the early part of the 1800’s in England. In march, 1830, a woman in Richard Baxter’s church in London, prophesied that the Lord Jesus might come any time and that true believers in Him might any day be caught up by translation to heaven. This woman and this church were connected with the Irvingite movement. That prophecy was accepted also by John Nelson Darby, one of the most influential preachers in England at that time, who, even though he was not part of the Irvingite Movement, accepted it as coming from the Lord and incorporated in his teaching. John Darby was the founder of the Plymouth Brethren group which still exists in England and other countries. From that time on millions of believers all over the world have accepted the Rapture doctrine.
The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for His saints (our gathering together to Him, which is known also as ‘rapture’) and the coming of the Lord with His saints (the revelation of Christ) are two events which will take place on the same day (made of 24 hours), which is called the day of Christ or the day of the Lord, and that day will come after the antichrist is revealed. Therefore the saints will be persecuted to death by the antichrist, that is to say, the saints will go through the great tribulation. When I say that the coming of Christ for His saints and the coming of Christ with His saints are two events which will take place on the same day, I mean this: when Jesus is revealed from heaven, He will raise up the dead in Christ first, then He will change the saints who are alive at His coming, and they will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Immediately after He will come with His saints to earth to punish the lawless one and those who do not know God, and to establish the millennium reign, which is a thousand-year reign during which He will reign on the earth with His saints. So, the coming of our Jesus Christ comprises the following events: the appearing of Christ from heaven, the resurrection of the dead in Christ, the change of the saints who are alive at His coming, and our gathering together to Him, and the destruction of the antichrist and of those who do not know God, and His coming with His saints to earth. All these events – I say it again – will take place on the same day, which is called the day of Christ or the day of the Lord. Our gathering together to Christ and the coming of Christ will not occur at different times – as pre-tribolationists affirm – but on the same day. Now I will show you from the Holy Scripture what I have just said.
Let us see what John wrote in the book of Revelation about the glorious coming of Christ from heaven: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh” (Revelation 19:11-21). Now, I want you to pay much attention to the fact that John said that the beast and the false prophet will be captured and cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone, because what John wrote confirms what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians concerning the destiny of the lawless one, that is, the man of sin who will be revealed prior to the day of the Lord. Here is what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians concerning this: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8 – NKJV). As you can see, therefore, John and Paul affirm the same thing using different words, that is to say, they affirm that the man of sin (the beast) will be punished at the return of Christ, that is, when Christ is revealed from heaven.
Having established this, we need to establish when the man of sin – of whom Paul speaks to the Thessalonians – will be revealed, that is, whether he will be revealed before the Church is caught up to heaven or after. Let us see then what Paul says to the Thessalonians about the time the lawless one will be revealed: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-7). No doubt Paul states that the man of sin will be revealed while the saints are still on the earth. We deduce this from the fact that he says “that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition ….”. Therefore, the falling away and the man of sin must come first, then the day of Christ will come– on which the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the change of the saints who are alive will take place, and their gathering together to Christ. Someone will ask me then: ‘Could Paul not refer, when he spoke of the day of Christ, to the coming of Christ from heaven with His saints who by that time will have already been with Him for some years (seven or three and a half)? No, because if we read carefully the above mentioned words of Paul, we can see that when he speaks of the day of Christ – which will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed – he refers to “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 – NKJV). Notice that Paul – concerning the coming of the Lord and our gathering together to Him – first urged the saints not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by any false epistle, as though the day of Christ was imminent or at hand, then he explained them why they must not think that the day of Christ was imminent or at hand: “For that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed.” Therefore, the day of which Paul speaks is the day on which Christ will come and we will be gathered together to Him. Thus Paul implicitly affirms that when the lawless one is revealed the saints are still on earth, for the lawless one will be destroyed by the brightness of Christ’s coming. Consequently, since we know that the antichrist will persecute to death the saints, we affirm that the saints will go through the great tribulation.
That the saints must go through the tribulation which will precede the appearing of Christ is evident also from the following words spoken by Jesus Christ: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give 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 24:4-31). As you can see, Jesus foretold His disciples that His coming will occur after the tribulation of those days – during which many believers will be deceived by false prophets, while many others will be killed for their faith -, and also that at His coming He will gather His elect to Him from the four winds. So our gathering together to Him will take place at the end of the great tribulation
In the light of what the Scripture teaches, therefore, the pre-tribolationist view, according to which there will be a secret, invisible return of Jesus in the sky where the saints will be translated secretly before the beginning of the reign of the antichrist (thus, before the beginning of the tribulation), must be rejected for it is inconsistent with the Scripture, which clearly teaches that Christ will appear to gather His saints to Him after the reign of the antichrist is established on earth, that is, at the end of the tribulation.
Brothers, I conclude by saying to you what Paul said to the Thessalonians many centuries ago: “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed ….” (2 Thessalonians 2:3 – NKJV).