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THEOLOGY > Future > The End of the Age > The Blessed Hope > After the Tribulation    


For some individuals the basic question in Eschatology is the timing of the Rapture. When will the Lord return to take to Himself His Church? Fundamental hermeneutical decisions must be made, such as the relationship of Israel to the Church, whether the Second Coming and the Rapture constitute a single event, or whether they are separated by seven years of the Great Tribulation, and whether God has one people, or more than one people.

Stated in a different manner, the question becomes one of determining whether the Church will be on the earth during the tribulation period, or whether the Church will be in heaven with Christ during that time. Will the Church experience the wrath of the Antichrist? Or will believers escape that time of suffering and martyrdom? The question is one of the relationship of the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and the Second Coming.

In a single passage—Matthew 24—the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and the Second Coming of Christ are discussed in a span of seventeen verses. Without any doubt the sequence is Antichrist, Great Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ. The sequence is unmistakable by the manner in which the passage develops:

v. 15     “when you see the abomination of desolation”

v. 21     “Then there will be great tribulation”

v. 29     “Immediately after the tribulation”

v. 30     “Then . . . they will see the Son of Man coming”

The three (Antichrist, Great Tribulation, Second Coming) are joined together in order by the adverbs: “when,” “then,” “immediately,” and “then.” One follows the other; no other conclusion can be reached. The Olivet Discourse, therefore, establishes the proper sequence of end-time events. When the Antichrist appears, then the Great Tribulation will take place; and after the Tribulation, the Lord will come back and gather together His elect.

Following the Great Tribulation, therefore, the Lord will return. Verse 29 of Matthew 24 reads: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days . . .” And verse 30 continues: “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Note the words, “Immediately after” of verse 29 and the word “then” of verse 30. By these words the Return of Christ is placed in its proper relationship to the Tribulation. “After” the Tribulation, “then” the Lord will return; the order is without question. This is one text that clearly and definitely places the Second Coming after the Tribulation.

When the Lord returns, He will be joined with His people; the Rapture will take place. Verse 31 reads: “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” The elect will be gathered together by the angels of the Lord (see: Elect in the Olivet Discourse). Christ and His Church will be united; the Groom is coming for the bride. This simple statement by Jesus is further amplified by the classic passage describing the Rapture in I Thessalonians 4:13-18, which gives additional details of the event of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 24:31 (see: Harmonization of Scripture).

To reject this order or even to question this order, there must be an explicit statement for doing so somewhere else in God’s Word. Just as no Scripture states that the Return will be in two parts, so no Scripture states that Christ will come before the Tribulation. But here is a passage that states explicitly that He will come after the Tribulation. A careful and serious student of Scripture should not easily reject the clear sequence outlined by Jesus Himself in the Olivet Discourse.

To dismiss the sequence by stating, as the Dispensationalists do, that the passage does not relate to the Church but only to the nation of Israel is not even worthy of rebuttal. All of the New Testament is written for the Church. How could any believer think otherwise? Ladd’s comment regarding the Olivet Discourse will suffice:

The assumption that this is exclusively Jewish ground is a human interpretation which is not supported by the Word of God (The Blessed Hope, 133).

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