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THEOLOGY > Future > End of the Age > Rapture Question > Harmonization of Scripture  



As has already been discussed in another article, the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25, Mk. 13, and Lu. 21) establishes the sequence of end-time events. Jesus speaks of the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and the Second Coming, in that order. In response to the questions of His disciples He states that He will return after the Great Tribulation. The order is clear and definite. It is impossible to misunderstand the sequence. Matthew 24 speaks of the Second Coming, and the coming marks the conclusion of the Tribulation (see: The Sequence of End-Time Events).

Thus, if I Thessalonians 4:13-18 describes in more detail what will happen when He returns but does not state when, then I Thessalonians must surely be describing the return that is spoken of by the Lord in Matthew 24:27-31 (see: What, not When). That is, the passages must be parallel passages and, therefore, should be read in conjunction with each other; this allows for I Thessalonians to shed commentary on the coming in Matthew 24 and vice versa. If I Thessalonians 4 describes the Lord’s return and Matthew 24 reveals when He will return (after the Tribulation), then the passages should complement each other in their descriptions of the event. There should be obvious similarities without any factors that would prohibit the two passages from being considered parallel passages. It is obvious, even from a casual reading, that I Thessalonians 4:13-18 does harmonize with Matthew 24:27-31; the similarities are numerous. There are at least eight areas of similarity. Below are the two passages:

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (I Thess. 4:13-18)

27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For where the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. 29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 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 (Matt. 24:27-31).

First, the Subject of both passages is Jesus. I Thessalonians speaks of “the Lord” (4:15, 16, 17), while Matthew identifies the One coming as “the Son of Man” (24:30). I Thessalonians also refers to the Lord as “Jesus” (v. 14) and “Christ” (v. 16). At the beginning of the chapter Matthew refers to the One speaking as “Jesus” (v. 4). Surely, no one would possible believe that these two passages are speaking of different persons. The One in both passages is “the Son of Man” who is “the Lord.”

Second, consider the word “coming” in I Thessalonians 4:15, that also appears in Matthew 24:3, 27. In each of these verses the Greek word for “coming” is parousia. Since Jesus and Paul use the same word, surely they must be discussing the same event. The disciples ask: “What will be the sign of Your coming (parousia).” Jesus responds: “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming (parousia) of the Son of Man be.” Paul speaks of those “who are alive and remain until the coming (parousia) of the Lord.” In both passages the return is said to be the parousia (“coming”). There is no reason not to understand that these three verses are speaking of the same event, especially since the word used to describe the event is the same in both passages. The vocabulary requires that the “coming” of Thessalonians be identical to the “coming” of Matthew.

Third, I Thessalonians 4:16 says: “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven,” whereas Matthew records Jesus as saying: “the Son of Man will appear in heaven” (v. 30). Both passages associate the Lord’s coming with “heaven”; He will appear in heaven and descend from heaven. How could anyone not see the similarity and conclude that the two passages are describing the same event? Even if this is the only similarity, is it not sufficient to justify the assumption that both passages are dealing with the same future event?

Heaven, which is associated with His return to the earth, was also associated with His ascension from the earth; the account is in Acts 1:9-11:

9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Four times “heaven” is mentioned in these three verses. After the disciples watched the Lord ascend to heaven, the angels informed them that the same Jesus would come back in the same manner as He left. He went up to heaven; He will return from heaven. Both Matthew and Thessalonians relate “heaven” to His coming, thus complementing what the angels predicted at His ascension in Acts.

Fourth, I Thessalonians 4:16 speaks of “the voice of an archangel” sounding when the Lord descends from heaven, and in Matthew 24:31 Jesus says that “He will send His angels.” Reference is made in both texts to the heavenly host. Is the “archangel” of I Thessalonians the leader of the “angels” of Matthew? Does the archangel, at the instruction of the Lord, command the angels to gather the elect? Does the shout of the archangel have a part in awakening the dead whom the angels then gather? Is the voice of the archangel the voice of conquest and victory as he leads the armies of heaven to this earth? These are interesting and, perhaps, fanciful or even improper questions. But the questions make a point. The similarity of the two passages is obvious. In both books angels are associated with the Lord’s return. References to the heavenly host in each of these accounts do not separate the passages but serve to unite them, both in the reading of them and the consideration of them.

Fifth, I Thessalonians 4:16 speaks of “the trumpet of God” and Matthew 24:31 speaks of “a great sound of a trumpet.” The “trumpet of God” is the trumpet that makes the “great sound.” Instead of returning in silence, the Lord will return with a “shout,” the “voice of an archangel” and the “great sound of a trumpet.” His return will be a Divine spectacle, with the trumpet proclaiming the appearance of Royalty. How could the passages not be connected when both speak of a trumpet in connection with the coming of the Lord? Both speak of His coming and associate a trumpet with that coming.

Sixth, I Thessalonians 4 speaks of the “dead in Christ,” while Matthew speaks of “His elect.” It has been argued that the word “elect” in Matthew 24 is to be understood in the same way it is understood in the rest of the New Testament (see: The “Elect” in the Olivet Discourse). The word “elect” speaks of those who have been chosen by God to be “in Christ” and is synonymous in the New Testament with those who constitute the Church, the bride of Christ. Paul’s use of the phrase “dead in Christ” is a synonym for the word “elect” used by Jesus. To be “elect” is to be “in Christ,” even though one is dead. Both passages are speaking of the same group. At His coming the “dead in Christ” will be raised because they are “His elect.” These words convey the fact that the Lord is coming for a people, His people. And this people constitute the bride that He has chosen for Himself and is coming to translate.

Seventh, I Thessalonians 4 speaks of the dead in Christ being raised first and then those who are alive being changed and “caught up together with them” (v. 17) to meet the Lord. Matthew 24:31 states that the angels will “gather together” the elect “from one end of heaven to the other.” In these passages there is a “gathering” and a “catching.” Those who are “gathered together” will be “caught up together.” God’s people are first “gathered” and then they are “caught up.” One passage gives emphasis to one dimension, while the other passage gives emphasis to a different dimension. But both dimensions constitute the one event. How can any honest exegete separate these two passages that are joined together in so many ways? Jesus and Paul are not in opposition; they complement each other in every detail.

Eighth, I Thessalonians 4:17 speaks of “the clouds” as the place where the believers will meet the Lord in the air. Matthew speaks of “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (24:30). This is surely not mere coincidence, the references to clouds. It is but another undeniable indication of the similarity of the two passages. The Lord will come on the clouds, and the believers will meet Him in the clouds. One is reminded of John’s words in Revelation: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye shall see Him” (1:7). When He ascended after His resurrection, the Scripture reports: “He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). When He returns, He will be “coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 24:30). How could any interpreter separate I Thessalonians and Matthew 24 when both speak of clouds in connection with the Lord’s Second Coming? To separate these passages by seven years is unwarranted exegesis. It is not only unwarranted, it is fanciful.

Above is a discussion of the harmonization of I Thessalonians 4 and Matthew 24 in terms of the Second Coming of Christ. Below is a brief illustration of the similarities of the two passages:

                                HARMONIZATION OF I THESS. 4 AND MATT. 24

                     I Thess. 4:13-18                                          Matt. 24:27-31               

                vs. 15, 16, 17 “the Lord”                               vs. 30 “the Son of Man”               

               v. 15  “coming” (parousia)                          vs. 3, 27  “coming” (parousia)          

             v. 16  “descend from heaven”                          v. 30  “appear in heaven”                    

                    v.16  “archangel”                                          v. 31  “angels”                    

                     v. 16  “trumpet”                                          v. 31  “trumpet”               

                v. 16  “dead in Christ”                                       v. 31  “His elect”             

            v. 17  “caught up together”                               v. 31  “gather together”                     

                    v. 17  “clouds”                                              v. 30  “clouds”  

From the above comparison it is obvious that I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Matthew 24:27-31 are speaking of the same event. The single event is described in the same way, using identical terms and similar concepts. In at least eight ways the passages are united. And there are no concepts in either passage that are not acceptable in the other. For instance, Paul points out that the dead will be raised before the living will be changed. This particular point is missing in Matthew but the point can be fitted perfectly within the statements of Jesus. Jesus says that the angels will “gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (v. 31). The angels will gather the dead first and then the living. The passages have internal harmony and complement each other in every respect. Together, they give a fuller picture of that day when the Lord returns.

Without a doubt the return of Christ and the gathering of the elect in Matthew 24:27-31 take place after the Tribulation. This discussion has demonstrated the similarities between Matthew 24 and I Thessalonians 4, with the conclusion being that both are speaking of the same event. Thus, I Thessalonians 4:13-18 is describing an event that takes place after the Tribulation. I Thessalonians tells us what will happen, while Matthew gives insight as to when it will happen. I Thessalonians 4:13-18 harmonizes with Matthew 24.

If we define the rapture strictly as a catching up,
only one passage in the entire New Testament describes it.
That passage is I Thessalonians 4:13-18.
If we broaden the definition to include a gathering or reception,
Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27; John 14:1-3; 2Thessalonians 2:1;
and Revelation 14:14-16
also come into the picture.
Of course,
teachers of Pretribulationism
rule out Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27; and Revelation14:14-16
because these passages have posttrib settings.
But the very necessity of ruling them out to maintain Pretribulationism
exposes a weakness:
it is only the theory,
not the data of the biblical text,
that keeps anybody from understanding the gatherings
in Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27; and Revelation 14:14-16
as referring to the rapture.
Bob Gundry

Nowhere do the Scriptures say that the Rapture will precede the Tribulation.
There appears to be ample evidence
that a Rapture at the end of the Tribulation
is both biblical
and representative of the historic position of the church on this subject.
Jim McKeever

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