In the last Question and Answer it was contended that the Church’s gathering to the Lord and His subsequent revelation from heaven were distinct events. Why then doesn’t Scripture speak of them as the second and third coming of Christ? Again, no proof was offered that the rapture would be secret and not public.
The words of Scripture are “thus the Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear to those that look for him the second time without sin for salvation “ (Heb. 9: 28). True, there is no thought of a third time! The two phases of the Lord’s second coming are clearly linked together in the NT but that does not mean or prove that there is no time interval between them or that they are not distinct events. Let us run a parallel with what we refer to as the first coming.
Studying the OT we soon learn of the prophesied coming of the Messiah, or Christ. But where in the OT do we learn that there would be two comings? The advent of the Messiah had to be presented as one coming because although God knew that His Son would be refused by the Jews, thereby necessitating a second coming, this could not be revealed until the Lord was actually rejected. When the Lord came and it became apparent that He would be rejected, then, and then only, did He speak of His coming again. With hindsight we can look back and identify Mic. 5:2 as fulfilled at the Lord’s first coming (see Matt. 2: 6) and know that Zech. 14: 4 has yet to be fulfilled at His second coming, but the OT saints could not make that distinction. The OT presentation was of one coming, not two. Indeed this gave rise to much perplexity and difficulty in reconciling the prophesied sufferings of the Messiah (that we now know took place at His first coming) with his glories (that we now know have yet to be revealed at His second coming). The difficulties were so great to some that they thought that there would be two Messiahs—one who would suffer and another who would bear the glory—answering to David and Solomon respectively. This thought may have been behind the question from the John the Baptist “Art thou he that is coming, or are we to wait for another?” (Luke 7: 19). Thus the OT presented a single coming which we now know had events separated by at least two millennia! Why then should not the second coming be two events separated by a period of time?
Again, in the NT we read of the Lord’s birth in Matt. 1: 22, 23 fulfilling Is. 7: 14 and His healings in Matt. 8: 16 fulfilling Is. 53: 4. The same coming yet two different events separated by some thirty odd years! Why then cannot His second coming involve two events, with a period of some seven years in between fulfilling Daniel’s last week of the seventy (see Dan. 9: 24–27)?
As to the rapture (our gathering together to the Lord) being secret or public, let us see what the Bible says. “We shall not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed, in an instant, in [the] twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15: 51, 52). The words “in an instant” indicate a point of time that cannot be divided and this is further emphasised by a second phrase “in [the] twinkling of an eye”. It will be too fast for human eye to see, so cannot be public and justifies the description of secret.
In 1 Thess. 4: 14 Paul prefaces the coming of the Lord for his own with the words “For if we believe that Jesus has died and has risen again” linking the Lord’s resurrection with the resurrection of the saints at His coming. The last the world saw of the Saviour was on the cross. No one saw Christ rise from among the dead and no unbeliever ever witnessed the risen Lord. Likewise the world will not witness the resurrection and the departure of the saints to be with their Lord.
Finally, if an objection be raised as to the accompanying sounds of 1 Thess 4: 16 being heard publicly, then parallels can be drawn with John 12: 28, 29 and Acts 9: 4–7; 22: 9. In John, what the crowd heard could only be described by them as thunder for the words were unintelligible to them. In Acts, it is the same: Saul heard the actual words; those with him only heard an unintelligible sound. This distinction is made clear in the Greek by the case (accusative or genitive) of the word for voice. I believe that three distinct companies will arise at the rapture: the Church, the OT dead of Israel and the OT Gentile dead. Hence there are three distinct and different calls. The Lord’s assembling shout is for the Church, the archangel’s voice is for the dead of Israel (see Dan. 12: 1 and Jude 9) and the trump of God is for the Gentile dead.