If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.
If you have ever taken a long trip with small children, you are familiar with the question: “Are we there yet?” When it comes to the return of Christ, those who know the Savior have the same sense of expectation but frame the question differently. For them the question is: “Is He here yet?”
Jesus promised to return. Scripture describes two distinct phases. The first involves Christ’s return for His church. Jesus promised that before the end He would gather the church to Himself (John 14:3). The theological term that is sometimes used to refer to this is rapture. Although this may sound a bit like the title of a romance novel rather than a theological term, it actually comes from a Latin word that means “to snatch or seize.” The Rapture will be experienced by those believers who are alive when Jesus comes for His church. At that time those who have died in Christ will be resurrected. Believers who are alive will be “caught up” (i.e. raptured) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (vv. 16–17). This will take place “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52), and without warning.
The Rapture of the church should be distinguished from the Second Coming. At the Rapture the church is caught up and taken to heaven. At the Second Coming the church accompanies Jesus in His return to earth. This raises an obvious question. Why would God separate the return of Christ into a twostage event? The answer has to do with His plan for Israel. In the intervening seven-year period between these two phases of Christ’s return, Israel will experience a time of unparalleled suffering and will be delivered by Christ (cf. Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21; Rom. 11:25–27). This time of tribulation concludes with the Second Coming of Christ.
Apply the Word
The Bible’s teaching about the return of Jesus Christ is meant to be a source of comfort to the church. All believers may not understand all the fine points of biblical prophecy (or even agree about it) but we can be certain of one thing. If we know Jesus as Savior, our ultimate destiny is to be with Him forever.