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Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Theology Q&A

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Dr. J. Rodman Williams answers theological questions, exclusively on

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15. The Return of Christ

Category Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 QA Index



I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, but I have just one question that I haven't found an answer to: I know when Jesus returns for us (rapture) that we will fly up to Him after the dead in Christ are raised. But when people of faith die before the rapture, we are told they are "with Jesus." Please explain if it's possible.

I appreciate your expressed love of the Lord -- heart, soul, mind, and strength. You may rest assured that at each believer's death that person will continue to be with Jesus. This is true in the realm of the spirit which is eternal. The body of the believer, however, awaits the resurrection when the Lord returns. So we are with the Lord both now, at death, and in the resurrection and throughout eternity. Praise the Lord!

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Will the Second Coming of Jesus Christ be after or before the Great Tribulation? What does Jesus say?

I suggest you turn to Matthew, chapter 24, for Jesus' words. Jesus speaks of tribulation to come three times therein:

"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name" (verse 9).

"For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall" (verse 21).

"But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory" (verses 29-30).

The language is that of "great tribulation" in verse 21. Only thereafter does He speak of His Second Coming which will occur "immediately after the tribulation of those days" (verses 29 and 30). It is apparent that Jesus Himself stated that His Second Coming would occur after much tribulation, including the "Great Tribulation."

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I've heard that when Jesus returns, He will come like a thief in the night. But I've also heard about Him coming with a shout and trumpets blasting. I've never heard of a thief announcing their arrival with a lot of noise. What will it be like?

That Christ will return suddenly and unexpectedly is the meaning behind the imagery of a thief. Note the Lord's words in Matthew 24:42-43: "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into."

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Is there such a thing as the Rapture?

Yes, there is such a thing. Hear the words of Paul: "The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 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" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). "Caught up" could be translated as "raptured." This amazing, presently unimaginable event will occur at the coming of the Lord and the resurrection of the Christian dead. See also 1 Corinthians 15:52-53.

For much more on this, see my book Renewal Theology, 3: chapter 12.

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If you will, please explain to me the difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming of our Lord. I thought the Rapture is when we (Christians) will be caught up to meet Christ in the air and the Second Coming is when the Lord comes to rule in the 1,000 years. I'm confused, please help.

The Rapture is one aspect of the Second Coming. It is not a separate event. For at the same time that Christ comes to catch up ("rapture") His people, He comes to establish His kingdom rule. And we shall reign with Him for ever!

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I understand that the Lord is coming back for His people. Is every single Christian going to rise to meet Him, or will some be left behind?

No true Christian will be left behind. That means: If we have been born again and are walking in faith, our destiny is assured.

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I've been told the spirit leaves the body at death. If that is the case, how will the dead in Christ rise?

It is true that the spirit leaves the body at death, in the case of believers to be with the Lord. "The dead in Christ will rise" (1 Thessalonians 4:16) refers to the bodily resurrection of the same believers which will happen at the return of Christ.

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All of the pretrib prognosticators claim Revelation 4:1 is the Rapture. How can this scripture possibly be a historical fact and future prophecy at the same time?

The words spoken to John, "Come up here," have nothing to do with the Rapture. Rather do they express to John an invitation to come in the Spirit into God's presence and receive divine revelation. To confuse this with the Rapture is to make a critical mistake.

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Many churches (including mine, a Baptist) teach that Christ's return will be silent and that people will just be missing. I have read everything I can about the second coming of Christ in the Word, and I see nothing where it is silent. Am I missing something about this?

According to Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, "The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God." With such a triple noise-the Lord's shout from heaven, the archangel's voice, and the sound of the trumpet-it will be anything but a silent event. You are quite right. There is no suggestion here or anywhere else in the Bible of a silent return of Christ. (For more on this, see my Renewal Theology, 3: chapter 11, entitled "The Manner of Christ's Return").

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  A lot of people say when persons die they either go to heaven or hell. What about the Rapture, do they leave heaven to be raptured from the grave?

The Rapture refers only to what happens to believers who are living at the time of the return of Christ. Paul writes, "We who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them [the dead in Christ] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

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  Will Christians go through the Rapture, Tribulation, etc.? Lately there have been discussions on some radio talk shows that Christians will go through the Rapture, Tribulation, etc. Is that correct?

According to the New Testament, Christians will go through tribulation. Tribulation (Greek: thlipsis) is the lot of all true believers. For example, see John 16:33-"In this world you have tribulation"; Romans 5:3-"We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance"; Revelation 1:9-"I, John, your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation." The word "tribulation" is used three times in Matthew 24: verse 9-"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation"-which unmistakably refers to tribulation throughout history; verses 21-22-"Then there will a great tribulation" so intense that "unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short"; verses 29-30-"But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened…the Son of man coming on the clouds." It is apparent from this sequence in Matthew that Christians (the elect) will go through tribulation, including "great tribulation" (often called "the Tribulation"), just before Christ returns. There is no place in these verses for a pre-tribulation rapture of Christians. (See Renewal Theology, 3: pages 360-70, on the "Great Tribulation.")

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  What are your thoughts on the rapture? I have studied for a long time and cannot prove to myself that the rapture is a valid Bible-based belief. What are your thoughts on this matter?

The rapture is clearly taught in the Bible. According to 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Paul writes, "We who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, thus we shall always be with the Lord." This follows immediately after "the dead in Christ" (verse 16) are raised up. There are various views about the time of the rapture; however, the fact of the rapture as a future event is unmistakable.

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  Is amillennialism a valid view in eschatology?

Amillennialism may better be spoken of as "present-millennialism." Those who hold this view stress the present reign of Christ over the church and all believers. There will also be a future reign of Christ in the final order of things (i.e., the new heavens and the new earth). Other views such as postmillennialism and premillennialism speak of a future interim reign of Christ rather than in the present. All three views of the millennium have been held by Christian believers; no one of these views should be a test of one's orthodoxy. The word "amillennial" is somewhat misleading in that it may suggest no millennium. That is why I prefer the term "present-millennialism." (For a full description of all these terms and other related matters, see Renewal Theology, 3: chapter 13, "The Millennium.")

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  Will there be a rapture?

Yes, according to Scripture. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:17--"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." "Be caught up" refers to the rapture of believers which will occur immediately after the resurrection of the believing dead (see preceding verse 16--"The dead in Christ shall rise first"). But it will be so nearly at the same time that both dead and living will "be caught up together." In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, Paul writes: "We shall not all sleep [i.e., die], but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet…and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed." Thus not only will the rapture represent a change from the natural body to a spiritual body (as in verse 44), but also this change will take place immediately.

It should be noted that the background of the rapture, as well as our resurrection, is the "coming of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:15). This coming is depicted in vivid language: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command ['Rise from the dead! Be changed!'], with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God" (verse 16). After this amazing double event--the resurrection and rapture--we shall be with the Lord for ever more. Praise be unto Him!

(For more, see Renewal Theology, 3: pages 405-10.)

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  A friend of mine asked me if there is any description of an atomic bomb in the Book of Revelation. Is there? There appear to be descriptions of things which could be the aftermath of a bomb type explosion, but I'm not sure if there is a description of an atomic bomb.

There are many descriptions of devastation in the Book of Revelation, but none particularly of an atomic bomb. We should not expect that much detail in referring to God's judgments.

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  What is Preterism?

I have been reading some early church historians and came across the view known as Preterism. In regard to Matthew 24, this view says that all these things were fulfilled with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. I was wondering if you would comment as to how valid you think this viewpoint is.

The destruction of the temple in 70 AD was the fulfillment of the first question of the disciples in Matthew 24:3, "When will these things be?" (which refers back to verse 2-"Not one stone here shall be left upon another"). The next two disciples' questions, "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age," have yet to be fulfilled.

Preterism is right in regard to the temple destruction but mistaken in viewing Matthew 24 as fulfilled totally in that event.

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  Our Sunday School class was asking if it is actually scriptural or myth that everyone on earth will hear the gospel message of Christ (and this must happen) before Christ returns.

In connection with the mission to reach all nations, the "sign of the end" will be t he universal proclamation of the gospel. As Jesus earlier declared, "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout t he whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). What is said is not that all nations will turn to Christ--though this is the goal (as Matthew 28 states)--but that all will hear and have opportunity to turn. When this occurs, the end will come.

Let us look more closely. The Great Commission is not only to proclaim but also to reach--and this refers to "all nations" (in both Matthew 24 and 28)--so that people are discipled, baptized, and taught. The goal is testimony plus conversion: it can never be anything less than that. And as surely as Christ is with His church throughout the ages, there will be--and unquestionably has been--the turning of many "nations" to Him. However, Christ does not say in the Great Commission that this goal will be fully reached. Nor--and here we return to the matter of "sign"--did He earlier say that all nations must be converted before the end of the age and His return. But, when the church universally proclaims the gospel as a testimony (or witness) so that all may hear and believe, then the end will come. The "sign," therefore, is not universal salvation but universal witness with opportunity for decision.

Now let us examine more closely Jesus' words "the whole world" and "all nations." The word translated "world" is oikoumene, meaning literally "the inhabited earth." Hence the gospel of the kingdom is to be proclaimed wherever there are people. The word translated "nations" is from ethnos, meaning not necessarily a political entity but a large number of people who make up a cohesive group socially, culturally, and racially. To all such ethne --wherever they are across the face of the earth--the gospel must be proclaimed as a testimony. Then the end will come.

(See Renewal Theology, 3: pages 320-321.)

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  How does God want us to be prepared for the rapture or return of Christ? How do we make ready? What should mark the Christian's attitude and activity?

I list several marks of preparation with Scripture references:
Eager Waiting--Philippians 3:20
Loving Christ's Appearing--2 Timothy 4:8
Exercising Patience--James 5:7-8
Purifying Ourselves--1 John 2:28; 3:3
Being Watchful--Mark 13:32-33
Practicing Faithfulness--Matthew 25:21, 23
Proclaiming the Gospel--2 Timothy 4:1-2

I will concentrate on purifying ourselves, for there is much stress in the New Testament on the importance of self-purification and holiness in preparing for Christ's return.

Let us attend to the words from 1 John: "Abide in Him [Christ], so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him ['away from Him,' NASB] in shame at His coming….Every one who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure."

Will we be ready when the Lord returns? Will we be living in such sin that although His arrival is "our blessed hope" (which indeed it is), we will shrink in shame at His presence? The Lord who will come is holy and pure; shall we meet Him in unholiness and impurity of life? To be sure, none of us will be perfect when Christ returns, but we can make better preparation, as John says, by seeking in every way possible to "purify ourselves as He is pure." Hebrews put it quite strongly: "Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (12:14). If we are striving and seeking for holiness and purity of life, we need not shrink in shame at the Lord's appearing. Are you--am I--making ready?

(The viewer is encouraged to look up the above scriptures and also for fuller elaboration to see my Renewal Theology, 3: chapter 9, The Return of Jesus Christ, pages 297-302.)

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