Although the parables discussed in the previous section are fairly easy to understand, Jesus also taught about the rapture in even plainer terms. In the great prophetic 24th chapter of Matthew, the Lord spoke about the events that will occur just before he returns. In the last week before he was crucified, Jesus taught his disciples about the rise of the Antichrist, the future persecution of the believers, the Abomination of Desolation, and even about the horrors of the Great Tribulation. In Matthew 24:29, he then goes on to tell them about the sign of the Son of Man:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give its light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.
“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
“And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Just as in the previous prophecies we looked at concerning the Return of Christ, the Lord says that the gathering together of his people will be done through the actions of angels. However, in this passage he also adds some important details to his original teachings. Christ says that all the tribes of the earth will actually see him coming with great power and glory. At this same time they will also hear him, because the event is said to be heralded by the great sound of a trumpet.
This entire description seems to run diametrically against the popular view of the rapture as being a secret and rapid disappearance of Christians at the end. Christ’s prophecies here seem to imply that the gathering together of believers (i.e., the “elect”) will not occur until he returns at the actual event of the Second Coming. A merging of the rapture with the Second Coming is certainly logical, since what is typically viewed as the Second Coming would really turn out to be the Third Coming if a prior secret return occurred first to remove only the believers.
There are some people, however, who try to explain away this prophecy by saying that the Lord really wasn’t referring to the true rapture in this prophecy, but was directing his words solely at the Jews or at the so-called “tribulation saints”. Those that espouse a secret rapture event to remove all Christians prior to the rise of the Antichrist or the terrible events of the end will say that Christ’s prediction in these verses actually is referring to a second gathering of believers at the end. According to this view, these people are supposedly those who come to believe after the rapture has occurred and the Antichrist has arisen. Especially people who hold to the pre-tribulation or mid-tribulation positions are forced to explain this passage as a secondary gathering of only Jewish believers at the Second Coming—otherwise it would completely prevent the possibility that the pre-trib or mid-trib theories are true. However, as we will soon see, this is simply not tenable considering the plain prophecies given by Jesus and other prophets in the Bible.
Even more significant is how the Lord dates this occurrence with respect to its relative positioning or timing among the other major events of the end. He says right in the beginning of the prophecy that this entire sequence of events including the gathering together of the elect will not occur until “after the tribulation of those days” (Matt. 24:29; emphasis mine). Could it be that Jesus predicted in easy to understand language the precise timing of the rapture? It certainly appears that he did.
However, nowhere in this chapter does Jesus imply that the Jews are to be the sole recipients of his words. Rather, in this entire prophecy of the last days he is teaching about the general conditions that would occur worldwide just before he returns. Furthermore, trying to separate Jewish believers from gentile believers in this way is simply not scriptural. Paul taught that all believers regardless of whether they are Jewish or gentile are made to be one through Christ (Eph. 2:14-18). It doesn’t matter if a person is Jewish, Italian, Chinese, American, or whatever background; if an individual repents of his sins and turns to Christ in faith he or she becomes a member of the family of God and his national heritage or ethnic background no longer matters. In reality, nationalities mean nothing to God; and in the age to come where the followers of Jesus will have immortal bodies and live in paradise they will mean nothing to us as well.
It is obvious that the Lord is talking here about the gathering together of all believers when he returns and not just one select group. He describes the rapture in such a way that it’s simply not possible to call it a “secret” event, nor even a “disappearance”. In fact, in this one description we find conditions that are considerably different from anything usually put forth by the popular teachings of today.
According to the details Jesus gives us in this prophecy we can now add the following points to our list of characteristics concerning the rapture (see previous sections for the first three characteristics):
4. It will occur after the tribulation.
5. All the world will actually see the Lord coming and the angels gathering his people.
6. The angels will be sent forth with a great sound of a trumpet.
Some people have also tried to imply that the Lord was wrong in his teaching on this subject, or at least he didn’t have all the information necessary to fully prophesy about it. Sometimes I even hear it said that his disciples were later given the complete picture of the “secret” rapture that Jesus couldn’t see. This kind of thinking is foolishness. The Lord of the universe is the one who originally gave insight to all the prophets concerning the future—including his disciples. Just because he lived as a man when he taught these things doesn’t mean he was devoid of understanding or limited in knowledge. In fact, contrary to what some have believed, the disciples actually taught about the rapture in the very same terms that Christ did. Not only did they keep the terminology and relative chronology of events the same, but their words also add important details concerning another major aspect of the rapture, namely the resurrection of the dead.