Can the Rapture be found in the Olivet Discourse? Or, does Jesus speak exclusively about His Second Coming?
Many very fine Premillennial Bible prophecy experts have taken the position that the Rapture is nowhere to be found in the Olivet Discourse. To the contrary, Amillennialists and Postmillennialists argue that the Rapture can be found in Matthew 24:31.
Let's consider the latter position first. Matthew 24:31 reads as follows: "And He [the Son of Man] will send forth His angels with a great trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other."
The most detailed description of the Rapture (Jesus coming for His Church) is contained in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
Comparing it to Matthew 24:31, we find two similarities — the blowing of a trumpet and the gathering of the elect.
But there are also several differences:
- In 1 Thessalonians 4, believers are gathered in the air when Jesus appears in the sky and are taken to Heaven. In Matthew 24 they are gathered after the arrival of Jesus on earth, and there is no mention of them being taken to Heaven.
- In 1 Thessalonians 4, the Lord Himself gathers the elect, whereas in Matthew 24, they are gathered by angels.
- The gathering in 1 Thessalonians 4 includes the resurrection of the bodies of the dead in Christ. There is no mention of anyone being resurrected in Matthew 24:31.
- In 1 Thessalonians 4, the spirits of the dead in Christ return in the clouds with Jesus. In Matthew 24 Jesus returns alone.
Those who insist that the Rapture is mentioned in Matthew 24:31 are actually contending that the Rapture and the Second Coming are all one event, producing what I call, "the yo-yo Rapture." I call it this because they are proposing that Jesus will appear for His Church, the living and dead in Christ will be raised up to meet Him in the sky, and then He will immediately return to earth with them. This is not a biblical scenario because Jesus said in John 14:1-4 that when the Rapture occurs, the living and dead in Christ will be taken back to Heaven.
All "gatherings" mentioned in the Bible do not refer to the Rapture. At the Rapture the bodies of the dead in Christ will be resurrected and taken up to meet the Lord in the sky where their spirits will be reunited with their bodies. The living in Christ will follow, and the bodies of both groups will be glorified. They will then be taken to Heaven.
At the Second Coming, two additional gatherings are going to occur. According to Luke 17:22-37, all unbelievers who are alive at the end of the Tribulation when Jesus returns will be gathered and consigned to death, their bodies being given over to the vultures.
But at the Second Coming there will also be a gathering of "the elect" (Matthew 24:31). This could be talking about all believers who are alive at the end of the Tribulation, but it is most likely referring only to Jewish believers because it is quoting Deuteronomy 30:1-5, and that passage is a prophecy that when the Jewish people finally accept their Messiah (which, according to Zechariah 12:10 will happen at the end of the Tribulation), God will gather them back to their homeland and establish them as the prime nation of the world during His Son's millennial reign.
If the Rapture is not referred to in Matthew 24:31, can it be found anywhere else in the Olivet Discourse?
Many, if not most Premillennialists contend that Jesus simply did not mention the Rapture, but I respectfully disagree with that position. I believe Jesus mentions the Rapture in verses 36-44 of Matthew 24. The first reason I see the Rapture in these verses is because Jesus says, "of that day and hour no one knows..." How could He possibly be referring to His Second Coming? Keep in mind that He has just told His disciples exactly when He was going to return — "immediately after the tribulation of those days" (Matthew 24:29).
From both the prophecies of Daniel and the book of Revelation we know the Tribulation will last exactly 7 prophetic years (years of 360 days each). Anyone living at the beginning of the Tribulation (when the Antichrist signs a treaty with Israel) could calculate the exact day of the Lord's return because we are told that the Tribulation will last precisely 2,520 days (Revelation 11:3 and Revelation 12:6). So, again, when Jesus says no one can know the day of His return, He must be speaking of the Rapture, and not the Second Coming.
Next, Jesus says that when He returns, society will be like it was in the days of Noah, when right up to the last moment people were "eating and drinking" and "marrying and giving in marriage" (Matthew 24:38). In other words, life will be continuing as normal when He returns.
But this could not be talking about the Second Coming because life will be anything but normal at the end of the Tribulation. At that time more than half the population of the world will have been killed, including two-thirds of the Jews, and the whole world, according to what we are told in Revelation 13-19, will be in absolute chaos.
Additionally, if you will take a look at the Olivet Discourse as it is recorded in Luke 21, you will find that Luke adds an observation that Matthew's account does not contain. In the section where Jesus starts talking about how His return could occur any moment, Luke quotes Him as saying: "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36, NKJV).
Those words sure sound to me like a reference to the Rapture of the Church.