A Bible Study by Jack Kelley – gracethrufaith.com
QUESTION: I’ve been fervently studying the end-times the past few months. Prophecy has always been a subject I love and have studied, but the past months, with the world going the way it is, I’ve got a renewed fuel for my fire. In any case, I’ve recently come across your teachings, and you’ve opened my eyes in many areas, specifically Matthew 24 and 25.
With that being said, can you tell me what basis now the pre-trib rapture has for being an ‘unknown hour’? Many people point to Matt 25, but as you’ve taught, this all refers to the Second Coming.
ANSWER: That’s right. The so-called “day or hour” verses in Matt. 24-25 all refer to the exact timing of the 2nd Coming, not the Rapture. The justification for believing in a secret rapture is found in the fact that only vague hints are given as to its timing. For example Paul hinted that it would occur in the End Times sometime before the Wrath of God comes (1 Thes 1:10 & 5:9) and before the anti-Christ is revealed (2 Thes. 2:7-8). That’s like telling someone on a bus who asks when to get off that his stop is one before yours so if he sees you getting off he’s missed it.
The Rapture is also a “signless” event in that there’s no preceding event warning that it’s about to come. It’s not directly connected to any other end time event. I believe that this is due to the fact that there’s no specific Rapture date set in Heaven. The Rapture will occur when the Church achieves its full number (Romans 11:25) not when some predetermined day comes.
NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR THE HOUR (CONTINUED)
Those who ignore the study of end times prophecy are fond of quoting this famous line which appears in various forms in Matt. 24:36, Matt. 24:42,44, Matt. 24:50 and Matt 25:13 as their justification. But earlier in the same passage, the Lord had admonished all who would read His words of prophecy to understand them (Matt 24:15) and elsewhere the Apostle Paul wrote that the events leading up to the end of the age should not take believers by surprise (1 Thes 5:4) implying that we should have done enough homework to see them coming.
Since the Bible cannot contradict itself, these passages must have been aimed at different audiences. And sure enough, a closer look reveals that to be the case. In Matt. 24:36, Matt. 24:42,44, Matt. 24:50 and Matt 25:13 the Lord was only speaking to people remaining on Earth at His Second Coming, while in Matt. 24:15 he was issuing a warning to those who would be living in Israel early in Daniel’s 70th Week. We know this because He mentioned a Temple which doesn’t exist yet. Of course in 1 Thes 5:4 Paul was addressing the Church.
What Paul was saying is that while we won’t know the exact timing of things, we should understand the sequence of events leading up to the Day of the Lord. And perhaps no event in the sequence is more important than the Rapture of the Church, especially as it relates to the Great Tribulation.
That being the case, it seems to me that the first thing we should do in trying to understand all this is to clarify two things. One is the purpose of the Great Tribulation, and the other is the nature of the Church.
The Purpose of the Great Tribulation
The phrase Great Tribulation makes reference to a defined period of time, not a general condition. While the Lord warned the disciples that tribulation (trouble) would be characteristic of life in this world (John 16:33), He clearly identified the Great Tribulation as having a specific beginning and end. It will begin when the abomination that causes desolation predicted by Daniel is erected in the Temple (in the middle of the last 7 years of history) and will end just prior to the Lord’s return, three and one half years later (Daniel 9:24-27, Matt. 24:15-21).
Daniel’s prophecy is pointedly Jewish in its perspective and so is the Great Tribulation. Until the Lord coined its New Testament name in Matt 24:21 it was referred to as the Time of Jacob’s Trouble in the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is where its purpose is explained.
In Jeremiah 30:1-11 the event is foretold and in the last verse its purpose is explained. “Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.” The idea is that Israel has to be purified to receive their coming King, and the nations who rejected the King and persecuted His people must be destroyed.
The timing of the passage is also made clear. It will take place after Israel is re-gathered in the land, and will result in David becoming their King again (Jere. 30:8-10). There have been two re-gatherings since the passage was written, but the first, beginning in 535 BC, didn’t result in David becoming their King. In fact they have had no legitimate King at all since about 600 BC. Neither were all the nations completely destroyed then.
The second re-gathering began after World War 2 and continues to this day. Though the population of Israel keeps growing, so do the Jewish populations of all the nations to which the Jews have been scattered. In fact there are about as many Jews outside of Israel as there are in the land. All that will change when the Lord calls all His people to return to their Promised Land following His victory in the Battle of Ezekiel 38-39 (see Ezekiel 39:28). Because of this amazing victory the Jewish people will restore their national covenant with God, build a Temple in which to worship Him, and Daniel’s missing 70th week will begin.
So the purpose of the Great Tribulation is twofold; discipline (purify) the people of Israel so they’ll be prepared for the coming Messiah, and completely destroy the nations to which they had been scattered.
The Nature of the Church
According to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the Church is nothing less than a new race of mankind, coming from among both Jews and Gentiles but sharing a destiny with neither. (Ephe. 2:15-16) The problem had always been that God could not dwell in the midst of His creation. The sins of the people eventually drove Him away. At the cross, He reconciled all things to himself, things in heaven and on earth (Col 1:19-20). This meant that He can now be at peace with His creation for the first time since the Fall of Man. He accomplished this by paying the price for all the sin of mankind. Now, for anyone who would accept it, a full pardon for behavior past, present and future is available, free for the asking (Matt. 7:7-8).
Accepting this pardon qualifies any person, young or old, Jew or Gentile, good or bad to become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). And it permits God to look upon this person as if he or she is without sin altogether; and in fact as if he or she had never sinned to begin with. It also required the division of mankind into three groups: Jew, Gentile and Church. (1 Cor. 10:32)
It’s critical that we understand God’s perspective. To Him the Church is without sin, holy and blameless, and has been since the cross (Ephes. 5:25-27). Whatever sins we as individuals have committed (or will commit) have been forgiven and forgotten. It’s as if they never happened (Ephe 1:4-8). At the cross, the Church became as pure and holy as God Himself (2 Cor 5:21), so finally God has a people with whom He can live in peace.
What’s the Point?
First, not needing purification, no purpose is served by the Church enduring the Great Tribulation. Second, the focus of the Great Tribulation is Israel and God’s focus seems to be either Israel or the Church, never both. (This was explained by James in Acts 15:12-18.) If you take the view that the Battle of Ezekiel 38-39 occurs before Daniel’s 70th Week begins, and realize that one outcome of that battle is that Israel turns back to God, (Eze 39:28-29) then you know the Church’s days on earth are numbered.
Then there are passages of Scripture that indicate the Church won’t be present for any of the end times judgments. Look at these examples:
In Romans 5:9 and 1 Thes 1:10 Paul promised that the Church will be rescued from God’s wrath. The Greek preposition translated “from” in both these verses means “from the time, place or any relation to the event. ” Jesus Himself confirmed this in Rev. 3:10. Speaking through the Church in Philadelphia, He said, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” 1 Thes. 5:9 says the Church was not appointed to suffer wrath, and with the seal judgments of Rev. 6 His wrath will have begun. Therefore the rapture of the Church will have to precede Rev. 6.
Also, the 2nd letter to the Thessalonians only makes sense if Paul had taught them the pre-trib rapture view. A careful reading shows that they had received a forgery claiming the Day of the Lord had come (2 Thes. 2:2). If Paul had taught a post-trib view their response would have been something like, “The next 7 years will be very difficult, but then the Kingdom will come.” Instead it was alarm, such as they would feel upon learning they had missed the Rapture. And if they had missed the rapture, that would mean they weren’t saved. That would certainly be cause for alarm.
Other Hints of a Pre-Trib Rapture
The period of the Great Tribulation is the most thoroughly documented from a time standpoint of any Biblical event. From various verses it’s described as 3 and 1/2 years, or 42 months, or 1260 days long. These are all equivalent times. It begins the day the anti-Christ stands in the Temple in Jerusalem and proclaims himself to be God and it ends 1260 days later. How do you have a “secret rapture” at the end of the Great Tribulation when any knowledgeable believer will be able to mark the day of its end on his calendar?
The Sheep and Goat Judgment of Matt 25:31-46 clearly portrays events following the Second Coming as the Lord establishes His Kingdom on Earth. The sheep are symbolic of believers and the goats of non-believers. The judgment concerns people who have survived the Great Tribulation. Sheep go into the Kingdom (Matt. 25:34) and goats go into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). There couldn’t be any sheep on Earth for this judgment if all believers had just been raptured, but if the Church will be raptured before the end times judgments begin, then there will be at least 7 years for a new crop of believers to be born again. Some of them will survive the Great Tribulation to become the sheep of the Sheep and Goat judgment.
There are sound theological reasons why God keeps the exact timing of the Rapture secret. But He has given us plenty of evidence as to its general timing to prevent us from being taken by surprise at the end of the Age. A recent panel of prophecy experts agreed that the most important sign that the end is near is not that any specific Biblical sign is evident, but that all the signs the Lord told us to look for are in some stage of fulfillment.
A bus stop only draws a crowd as the time for the bus to arrive draws near. Then people come to watch for the bus, expecting it to arrive, and wait for it, because they know its arrival is near. Having given us several signs of His return the Lord instructs us to watch, expecting Him to arrive, and wait for Him, knowing that His arrival is near. And since His arrival is near, the rapture is even nearer. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah. 06-14-14
NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR THE HOUR: (CONTINUED)
There are two popular phrases people use in connection with the End Times to discourage speculation about just when the Rapture might take place. One is “like a thief in the night”, and the other is “no one knows the day or the hour”. But is that what these phrases really mean?
Let me say from the outset that I don’t believe the day or hour of the Rapture can be known in advance by anyone on Earth because I don’t believe it’s set to happen on any specific day or at any specific hour. I believe it’s set to happen when a specific number of born again believers is reached, and I base that conclusion on my understanding of Romans 11:25.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
There are two Greek words in this verse that lend critical support to a proper understanding. The first is translated “full number”. In Paul’s time it was a nautical term that stood for the predetermined number of sailors necessary to operate a ship. Until the ship had its full number of crew members, it could not legally set sail. Sometimes ship captains who found themselves a man or two short when it came time to leave the harbor went through the water front bars late at night looking for drunken sailors they could kidnap. When they had the number they needed they set sail immediately.
And the second, translated “come in” is also a nautical term that described the ship’s arrival at its intended destination. We’ve all heard people say how much better life will be “when my ship comes in.”
By using these terms, Paul was saying that the hardening of Israel’s heart will not be fully removed until the Church reaches its predetermined number and arrives at its intended destination, which the Lord called “my Father’s House” in John 14:2-3. It was a reference to the rapture. There’s nothing arbitrary about God’s action here. He has already determined the number and will take the Church to its intended destination as soon as it’s reached. But as far as I can tell no one on Earth knows either the full number or the current number. All we can know is that we’ll be raptured when the full number of Gentiles has come in and it could literally happen on any given day. Then we’ll disappear, the blinders will come off Israel and the 70th Week will commence.
Now, back to the topic at hand. What do these two phrases mean and are they intended to discourage speculation about the timing of the Rapture?
Like A Thief In The Night
When you take out the duplications, this phrase appears 4 times in the New Testament. Let’s look at each one and see what it’s telling us.
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. (1 Thes. 5:1-4)
This is Paul’s only use of the phrase. It’s clear He was speaking of the End Times judgments that will bring total destruction upon the unsuspecting world. While this time will come as a surprise to unbelievers, events leading up to it should not surprise us. He made no mention of the Rapture here.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:10)
Here’s Peter’s only use of the phrase, and again the reference is to the End Time Judgments, not to the Rapture.
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (Rev. 3:3)
John used the phrase twice, both times quoting the Lord. In Rev. 3:3 He was criticizing the church in Sardis, which in my opinion represents the mainline Protestants of today. He was reminding them that they’ve gotten away from His word and had better wake up and get back into it. Otherwise they won’t know when He will come to them. Notice the phrase “come to you” at the end of Rev. 3:3. In the Rapture He comes for us, not to us, and we meet Him in the air. The people He’s talking to in Rev. 3:3 will not go in the Rapture, and if they don’t wake up, even the 2nd Coming will take them by surprise. (In verse 4 we see that not everyone in Sardis is asleep. There are a few among them who will be ready for the Rapture and will walk with Him in robes of white.)
“Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.” (Rev. 16:15)
In Rev. 16:15 the world is well into the Great Tribulation, so the Lord’s warning is for Tribulation believers who will be responsible for keeping themselves saved during the most terrifying and dangerous time the world has ever known. When used symbolically, as it is here, clothing always stands for righteousness, and tribulation believers will be responsible for maintaining theirs.
NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR THE HOUR (CONTINUED)
Now we’ll look at that other popular phrase, “No one knows the day or the hour”.
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man“ (Matt. 24:36-37).
Let’s back up a few verses to make sure we have the proper context here. After the Great Tribulation ends (Matt. 24:29) there will be various signs in the heavens. The sun and moon will go dark and the stars will fall from the sky. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear and all the nations will mourn. After that they’ll see Him coming in the clouds with power and great glory (Matt. 24:30). From both the context and the passage itself it’s clear that the day and hour the Lord was referring to in Matt. 24:36-37 is the 2nd Coming .
A few verses later, the Lord repeated the same thought, again in the context of the 2nd Coming.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matt. 24:42-44)
The Lord does not come to break into Satan’s domain at the rapture. He calls us out of it. And another few verses later.
The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 24:50-51)
There’s no way this can refer to the rapture because the things He described will not be done to unbelievers at the rapture. He’s speaking of the judgments that follow the 2nd Coming.
Then, for the fourth time in 28 verses the Lord said that believers on Earth at the time of the 2nd Coming will not know the day or hour of His return.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matt. 25:13)
This one is in the context of the parable of the 10 bridesmaids.
In previous studies I’ve shown that this parable can’t be about the church. The Church is the Bride, not a bridesmaid, there’s only one bride, not 10, and the banquet follows the wedding, it doesn’t precede it. There’s no way a newly married bride could be excluded from her own wedding banquet by a husband who claims he doesn’t know her. The parable is about tribulation survivors, 5 of whom are saved and enter the Kingdom and 5 who are not and don’t.
What’s The Point?
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing”. (2 Tim. 4:8)
I’ve searched the Scriptures in vain trying to find either of the above phrases used in connection with the Rapture. But I can’t find a single verse that does so. As I’ve shown they all point to the Second Coming and they are all directed toward Tribulation survivors, not the Church.
What I did find is that the Lord rebuked the religious leaders of His time for not expecting Him. He criticized the Pharisees for not being able to read the signs of the times (Matt. 16:2-4). We’re admonished to be aware as well. For example, the Lord commanded us to understand Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy (Matt. 24:15). Paul warned us not to let events leading up to the Day of the Lord take us by surprise (1 Thes. 5:4), and as we see above He promised that the Lord would award a crown to those who longed for His appearing. And why shouldn’t we long for His appearing? After all, the rapture of the Church is one of the most exciting things our Creator has ever done for His followers. It’s not for nothing that we call it our blessed hope. Therefore, encourage each other with these words. Selah 09-05-09
STILL MORE ON “NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR THE HOUR”
QUESTION: I have a question about Mark 13:32. If this verse is talking about the second coming, which I agree that it is, why do people apply it to the timing of the rapture? And, if it isn’t talking about the rapture of the church, why COULDN’T we know or be able and allowed to figure out the day and/or hour of the rapture? Thanks so much! May God richly bless you.
ANSWER: I think the phrase “no one knows the day or hour” first became associated with the rapture as part of the post trib rapture position. Now that most people realize that this phrase actually applies to the 2nd Coming, there has to be another reason why the specific timing of the rapture can’t be known in advance. I say specific because the Bible does command us to know the general time, which is before the End times judgments begin.
I have become convinced the reason why we can’t know the actual timing in advance is because the rapture is a number specific event not a date specific one. Romans 11:25 says Israel has been hardened in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in. That means the 70th Week of Daniel can’t begin till after the rapture.
Now don’t get me wrong. God knows exactly when the rapture will occur because He’s already seen it happen. But no one on Earth will be able to predict the date in advance because we can’t see the future. We don’t know what the full number of the Church is, nor do we know how close we are to achieving that number. But as we see conditions being created in Israel for the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38, which will kickoff Daniel’s 70th week, we can tell the time for the rapture is even closer.
QUESTIONS ABOUT NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR THE HOUR
QUESTION: Re: No One Knows The Day Or The Hour I have a couple of questions. I always thought that the tribulation starts with the signing of the peace treaty the anti-christ makes with Israel. Am I wrong? Second, are you saying the Church will be here for the first 3 1/2 years but be gone the last 3 1/2 years? I always thought we would be out of here for the entire 7 years.
ANSWER: What begins with the anti-Christ signing a seven year covenant with Israel is Daniel’s 70th Week (Daniel 9:27). This is incorrectly called the “tribulation period” by some, but you can’t find any Biblical support for that term. The Great Tribulation is the last half of Daniel’s 70th Week and is 3 1/2 years long.
Daniel’s 70th Week begins in Rev. 6 and is also called the time of God’s Wrath (Rev. 6:16-17). The Great Tribulation begins in Rev. 13 after Satan is expelled from Heaven and confined to Earth (Rev. 12:7-9),
In the article I said the rapture will take place before Rev.6 because Romans 5:9 and 1 Thes.1:10 promise that the Church will be rescued from the time and place of God’s Wrath. That means the rapture will precede all of the last seven years.
MORE ON NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR HOUR
QUESTION: When the Lord states that “no man knows the day or hour”, could this possibly be a reference to the Feast of Trumpets/ Rosh Hashanah? This day, from my limited understanding, was celebrated by the first full moon which no one knew exactly when that would be. Men would literally be on “look-out” for the full moon. Depending upon what they saw, determined when the Feast was celebrated. Am I reading too much into this, or is it possibly a hint of when the rapture could occur?
ANSWER: You’re right, Rosh Hashanah is the feast where “no man knows the day or hour”, but it’s celebrated on the new moon, not the full moon. Also every time the Lord used that phrase (Matt. 24:36, 42, 50, Matt. 25:13) He was referring to the 2nd Coming, not the rapture of the Church. This is a clue that perhaps the 2nd Coming will be the prophetic fulfillment of Rosh Hashanah, because immediately after the Great Tribulation ends “the Sun will be darkened and the Moon will not give its light” (Matt. 24:29). Therefore no one will be able to calculate the correct date for Rosh Hashanah in advance.
As for the rapture, there’s no particular day set aside for its fulfillment because it’s a number specific event, not a date specific one. In Romans 11:25 Paul indicated that the Church will depart when it’s predetermined number is complete.