What is the difference between the rapture and the second coming?

September 20, 2018
George T. Ferrier

Since three nouns used for Christ’s coming can either refer to the rapture (His descent to the air for His church) or to the second coming (His return to earth with His church), the verse’s context is vital to our understanding.

The first word is parousia (G3952) meaning “presence,” signifying both the Lord’s arrival and His ensuing presence 1. In the secular world, a parousia was the coming of an important person, such as a king or emperor 2. Used for the rapture (1 Thess. 2:19; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1; Jas. 5:7-8; 1 Jn. 2:28) it affirms the King of King’s intent to be bodily present with His church (Jn. 14:3; 17:24). Since Christ’s imminent return could suddenly thrust us into His presence, John exhorts us to faithfulness so we are not ashamed in His presence (1 Jn. 2:28). Used for Christ’s second advent (Mt. 24:27; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 2:8; 2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4), His coming is compared to lightning in its suddenness and worldwide visibility (Mt. 24:27), after which His bodily presence will be known all over the earth.

The next is apokalupsis (G602) meaning “revealing” or “unveiling.” This word signifies not only seeing 3, but also the unveiling of the One we are seeing. Used only once for the rapture (1 Cor. 1:7), the church eagerly waits for Christ to reveal His person and glory to us for then we will be glorified and morally pure (1 Jn. 3:2). Used for His second coming (2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7, 13; 4:13) this word denotes the revealing of His person and glory to the world, when every eye, both friend and foe, shall observe and understand Who He is (Rev. 1:7). His glory will identify Him and the Lord “Jesus Christ will be recognized as Lord of the universe.” 4

A related word is epipháneia (G2015), meaning “shining forth” or “appearing.” 5 In the Old Testament, the pre-incarnate Son appeared in various ways (Ex. 3:2; 40:36), including human form (Gen 18:2; 32:24). Later in His incarnation, He appeared in veiled glory (Phil. 2:7). But someday, He will appear as He now is – one Person shining forth as eternal Son and glorified Man. Used for the rapture, it will fulfill the Lord’s prayerful desire that we behold His glory (Jn. 17:24). Therefore, Paul exhorts us to confidently expect Christ’s appearing and glory (Titus 2:13), to maintain a good testimony until His appearing (1 Tim. 6:14) and promises a crown of righteousness to all who long for Christ’s appearing (2 Tim. 4:8). Used for His second advent, Paul forecasts the destruction of the Antichrist by the appearance or brightness of His coming (2 Thess. 2:8).

Key features of the rapture and second coming:

In summary, Christ’s presence, revelation, and appearance will be known by the church at the rapture, while later at the second coming it will be known by the whole earth.

1.. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. Publishers, 1985)
2. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006)
3. Complete Word Study Dictionary (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2013)
4. Mounce, op. cit.
5. Vines, op. cit.

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