The many schools of thought on the rapture, the resurrections, and the great tribulation confuse many Christians as to when the dead will be raised up. One reason is the attempts to reconcile verses concerning the resurrections with those concerning the rapture, the gathering together.
When we read the verses on the rapture or gathering together, we are looking at a separate event from the resurrections. There will be two resurrections, the resurrection of the just and the resurrection of the unjust, besides the gathering together. We will see these three events will occur at three different times.
The Two Resurrections
Jesus spoke of there being two future resurrections, the resurrection of the just and the resurrection of the unjust. These Jesus foretold, as recorded in the gospel of John.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
The apostle Paul also recognized there would be two resurrections.
But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
The First Resurrection
These two resurrections are two separate occasions. The book of Revelation shows they occur a thousand years apart. The first is not until the great tribulation in the book of Revelation is over.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
This is the resurrection of the just. The just will be raised from the dead and reign with Christ for a thousand years.
The Second Resurrection
After a thousand years have passed, then ?the rest of the dead? will be raised up in the second resurrection, the resurrection of the unjust.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This [verse 4] is the first resurrection.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
The Gathering Together
The third occasion, the rapture or the gathering together, will happen before both of these. These dead will be raised before the resurrections spoken of above. Even before the tribulation.
The Wrath to Come
To help distinguish the gathering together from the resurrections, we will introduce another term describing the tribulation period. That is the word ?wrath.? John the Baptist and Jesus both used this word when speaking of that future tribulation.
Then said he [John] to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;
Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
Although this will be a terrible time for those on earth, we Christians need not fear the coming wrath.
Saved from Sin, Saved from Wrath
Those born again of God?s spirit in the Church age are saved from the wrath. We who accepted the Lord Jesus have accepted him as our substitute for sin. We are justified, delivered from, saved from our sin.
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
The Scriptures plainly teach that we who have accepted Christ shall not go through the tribulation of the future. Paul stated as much in his first epistle to the Thessalonians.
I Thessalonians 1:10?
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
I Thessalonians 5:9-10
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
No Reason to Fear
Despite the assurances in this first epistle, some Thessalonians were still fearful. This was because of those saying, ?The great tribulation is coming soon!? The Thessalonians needed further teaching. Paul addressed these fears in his second epistle.
II Thessalonians 2:1-2
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
Paul assured them that he, Timothy, and Silas were not the source of these teachings that were troubling the church. He then explained why they had no reason to fear.
II Thessalonians 2:3a
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first,
The day of Christ, which includes the wrath, will not come until after ?a falling away.? What is this falling away?
The Falling Away of the Church
Many teach that the falling away refers to a time of rebellion against the church, a time when many will forsake its teachings. That interpretation tends to build fear.
For one thing, it is very nebulous. What exactly constitutes a falling away? How can we measure how close it is? This line of thinking leads to more questions than answers. Only answers bring comfort.
And say, isn?t this the same idea that those troubling the church in Paul?s day were teaching? ?The day of Christ is at hand! We are about to enter the Great Tribulation.? How would that ever bring peace to one shaken and troubled?
Paul was writing this to allay their fears, not increase them. There must be a different understanding of this passage than what some of us have been taught.
The answer is in the translation. The words ?a falling away first? should be translated ?a departure first.?[i] Before the tribulation comes to pass there will be a departure. What departure is that? The gathering together, when the dead believers will be raised and together we shall all depart, all be caught up to be with the Lord. ?So shall we ever be with the Lord.?[ii]
After we are gone, then the events foretold by Jesus and in the book of Revelation will take place. These events will not affect those that accepted Christ, for they will have already departed be with the Lord. Only those that rejected him will face this time of wrath.
II Thessalonians 2:3-4
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away [a departure] first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
We who trust in the Lord Jesus for salvation have no reason to fear. We will not go through the wrath of the Great Tribulation. Before that begins, we will depart to be with him. We will be gathered together to join him in his heavenly places. Only after we leave will that time of tribulation begin.
Then, after the tribulation period, there will be a resurrection of the just. These will live and reign with Christ a thousand years. The resurrection of the unjust will occur after those thousand years are finished.
[ii] I Thessalonians 4:16-18
The picture of the watch at the top of this post is courtesy of Wayne Lougee.