The Glorious Appearing of Christ – Rapture or Revelation?

Dr. Mike Johnston

What did Paul mean when he wrote: Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing (epipháneia) of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13)? Our discussion here is from two opposing camps that have formed to answer that question. One believes the glorious appearing (epipháneia) refers to the Lord’s return for His church body before the seven year tribulation which is known as the Rapture (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9); while the other group teaches that the glorious appearing (epipháneia) is the Revelation when Christ returns with His church to set up His kingdom following the tribulation (Matt. 24:21, 29-31).[1] While both the Rapture and the Revelation certainly will be spectacularly glorious events in the eyes of their respective audiences, we believe there are at least 5 problems associated with suggesting that Titus 2:13 features a post tribulation- πιφάνεια- appearance of Jesus Christ.

First: there is a Linguistic problem

When interpreting a passage of Scripture, hermeneutics becomes the default enemy of conjecture in that it demands that each passage be viewed from the perspective of the author and the audience. Our opponents imply that the use of “glorious appearing” automatically defines the blessed hope of Titus 2:13 as a post tribulation Revelation of Jesus Christ (Matt. 24:29; Rev. 19:11). However, when the collective usage is studied contextually, this theory collapses. To begin with, the Greek word is ἐπιφάνεια – ep-if-an’-i-ah which Strong defines as “a manifestation . . . the advent of Christ” doesn’t suggest or demand a particular timeframe but rather allows for it to happen when it will.

In order to understand this better, we’ll briefly survey the 3 distinct usages of πιφάνεια as they are associated with Christ’s appearing: at Redemption, at the Rapture, and at the Revelation (2 Thess. 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; 4:1,8; Titus 2:13).

  • The Redemption epipháneia: The Lord Jesus appeared as a Babe in a manger some 2000 years ago: But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: (2 Timothy 1:10). (See also Titus 2:11; 3:4)
  • The Rapture (Pre-trib) epipháneia: We believe the Lord Jesus will appear before the tribulation to rescue His body- the church- which is our blessed hope. [2] The following verses provide additional proof texts for a pre trib rapture. Attempting to view any of them from a post tribulation setting dismantles the argument before it begins. My comments are included in [brackets].

    That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:14). [If this is post trib, keeping commands would only be part of a Christian’s duty along with earning a living, buying and selling, and protecting themselves from martyrdom, which Paul never mentions anywhere]

    Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8) [If this appearing is post tribulation, who in their right mind wouldn’t love it and long for it?]

    Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (Titus 2:13; cp 1 John 3:2-3) [If this is post trib, we wouldn’t be looking for Christ until the appearance of Antichrist, the mark of the Beast, and 7 years of chaos and catastrophes in the Middle East and specifically in Jerusalem]

The Revelation (Post-Trib) epipháneia: I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; (2 Timothy 4:1). [Regarding 2 Timothy 4:1, the Believer’s Bible Commentary by Dr. William MacDonald provides this: “In this verse, the Lord Jesus is spoken of as the One who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom. The English word “at” might suggest that when the Savior returns to earth to set up His kingdom, there will be a general resurrection and a general judgment. But in the original the Greek word kata literally means “according to” or “in accordance with”. Christ’s appearing and His kingdom are presented by Paul as motives for faithful service. The believer’s service will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but these rewards will be manifested at Christ’s appearing and His kingdom. For instance, those who have been faithful will rule over ten cities -Luk_19:17]. Other Revelation verses to study: (Isa. 66:15-18; Zech. 14:1-4; 2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:11-21)

Second: there is a Jewish problem

PMI Bible Study Methodology includes an important rule of Bible interpretation: Israel and the church are NOT the same. Israel exists from prophecy; the church from the revelation of the mystery the prophets didn’t receive. From the “law of first mention” we learn the coming tribulation- as an eschatological doctrine- is for Israel (Deut. 4:30), and every reference studied in context from that point onward follows that progressive path through the OT, past the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24) and into the Revelation (Rev. 7:14). Our reference here to “the tribulation” is predicated upon the doctrinal teaching that there is a coming 7 year period (Dan. 9:24-27) whereby God will punish the world while preparing and purifying Israel for the return of Christ to set up the promised Davidic Covenant Kingdom (2 Sam. 7:16) for 1000 years in Jerusalem (Isa. 52; Hos. 3; Zech. 12; Rev. 20:1-7). The tribulation/great tribulation occurs in conjunction with the day of the Lord (Isa. 2:12; 13:6-9; 34:8; Joel 2; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10), a time of trouble (Dan. 12:1), and the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7); and Jacob is Israel (Gen 32:28). It will include the worldwide worship of Satan through his incarnated son Antichrist who will require a full allegiance to his Beast kingdom by receiving a mark in the right hand or forehead permitting them to buy or sell (Rev. 13:16).

As stated, the entire scope of the tribulation is punishment for sin and preparation for the Kingdom. This is the period Christ outlined in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21) and that is described in Revelation 6-19 as yet future. While there is ample Biblical support for the pre-trib Rapture of the church- created in mystery (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:3) that will disappear in a mystery (1 Cor. 15:51), there isn’t a verse anywhere in the Bible clearly placing the church here during any part of Daniel’s seventieth week (the tribulation period) without redefining and reassigning words clearly attributable to Israel (elect- cp Isa. 45:4 w/Matt. 24:22; saint- cp Dan. 7:18-27 w/Rev. 13:7). Therefore, since the church is not implicated in the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7), Paul could not have meant that the blessed hope would be the post-trib Revelation where Christ comes to set up His Kingdom.

Third: there is a Pauline problem

Consigning the church to the tribulation is completely out of character for Paul who continually expressed the element of imminence in the return of the Lord Jesus (see 1 Cor. 1:7; Phil 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Thess. 3:5; Titus 2:13). If he meant the blessed hope to be post trib, he did so completely out of sync with all of his other writings. Therefore we conclude the only support for placing the church here for any portion of the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7) is agenda driven speculation and not in any manner Pauline.

Fourth: there is a Contextual problem

There is no blessed hope in being consigned to the tortures of the coming tribulation and almost certain martyrdom, perhaps by beheading (Rev. 20:4). The fact is, the time of Jacob’s trouble (tribulation) will be the most fearfully violent time in the history of the world. Estimates range as high as 2/3 of the population will be murdered by Antichrist or else perish in supernatural disasters [Read Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; and Revelation 6-19]. That being said, if the church is supposed to be here during this barbarous epoch, why didn’t our Apostle Paul exhort believers to hide from the Antichrist like Christ told the Jews (Matt. 24:16), or avoid the mark of the Beast like John did? Let me answer that. Because the church will not be her during the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7).

Fifth: there is a Contradiction problem

Read the following verses, carefully noting that we return with Christ at the Revelation: For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? (1 Thess. 2:19) (See also Col. 3:4)

To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints (1 Thess. 3:13)

And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, (15)  To execute judgment upon all . . . (Jude 1:14-15  See also 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Rev. 19:11-14)

How can we be on earth to watch for the glorious appearing when we are promised we’ll be with Christ when He is revealed? It is a total contradiction of Scripture and along with the other 4 problems must be rejected.

[1] He returns with all of His saints (1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; Jude 1:14-15; Rev. 19:11-14) to judge between the sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31-34) and set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem (Rev. 19:11, see Zech. 14)

[2] You may want to order our literature: Introduction to Rapture Apologetics, and Things that are Different.

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