How Many Second Comings? Part 1

By Tim Warner ©

Dr. Thomas Ice, of the Pretrib Research Center, argued that differences in terminology in various second coming passages require a separate pretribulation rapture, distinct from the second coming. 1

Ice began with a discussion of what pretribulationists really need to prove. Not surprisingly, he sets the bar for his side extremely low.

“The pretribulationist must show that there is enough dissimilarity between clear rapture and clear second advent passages as to warrant the claim that the two kinds of passages could be speaking about two events which could occur at different times. The pretribulationist does not have to prove at this point . . . that the two events must occur at different times, but only that the exegetical data from rapture and second advent passages do not make it impossible for the events to occur at different times.If he can do that, the pretribulationist has shown that his view is not impossible.And, he has answered the posttribulationist’s strongest line of evidence.”

The burden of proof established here by Ice, even if met, would merely make pretribulationism possible but not proven or even probable. That really doesn’t go very far in proving pretribulationism, or disproving posttribulationism. But, even if we allow such a low burden of proof, and if pretribulationists need to show “only that theexegetical data from rapture and second advent passages do not make it impossible for the events to occur at different times,” they are already in trouble in several major passages. Posttribulationists have frequently pointed out that the “first resurrection” is in a posttribulation context in Rev. 20, making another resurrection seven years earlier impossible.

The “last trumpet” is associated with the rapture in 1 Cor. 15, making it impossible for this to occur 7 years before the great trumpet blown by Christ to gather His elect “immediately after the tribulation” in Matt. 24:29-31. The hope of relief from persecution is connected to the posttribulation event in 2 Thess. 1:4-10. And Paul wrote that at least two major events (one being the abomination of desolation) must occur before the rapture in 2 Thess. 2:1-3.

Yet, when presented with these hard evidences, which “make it impossible for the events to occur at different times,” pretribulationists typically argue for two “last trumpets,” and two “first resurrections,” or bend the language in such a way as to force it to accommodate their view. One could argue that the cosmic disturbances (sun and moon darkened) occur twice at different times, as some pretribulationists also do, in order to escape the problem of a posttribulation “Day of the Lord.” If one is willing to take these kinds of liberties with the text, then it might be possible to meet the very low burden of proof that Ice has set for himself.

To his credit, in the rest of his article, Ice set out to do more than just show pretribulationism as a possibility. He set out to show that separating the rapture from the second coming is demanded by the evidence. His method was to point out alleged differences between the rapture and the second coming. Most of his arguments are based on certain details mentioned in a “rapture” passage that are not mentioned in a particular “second coming” passage. This is an argument from silence. He assumed that if something is not mentioned in a particular passage, it could not have occurred during that event.

But, using precisely the same logic, one could argue that the synoptic Gospels and John present two different Jesus Christ’s because the accounts are substantially different. John includes many things not mentioned in the synoptic Gospels, and they mention things that are missing from John. Yet, merely looking for differences in two accounts does not indicate that they are referring to different things or events UNLESS the accounts are mutually exclusive. That is, if the details of one account are impossible to harmonize with the details of another account, only then can it be said with any certainty that the accounts are describing two different things or events. Therefore, the burden of proof Thomas Ice really needs to meet is to show that the “rapture” and “second coming” are mutually exclusive, and cannot be harmonized into a single event.

Since both pretribulationists and premillennial posttribulationists agree on the general framework (that Scripture teaches Christ’s second coming after a future tribulation and gathering of Jesus’ elect at that time {cf. Matt. 24:29-31}), the burden of proof is on the pretribulationists to show:

  1. That Scripture clearly indicates ANOTHER coming of Christ before the second coming, or
  2. That Scripture demands, by mutually exclusive statements, the separation of the rapture from the second coming by a distinct period of time

While we can accept the possibility that certain things were kept secret or were not understood in ancient times, (as many pretribulationists say of their secret rapture), if this argument is employed, we need to see the POINT OF INTRODUCTION of the new (allegedly secret) concept in the progressive revelation of Scripture. It is not enough to show that the rapture COULD BE a distinct event not related to the second coming. We are attempting to discover what the prophetic Scriptures TEACH, not what the prophetic Scripture could permit or allow, if we turn them every which way but loose! The Scriptures PERMIT the idea that the other planets are inhabited by people too.

But, who is going to say that the Bible TEACHES such a thing? Therefore, even if we grant the possibility of the rapture being a “mystery” in the Old Testament, or even during Christ’s earthly ministry, such a “mystery” must have been revealed at some point in time to the Church. And if so, there should be a clear explanation in the New Testament of what was once hidden. And, there must be a point of INTRODUCTION of the revelation of such a “mystery.”

Therefore, the burden of proof that pretribulationists must meet is to show that Scripture DEMANDS a pretribulation rapture distinct and prior to the events of the second coming and the tribulation. Ice also needs to identify the point in time when this new revelation emerged into the body of Christian teaching.

Ice cites the Trinity doctrine as being derived exclusively from inferences in another attempt at lowering the bar for his side. True enough, the Trinity is developed largely from inferences. However, the inferences that point to the Trinity are necessary inferences, even though the entire doctrine is not explicitly taught in one single passage. What Ice and other pretribulationists must do is show that the Scriptures TEACH a pretribulation rapture. This can be done in either of two ways.

First – explicitly, by plain statements of Scripture that the rapture is before the tribulation, or before any specific event that we know occurs during the tribulation. (Well known pretribulationists have already conceded that they cannot do this).

Second – implicitly, by showing that the rapture and second coming each contain details that are mutually exclusive (that cannot be harmonized).

Simply showing that the rapture and second coming COULD occur at different times proves nothing at all, and should convince no thinking person of anything. Further, in order to meet this burden, one must deal with the second coming passages exhaustively. While someone might pick and choose a couple of passages, that when compared, could permit a pretribulation rapture, if there are ANY passages at all that demand that the rapture is a part of the second coming, then pretribulationism must fall.

An additional “coming” of Christ, that they admit is nowhere taught in Old Testament prophecy, is a radical alteration of, or addition to, the progressive prophetic revelation of Scripture from Genesis to Malachi. If their pretribulation rapture is nowhere taught in the Old Testament, then they need to show where it is explicitly taught in the New Testament. Merely relying on inference regarding such an important doctrine illustrates the weakness of their case to begin with. But, if they are going to attempt to make their case from inferences alone, those inferences had better be air-tight. That is, each inference must be DEMANDED by the context. Otherwise, when all is said and done, they have proven nothing at all.

Ice claims that posttribulationists are in the same boat, having to rely exclusively on inferences. He writes, “Posttribulationists often contend that the pretribulation position is built merely built upon an assumption that certain verses ‘make sense’ if and only if the pretribulation model of the rapture is assumed to be correct. However, they often fail to make it clear to their readers that they are just as dependent upon assumptions as they say pretribulationists are. Their error stems from failure to observe actual biblical distinctions.”

Ice is simply incorrect here. Not only can posttribulationists give explicit teaching (using the grammatical – historical {literal} hermeneutic) that the rapture is posttribulational, but we can also give direct explicit teaching that precludes the possibility of a pretribulation rapture. Now that is setting the bar much higher for posttribulationists than Ice has done for pretribulationists! We have already provided the evidence for this in our first section, “Answers RE: the Rapture.”

Arguments from Silence

When comparing Scripture with Scripture, Ice’s repeated reliance on an “argument from silence” is not a valid proof of anything. “Mutual exclusivity” is the only valid way to prove the kind of dichotomy Ice is seeking to show between the rapture and second coming.

An “argument from silence,” when comparing two passages, assumes that since one account leaves out something included in another account, the two accounts must be speaking of different things or events. But, this conclusion is illogical. Take two independent witnesses to a crime for example. When interviewed separately, would we expect both witnesses to reveal precisely all the same details? Would we conclude that because one witness’ account had details not included in the other’s, and vice versa, that they witnessed two different crimes? Of course not. Let’s suppose one witness said that the perpetrator of a robbery wore blue jeans and sun glasses. The other witness said he had on a tee-shirt and tennis shoes. Are we forced to conclude that these are different crimes? No. All of these details COULD be true of the same person. The differences between the two accounts are easily explained by the fact that each witness observed or remembered different details, or saw things from a different perspective. Yet this is precisely the kind of argument Ice repeatedly used in his attempt to isolate the rapture from the second coming.

Mutual exclusivity” is quite different. This kind of argument says that if the details of one account cannot be harmonized with the details of the other, then logically we must

conclude that the events are different events. Let’s take our above example. Two people witness a robbery. One witness says the perpetrator was a black male with a gun, who drove away in a blue Nissan pickup truck. The other witness says it was a white male with a knife, who rode off on a bicycle. With these details, we should probably conclude that these two witnesses did not witness the same crime. Since one witness said the perpetrator was a black male, and the second witness said he was a white male, these details are mutually exclusive (each excludes the other). He cannot be both. The same applies to the weapon and the getaway vehicle. Mutual exclusivity is a way to implicitly prove something. An argument from silence proves nothing at all.

Before we address the specific issues Ice has raised, let’s test these two approaches on a few rapture – second coming passages. First, compare two passages that both Ice and myself agree are posttribulation second coming passages, Matt. 24:29-31 and Rev. 19. In Matthew, we have “the sign of the Son of Man” appearing in the heavens. Nothing of the kind is mentioned in Rev. 19. We have Christ’s sounding the trumpet, and dispatching His angels to gather Jesus’ elect. Nothing like this can be found in Rev. 19. Conversely, in Rev. 19, we have Christ dressed in a garment dipped in blood, riding a white horse, with His army (probably angelic) in tow also dressed in white and on horseback. Nothing of the kind can be found in Matt. 24.

If we apply Ice’s argument from silence to these passages, we are forced to conclude that Matt. 24:29-31 occurs at a different time, and is completely distinct from the coming to battle in Rev. 19! But, Matt. 24:29 explicitly states that this coming occurs “immediately after the tribulation.” And, Rev. 19 chronologically places that coming immediately after the tribulation. What we have done here is TESTED Ice’s method on a control group. This is the scientific method of testing a test to make sure the test is valid. It is done by applying the test to a situation where the correct results are already known beforehand. If the test results agree with what is already known beforehand, then that test COULD BE a valid test. If it fails in the control group, then it is NOT a valid test, and must be discarded. Any results gained from using a test that has failed when applied to a control group will be unreliable at best.

In our above test, we already knew that our control group of two passages both refer to Christ’s posttribulation coming. If applying the test to those passages gave the same result, then the test could be valid. In this case, the test indicated that they are two completely different comings of Christ. Therefore, Ice’s argument from silence is not a valid test. That leaves the mutual exclusivity test as the only valid way for Ice to show that the rapture occurs at a different time than the second coming.

When we use the mutually exclusivity test on the same two passages, what are the results? Do any of the details given in Matt. 24:29-31 preclude the details given in Rev. 19? No, not one. Even though there are several things unique to each passage, both can be harmonized together with all of their details intact. We can combine the two accounts into a “harmony” just as we combine the four Gospels into a “Harmony of the Gospels.” In this case, the scenario would go something like this: The sun and moon are darkened. The sign of the Son of Man appears in the sky. Heaven opens, Jesus and His army of angels descend to the atmosphere of the earth riding on white horses.

When they arrive in the clouds, Jesus sounds the trumpet, and the army of angels fan out to “gather together His elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of heaven to the uttermost part of the earth.” All the tribes of the earth mourn as they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Jesus then begins His descent to the Mount of Olives, and destroys the Antichrist and his armies. While the two accounts are quite dissimilar, they are NOT mutually exclusive. Therefore, since the results of the mutual exclusivity test agrees with what we already know to be true about these two passages (both are descriptions of Christ’s posttribulation coming), our “mutual exclusivity” test passes as a potentially reliable test. Both passages are speaking of the same coming of Christ, and our test shows the same result.

Let’s do a similar test on two passages that we all agree are “rapture” passages, 1 Cor. 15:50-54 & 1 Thess. 4:13-18. The result is known. Both passages speak of the same coming. In 1 Cor. 15, the resurrection of the body and changing of the living saints into incorruptible bodies are explicitly mentioned. Yet, there is no hint of the “translation” (catching up) of the saints, described in 1 Thess. 4. There are other notable differences as well. 1 Thess. 4 mentions the descent of the Lord, and the shout of Michael, neither of which are mentioned in 1 Cor. 15. Using Ice’s argument from silence, we would be forced to conclude that 1 Cor. 15 is speaking of a different coming than 1 Thessalonians 4!

But what of the fact that both passages make specific mention of the resurrection of the saints? Does that not connect the passages? Yes it does. But, the posttribulation coming is specifically said to have a resurrection too. So, any use of similarities to connect the passages also indicates that clear posttribulation passages are speaking of the same coming, too. The results of this test are the same as our comparison of Matt. 24 & Rev. 19. The mutual exclusivity test gives the results we know to be true, and the argument from silence once again fails to agree with the known results.

We must decide whether to connect these passages based on their similarities or else distinguish them based on their distinctive features. Just what should our rule be? Here’s the rule that passes all of our control group tests. If different accounts of Christ’s coming do not contain any details that are mutually exclusive, there is no reason to distinguish them as different events. We should assume they are the same UNLESS “mutual exclusivity” demands otherwise.Unless Dr. Ice employs this test alone in his attempt to distinguish the rapture from the second coming, his results mean nothing. Appealing to an argument from silence is meaningless.

This rule works fine in our control groups, is perfectly logical, and is therefore a valid rule. It works well for harmonizing 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Thess. 4 as both referring to the “rapture.” It also works fine with our first “control group” when we compared Matt. 24 & Rev. 19. The problem for pretribulationists is this: When we consistently apply the only legitimate rule for determining whether two passages refer to the same event, that same rule also indicates that the rapture and second coming are not to be distinguished. There are no details given in an acknowledged “rapture” passage that are not compatible with details of any acknowledged “second coming” passages. All of these can be harmonized into a single account, taking into consideration every detail of every passage. I realize that some might be skeptical of such a bold claim. But, I assure you, if there were incompatible details, Dr. Ice, the executive director of the Pretrib Research Center, would have pointed them out. As any intelligent person would do when presenting their case, we would expect Dr. Ice to put forward his strongest arguments.

Go to How Many Second Comings? Part 2


1. Ice, Thomas, Pretribulation Perspectives Article, THE RAPTURE AND THE SECOND COMING: AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION.

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