Cosmic Signs Precede the Rapture
Copyright 2010 by Raul E. Lopez, MD, MDiv
Several passages show that the rapture will be preceded by cosmic signs. Just as the first coming of Christ was preceded by a star, it seems likely that his second coming will also be preceded by a star of sorts. Descriptions in Matthew and the apocalypse seem to indicate that this star will be a comet or asteroid which will break up as it approaches the Earth. At least two large fragments will slam into the Earth at high speed producing a spectacular explosion which rains down molten debris over a large part of the Earth and causes an earthquake of historic proportions. John describes this cataclysmic impact using the following words: "hail and fire mingled with blood ... were cast upon the earth" (Revelation 8:7), then something "as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea" (Revelation 8:8), and "there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp and it fell on a third part of the rivers" (Revelation 8:10). A mushroom cloud and a geological shock wave (a hyper quake) accompany the impact. John says "And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places " (Revelation 6:14). Because of the dust from the impact "the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise" (Revelation 8:12). The impact is so violent that it stimulates volcanic activity. This could be caused either by a deep impact crater that is so deep that it punctures the crust and causes a volcanic eruption, or by a concentration of shock wave energy on the "counter coup" point on the side of the world opposite from the impact, causing the crust to rupture, or from the jarring of unstable points in the crust. John says, "and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit" (Revelation 9:1-2). This devastation in the physical realm will also be associated with an unleashing of demonic activity in the spiritual realm.
On the day of Pentecost Peter used as his text a prophecy by Joel which places the cosmic signs before the rapture (Joel 2:30-31; Acts 2:19-20). Peter said:
16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
19 And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:
21 And it shall come to pass, [that] whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:16-21)
He is quoting the prophet Joel who said:
28 And it shall come to pass afterward, [that] I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.
32 And it shall come to pass, [that] whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.
Joel gives a sequence of three events which will occur in the last days. Peter confirms this sequence when he quotes Joel. First, God's spirit will be poured out for a period long enough for there to be prophecy, visions, and dreams. This is the church age which began at Pentecost. Next, God would show signs in the heavens to announce the coming of the day of the Lord. These are the cosmic signs we have been discussing. Finally and thirdly, those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved or delivered before "the great and terrible day of the Lord" (2:28-32.) This salvation is not only that salvation associated with eternal life but, also, the deliverance associated with the rapture of the church.
There are two facts which prove that this third event is the deliverance associated with the rapture of the church. First of all, the word translated salvation can also mean escape or deliverance. It is used of Lot escaping from Sodom (Gen. 19:17.) Notice that in Joel the word is, indeed, translated ‘delivered' by the translators of the King James Version. Secondly, the context demonstrates that the church is the object of this deliverance. Peter says "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, [even] as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). The idea of ‘calling' is intimately associated with the concept of the church. For example, Paul writes "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Romans 8:28-30). It is important to note that ‘ekklesia', the original word for church, means those who are called out. Therefore, the last of these three events must be the rapture of the church.
Peter declared that this passage was a prediction of the events which began at Pentecost. He mentioned the miracles of Christ as some of the signs which would precede the day of the Lord. He told them that this promise of the Holy Spirit and of deliverance was to all those whom God would call, including people in distant lands. He exhorted them to be saved from that wicked generation destined for judgment. Many heeded his exhortation. Peter expected the events surrounding the Lord's return to begin at any moment. As time passed he realized that Christ was delaying the fulfillment of His promise. In his last epistle he amplifies his Pentecost sermon and explains that the delay is caused by the Lord's desire that a great multitude of people be delivered. However, he warns that the day of the Lord and the cosmic upheavals associated with it will still catch many unprepared. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. [Seeing] then [that] all these things shall be dissolved, what manner [of persons] ought ye to be in [all] holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?" (II Peter 3:9-12).
Notice that Peter says that Christians should be looking for the day of God, the same day associated with the cosmic signs "wherein the heavens being on fire . . . ." Even though two terms, the day of the Lord and the day of God are used, there is no justification in the text to interpret them in any way other than as synonyms. I recently listened to a recorded sermon where a highly esteemed fundamentalist pastor preached that it is not the second coming of Christ that Christians are commanded to look for, but the rapture. That statement clearly does not take this passage into account. It is clearly not the pre-tribulational rapture that Peter was commanding these Christians to look for, but the day of God, the one associated with cosmic signs. These signs occur at the end of the great tribulation, so it is the real second coming at the end of the seventieth week that Christians are commanded to look for.
The chronology of Joel and Peter represents a problem fo the pre-tribulational rapture view because it places the appearance of cosmic signs, between Pentecost and the rapture. They try to solve the problem by making this passage refer primarily to people of another dispensation and to Pentecost only by analogy. In other words, Pentecost is a partial intermediate fulfilment of events which will be ultimately fulfilled later. Others say that, Joel was describing events which actually take place during the seventieth week, but, because they are similar to the events associated with Pentecost Peter extracted general principles from this passage which could be applied to the specific events of the day of Pentecost. There is nothing wrong with such a use of scripture, preachers do it all the time. However, this is not what Peter said. Peter emphasized that Pentecost began the actual fulfillment of the whole passage. He said "this IS that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16 emphasis ours.) He treated the whole passage as an interrelated process. This means that the cosmic signs which are described in the passage must take place between Pentecost and the day of the Lord. This places the rapture towards the end of the seventieth week of Daniel.
The accounts in the Olivet discourse and in the Apocalypse follow an identical chronology (Matthew 24:29-31, and Revelation 6:12-7:17) placing cosmic signs before the rapture. The sixth seal which unleashed the cosmic signs follows the fifth seal which describes the multitude of persecuted martyrs in heaven. "And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. (Rev. 6:12-14). In both passages cosmic signs immediately follow the great tribulation (Mt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12-14,) Christ will be visible in heaven (Mt. 24:30; Rev. 6:15-16,) there will be the gathering of the elect and a multitude in heaven (Mt. 24:31; Rev. 7:9-17,) and simultaneously there will be the great sound of a trumpet (Mt. 24:31; Rev. 8:6-7.) It seems very unlikely that so many similar events would be found in juxtaposition to each other in both passages if they did not refer to the same event.
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