Without the way out mentioned in Luke 21:36, it would be impossible to understand many passages of the Bible. The rapture is a hidden thing, because the Bible says that the Lord will come as a thief (Matt. 24:43; 1 Thes. 5:4). This means that the Lord’s coming is hidden and is not open. But then, on the other hand, the Bible says that we should not let the day come upon us as a thief, which means that the Lord’s coming is open. On the one hand, it is hidden, and on the other hand, it is open. How can we explain this if there are not two comings of the Lord? How can we reconcile these two groups of Scriptures unless a small number of believers are raptured before the tribulation and the majority of them are raptured after the tribulation?
In addition to these verses, Revelation 12:5 speaks of being caught up to the throne of God. Revelation 14:3 says that these ones are before the throne. Luke 21:36 says that they will be placed before the Son of Man. All these refer to a rapture to heaven. But there are also other verses that speak of being raptured to the air. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says "to meet the Lord in the air," and Matthew 25:10 says, "The bridegroom came; and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast." This also happens in the air. The harvest in Revelation 14:14-16 also takes place in the air. If the rapture all takes place before the tribulation, or all after the tribulation, how can these two groups of verses be explained? Therefore, it is indeed a biblical teaching to say that a minority of the believers will be raptured before the tribulation, whereas the majority of them will be raptured after the tribulation. Otherwise, it would be impossible to explain many verses.
Moreover, the Bible says that no one knows the day of the coming of Christ. But at the same time, the Bible also says that the day of the coming of Christ can be known. On the one hand, it says that Christ will come at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, at the blowing of the last trumpet. On the other hand, it says, "concerning that day and hour, no one knows" (Matt. 24:36) and "at an hour when you do not expect it, the Son of Man is coming" (v. 44). If there is only one rapture, how can you not know His coming? Since the Bible has said that He will come at the blowing of the seventh trumpet, you can find out the time of Christ’s coming by counting three and a half years from the time Antichrist begins sitting in Jerusalem. Why then does the Bible say that concerning that day and hour, no one knows? This means that some will be raptured before the tribulation, because no one knows the time of the rapture before the tribulation. But anyone can find out the time of the rapture after the tribulation. I dare not say that there are only two raptures. But I can say that according to the Bible, there is such a distinction in the rapture. On the one hand, it cannot be known, but on the other hand, it can be known. On the one hand, it is hidden, but on the other hand, it is open. On the one hand, men cannot see it, but on the other hand, many can see it. If we have any prejudice, it will be impossible for us to interpret these verses.
ANSWERS TO THOSE PROPOSING
THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE
AND THOSE PROPOSING
THE POST-TRIBULATION RAPTURE
Those who oppose having different kinds of raptures have their reasons also. But let us consider if their reasons are valid.
A. The First Answer
Our friends say that the rapture of the church cannot be divided into separate times; there can be only one rapture because the church is the Body of Christ, and if there is more than one rapture, it would be divided up into pieces. How can the Body of Christ be divided up?
However, we know that the Body of Christ is a metaphorical expression. Its main significance is that there is only one life. It does not mean that this Body is physically connected together like our physical body. If it means that, then the Body of Christ is divided today. Christ the Head is in heaven, while we the Body are on earth. Does this not mean that there is already a division? Some believers have died. Does this not also mean a division? Some believers have not been born. Does this not also mean a division? If the difference in the time of rapture will divide the Body of Christ, these separations that we have mentioned have already divided the Body of Christ. Can such an argument be valid?
B. The Second Answer
Our friends argue that the rapture is a part of redemption. Romans 8:23 says, "Eagerly awaiting sonship, the redemption of our body." If it is part of redemption, then it is grace. If the redemption of the body is by grace, then there should not be one group being raptured first and another group left behind.
However, please remember that the rapture is not the redemption of the body; it is something apart from the redemption of the body. The rapture has to do with God’s grace. In fact, everything is a matter of grace. Yet the rapture is with a condition. There are only two books that speak about the position of the church. They are Colossians and Ephesians. In these two books the highest point the church has attained is death, resurrection, and ascension. Is the rapture mentioned? No, it is not mentioned. Before the rapture, there is the need for transfiguration. Resurrection is a grace of God, but the rapture is not. It is significant that Colossians and Ephesians do not mention the rapture. Do the four Gospels mention the rapture as a grace? No, they do not.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 19: Notes on Scriptural Messages (3), Chapter 9, by Watchman Nee)