Bible Question:

I believe in the pretribulation rapture. Matthew 24:15 refers to the abomination of desolation which I thought occurs in the middle of the tribulation. But I am confused by Matthew 24:30. Does this refer to the rapture or the second coming of Christ? 

Bible Answer:

The key to understanding what is described in Matthew 24:30 is to understand the timeline of Matthew 24. Therefore, we will examine the timeline of Matthew 24 starting at verse 3.

Timeline of Matthew 24

Timeline Of Events Before Christ’s Return

Matthew 24 and Matthew 25 record the Olivet Discourse of Christ. Both chapters together provide an overview of future events. In Matthew 24:3 the disciples asked Christ to describe what will happen in the future and chapters 24 and 25 records Christ’s answer.

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:3 (NASB)

Notice that the disciples are primarily interested in the signs of His coming, or the important events that will occur before the second coming of Christ. Therefore, Matthew 24 is chronological in nature, culminating in Christ’s return. In verse 4 Christ starts to describe events that will occur before His return.

Early Events Before The Middle Of The Tribulation

In verses 4-6 Jesus gives the first signs that will occur before His coming. He states that many will claim to be Christ, but we are not to believe them. That is, some individuals will claim that they are the Christ and He has returned. That has occurred in our times. Verses 5-6 say that even though some will claim to be Christ, we are not to worry because the end has not come yet.  Jesus is describing events prior to His coming. That is, He will not return that soon! Verses 7-14 describe events that must occur first. The major event in the timeline before verse 15 is described in verse 14. It is the spread of the gospel to every nation of the world. Once this occurs, Jesus says, “Then the end will come!”

This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (NASB)

Middle Of The Tribulation – Abomination Of Desolation

Matthew 24:15 is the beginning of the end. In this verse Jesus gives us the first concrete chronological event, which is the abomination of desolation.

Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place ( let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Matthew 24:15-16 (NASB)

The phrase “abomination of desolation” occurs in only one other book of Scripture. It is Daniel 9:27 and Daniel 12:11. Daniel 9:27 states that the abomination of desolation will occur in the middle of the last week of Daniel’s seventy weeks. This last week is called the tribulation period, a period of seven years. For an explanation of Daniel 9:27 and the tribulation read, “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and The Tribulation.”  The study explains why the tribulation is the last week of Daniel’s seventy weeks and is a seven year period.

As a result, Jesus taught the disciples that the middle of the tribulation period was the beginning of the end, three and a half more years of the tribulation will follow. Why is the middle of the tribulation period the beginning of the end? The answer is that the first part of the tribulation is a time of peace, but the last half of the tribulation is a time of desolation. Notice the wording of Daniel 9:27.

And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate. Daniel 9:27 (NASB)

The one who makes the covenant with Israel is the antichrist. It will be a seven year peace treaty. The one who makes the covenant will break the peace treaty and bring desolation on Israel.  This individual is the antichrist according to Daniel 7:21, 25-26; 2 Thessalonians 2:4, 8-10 and Revelation 13:2-7.  For more information about the antichrist, visit “The Evil Messiah.” Also notice the end of verse 27 states that a “complete destruction” will be poured out on the antichrist. According to Daniel 11:45 and Revelation 19:11-21, he is finally destroyed at the battle of Armageddon.

Last half Of The Tribulation

In Matthew 24:16-26 Jesus summarizes what the Israelites will experience during the last half of the tribulation. How do we know this is the last half of the tribulation? Jesus calls it a time of great tribulation in Matthew 24:21.

For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Matthew 24:21 (NASB)

In Jeremiah 30:7 this period of time is called Jacob’s trouble. This time period is summarized in Daniel 9:27 as desolation for Israel. Zechariah 12:1-11 describes some of the horrors that will occur in the last half of the tribulation. Revelation 6 -19 is devoted to a description of the last half or the last 3.5 years of the tribulation period. In Matthew 24:22 we are told that a vast number of people will die. That is, Matthew 24:16-27 is about the last half of the tribulation.

The End Of The Tribulation

In Matthew 24:27 Jesus says that after these events have occurred, His coming occurs next.

 For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Matthew 24:27 (NASB)

Then in Matthew 24:29 Jesus tells us that the tribulation has ended.  This means that Matthew 24:15-29 is a description of the last half of the tribulation.

Second Coming Of Christ

Matthew 24:27, 29 teach us that verse 30 describes Christ’s second coming.

And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. Matthew 24:30-31 (NASB)

In fact, Jesus makes two very important statements that help us understand He is referring to His Second Coming. First, He says that the world will mourn when they see Him in the clouds. This event is described in Zechariah 12:12. Christians will not be mourning at the rapture, but people will be mourning when they see Christ coming at the battle of Armageddon. Second, Christ says that the Son of Man will come on the clouds with power and great glory. Zechariah 14:1-6 describes His coming at the battle of Armageddon and He does come in great power, splitting the Mount of Olives and defeating the nations of the world.

Verse 31 does not describe judgment, but the gathering of Christians in preparation for Christ’s millennial kingdom. This verse summarizes the sheep and goat judgment which He later describes in greater detail in Matthew 25:31-46.  The sheep and goat judgment determines who will be allowed to enter Christ’s millennial kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6). For more information about the sheep and goat judgment visit, “When and where does the Goat and Sheep judgment occur?”

Conclusion:

Therefore, Matthew 24:15-29 describes the events that will occur from the middle of the tribulation to the end of the tribulation (see v. 15 and 29). This means that Christ’ second coming occurs next, which is verses 30 and 31.

Matthew 24:30-31 does not describe the rapture. There are two reasons verses 30-31 do not describe the rapture. First, in verse 30 Jesus says that the nations will mourn His coming. At the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) Christians will be caught up and meet Christ in the clouds. The implication is that the rapture occurs quickly, and Christ will not be seen by the non-Christian world. The second reason Matthew 24:30-31 is not the rapture is that Christ comes in power. Why come in great power to take Christians to heaven? But at the second coming, He descends from heaven with a sword and heavenly armies ready to fight at the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:11-21).

Matthew 24:30-31 describes the second coming of Christ and not the rapture. Verse 31 describes the gathering of Christians who came to faith during the tribulation to join the other believers for Christ’s one thousand year kingdom on earth.

Reference Links:

Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and The Tribulation
The Final Kingdom
Daniel’s Vision of Four Beasts Interpreted - sermon
Our Wait Is Over!
Prophecy of The Future
The Evil Messiah
How can we know who is the antichrist?
The Antichirst: Past & Future
When and where does the Goat and Sheep judgment occur?
Second Coming of Christ