The rapture and the second coming of Christ are often confused. Sometimes it is  difficult to determine whether a scripture verse is referring to the rapture or  the second coming. However, in studying end-times Bible prophecy, it is very  important to differentiate between the two.

The rapture is when Jesus  Christ returns to remove the church (all believers in Christ) from the earth.  The rapture is described in 1  Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1  Corinthians 15:50-54. Believers who have died will have their bodies  resurrected and, along with believers who are still living, will meet the Lord  in the air. This will all occur in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye. The  second coming is when Jesus returns to defeat the Antichrist, destroy evil, and  establish His millennial kingdom. The second coming is described in Revelation  19:11-16.

The important differences between the rapture and  second coming are as follows:

1) At the rapture, believers meet  the Lord in the air (1  Thessalonians 4:17). At the second coming, believers return with the Lord to  the earth (Revelation  19:14).

2) The second coming occurs after the great and terrible  tribulation (Revelation chapters 6–19). The rapture occurs before the  tribulation (1  Thessalonians 5:9; Revelation  3:10).

3) The rapture is the removal of believers from the earth as  an act of deliverance (1  Thessalonians 4:13-17, 5:9). The second coming includes the removal of  unbelievers as an act of judgment (Matthew  24:40-41).

4) The rapture will be secret and instant (1 Corinthians  15:50-54). The second coming will be visible to all (Revelation 1:7; Matthew  24:29-30).

5) The second coming of Christ will not occur until after  certain other end-times events take place (2  Thessalonians 2:4; Matthew  24:15-30; Revelation chapters 6–18). The rapture is imminent; it could take  place at any moment (Titus 2:131  Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1  Corinthians 15:50-54).

Why is it important to keep the  rapture and the second coming distinct?

1) If the rapture and  the second coming are the same event, believers will have to go through the  tribulation (1  Thessalonians 5:9; Revelation  3:10).

2) If the rapture and the second coming are the same event,  the return of Christ is not imminent—there are many things which must occur  before He can return (Matthew  24:4-30).

3) In describing the tribulation period, Revelation  chapters 6–19 nowhere mentions the church. During the tribulation—also called  “the time of trouble for Jacob” (Jeremiah  30:7)—God will again turn His primary attention to Israel (Romans  11:17-31).

The rapture and second coming are similar but separate  events. Both involve Jesus returning. Both are end-times events. However, it is  crucially important to recognize the differences. In summary, the rapture is the  return of Christ in the clouds to remove all believers from the earth before the  time of God’s wrath. The second coming is the return of Christ to the earth to  bring the tribulation to an end and to defeat the Antichrist and his evil world  empire.