Yesterday, I critiqued the pretribulation belief that claims the revelation (apokalypsis) of Christ will occur, not at the rapture, but when Jesus comes “with his saints” for the battle of Armageddon.
Similarly, pretribulationists make the same claim about the appearing of Christ, that it will not take place at the rapture but at the end of the seventieth week of Daniel at the battle of Armageddon. When Jesus returns to resurrect and rapture the people of God, it is argued that this coming for the church will not be known to the world and thus is a distinct, separate coming from the event of the appearing (epiphaneia) of Christ, which is believed to take place at the end of the seventieth week of Daniel when Jesus comes “with his saints” for the battle of Armageddon.
The word group related to epiphaneia emphasizes the visionary aspect of Jesus’s return. What was physically veiled will be visibly manifested. The term epiphaneia (appearing) means, “to appear to someone or at some place—to appear, appearance, appearing.” In the first-century Greek world, the term was related to a “sudden manifestation of a hidden divinity, either in the form of a personal appearance, or by some deed of power or oracular communication by which its presence is made know.” It has the connotation of a splendid manifestation.
In Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith and pursue righteousness, he orders him, “[O]bey this command without fault or failure until the appearing [epiphaneia] of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 6:14). Paul’s then expects the church to be here on earth when the appearing occurs, contradicting the pretrib belief that it will happen seven years later after the church is raptured. While the appearing of Christ will bring deliverance for the church, Paul links judgment with the appearing: “I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing [epiphaneia] and his kingdom” (2 Tim 4:1). And a few verses further, Paul, in unmistakable terms, instructs the church to look for Jesus’s appearing that will be a time when the Lord will reward the righteous: “Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing [epiphaneia]” (2 Tim 4:8). This verse is problematic for pretribulationism for two reasons. First, just as the other verses teach above, here it also locates the appearing at the time when the church is on earth waiting for the Lord who will return to rapture God’s people, not seven years later. It is also problematic for pretribulationism for the reason that the Lord “will reward the righteous” at the appearing. This contradicts the pretrib belief that the church will be rewarded before the appearing. The apostle Paul only knows of two appearing/comings. The first occurred in his incarnation: “but now made visible through the appearing [epiphaneia] of our Savior Christ Jesus. He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel!” (2 Tim 1:10). And the second, as we saw above, will occur in the future as the church continues to “set their affection on his appearing.”
Timothy is not the only person that Paul exhorts to look for Jesus’s epiphaneia. He writes to Titus, encouraging to “wait for the blessed hope in the glorious appearing [epiphaneia] of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Paul teaches that the church’s blessed hope—which is not the event of the rapture, but simply being with Jesus—will happen at the glorious appearing of our Savior. This will of course occur at the rapture. But contrary to popular pretrib thinking, the blessed hope itself is not the rapture. It is being united with our Savior, Jesus Christ. Further, once again, as we saw with the his letters to Timothy, Paul teaches that the church will be here until the appearing of Christ, or as some English translations render it, “manifestation.”
The final mention of epiphaneia from Paul is the most significant for our purposes. He describes that the Antichrist will be present on earth when the epiphaneia of our Lord takes place: “and then the lawless one [i.e. Antichrist] will be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth and wipe out by the appearing [epiphaneia] of his coming [parousia]” (2 Thess 2:8). The inference is unmistakable: Since Paul teaches that the church will be on earth at the time the epiphaneia begins and since he also teaches that the Antichrist will be on earth at that same time, it follows then that both the church and the Antichrist will be present on earth at the same time. In short, the church will face the Antichrist before the epiphaneia. This confirms what Paul taught a few verses earlier that the church would witness the revelation of the Antichrist (see 2 Thess 2:3). Paul’s teaching contradicts pretribulationism, which teaches that the church will be raptured before the Antichrist arrives. Pretribulationism turns Paul’s explicit statement on its head. It is only when Christ is revealed at his epiphaneia, the church will be delivered out of the hands of the Antichrist. Notice also in 2 Thess 2:8 that Paul uses the term epiphaneia co-referentially with parousia: “by the appearing [epiphaneia] of his coming [parousia].” This reminds us that Paul is not restricted to only one term to describe Jesus’s future return. The biblical writers can use many terms to capture the multifaceted aspects of Christ’s glorious return.
In addition to the noun epiphaneia, the verb form occurs in contexts of Jesus’s return. The Greek verb phaneroō means “to cause to become visible—to make appear, to make visible, to cause to be seen.” The emphasis of the use of this term is on the initial aspect Christ’s return, that radiant manifestation of our Lord in the sky. For example, the apostle John exhorts believers to abide in Christ until he comes back: “And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears [phaneroō] we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back [parousia]” (1 John 2:28). John believes the church will be present on earth at the time Jesus appears and frames it with not being ashamed of his coming (notice John links Jesus’s appearing to the parousia). A few verses later, John teaches that as sinners we will be made pure “just as he is” when he is revealed: “Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed [phaneroō]. We know that whenever it is revealed [phaneroō] we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is” (1 John 3:2). “And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure” (1 John 3:3). This makes no sense in the pretribulation framework since they locate Jesus’s appearing seven years after the rapture! Since believers are purified in their new bodies at the resurrection and rapture and John here states that we will be like Jesus at his appearing, the two events then are not separated by seven years as pretribulationists would have us to think. Rather, the appearing will occur at the rapture.
In the same vein, Paul states, “When Christ (who is your life) appears [phaneroō] then you too will be revealed in glory with him” (Col 3:4). And Peter teaches that the church will be given their crown of glory when Jesus appears: “Then when the Chief Shepherd appears [phaneroō], you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away” (1 Pet 5:4). Incidentally, Peter co-referentially identifies the glorious appearing at the same time as the revelation of Christ: “So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed [apokalyptō], I urge the elders among you” (1 Pet 5:1).
Finally, the adjective form in this word group is epiphanēs, which means, “pertaining to being glorious or wonderful, in view of being conspicuous and self-evident—glorious, wonderful, marvelous.” This term is employed by Luke to contrast the dark celestial disturbances that will announce the day of the Lord: “The sun will be changed to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious [epiphanēs] day of the Lord comes” (Acts 2:20). This is consistent with Jesus who teaches that at some point during the celestial disturbance event (Matt 24:29), the radiance of the sign of the Son of man will pierce through that darkness for the world to see: “For just like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be” (Matt 24:27; cf. 24:28).
The word group epiphaneia, phaneroō, and epiphanēs describe the future dazzling glory-appearing of Christ. The vocabulary portrays, not disconnected events, but complementary actions, providing a stunning, glorious portrayal of Jesus’s return.