The Origin of the Two-Stage Advent

Bruce Terry

In trying to decide whether or not a particular teaching is really Biblical it is often helpful to know where it came from. Is it something that the Bible teachers have generally agreed upon or is it a relatively new teaching? Of course, the final test of any teaching is what the Bible itself says, but knowing the origin of a particular interpretation will help us to guard against reading a doctrine into the Bible text.

A good example of what I am saying is found in the origin of the teaching regarding a two-stage second coming of Christ. I am referring to the idea that Jesus may come at any moment to raise the righteous dead and secretly rapture the saints, but then he will turn around and take them back to heaven for a seven-year wait before the real second coming. This is sometimes referred to as a two-stage second coming: once "for his saints" and a second time "with his saints."

Today this is quite a popular doctrine regarding the second coming. It has been widely advocated by many books on the market, including Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth. It is taught in the footnotes of the Scofield Reference Bible (it is not taught in the text of that Bible or any Bible). Its editor, C. I. Scofield, obtained his teaching from the Brethren Movement in Britain. The doctrine was formulated by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), a leader among the Brethren, in the early 1830's. A similar teaching was developed at the same time in the Catholic Apostolic Church under the leadership of Edward Irving (1792-1834). These facts are documented in Dave MacPherson's The Unbelievable Pre-trib Origin (published by Heart of America Bible Society, Inc., 5528 Lydia St., Kansas City, Mo. 64110).

Even more interesting, however, is the documentation in his book regarding the original source of the two-stage second coming doctrine. It seems that in the early months of 1830, a teenage lass in Port Glasgow, Scotland named Margaret Macdonald had a "revelation." This revelation was "in mingled prophecy and vision." In it she saw a secret rapture which would precede the revealing of the Lawless One referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10. This revelation was recorded by a British clergyman named Robert Norton (1807-1883).

On page 15 of his The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets; In the Catholic Apostolic Church, Norton says, "here we first see the distinction between that final stage of the Lord's coming, when every eye shall see him, and his prior appearing in glory to them that look for him." And it is interesting to note that not only was there much communication between members of the Catholic Apostolic Church and the Macdonald household, but also John Darby of the Brethren visited in the Macdonald household in 1830. Within a year Darby was advocating the two-stage second coming with its secret rapture.

Jesus is coming again! But when he does come it will be no secret. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says his descent will be "with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God." Revelation 1:7 says every eye will see him." And the rapture will not precede the revelation of the Lawless One. 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 3 tells us "concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him": "that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed." Which will you believe? The plain statement of scripture, or a "revelation" of a Scottish lass in 1830? Yes, Jesus is coming again! Are you ready?

Box 14, Valley View, TX 76272 [not current address]

This article orginally was published as:

Terry, Bruce. 1977. Origin of the Two Stage Advent. Firm Foundation 94 (Aug. 30): 8 [552].

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