Which comes first in the end-time sequence of events—the invasion of Israel or the rapture? Let’s start with Paul’s foundational teaching on the end-times in 1 Thess. 5:1-5, which connects the rapture described in 1 Thess. 4:15-18 with the Day of the Lord.
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.”
We have two pronouns—they and you. Sudden destruction comes upon the “they,” as well as labor pains, and they shall not escape. From other prophetic passages about the end-times, we know the “they” refers to Israel. The “you” are called brethren, sons of the light, and of the Day. That destruction doesn’t overtake the brethren, for they know how that Day comes. The “you” are the believers.
The “thief in the night” aspect of that Day implies that Israel is not expecting it. They’re thinking peace and safety, despite all of the prophets’ warning about the coming of the Day of the Lord upon Israel. The phrase is also a reminder of the final sign Jesus said we would see that signals the end of this age and the coming of the age to come at the Day of the Lord. That is, total celestial darkness across the whole world at once.
So now we have a few Holy Spirit-inspired key phrases that we can use to look for the scriptural connections. Joel was one of the prophets who warned about the coming of the Day of the Lord. Joel 1:15 declares: “Alas for the Day! For the Day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty.” Joel 2 adds that the inhabitants of the land tremble because it is “a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains.”
At first we might assume that Joel is talking about the final sign. But we can’t make assumptions. We have to stick to what we see in the Scriptures. “A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been.” It’s the invasion of the Antichrist and his coalition of Middle Eastern armies invading Israel. No wonder the people writhe as if in labor or birth pains.
These key phrases connect to another prophet’s warning. Jeremiah 30:5-7 also prophesies about this Day. “We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, whether a man is ever in labor with child? So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor, and all faces turned pale? Alas! For that Day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.”
So what we are seeing is the initial invasion of Israel as this age is coming to a close. We know from what Jesus taught in the Olivet Discourse that the final sign we see as this age ends is the celestial signs of darkness in the sun, moon and stars. Not surprisingly, that is exactly what we see next in Joel 2:10.
Verse 11 describes God’s response. We are the camp that executes God’s Word—Christ the Head and His Body as the heavenly immortal government. As the 7th Day dawns, the Day of the Lord, He comes and takes us back to Heaven. We are resurrected and perfected in the rapture, and seated at the throne.
Verse 12 is a call to repentance for His people, the Jews. Having seen Jesus come to gather His Church, the Jews finally recognize Him as the Messiah. Our heavenly declarations now include protection and deliverance for our new brothers and sisters in the Lord. They receive the latter rain outpouring of the Spirit, which turns them into mighty men of valor.
We now have our answer. The initial invasion of the Antichrist comes first. It is halted abruptly when God turns out the lights as the final sign of this age. The age to come dawns with His coming and the rapture. We rule from the throne of God, putting all our enemies underfoot. For the earth is His footstool (Psalm 110:1).