This is one of the biggest misconceptions I hear with prophecy. The Rapture and the Second Coming are often confused, but they are two distinct events on God’s prophetic timeline.
First, the Rapture is when Christ comes back and takes every true Believer that is still on this earth and resurrects all of those saints who have died and takes them to heaven with Him. Paul talking about the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 where he writes: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
The Rapture is God’s protection of His saints from the Tribulation—the seven years of judgment that will then be poured out on earth. There are some who argue the Tribulation period will begin before the Rapture. However, the Bible says that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and I believe the Church will not experience the judgment that God has planned for that time.
Finally, at the end of the seven years, the Bible says Jesus comes back. This is His Second Coming. This time He comes to earth not as a humble child but as the powerful and glorious King of the universe, surrounded by all of His saints. He will gain victory at Armageddon and establish His kingdom on earth.
In short, here are some succinct differences to remember about the two events:
At the Rapture, Jesus comes for His saints. At the Second Coming He comes with His saints.
At the Rapture Jesus doesn’t come all the way to earth. At the Second Coming, His feet touch down on the Mount of Olives and He will reign on earth.
At the Rapture, Jesus comes with a blessing for His saints. At the Second Coming He brings judgment for those who have rejected Him.
The Rapture can happen at any moment, but we know the Second Coming happens seven years later.