1 Timothy 6:13-14
I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, NASB
This passage, with the surrounding verses, shows us a different feature of the first phase of His coming. We normally think of the rapture as a secret and quiet coming; however, here, with the term, “the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” His coming seems to be quite visible and dramatic. And this is why many, if not most scholars say that this passage is indicating the second phase of His coming.
However, I hold that this passage is teaching the first phase of His coming for the following reasons:
1. The context is a rapture context and is very similar to other rapture verses. In 1 Timothy 6:11-14, Paul encourages Timothy to pursue righteousness and to fight the good fight of faith until He comes. This encouragement is very much like Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian church in Philippians 1:10 and 2:16, which are both rapture verses.
2. There is nothing in verses 14-16 in regard to Christ’s judgment of unbelievers, which is usually included in second coming passages.
3. The “appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” does not have to affect a nonvisible and secret rapture. It is true that this word “appearing” (the Greek word is epiphaneia) indicates a very visible coming—or event. The word means “shinning forth.” And in verse 16, Paul gives us a good description—that He, being God, dwells in unapproachable light. And this is always true of God; it is His character. However, I still hold that at the moment of the rapture, no one on earth will see Him. He will only be visible to those believers who are raptured and transformed. It may be that His glory will not be seen by those on earth because of the long distance from the earth to where He will be (“in the air,” 1 Thess. 4:17). In His second coming He will coming all the way down to the earth, and all will see Him. But in the rapture we really don’t know how far from the earth He will be; He may be a hundred miles or more from the earth.
It is also possible that His “appearing” here may not be at the rapture, but just after the rapture, at the Bema judgment; and this will be in heaven.
Also, in verse 15, we get the doctrine of eminency: that He could come at any time, that only He knows when He is coming; and that time will be “the proper time.” This doctrine, I think, strengthens the rapture view. However, it could also be said of the second coming—but only if you tie it into the rapture; for as we know, the time of the events after the rapture are already in place; His second coming will be immediately after the tribulation, which will be seven years after the rapture (or perhaps a few days more, as we don’t know for sure if the tribulation will begin immediately after the rapture).