The rapture will take place in the air, or, to be more specific, in the clouds. Jesus will gather his church together there according to 1Thessalonians 4:17. We believe this happens before the tribulation period in the book of Revelation starts (the tribulation is also known as the 70th week of Daniel). The church will attend the marriage supper of the lamb in heaven during this period, and possibly the judgment seat of Christ as well.
The battle of Armageddon will bring the tribulation period to a climax. Christ will return during that battle, or perhaps just after it. This is the second coming event. The book of Daniel tells us the second coming of Christ will be exactly 3.5 years after the abomination of desolation occurs, which is when the Ant-Christ stands in the rebuilt temple and stops the daily sacrifices and demands himself to be worshipped as God.
The rapture happens on an unknown date. The second coming happens on a known date. That is the major factor which distinguishes the two different events, and in fact is what tells us that they are indeed two different events. The rapture will only be experienced by believers. It happens in the air, and then the church goes up to heaven with Christ. Raptured believers will be changed in the twinkling of an eye to receive their glorified bodies at the rapture.
The second coming also starts in the air, which is different than the rapture in the air. The entire world (what is left of it after the tribulation judgments, anyway) will see Jesus in the clouds at the second coming. He will be riding on a white horse, followed by many thousands of his followers who will also be riding on white horses. He will step off the horse and touch down on the Mount of Olives, from where he ascended. When his foot touches it, the mountain will split in two and a new river will spring out from under the temple mount. One fork of it will go through the new valley between the split Mount of Olives and bring the Dead Sea to life. Fishing might be pretty good in the Dead Sea during the thousand year reign of Christ.
Christ then sets up his kingdom on the earth, which will last for a thousand years while the devil is chained in a bottomless pit. When the thousand years is up the final judgment of God upon every person that ever lived is handed down in a court-like setting. (If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, you are saved and are excused from that judgment. If he is not, get ready for some really hot weather.) Heaven and earth are then destroyed and a new heaven and earth are created. So don’t spend too much time and energy trying to save this planet.
It is interesting to note that Christ is not actually part of Jesus’s name. It is a designation. It means messiah. He is the promised one of scripture, the savior of the world. If he is not yet your savior, why not give him a chance. Say this prayer right now, from your heart: Jesus if you are real, if you are there, if you are really the savior of the world, come and save me now.
It is interesting that the rapture starts in the air and then proceeds to heaven, but the second coming starts in the air and then proceeds to earth. It pays to look up. You know some people never look up? Both physically and spiritually. Don’t be like that. Look up, both physically and spiritually. Have hope. The news of trouble in the middle east should not scare you, it should get you excited. We Christians who really study the Bible are actually kind of rooting for trouble in the middle east. We know the coming of our Lord is near when we read the news these days.
Bible study is important for believers. All true Christians are at various levels of maturity. None of us are fully mature yet. What determines the level of maturity we are at is how much time and energy we have invested in the things of God. How we develop our heart through our prayer life, and the fervency with which we pursue our study of scripture. If you are lacking in this area, here is a highly recommended Bible study in audio, through the entire Bible:
I recommend spending some time listening and reading along every day. There is no substitute for spiritual nourishment. We are all good at feeding our flesh. We need to deny our flesh once in a while. We need to spend some serious time feeding our spirit. God said, When you search for me with all your heart you will find me.