The Pretribulational Rapture of the Church
The very purpose in Paul's writing of his second letter to the Thessalonians was to correct an error which contradicted the pretribulationism he had taught the Christians in Thessalonica while he was with them.
I would like to start this article by asking you to read Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians. Read through the whole letter, please. Read it carefully, and read it a couple or more times before reading the article. I know that's a bummer, but it's what real Bible study is about. Reading a letter instead of a snippet. Below is the text from the King James Version of the Bible. In my presentation of the text I have taken the liberty of breaking the letter into three paragraphs, dropping chapter and verse numbering, correcting the reference from "day of Christ" or "day of the Lord" to "Day of the LORD," and have corrected the KJV rendering of "at hand" to "has come." Please go ahead and read the following:
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the Day of the LORD is come. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all. The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
That is the text from the King James Version. I would like to give another good literal translation of the text here for you to read, so here is the letter from the Young's Literal Translation:
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, to the assembly of Thessalonians in God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ! We ought to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because increase greatly doth your faith, and abound doth the love of each one of you all, to one another; so that we ourselves do glory in you in the assemblies of God, for your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye bear; a token of the righteous judgment of God, for your being counted worthy of the reign of God, for which also ye suffer, since [it is] a righteous thing with God to give back to those troubling you -- trouble, and to you who are troubled -- rest with us in the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, with messengers of his power, in flaming fire, giving vengeance to those not knowing God, and to those not obeying the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall suffer justice -- destruction age-during -- from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his strength, when He may come to be glorified in his saints, and to be wondered at in all those believing -- because our testimony was believed among you -- in that day; for which also we do pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of the calling, and may fulfil all the good pleasure of goodness, and the work of the faith in power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.
And we ask you, brethren, in regard to the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of our gathering together unto him, that ye be not quickly shaken in mind, nor be troubled, neither through spirit, neither through word, neither through letters as through us, as that the Day of the LORD hath arrived; let not any one deceive you in any manner, because -- if the falling away may not come first, and the man of sin be revealed -- the son of the destruction, who is opposing and is raising himself up above all called God or worshipped, so that he in the sanctuary of God as God hath sat down, shewing himself off that he is God -- [the day doth not come]. Do ye not remember that, being yet with you, these things I said to you? and now, what is keeping down ye have known, for his being revealed in his own time, for the secret of the lawlessness doth already work, only he who is keeping down now [will hinder] -- till he may be out of the way, and then shall be revealed the Lawless One, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the manifestation of his presence, [him,] whose presence is according to the working of the Adversary, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and in all deceitfulness of the unrighteousness in those perishing, because the love of the truth they did not receive for their being saved, and because of this shall God send to them a working of delusion, for their believing the lie, that they may be judged -- all who did not believe the truth, but were well pleased in the unrighteousness. And we -- we ought to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, beloved by the Lord, that God did choose you from the beginning to salvation, in sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth, to which He did call you through our good news, to the acquiring of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; so, then, brethren, stand ye fast, and hold the deliverances that ye were taught, whether through word, whether through our letter; and may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and our God and Father, who did love us, and did give comfort age-during, and good hope in grace, comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work.
As to the rest, pray ye, brethren, concerning us, that the word of the Lord may run and may be glorified, as also with you, and that we may be delivered from the unreasonable and evil men, for the faith [is] not of all; and stedfast is the Lord, who shall establish you, and shall guard [you] from the evil; and we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that the things that we command you ye both do and will do; and the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God, and to the endurance of the Christ. And we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw yourselves from every brother disorderly walking, and not after the deliverance that ye received from us, for yourselves have known how it behoveth [you] to imitate us, because we did not act disorderly among you; nor for nought did we eat bread of any one, but in labour and in travail, night and day working, not to be chargeable to any of you; not because we have not authority, but that ourselves a pattern we might give to you, to imitate us; for even when we were with you, this we did command you, that if any one is not willing to work, neither let him eat, for we hear of certain walking among you disorderly, nothing working, but over working, and such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness working, their own bread they may eat; and ye, brethren, may ye not be weary doing well, and if any one do not obey our word through the letter, this one note ye, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed, and as an enemy count [him] not, but admonish ye [him] as a brother; and may the Lord of the peace Himself give to you the peace always in every way; the Lord [is] with you all! The salutation by the hand of me, Paul, which is a sign in every letter; thus I write; the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [is] with you all! Amen.
Read the above letter, in either version or both, several times please.
Now let's discuss the content of the letter. The letter can be divided into three basic parts, and so I have divided the letter into three paragraphs as you can see above. In the first paragraph, Paul is encouraging the church in Thessalonica in the face of current, severe persecution. This is seen in the following, quoted from the NASB version:
"We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." - 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12 NASB
So the Thessalonian church was facing current persecution. They also had received a false message about the meaning of their persecution, as we will see. This is the reason Paul is writing to them, as can be seen in the second paragraph. Here is the second paragraph from the NASB version:
"Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the Day of the LORD has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word." - 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
Let's stop here and think about the situation Paul is addressing. The Thessalonian church was under persecution, and had received a false message of some sort telling them that their persecutions indicated the Day of the LORD was underway. The Thessalonians were confused over this, causing them to be "shaken" from something Paul had told them pertaining to the coming of the Lord, our gathering to Christ, and the Day of the LORD. The false message informed them that the Day of the LORD had come, and this had "shaken" them as concerning our gathering to Christ.
This is a very important point to understand. This passage is often accidentally referenced as though Paul says "our gathering to Christ will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed." That is NOT what Paul says. Paul is saying "the Day of the LORD will not come unless..."
When Paul refers to the Day of the LORD in this passage, he is referring to a period of divine judgment prophesied throughout the Old Testament. The primary passage speaking of this period is Jeremiah 30-31. It is found also in Isaiah 2; Isaiah 13; Ezekiel 13; Ezekiel 30; Joel 1; Joel 2; Joel 3; Amos 5; Zephaniah 1; Zechariah 14; Malachi 4; Acts 2; and 2 Peter 3. It is referred to variously as "that day," "the great day," etc., over 70 times. All facts taken together, the period would be inclusive of divine judgment preparatory to the Messianic Kingdom, perfect justice during the Kingdom era, final judgment at the close of the Messianic Kingdom era and a renovation of the creation by fire.
In our chart showing the Day of the LORD, you will find the following illustration in the bottom/right area of the image:
Paul taught the Thessalonians a rapture event (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18) which was connected to a removal of "He who now restrains" (the Paraclete and special ministry of this current dispensation), and this will precede the divine wrath of the Day of the LORD.
John Chrysostom (c. 347 – 407), Archbishop of Constantinople gives the following commentary on this portion of 2 Thessalonians:
"One may naturally enquire, what is that which withholdeth, and after that would know, why Paul expresses it so obscurely. What then is it that withholdeth, that is, hindereth him from being revealed? Some indeed say, the grace of the Spirit, but others the Roman empire, to whom I most of all accede. Wherefore? Because if he meant to say the Spirit, he would not have spoken obscurely, but plainly, that even now the grace of the Spirit, that is the gifts, withhold him. And otherwise he ought now to have come, if he was about to come when the gifts ceased; for they have long since ceased. But because he said this of the Roman empire, he naturally glanced at it, and speaks covertly and darkly. For he did not wish to bring upon himself superfluous enmities, and useless dangers. For if he had said that after a little while the Roman empire would be dissolved, they would immediately have even overwhelmed him, as a pestilent person, and all the faithful, as living and warring to this end. And he did not say that it will be quickly, although he is always saying it—but what? 'that he may be revealed in his own season,' he says, 'For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work.' He speaks here of Nero, as if he were the type of Antichrist. For he too wished to be thought a god. And he has well said, 'the mystery'; that is, it worketh not openly, as the other, nor without shame. For if there was found a man before that time, he means, who was not much behind Antichrist in wickedness, what wonder, if there shall now be one? But he did not also wish to point him out plainly: and this not from cowardice, but instructing us not to bring upon ourselves unnecessary enmities, when there is nothing to call for it. So indeed he also says here. “Only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way,” that is, when the Roman empire is taken out of the way, then he shall come. And naturally. For as long as the fear of this empire lasts, no one will willingly exalt himself, but when that is dissolved, he will attack the anarchy, and endeavor to seize upon the government both of man and of God. For as the kingdoms before this were destroyed, for example, that of the Medes by the Babylonians, that of the Babylonians by the Persians, that of the Persians by the Macedonians, that of the Macedonians by the Romans: so will this also be by the Antichrist, and he by Christ, and it will no longer withhold. And these things Daniel delivered to us with great clearness." - John Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Thessalonians, Homily #4 (here)
At some point, probably after 70 AD, a tapering down of manifestations of the Spirit had occurred among the Church. I would suggest this began to occur at about AD 70 because Israel had been scattered and part of the Church's original purpose--preaching the risen Lord to the nation (Acts 3:17-21)--had passed. (This concept is illustrated in our chart showing the transition from the dispensation of Law to the dispensation of Grace.)
At any rate, Chrysostom was apparently referring to a very old view which connected the Restrainer with the Holy Spirit, but especially of the gifts like tongues and prophecy and healing, etc. Chrysostom argues that view is no longer valid because, in his day, the gifts had already been long ceased.
But then Chrysostom offers his view that the Restrainer is the Roman Empire. That view can not be valid today because the Roman Empire collapsed approximately AD 476. The older view is the better one, but in error with the focus on Spiritual gifts only.
Chrysostom thinks his view makes better sense due to the cryptic manner in which Paul relates the subject. As in, Paul didn't want to call down unnecessary persecution from Roman authorities. But it must be kept in mind that what seems obscure to us wasn't so obscure to Paul's audience which was already familiar with the subject (2 Thessalonians 2:5-6). We see in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 that there was apparently a false doctrine spread "by word or letter as if from us." Paul referred to his Restrainer teaching in a manner which may seem obscure to us today, but which would've served to verify the Pauline authorship of the letter to the Thessalonian believers he had ministered to when he was with them. You see, being that the Thessalonians were already familiar with Paul's Restrainer teaching, it was an easy thing for Paul to refer to that teaching as an instant refutation of this new false teaching that the Day of the LORD was already underway. And, while he was at it, he referenced his personal instruction to them in such a manner that the Thessalonians were assured it was the Apostle Paul himself, and this is why he then says to keep to this tradition he himself had taught them (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Now, at this point Paul brings forth instruction to be taken seriously in light of the pretribulational rapture of the Church. Here is the third paragraph of the letter from the NASB version of the Bible:
"Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ. Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all! I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." - 2 Thessalonians 3:1-17 NASB
Paul emphasizes that our spirit/attitude of imminency must never interfere with our daily responsibilities of work, providing and caring for others, and taking care of family both in near and long term goals and commitments. Imminency is never a guarantee that the Lord's return will absolutely be within the next few days or weeks. It is, however, the reason we never find Paul giving posttribulational instructions to his followers such as gathering and storing food and other materials into a safety house or hidden shelter. There is never once any trace of so-called "bunker mentality" anywhere in Paul's writings, and his second letter to the Thessalonians is unequivocally opposed to such a concept.
Here are some additional points to consider about Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians:
1.) I have heard it said by a posttribulational premillennialist, "It only means they mistook their present persecutions for the future persecutions of prophecy Christians also will endure." This explanation doesn't work, because the Thessalonians were "shaken" from something Paul had taught. They say "But if the Thessalonians had been mislead to believe their present persecutions were the Great Tribulation, but later the persecutions subside and the Lord doesn't return anyways, then that would 'shake' them in their faith." If you step back and read the letter of 2 Thessalonians again, you see that it is impossible this could be the sort of thing Paul had in mind. Paul was upset over a false teaching which had already shaken some, and this can only mean they were shaken from Paul's teaching that we will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4) prior to the period of divine judgment known as the Day of the LORD (Jeremiah 30) and the Great Tribulation (Daniel 12:1). And, how would a confusion of current sufferings for future ones we will endure, be cleared up by Paul's reminding them of his teaching concerning the Restrainer? How would that answer the problematic rumor they had heard?
Posttribulational premillennialists believe the Day of the LORD refers only to the Kingdom period. But if the Thessalonian misunderstanding had been that the Lord had returned, the dead raised and the kingdom begun, yet they were still stuck in Thessalonica being persecuted and apparently not included? Such a wildly misguided concept could be the only thing, if the Day of the LORD doesn't include the wrath of God preceding the kingdom period. Paul certainly would have corrected them with something more appropriate than "No, that doesn't happen until after the apostasy..." His correction would have been more along the lines of: "You clearly have no understanding whatsoever regarding the doctrines of the Lord's return from heaven to raise the righteous and establish the kingdom."
2.) Amillennialists have the hardest time with this passage. Since they think the kingdom is already going on (despite the "counted worthy of the kingdom" remark in the letter), they can only refer Day of the LORD to the very final point in time, in which they believe there will be a universal resurrection and instant fulfillment of all things in "one 24 hour day," as they so childishly put it. This view is instantly refuted by the fact that the Thessalonians wouldn't have been fooled by a false message saying that those things had already occurred. The amillennial view is likewise divorced from the "persecution context" of the letter. The amillennial view has no understanding of why Paul includes the third paragraph in the letter. The amillennial view should be forced to conclude the Great Tribulation is a brief period at the close of the kingdom age, per the second paragraph in the letter, but they refuse to do so. In fact, many of them have now decided Paul is referring to "a coming in judgment" rather than the Second Advent of the Lord. (FYI, when Paul uses the phrase "the appearance of His coming" in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, that view becomes absolutely impossible. George N.H. Peters has discussed this extensively in The Theocratic Kingdom. Anyone who denies 2 Thessalonians is about the Second Advent, is simply dishonest.)
3.) Revelation 1:9 is often used by posttribulationists to suggest Christians go through the Great Tribulation period, but John is simply using "tribulation" in a general sense--general persecution--as in the first paragraph of 2 Thessalonians. John has in mind his being banished to Patmos for his testimony of Christ.
4.) Here are our charts which illustrate the pretribulational rapture of the Church in one way or another:
5.) Here is a quote from the second paragraph of 2 Thessalonians: "Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul is alluding to a fact that unbelieving Jews who are not included in the rapture will, for the most part, follow Antichrist as a false Messiah and persecute Jews and all others who oppose. Chris White provides an excellent presentation of this teaching in the following video:
6.) Here is another presentation by Chris White showing the relation of the Day of the LORD to the rapture of the Church:
...don't be "shaken."
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