Does Second Thessalonians Chapter Two Teach a Post Tribulation Rapture?
By Lucien LeSage
I have listened to more than one exposition of this chapter being used in an effort to prove a post tribulation rapture. But does it really? When we examine this chapter in the context of 1st Thessalonians and the previous chapter along with other scriptures I think it proves just the opposite. While the word “rapture” is not in the Bible the event which is called the rapture is most definitely found in the New Testament writings of the Apostle Paul and I believe mentioned by the Lord Jesus Christ as well. The word rapture is from the Latin word “rapturo”. The Greek word from which this is derived is “harpazo” which will be discussed in this article. Paul called this event a “mystery” that he revealed in his epistle to the church of God which was at Corinth (see 1st Cor. 15:51).
“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 Christ is at hand. 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.” (2nd Thessalonians 2:1-4).
Two Things Mentioned
There are two things mentioned in the first two verses. The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him. And the second thing mentioned is the “day of Christ”. Jesus Christ is the Lord and so this day of Christ is termed the “day of the Lord” in the Old Testament. The Greek is “Christos” which means “anointed” and was translated “Christ” in the KJV. It was translated “day of the Lord” in a few other versions. Perhaps it should be pointed out that “the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). Then we read in the Book of Revelation of “the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). So the “day of Christ” is synonymous with the “day of the Lord” spoken of in the Old Testament.
Of these two things mentioned I might ask which is mentioned first? And is the “day of the Lord” a moment in time or a time period of more that 24 hours? Is the our gathering together unto him” synonymous with the “day of the Lord”? Do they happen at the same moment in time? I think these are questions that need to be answered in the context of other scripture.
First we see the “our gathering together unto him,” which is what is commonly referred to as the rapture, is mentioned first and this makes perfect sense when we examine other scripture. Paul mentions the rapture in 1st Thessalonians 4:14-18. There Paul tells us that the dead in Christ will be raised first. And then he uses the word “we” not “them,” speaking of those who are alive and are saved, being “caught up” together with the dead in Christ that are raised. They are caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. The words “caught up” are from one Greek word “harpazo” and it means “to seize, carry off by force,” - “to snatch out or away”. Remember Jesus told his early church, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if [it were] not [so], I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] ye may be also.” (John 14:2-3). Paul tells the Thessalonians that these are comforting words concerning the rapture. In 1st Corinthians chapter 15 verse 52 we see that this event happens in a moment of time. The Greek word is “atomos” and “twinkling” is a stroke of time. It is the smallest amount of time that cannot be divided and fits well with science discovering that time is quantized. Brother Milburn Cockrell writes concerning this event, “These saints shall meet Christ in the air; they shall be caught up to meet the Saviour in the clouds. There is no mention of any sign which will announce this coming, nor are the nations on earth said to see Christ… There is nothing which indicates that Christ and these come immediately back to earth. In the light of John 14:3, I must conclude that they go to the Father’s house where they are seen in Revelation chapters 4-5. Why would Christ take them up into the clouds and then bring them right back? This makes no sense at all to this writer.”
In chapter one of 1st Thessalonians Paul tells the Thessalonians “to wait for his Son from heaven” (vs. 10). How could Paul tell them to be waiting for his Son from heaven when the man of sin had not been revealed yet if the rapture is post-trib? Elsewhere we are told there is a crown of righteousness given to those who “love his appearing” (See 2nd Timothy 4:8). Paul wrote to Titus these words, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” (Titus 2:13). The words “blessed hope” means “happy expectation.” This was something to be looked for with happy expectation. Jesus spoke of his coming in this sense as a sudden event without any warning as in the days of Lot. The residents of Sodom knew nothing about what was about to happen and that event did not and could not take place until Lot was removed. With this thought in mind I would compel you to ask yourself why would the Thessalonians be troubled about the day of the Lord being at hand if it was synonymous with the rapture? Notice verse two of our chapter: “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 Christ is at hand.” Now consider this. If Paul had taught them that the rapture of the saints was at the end of the tribulation period then why would he tell them that they should not be troubled in mind as though the day of the Lord was at hand or present as the words mean? If they thought the day of the Lord was present then they should be all excited if Paul had taught a post-trib rapture. They should be looking for and longing for His coming for them with happy expectation, should they not? But that is not what Paul told them. He said the day of the Lord was not at hand which they must have thought because they had received a false word from an individual that was claiming to speak by the spirit or also in addition perhaps a forged letter as from Paul. Notice Paul says that the day of the Lord (“that Day” as he calls it) could not come until a great apostasy took place first and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition as Paul calls him. The day of the Lord cannot come until this happens yet Paul had told them to look for Christ and not the man of sin. If I thought the rapture was post-trib then I would be looking for the Antichrist.
That Man of Sin
Now let us look a little more deeply into the rest of this chapter. Cockrell says, “In 2nd Thessalonians 2:4-12 there is a lengthy discourse on Antichrist and the tribulation. Those who suffer under the man of sin are said to be ‘they’ and ‘them,’ not ‘we’ and ‘us’.”
Paul says that the man of sin exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped so that he as God sits in the temple of God showing himself to be God. So do we have anything in the Old Testament that speaks of this? What is meant by the temple of God? Is this something that has happened in history as some, such as John Gill, thinks? Has it already happened?
First if we compare Paul’s statement we find a parallel in the Book of Daniel where we read, “And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done” (Daniel 11:36). In the Book of Daniel we find prophecy that concerns Israel which is called Daniel’s 70 weeks. Jesus also spoke of the “Abomination of Desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet.” There is much in the Book of Daniel concerning this man of sin, but more on that later.
A False Report
Before we explore some of Daniel’s prophecy concerning the man of sin, let’s look more at what Paul declares in chapter two of 2nd Thessalonians. First it might be good to point out that the Thessalonians perhaps believed this false report because of the tribulation they were going through. Christians have always had to endure tribulation and Paul said as much when he said, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2Ti 3:12). Edmond Hiebert says, “The Thessalonians, undergoing trying persecution, were being told by those promulgating this controverted teaching that they were already in that great and terrible period of anguish and tribulation called ‘the day of the Lord.’ The persecutions they were enduring seemed to confirm this view. The natural reaction to this teaching was fear and agitation. The apostle appeals to them in the interest of the very hope of "our gathering together unto him," set forth in the first epistle (4:13-18), not allow themselves to be shaken and troubled by this unwarranted teaching.”
Next let us consider the restrainer. Paul says, “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.” (verses 6-8). So we see that the restrainer was holding back the mystery of iniquity even in Paul’s day and would continue to hold back or restrain until he is taken out the way, and when that happens then the man of sin will be revealed. Notice Paul calls the restrainer “he” which lets us know it is a person and not merely some impersonal force or government. John Gill, and I believe many of the reformers, believed the restrainer was the Roman Empire and when it lost its power the Popes came into power, thus he thought the Pope was the man of sin and the temple he sat in, declaring that he was God, was a true church at one time. But the church is called the house of God and when we examine Daniel’s prophecy we see that this does not harmonize. Those that take this position think the whole series of popes are the man of sin and then they are forced to make the 1260 days and 42 months in the Book of Revelation to become years, but even 1260 years has far since run out. The “man of sin” is not an office but one man (“that man”) just as Jesus Christ was one man and not an office of men. The Roman Empire is not the “he” that has held back for almost 2000 years and the man of sin has not yet been destroyed with the brightness of Christ’s coming. That coming is his glorious coming seen by the world when he destroys the man of sin and sets up His millennial kingdom. That coming is not speaking of the rapture spoken of in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-17. So the person that is holding back has been holding back the “mystery of iniquity” for just shy of 2000 years since Paul wrote this epistle. Who could this person be? Who could hold back for almost 2000 years at a minimum? Well it can only be someone with all power and eternality. It can only be the Holy Spirit. But you ask, how can the Holy Spirit be removed when He is God and omnipresent? That He is God and present everywhere we do not disagree but remember that the Holy Spirit came and empowered the Lord’s Church in a special way. To this the scriptures agree, for Jesus himself said, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:” (John 15:26). Jesus again said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come" (John 16:13). And again, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” (John 16:7). It is the Holy Spirit’s special work in the Lord’s local Churches that is in view here. Notice He is the Spirit of truth and when He is taken out of the way apostasy comes and the revelation of the great lie or the man of sin takes place. The “falling away” spoken of in verse 2 is “apostasia” and means an active defection. It is not passive but deliberate. It was translated “to forsake” in Acts 21:21. Some have claimed that this falling away is the rapture but the ones that are partakers of the rapture are passive and that is not the case with this falling away. It is apostasy. An active defection from the truth. Notice Paul says in our chapter, “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.” (verses 11-12) And notice they have no love of the truth in verse 10. Is not the Lord’s Church the pillar and ground of the truth (1Tim 3:15) and is not the Holy Spirit’s work in the church to guide it into all truth? When the Lord’s Churches and all Christians are removed from the earth then apostasy will have free reign.
Daniel’s 70 Weeks and the Career of the Man of Sin
Back to Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks in Chapter 9. The reason for bringing this up is to show that there is 7 year period yet to come and the middle of that week is a 3.5 year period which is in harmony with 1260 literal days and not 1260 years. These 70 weeks are weeks of years which is easily proven by the time mentioned in the prophecy. These 70 weeks deal entirely with the nation of Israel (compare vs. 20 with 24 of chapter 9). The Church is not Israel nor has it replaced Israel and it has no part in the 70 weeks of years. Please notice that Messiah is cut off after 69 weeks (7+62) and there is a gap between the 69th and 70th week. This is commonly called the parenthetical period. An unknown amount of time known as the church age. Daniel 9:27 deals with the man of sin making a covenant with Israel for 7 years (70th week) and in the midst or middle of the week he causes the sacrifice and oblation to cease. The A-millennial claims this to be Christ, but Christ never made a 7 year covenant with the nation of Israel. H. B. Ironside says, "Strange is it that many have supposed it was Prince Messiah Himself who was to confirm a covenant for one week. But when did He ever make such a covenant? The blood of the covenant which He shed upon the cross is not to confirm a covenant for seven years, but it is the blood of the everlasting covenant." The middle of a 7 year period is after 3.5 years (3.5+3.5=7). In the Book of Revelation, 1260 days, 42 months and a time, times and half time are mentioned. And also in the Book of Daniel these same time periods are mentioned and it makes no sense to convert 1260 days (3.5 years) into 1260 years. Daniel’s 70th week is the time of Jacob’s trouble. Without an indepth study of the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation it is impossible to deal with all that involves the man of sin in the short space of this article. The point of bringing this up is to show that the beginning of the 70th week is unknown but once it begins there is a specific amount of time that is mentioned. So if Christ’s coming for His saints is at the end of the tribulation period then it would not be at a time as described by Christ as a time you think not (Lu 12:40) to the believer who knows the truth of God’s word. Also it might be asked, when does he come with his saints (1Th 3:13) if he comes for his saints at the end of Jacob’s Trouble?
So, we see two aspects of Christ’s coming. One that is totally by surprise and secret for his saints and the other is a glorious coming immediately after the tribulation of those days, which is a specific time period known as Jacob’s trouble, and that with his raptured saints. He comes as a thief in the night (Mat. 4:43). The thief does not stay but leaves with the prize. But Christ’s glorious coming as “King of Kings” is a time that would be known to those who understand Daniel’s prophecy if the Antichrist is reigning. The temple mentioned by Paul must therefore be a rebuilt temple in which the sacrifices are re-instituted. Evidently the Antichrist will be instrumental in bringing this about, but after 3.5 years he stops it, causing the sacrifice and the oblation to cease (Da 9:27), and sits in the temple declaring himself to be God, whom Christ will destroy with the brightness of his coming. Again when all this happens it is within a specific time period, but not so with the rapture. Elder Milburn Cockrell points out the following: “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24:44). The meaning of these words are dear. Believers are to be under the influence of a constant and general expectation of Christ’s coming. He will come when we least expect Him: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matt. 24:42). These verses from Matthew 24 teach three things: First, the hour of our Lord’s return is unknown to His people. Second, because we know not the exact time of His appearing, we must be in an attitude of constant expectation and watchfulness. Third, the Lord will return unexpectedly, even in such an hour as His own people “think not.”
It seems good to point out that Christ is to the Church the “bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16). As any good astronomy student knows the morning star and evening star is the planet Venus which because its orbit is between the earth and the sun can only be seen right before sunrise or right after sunset. So if Christ to us is the “bright and morning star” he appears to us before sunrise and when it is still dark. But Christ’s glorious coming is to the world as the rising sun in all its glory (Malachi 4:1-2).
The Last Trump
Post-tribers have tried to say that the “last trump” that Paul spoke of in 1st Corinthians 15:52 and the “trump of God” in 1st Thessalonians 4:16 concerning the rapture is the same as the seventh trumpet spoken of in the Book of Revelation. The trumpet spoken of by Paul was at a moment of time but the trumpet spoken of in Revelation is a long trumpet and covers a long period of time. Notice the words “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets” (Rev 10:7). Concerning the last three trumpets that will sound in the Book of Revelation we read that “woe, woe, woe” are pronounced to the inhabiters of the earth (Rev 8:13). The seventh trumpet in Revelation is a trumpet of woe.
Another thing that needs to be pointed out is that because the words “great tribulation” are used and because Christians have always undergone persecution and tribulation from unbelievers, that the great tribulation period is thought to just be more of the same. The difference is that the great tribulation period or “Jacob’s Trouble” will be God bringing about tribulation upon this Christ rejecting world. “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:” (2Thes 1:6-8).
Satan may be used in some of this tribulation such as the locust that will come out of the bottomless pit in Revelation chapter 9, who will have the angel of the bottomless pit named “Apollyon” over them, but that will not happen until the fifth angel sounds his trumpet, thus God is sovereign over all these events that will take place. We see the same thing in our chapter in discussion here. The man of sin will be brought to power “after the working of Satan” via “signs and lying wonders” (vs. 9), but we also read that it is God that will send this “strong delusion” because they had no love for the truth (vs. 11).
The Wrath of God
How come the seven vials in the Book of Revelation are called the "wrath of God upon the earth"? Not the wrath of men but the wrath of God. The word “wrath” is mentioned many times in the Book of Revelation referring to the wrath of God and yet Paul tells the Thessalonians “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1Thes 5:9).
The Day of Christ
Concerning the “day of Christ” or “the day of the Lord” as it is called in the Old Testament, we read of this day in many places, which is not a 24 hour period. I could not find one blessed thing concerning the "day of the Lord." In every case the context suggested an awful day. For one such example, Amos writes: “WOE UNTO YOU THAT DESIRE THE DAY OF THE LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light” (Amos 5:18). If this is synonymous with the coming of Christ for his saints then this verse makes no sense, for they are to desire His coming for them. Paul confirms this desire when he says, “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:” (2Cor 5:2), which speaks of our resurrection, or rapture if we are still alive. If I thought the “day of the Lord” in its entirety had to come before the rapture then I would desire it, yet Amos declares woe to them that desire it. The rapture is a “happy expectation” but the “day of the Lord” as described in the Old Testament is a day of gloom and the wrath of God.
The First Resurrection
Some have supposed that the First Resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6, at the end of the tribulation period, is the moment in which all of God's saints are resurrected. This is where the ones that were "beheaded for the witness of Jesus" are spoken of as living and reigning with Christ for 1000 years and that they "hath part in the first resurrection." This they say is proof that all that take part in the first resurrection take part at this point in time only and so therefore the post tribulation resurrection is the only possible conclusion.
But is that is what is meant by the "first resurrection?" Is the first resurrection only one event at the close of the tribulation period ("time of Jacob's trouble")? Was not Jesus Christ's resurrection part of the first resurrection? "But now is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept." (1Cor 15:20). So he was the firstfruits of them that sleep in Christ. Also we read, "But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming." (1Cor 15:23).
How about the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation that are killed? These are not angels for angels cannot be killed. "And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies [shall lie] in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth. And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them." (Rev 11:7-12). These two witnesses must be part of the first resurrection for they ascend up into heaven. Yet their resurrection is before the one mentioned in Rev 20:4-6. These rose from the dead before the 7th angel sounded. Yet the ones mentioned in Rev 20:4-6 are mentioned after Satan is bound for 1000 years.
Another point to mention is the ones in Rev 20:4-6 were all beheaded and had not received the mark of the beast. This passage does not include any others. It is only speculation to include all of God's elect from all the ages. What is recorded in Rev20:4-6 is the conclusion of the first resurrection. Notice: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" (vs. 5).
Concerning the point about the first resurrection mentioned in Revelation chapter 20, Harry Ironside says, "The question has often been asked, 'If the first resurrection takes place at the close of the Great Tribulation, how can it be said that the saints of this and past dispensations will be raised and living believers changed and all caught up to heaven before the tribulation begins?' In order to understand this clearly, let us examine the passage carefully. John says, 'I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.' This has been translated, 'I saw thrones, and sitters upon them to whom judgment was given.' Now this is a distinct group, and refers clearly to those symbolized by the twenty-four elders who have already been before us in these marvelous visions of God. These are the saints of the Church Age and of past dispensations. Then John indicates another class. He says: 'And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.' The resurrection of this group completes the first resurrection. None others of the dead will live again until the Millennium is past. Speaking of both these groups, the Spirit of God says, 'This is the first resurrection,' and a blessing is declared as the portion of all who participate in it and who will be priests of God and of Christ and reign with him a thousand years."
Dwight Pentecost points out that the "first resurrection" is the resurrection unto life (John 5:29) and that it does not mean that it all happens at one time. The resurrection after the 1000 years are over is a resurrection unto damnation. The First resurrection suggests a separation from the resurrection unto damnation. He also points out that there is a suggestion of division in the resurrection program by the phrase, "but every man in his own order"(1Cor 15:23). He says that the word "order" (tagma), is a military metaphor, meaning "company," "troop," "band," or "rank." So he says that the parts of the resurrection are viewed as the marching battalions in a well-organized parade of triumph. Christ's resurrection marks the beginning of this whole resurrection program.
"Blessed and holy [is] he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." (Rev 20:6). The word "part" was also translated "portion". The Lexicon gives one of the meanings as "one of the constituent parts of a whole."
Another question that might be asked is, what about the saints that were raised after Christ's resurrection? I realize this point is only speculation and is no proof of anything but It thought it interesting none the less. "And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." (Mat 27:52-53). While there is no way to prove that these saints did not die again as others that were raised from the dead before Christ's Resurrection, at least more that one expositor (Matthew Henry and John Gill) say that they were raised with a resurrection body and were taken to heaven after Christ ascended. Others have said it cannot be verified because the Bible just doesn't say. But notice they were not raised until after Christ rose which seems to tie their resurrection to being of the same type as Christ's resurrection (theirs is linked to His). Which if true then they were part of the "first resurrection" and Christ was the first. But again this cannot be proven.
Since our subject is the “rapture” and its relationship to 2nd Thessalonians chapter two, I thought it appropriate to ask a few questions.
How come we never see the word “church” mentioned after chapter 3 of Revelation until chapter 22?
How come when John is told in Rev 4:1 to “come up hither,” we see 24 elders in heaven. Angels are never call elders. These elders are saints and they all have crowns. Where did they get these crowns? This must have taken place at the “bema” or judgment seat of Christ.
How come the only other place in the Book of Revelation where the command “come up hither” is used is when the two witnesses that were killed are raised from the dead and ascend up into heaven (Rev 11:12).
If Christ comes as a warring King at his glorious coming and he has already received his bride (see Rev.19) then where is the time period that Deuteronomy mentions which forbids a newly married man from going to war for at least a year (Deut. 24:5)?
In conclusion comparing 2nd Thessalonians chapter 2 with the rest of scripture it is hard to imagine that the rapture happens at the end of “Jacob’s Trouble” or any time after the revelation of the “man of sin”.
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