The rapture of the church still makes sense to the premillennial, dispensational position. Because God’s plan for Israel and the Church are different, the Church is not appointed to the time of Israel’s tribulation. Also, because God’s promises to Israel are taken literally, the events surrounding the Day of the Lord (judgment, return in glory, millennium) will happen as the Bible describes them. Similarly, the promises to the Church (rapture to the Father’s house, Bema seat, marriage of the Lamb, return in glory from the Father’s house, marriage supper) will also happen precisely as the Bible says.
In trying to make prophetic events fit together, many have made the error of cutting and pasting various passages with little regard to the larger context of when and why they were given. As has been noted, understanding of the rapture increased as the New Testament was being written. Each new book added to the revelation already given and helped complete the picture of these end-time events, especially for the Church. Our New Testament (as well as the Old) is arranged topically, not chronologically and therefore the rapture is best understood by studying the passages in the order in which they were written. Each one builds upon the next until the book of Revelation places the roof upon the completed structure.
In the first article, we followed this progression from the parting words of Jesus in John 14 to the book of James, and then through First Thessalonians. Whereas Jesus only described the fact of a departure to heaven, James added the ideas of imminency and patient waiting. Paul adds greatly to our understanding with a thorough description of the rapture event (chapter 4) and then the promise of the Church’s absence from the tribulation as light is absent from the darkness (chapter 5).
2 Thessalonians (AD 51)
Second Thessalonians was written next, shortly after First Thessalonians. Some confusion evidently had arisen as to when the tribulation period would begin and whether, in fact, they were already in the tribulation. Paul’s answer gives us the next piece to the rapture puzzle which concerns the timing, or more specifically, the precursors before the tribulation can begin. In chapter two, Paul gives the church two reasons (initially) why they could not yet be in the tribulation period. These are followed by two others also. Certain events prior to the tribulation period must transpire before the great Day of the Lord begins.
The sufferings of the believers had already begun. They were even then enduring “persecutions and tribulations” (1:4). Yet this is not unusual in itself because it is given to the Church not only to believe but also to suffer for Christ (Phil. 1:29; 1 Peter 4:12-16). But suffering as a Christian does not mean one is in the tribulation period. Rather, for the Christian, suffering has nothing to do with the tribulation period. In the first chapter, Paul reminds the believers that their sufferings would be the source of reward and glorification of Christ when they return with Him in glory (1:10). In addition, those who have persecuted them will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord at the same time (1:9). For these reasons, believers ought to pray that God would help them by His grace to be worthy of the honor of suffering for Christ now, and also worthy of the reward that will one day be theirs when suffering is over (1:11-12).
As the apostle begins to enumerate why the Church will not go through the tribulation period, we could also add many reasons from a dispensational and premillennial standpoint. However, this chapter contains significant reasons for the pretribulational timing of the rapture.
Verse 1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
Paul puts two thoughts together here: the coming (parousia) and our gathering together unto Christ. We have already discovered that the word parousia can refer to either the rapture or the revelation of Christ. Since the second expression, our gathering together unto him, without a doubt refers to the rapture, this use of parousia must also. One article is used with two nouns: “the coming and gathering.” If these were different events, this would be highly unusual. The rapture becomes the subject of chapter two from the beginning verse. Paul had also spoken and written to the church extensively about the rapture in his previous visits and in his first epistle.
Verse 2 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.
The Thessalonians could be deceived in three ways: by spirit (supposed vision); by word (false preaching); by letter (forgery). This, no doubt, was the cause of their fear. The theme of this deception was that the Day of the Lord was at hand. The perfect tense here also emphasizes that some were teaching that the tribulation period had already begun and was now going on.
(Myron Houghton notes: “Some Greek texts read ‘day of the Lord’ rather than ‘day of Christ,’ but in either case, this ‘day’ refers to the time when Christ will directly intervene in human affairs by bringing destruction upon the world.”1)
Verse 3 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;
Two reasons are given in this verse why the Day of the Lord could not have already begun: the “falling away” and the revealing of the “man of sin” have to happen first.
#1 The Apostasia. The “falling away” is a translation of the Greek work apostasia or apostasy. There are two (pretribulational) views as to what this means. 1) The traditional view is that this refers to a great falling away from the faith in the end time just before the rapture occurs. We know this will happen (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-5) and this very well could be Paul’s meaning here. The only other place where the noun form of this word appears is in Acts 21:21 where the expression “to forsake Moses” obviously means a falling away from an orthodox belief. I only give this view less space here because it is the most common view and no doubt most familiar to all.
2) The other view of apostasia is that this word refers to the rapture itself as a “departure.” The primary idea is that Greek words have basic root meanings upon which subsequent history has added various accumulated meanings. If this word (to the first century reader) originally meant “to depart,” then it may be that “apostasy” gives the wrong connotation. Even “falling away” should only mean “coming away” or “departing.” Defenders of this view have been E. Schuyler English,2 Kenneth S. Wuest,3 and (among our fundamental Baptist scholars) Myron Houghton.4
Various reasons are given in support of this view. 1) The word apostasia simply means “to depart” and context must determine the rest. In this case, context argues strongly for rapture. Of the fifteen verbal uses of this word, at least half mean a physical departure from a particular place e.g. Acts 2:10. 2) The use of the definite article refers the noun back to something previously mentioned. In this context it would be the parousia and our gathering together unto Him. 3) Houghton emphasizes the flow of the text, that is, since the man of sin is further explained in the context, therefore, the discourse on the departure of the Restrainer must be the explanation of the “departure.” 4) A general apostasy wouldn’t be a definite sign that believers could point to since there has always been apostasy in any age. 5) English sites earlier translators who used the word “departure” including Tyndale, Cranmer, Beza, and the Geneva Bible.
#2 The Revealing of the Antichrist. The second assurance Paul gives the believers for not being in the tribulation is that “the man of sin” or the antichrist will first be revealed. What is crucial here is whether the Scriptures teach that he will be revealed before the tribulation or only at the abomination of desolation half way through. It appears however, that he will be revealed by God whether all the world knows it or not. 1) Daniel 9:27 shows that “the prince that shall come” will sign a treaty with Israel at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week. 2) Verse 4 of our text is similar to Rev. 6:2 where the antichrist, at the beginning of the week, aggressively seeks power and control over what will become the ten nation federation of the western nations. 3) The “then” of verse 8 designates the time of his revealing as immediately after the Restrainer is removed.
Verses 6-7 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.
Two more reasons why the believers are not in the tribulation period are added later in the passage.
#3 The Removal of the Restrainer. Though there have been many views as to the identity of this Restrainer (e.g. the Roman Empire, human government, etc.), the predominate view has been that this is the Holy Spirit who is removed when the Church is removed. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that is keeping the mystery of iniquity from engulfing the world. We cannot fathom the wickedness that will be released when the Holy Spirit’s influence is removed and Satan is free to wreak havoc on the earth. This has been the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. When His work is done, everything will change.
The Church must go when the Spirit goes, and visa versa. We cannot be separated from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Another reason for the assurance of a pre-tribulational rapture is this work of the Holy Spirit. If the Church is still on earth during the tribulation, anyone, Jew or Gentile, who would be saved in that time would become a member of the Church by baptism of the Holy Spirit (since the Holy Spirit would not be removed and would also retain His divine ministry). Consequently, there would be no Jews who were not first part of the Church. Since this would be true, there would be no nation of Israel to repatriate their land during the millennial kingdom either.5 Yet 144,000 are converted who make up redeemed Israel!
Verses 11-12 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.
#4 The Strong Delusion. As Paul was writing, the Spirit was still convicting and this kind of delusion had obviously not begun. Certainly, no Jews had been sealed by God on their forehead nor had any others received the mark of the beast being deceived by signs and lying wonders. Rather, the gospel was still very effective in Thessolonica (1 Thes. 1:8).
This passage strongly indicates that those who refuse a gospel presentation now will be greatly deceived in the tribulation. The switching of tenses here from the future to the past indicates that the ones who will be deluded had refused Christ in the past. John Walvoord wrote, “It is unlikely that a person who rejects Christ in this day of grace will turn to Him in that awful period of tribulation. . . . The Scriptures definitely teach that God will send strong delusion to those who do not believe after the church is gone.”6 The last state of a man is always worse than the first. It is better not to have known the way of righteousness than to turn from it and expect to come back. How much greater in that awful time to come!