II Thessalonians 2:1-15
This is the second of three articles concerning the timeline of the Rapture. The first was "Hidden In Plain View: The Rapture of Matthew 24". The third piece has yet to be written.
As stated before, I believe that the important things of God are revealed in the Bible in such a way that a child can understand. Not to say that there are not "deeper" things that can be dug out. But, apart from those points for greater study, the scriptures do not contain misdirection and confusion. Those kinds of things are unfortunately supplied by us, the readers. One of the major points of standard Biblical interpretation is that we are to look for the simple, straightforward meaning and intention of the writer to the original readers. With that in mind, let us move to the second letter to the people of the church in Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a town in Macedonia, today's Greece. It was a city of some size and is still in existence today.
2nd Thessalonians Chapter 2 begins:
"Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand;" ASV
Paul sets the subject to be discussed: "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him". The translation uses a word in verse one that we rarely use today. "Beseech". It means I beg you, please listen to what I am about to say... I am going to talk about something very important... something crucial to you Thessalonians for today and your understanding of the end of the age.
Paul chose this topic because there evidently was a problem that had arisen in the church. Someone had come in with a story that Jesus' return had already taken place thus, leaving the Christians in Thessalonica behind.
Taking a closer look: One thing to note from the beginning. The text says...
"Touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him."
One of the points of the old-line pre-trib Rapturist is that this sentence is split into two events by the word "and". 1.) "the coming of our Lord..", and 2.) "our gathering together to Him". I do not think that this is correct. We are talking about one event! Not two. There are at least three things wrong with this interpretation.
First: The normal reader would not read that sentence and come to that conclusion. He would, as I've said in the an earlier blog (The Rapture of Matthew 24), have to have been misinformed by some outside, extra-Biblical source that steered him in that direction. If I tell you, "I'm going to the store, and I'm getting some bread and milk", do you have the impression that I am making two separate trips? I am obviously talking about one trip. It seems silly to have to explain it, but what I am saying is,... "I am going to the store and while I am there I am going to get bread and milk!" Likewise, Paul begins the topic by defining the event over which he is concerned. He in essence says, "Now, about the return of Jesus in which we will meet Him in the air..." That is the obvious, intended meaning.
Secondly: If the word "and" can make what is obviously one event into two events, how about the several uses of it in Chapter 1? For instance, in verse 10 it says,
"...when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all them that believed (because our testimony unto you was believed) in that day."
Is that actually about two different days? First, a day when Jesus comes "to be glorified" and another day when He is "marveled at" by the believers?! No. Of course not. It is made even clearer at the end of that same sentence! These two parts of His coming take place "in that day." One day filled with two amazing happenings. Easy to read. Easy to understand.
Thirdly: It would be very odd if the "and" argument was true and validated the pre-trib argument. Why? Because, the order of the two events mentioned here are backwards from what a pre-tribber believes! Read it again.
"Touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him."
The pre-trib Rapture position believes that the Rapture ("gathering together")occurs... THEN, following the seven years of tribulation, the second coming takes place. But, here in II Thess. 2:1, the "coming of the Lord" is first!... then (and), our "gathering together (i.e. the Rapture) to Him" is second!! Backwards! This is odd in my opinion. Why would the Holy Spirit flip the events?
Here is another example of the same kind of thing.
Both pre-tribers and post-tribers believe that "we will not all sleep but we will all be changed, in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet;" I Corinthians 15:51 Correct? But, the two groups believe it in different ways. The pre-tribulationist believes that he is raptured "at the last trumpet" and that there are 7 more trumpets (Revelation 7, et al) following the last trumpet. You say, those must be different trumpets... One kind of trumpet in I Corinthians and completely different trumpets in Revelation. Different? Where did you get that idea from? (An outside, extra-Biblical source?) A post-tribulationist believes that he is raptured at the last trumpet. Period! (What part of "last" do you not understand?) The post-trib stance is completely in line with all the pertinent passages. I find it impossible to accept that the Holy Spirit would so heavily involve "trumpets" in the end-time setting (Don't forget Matthew 24!) and then purposely scramble the order of them in such a way that we are led to a totally wrong conclusion on the timing of the coming of the Lord.
"...to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand; let no man beguile you in any wise:" ASV
Paraphrasing, he says... About the coming of Jesus... we don't want you to get upset for any reason... maybe you heard a story, or got a "letter" as if from us... maybe someone in church gives a spiritual word that they say is from the Lord, saying that the day of the Lord has arrived/is here/is at hand, etc. DON'T LET ANYONE BY ANY MEANS FOOL YOU!
This was Paul's concern. Someone was pushing a narrative claiming that Jesus had already come! If true, the main event (being caught up/raptured in the clouds with the Lord) had come and gone and they had been left behind! Left behind... sound familiar? I'll come back to it later.
This "beguiling" story was a big problem and Paul knew it. Many (most?) translations give the first words of verse three as: "let not anyone/any man deceive you by any means/manner". Deception is the key word! In this instance, a teaching that resulted in a distortion of "the coming of our Lord" and when it would occur. Think on that for a moment. A deceiver was loose in the church at Thessalonica and causing great upset. Do you think that this warning was for that church only?... that it was going to be limited to the 1st century? Is there any indication in our day of confusion in these matters? A story,... or letter,... a "word",... a presentation "in any manner" that is present today?
The Holy Spirit now clearly and concisely sets the record straight.
"for it will not be,"
The King James says, "that day shall not come,"
Note: Italics in this case are used to designate that these words in verse 3 are not in the original Greek. A problem, you say? Not really. The italics make clearer (to the reader) the contextual meaning of what is being discussed, i.e. "the day of the Lord". Go ahead and read it for yourself in several different translations and skip over the words in italics. You will see what I mean. You can't miss that it is the day of the Lord being talked about. And so, what is the day of the Lord?
The term "day" has already been used 2 times in this letter to the Thessalonians.
1:10 "that day" - I.e. when He comes to be "glorified in" and "marveled at".
2:2 "...the day of the Lord is at hand". I.e. the day of His coming which is, as we have pointed out, the day of our gathering".
So, Paul has clearly laid out the nature of the day of the Lord to his readers. Yes. Yes. I know that there are other parts and expansions to "the day of the Lord" in scripture. But, I am focusing on this particular teaching of Paul to this particular church. He is telling them exactly what they need to know in the "here&now" to combat a lie.
We are now presented with the big question at the root of the problem in Thessalonica. When does this "day of the Lord" come? Paul is unequivocal.
"...for it will not come/be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition,"
Two things are held up as happening prior to the day of the Lord. Two identifiable events that must occur BEFORE the Rapture. Okay. Let's take a breath.
You and I have heard for most of our lives that there is nothing that needs to happen before the coming of the Lord. His coming is imminent! Nothing stands in the way. But, Paul is saying here that, "...(the day of the Lord) will not come, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition," Dear saint: There is no reason to believe that this statement is any less true today than it was for those believers so long ago! Is it possible that some Christian teacher/scholar took a wrong road back there somewhere that has led a great many of us (at least, American Christians) away from the truth of this important matter? Yes. I think so.
So, here it is. Before the Rapture/the day of the Lord, as spoken of here in Thessalonians, there comes a great "falling away". Some translate "apostasy". In other words, a wholesale moving away from the faith that saves us from our sins. Has this already happened? Perhaps. Some think we are in the middle of the great falling away. Others say that we have barely begun to see it. For my part, as a 66 year old man, America is no longer the Christian nation that I remember as a boy. It is sinking deeper every day into a spiritual abyss of its own making. A sorrowful sight! A national/worldwide apostasy is not pretty. And, if you think your denomination or church is immune,... you are unfortunately wrong!
In addition, in concert with this apostasy, a second event takes place before the Rapture. The appearance of the "man of sin,... the son of perdition." This is, by all accounts, the infamous "Anti-Christ" we all know about. As the spiritual world reels under the staggering loss of faith in the true God, a man of great power appears. Is he alive today? I don't know. I would think that there is every possibility that he exists somewhere on earth today and that his day of world control could be close at hand.
This brings up a not particularly pleasant observation. Pre-tribbers are looking for the imminent return of Christ. A sweet thought! While Post-tribbers would be expecting the "falling away" and appearance of the Anti-Christ. Not very encouraging. But, the appearance of the "man of sin" will be THE SIGN of the soon-return of our blessed Savior.
Interesting to ponder... As of this writing in the early Spring of 2015... There has never been a time in my life when the Rapture could be more "imminent" than right now! Israel and the Middle East are a boiling pot. Russia/Rosh is on the move and cozy with Iran/Persia. The morals and ethics of the world are in the toilet. Talk of the temple is ever increasing. Anti-Christs seem to be popping up with more frequency than ever before. If there was ever a time to be excited about the imminent return of Jesus it would be NOW! But, where is the believing church at this moment?! What has become of the individual Christian's excitement over the imminent return of Jesus?! The times you and I are living in are much more prophetically gripping than even the days of my youth. In those days you felt and witnessed and heard from the believing church that Jesus' coming was at hand! "Maranatha"(O Lord, Come!) was the literal watch word of the 70s in America. But, not so now. With the world being turned upside down there is little proclamation of the soon return of Christ from the church. Why? Is it because we have been "booked" or "movied" to death over the subject matter? Have we become inoculated against Jesus' return? Are we lukewarm? Are we "Asleep In The Light" as Keith Green sang so powerfully many years ago. Or, as the post-trib position would predict, are we deep into the apostasy and don't even recognize it!
Why was this such a big deal to Paul and the Thessalonicans? Why should it be a big deal to us?
Paul was speaking to a church that was "shaken". Shaken to their core! What if you were meeting with them and had been told (by letter, or a compelling story, or someone's experience with the "Holy Spirit") that the Rapture had already taken place?! Think about it! Would that shake you? It would certainly shake me! Now, bring it forward 2,000 years. Take Paul's concern and set it into a modern day.
Imagine a time in the near future when stories begin to circulate that a new guy in international politics is quickly rising. He is special... handsome... has an amazing grasp on world problems... he almost singlehandedly averts disaster in the Mid-East... he opens the door for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem!... we want Him! He announces His intention to attend the rededication of the Temple: to address the world and He promises a "memorable" announcement. An announcement that will change everything. An announcement that will provide the peace, the food, the healing of nations so long desired! The world awaits in a fevered anticipation. Meanwhile, Christian believers begin to experience an uneasy feeling over the imminent temple event.
Their fellowships buzz with the same conversation... "Hold on! Wait!! The prophetic timeline does not read this way. The anti-Christ reveals himself in the temple in the middle of the tribulation! Who is this guy! Surely he can't be the anti-Christ! Something is wrong! Very wrong!"
For those living in that day two rumors will be rampant. Either, the "day of the Lord" has already happened and they are left behind. And/or, what they have believed all of their lives is not true! But, that is not the end of it. What comes next?
Let me answer the question. The outcome for many, many Christians will be a shaken faith... shaken to their core beliefs! "What is going on?" "How can this be?" For the many church "attenders" who are not actual believers their relationship to Christianity will be over. They will abandon the sinking church like rats on the Titanic, but only after having ravaged the leadership and the faithful as they flee out the door. The believers that remain will be left to deal with multiplied fears and demonically-fed doubts about the entire message of the Bible. "Are we saved?" "Did we live our whole Christian lives for nothing?" "Does this mean that Jesus isn't coming back?" What do they tell their children? The ministries of many pastors will be over, trying to figure out for themselves what is going on.
Am I overstating it? You be the judge. The believing church at the end of the age is going to be dealing with satanic deceptions, delusions and evil forces unlike any in the last thousands of years. Satan himself will be present and "unrestrained". The cost of totally buying into a wrong idea of the return of the Lord will be great... a devastation to the faith.
This view of the end of days (a post-trib rapture) is not particularly a pleasant one. Going through the tribulation period is not one of those options that I would choose. But, as believers, we must hold fast to God's truth in the matter. His grace is and will always be sufficient for us. He promises to be "with (us) until the end of the age." He has demonstrated time and time again throughout history that He is near to those in suffering and is able to deliver His beloved according to His perfect plan, wisdom and design. As always, WE are the variable in the matter. Will we trust Him in the darkness as well as the light?
Jesus said in Luke 21:36
Why would Jesus tell His disciples (us, in this case) to "pray that you may have strength to escape" if we were going to be raptured before anything bad takes place? Why? Because bad things will happen and we believers will see them. It is at that point that we must have a reset in our thinking. We serve the God of wonders! We belong to Him! He is the Lord of Moses and the children of Israel in Egypt. He is the Protector of Daniel in the den and of those in the fiery furnace! He is the I AM in the ark with Noah and his family as all the world is being destroyed. But, dear believer, it is also true that He is the faithful Witness as hundreds of saints are beheaded in Syria and Iraq and of those who will follow. It will be to our glory, through Him, to fight the good fight, praying for strength, and to "stand before the Son of Man."
d cook 03/24/2015