IS THE TIMING OF THE RAPTURE MADE CLEAR IN 2 THESSALONIANS?
There has been a lot of discussion on the second interview I did with Dr. Doug Stauffer on the Prophecy in the News TV program posted on the PITN site, April 22, 2016.
I posted the following words (well, most of this) on two Facebook pages in response to some heated feedback on Doug Stauffer’s teaching on the rapture and related topics as covered on the program.
[Before you read, just a plug for my books. All my Kindle format books are on sale for $4.99 at Amazon. Click here if you are interested in checking them out.]
Chapter 1 — Judgment and Glorification at the Same Time?
It is fascinating how Paul’s words can be interpreted in such different ways when we all agree that Paul wanted his meaning to be perfectly clear! Some of our confusion has to be a case of “lost in translation” while the rest likely amounts to “eisogesis” (bringing our preconceived notions to the text). However, we need to remember that Paul was addressing a very specific issue that arose at Thessalonica. He was not writing a book, he was not attempting to provide a systematic theology on eschatology. So our expectations for what is and isn’t said in this letter need to be set accordingly.
To attempt to clarify what Doug Stauffer said, and to share my own thoughts (some which disagree with Brother Doug S) it might be helpful for me to provide my personal exegesis on the meaning of the text discussed with Doug S, which lie within chapters 1 and 2 of 2 Thessalonians. I offer this posting (a paper really), since I spoke with him at length before, during, and after the program learning much from him — adding to my own knowledge on the subject.
First off, we must cite most of the verses from chapter 1 of 2 Thessalonians (italics here are mine, not in the original KJV):
4 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:
5 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:
6 Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
10 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.
11 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:
12 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.
Paul begins by assuring his brethren that he understands and takes seriously that they were suffering tribulations. He did not want to begin by “making light” of their suffering. And he sought to point a finger at those who were stirring up trouble there, “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”. (2 Thessalonians 2:2) That is what Paul is thinking when he says to the Thessalonians that they should “(See) it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you”. In other words, their trouble (in part) related to perturbations originating with false brethren and teachers upsetting Paul’s church, by insisting their current tribulations were a sure sign that the Day of Christ had begun! Paul doesn’t wait long to load and return fire. He indicates that the people troubling the brethren at Thessalonica, (we will label them “the troublers”), will receive the righteous judgment in the Day of the Lord (verse 6).
And in direct opposition to what the “troublers” were saying, Paul assures them that the Day of the Lord (Hemera Kristos) was NOT yet underway (it was not “at hand” — enistemi). Until then, they should “rest” (anesis) as Paul was at rest. In the Greek, anesis infers to “be at ease” (Strong’s says anesis conveys to be, “relaxed or relieved of severe punishment, to rest from your persecutions!”). Furthermore, and most importantly, the judgment of God would be directed at the “troublers” and not the Church. Therefore, the saints at Thessalonica should focus not on the judgment, but on the glory that is to come, of Christ being revealed, and of their own glory to be realized in the day of Christ (cmp. 2 Thessalonians 2:14, 1 Corinthians 1:8, Philippians 1:6).
But is the “Yom Jehovah” (Day of the Lord) in the Old Testament the same as “Hemera Kristos” (Day of Christ) in the New Testament? This matter requires, in my view, careful analysis. It remains a big issue, one of the biggest in all eschatology, and one that can’t be answered in this short posting. However, there are many things that still seem clear from this passage about the Day of Christ in relation to the “day of Antichrist” even when this passage is considered just by itself (in passing, regarding the day of Antichrist, we should recall that “every dog must have his day”).
Chapter 2 — Our Gathering Together and the Day of Christ
Consequently, to obtain the lessons here, we must move on to 2 Thessalonians 2:
1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
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.
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;
4 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.
5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
8 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:
9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
The distinction that my friend Doug Stauffer wishes to draw between the Day of the Lord and the Day of Christ — that the first refers ONLY to judgment of unbelievers (at the Second Advent when Christ is revealed to all) while the second refers ONLY to glorification of the saints (at the resurrection and rapture) — is not obvious from this text. We saw that 2 Thess 1:10 talked about “in that day” which is a day of punishment and judgment (derived from verse 9 which immediately precedes it). But in 2 Thess 2:2, Paul makes it clear that the “Hemera Kristos” (Day of Christ) is NOT enistemi (not “at hand” which according to Strong’s — paraphrasing a bit — enistemi means “is happening now” or is “set to happen” immediately). The typical English phraseology, “my time is it hand” connotes, “the time has arrived, it has now come to pass, the time is up”.
Instead, Paul drives the point home that the Day of Christ is NOT underway — not yet. Paul specifies, that day can only come AFTER the son of perdition is revealed (apokalypto), which can only happen AFTER the apostasy (apostasia) takes place first. In other words, the revealing of antichrist comes upon the heels of THE apostasy (likely not “any old apostasy”, but a great deception based upon false signs, and “lying wonders” which Satan empowers as cited in this passage (verse 9). BUT, we learn that it isn’t just Satan and Antichrist that empower the deception. God sends a strong delusion to reinforce the deception of Satan on those who chose NOT to believe in the gospel, a most startling but strategic principle of the Scripture. That is, God’s will reinforces our will. If we persist in evil, it becomes our nature to continue doing it. Recall that Pharaoh hardened his own heart three times (Exodus 8:15, 32, 9:34) before God hardened his heart (Exodus 10:1). Returning to 2 Thessalonians 2, we note that first Satan deceives the unbelieving world, in this case through the Antichrist (verses 9-10), and THEN God reinforces the deception with a strong delusion on those who had chosen not to accept the gospel (verses 11-12). This apostasy transpires and I believe the Antichrist reveals himself virtually at the same time. If true, it would suggest that the apostasy is a stunning revelation — a shocking occurrence — that causes the whole world to be deceived.
But admittedly, from my vantage point, Paul seems to move back and forth between the (1) judgment of the evil doers and (2) the glorification of the saints, both in chapter 1 and chapter 2. Specifically, we see that 2 Thess 2:2 refers explicitly to Hemera Kristos (day of Christ), and it is directly connected to “our gathering together” (episynagoge — from which we derive the word synagogue, meaning “a specific gathering in one place,” according to Strong’s). This gathering occurs at the His coming, specifically parousia Kyrios Kristos — the coming of our Lord Christ.
To reiterate: the flow of Paul’s argument suggests that our gathering together is specifically at the coming of the Lord Christ (verse 2:1), meaning it happens at the day of Christ (2:2). And that day that cannot be underway yet (enistemi, is not “at hand”) because the apostasy (apostasia) has not yet happened, since the son of perdition (apoleia–cmp. with Apollyon of Revelation 9:11) has not yet been manifested.
So, does this convey the rapture happens BEFORE or AFTER the antichrist is revealed? It would seem that from this passage (chapters 1 and 2), the timing of the rapture vis-a-vis the revealing of Antichrist, could be argued either way. Before you get too frustrated, allow me to flip around the argument and look at it another way.
Looking at it conversely, if the antichrist had already been revealed then the Day of Christ would either (1) have already come about or (2) happening right then. I believe it is clear that Paul is saying the opposite–but the opposite of what? He is speaking ONLY of whether or not the day of Christ is underway. And he says clearly, “It is not underway”. The issue of whether the Day of the Lord and the Day of Christ in fact refer to two distinct actions is obvious — they do refer to two distinct actions, those being the judgment of the “ones that received not the love of the truth” (verse 10) in the first place, and in the second place the glorification of the saints. These are two very different things). BUT it is not so obvious that one phrase is attached to one action while the other phrase is connected to the other. Both phrases appear to refer to BOTH actions in 2 Thessalonians, and can be used interchangeably. I know that Doug S would strongly dispute this. But that is how I read Paul’s communication.
I should also stress that it is not obvious that these two things happen at different times FROM THIS EPISTLE. The Pre-Tribulation position would love to have these scriptures demarcate the two events and place them at separate times. I don’t believe Paul made that clear here. Having said that, however, it would seem very plain that Paul is urging the Thessalonians to focus on their glorification and ‘resting’ in the knowledge that for them the day of Christ means glorification and not judgment.
The tribulations that they were experiencing (referenced in chapter 1) should NOT be confused with the judgment of God against the “evil doers”. We probably could assume (and rightly so) that “the troublers” were crying “the sky is falling” (so to speak) meaning that the tribulations of the Thessalonians were wrongly claimed, by them, as evidence the Church was experiencing the judgment of God. “Not true” says Paul. Their tribulations were not related to the “Great Tribulation” aka of that day. Their tribulations are normal and “go with the territory”. Persecution and tribulation is part of the process of being a Christian in a fallen world. But these too work for our glory.
Nevertheless, in closing, let me be clear about my view: I believe in the Pre-Tribulation rapture, but, my analysis suggests that this passage, by itself, doesn’t prove either a Pre- or a Post-Trib view. It would seem, to me, that a Pre-Wrath view can be more easily supported here than the other two viewpoints mentioned. But, as I have said before in other places, a Pre-Trib view is logically also a Pre-wrath view. Pre-Tribbers don’t believe that God will send His wrath upon the Church. Christians will be “snatched up” (harpaze) before the judgments of God are poured out on the unbelieving world. Post-Trib brethren will no doubt see it the other way, opposite of my perspective! Alas, such is the challenge of the study of eschatology. Sincere believes can believe different things, and yet both rely upon the Bible to support their view. This doesn’t make both right; it just means that to be right requires even greater study and knowledge of the breadth and depth of the Word of God. Study harder to know the truth and don’t close yourselves to new ideas!
In the final analysis, let’s remember, we are brethren. We should not doubt the sincerity or motivation that causes those who do not agree with us to chart a different course, to believe differently than we do. Our opposition should not be expected from one another — but it should be expected from “the troublers”, those that “loved not the truth that they might be saved.” And even “the opposition” are to be subjects of our care and our earnest effort to help them see the truth.
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