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As I noted in part one of the series, I held to the pre-Tribulational view of the Rapture for most of my Christian life, until I opened up my mind to the possibility of an alternative, and began to study the scriptures accordingly. This series reflects my change of mind.

If pre-Tribulationists are right about the timing of the Rapture, there’s no logical reason for them to get upset with anyone who disagrees with their position (but they do). If they are wrong, they are responsible for encouraging millions of Christians to stick their heads in the proverbial sand and ignore the huge challenges which they should be spiritually preparing for.

CLUES FROM 1 THESSALONIANS 3

Paul’s wish and prayer was that the Thessalonians would remain, “blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thess. 3:13). This thought is echoed by John in one of his letters:

“And now, dear children, continue in him so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2: 28).

When, according to Scripture, will Jesus come with all his holy ones? Is it in a pre-Tribulation Rapture or at his visible appearing to the world? Paul answers the question himself:

“God is just: he will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Thess. 1:6-7).

The “relief”, says Paul, does not come before the Tribulation, but at the visible appearing of Jesus Christ to bring judgment.

Both references separate believers from the “holy ones” or “powerful angels”. Therefore, believers cannot be the holy ones who the Lord comes with, and neither are they the “powerful angels”. that the Lord comes with.

Jesus describes his visible appearing to the earth this way:

They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds…” (Matthew 24:30-31).

Here Jesus speaks of his revealing to the world, and his sending of the angels to gather his people. This is almost a carbon copy of Paul’s statement that Jesus will come with “all his holy ones” (John said that he will “appear”), and his prayer that on that occasion, the Thessalonians will be blameless.

This directly contradicts the concept of a pre-Tribulation Rapture.

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CLUES FROM 1 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 4

Sometimes we get the impression from prophecy experts and movies that at the Rapture we will be taken up into heaven to meet the Lord, while at the visible return of Christ to bring judgment Jesus will come down to the earth.  In truth Paul said that at the Rapture Christ will descend from heaven:

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds…” (See 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Pre-Tribulation proponents argue that this event has to be different from Christ’s visible appearing to the whole world, because at the Rapture (above) he meets us “in the clouds”, whereas at his visible return he descends to the earth. As I noted in part one, this is no evidence for two separate events, unless we are to assume that millions of believers have to catch buses and trains to get to where Jesus is at some physical location on the earth’s surface. As a quick reading of Matthew 24:30-31 shows, Christ will “send his angels to gather his elect” when he returns visibly. Angels don’t need to drive buses as a rule, and they’re used to travelling above ground.

Now read what Jesus had to say about his visible return to the earth, and compare it to Paul’s words above:

“…all the nations…will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from the one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:31-32).

The words of Paul to the Thessalonians which speak of the Rapture share certain themes with Jesus’ account of his visible return to the earth in the Matthew passage:

1/ Christ descends from heaven;

2/ there’s a command/sending;

3/ angels are involved;

4/ there’s a trumpet call;

5/ clouds;

6/ the gathering of his people.

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CLUES FROM 1 THESSALONIANS 5

One of the major passages of Scripture recognized by most evangelicals to be referring to the Rapture is found in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds…” (See 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Then, after speaking about the Rapture in chapter 4 Paul goes directly on to the subject of “times and dates” in chapter 5 (verse 1). In other words, what he is about to say in chapter 5 directly relates to what he has just said about the Rapture in chapter 4. He asks the question “when?” for the Thessalonians:

“Now brothers, about times and dates…” (verse 1)

He then answers it by saying…

“we do not need to write to you …for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (verses 1b-2).

I already pointed out in part one that according to Paul’s own words, the “thief in the night” phrase is a reference to the “day of the Lord”, not a surprise Rapture (1 Thess. 5:2).  Peter also likened “the day of the Lord” to a “thief” (2 Peter 3:10), and he placed that “day of the Lord” after the sun being darkened and the moon turning blood red (Acts 2:20). The day of the Lord includes the time of Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, and 2 Peter 3:3-10).

In chapter 5 verses 1 and 2 Paul is linking the Rapture (chapter 4) with the “day of the Lord”. Therefore it seems logical to conclude that the Rapture will be at some point during “the day of the Lord”. If not, Paul is changing subjects, mid-sentence, from a pre-Tribulation Rapture to a later time of judgment. He would, in effect, be saying in verses 1 and 2:

“Now we do not need to write to you about when the Rapture will occur, because the judgments will fall like a thief in the night”.

This passage can only make sense if the two are together.

And what is the timing of the day of the Lord? The answer is given to us in 2 Thessalonians 2 verses 1 and 2.  Paul said that it would not come until two things happen first:

1/ the rebellion occurs, and;

2/ the man of lawlessness is revealed (antichrist).

In other words, Paul is actually giving us a sequence of events:

1/ the rebellion or “falling away” (and if you think about it, if the Rapture has already happened, there’s nothing to fall away from);

2/ the antichrist is revealed;

3/ the day of the Lord begins, during which (and no-one knows the day or the hour), the Rapture will take place.

WHAT PAUL DID NOT SAY!

Paul said that the day of the Lord will not come as a surprise to believers, because we do not live in darkness: we are sons of the light (1 Thess. 5:4-5). Tellingly, he did not give as a reason for there being no surprise for believers that “we will already be in heaven”. This is no small detail!

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EVIDENCE FROM 2 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 1

The Thessalonians were suffering “persecutions and trials” (2 Thess.1:4). This is despite the fact that they were “not appointed to wrath” (1 Thess. 5:9).

Paul said that they would be given relief (verse 7) not before the Tribulation, but at the same time as they will be avenged – at the end of the Tribulation:

“This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels (verses 6 and 7).

EVIDENCE FROM 2 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 2

Paul writes, “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him” in chapter 2. It’s very important to bear in mind that these two subjects are the reason for his following discussion. They are connected with the “day of the Lord” (verse 2).

Then he says about the day of the Lord:

“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed…” (verse 3).

Paul is anxious to calm the fears of those who had been told that the day of the Lord had already come, and informs them that that day cannot come until two things happen first: the “rebellion” (or apostasy, or falling away – depending on your translation) and the revealing of the antichrist to the world (verse 3).

This is not a case of Paul talking of an event which believers had been wrongly led to believe they had missed, as some are teaching, because if that were the case, he would surely have said something more along the lines that “that day will not come before we are gathered to him”. Instead the two unmistakable signs are the “falling away” and the revealing of antichrist. Again, he would be changing subjects in the space of a few words (verses 1 and 2) from the Rapture to the day of the Lord – if indeed these were two separate times.

Think about it – what he is saying in these first three verses is not only that the Lord will not come (verse 1) until the apostasy and the revealing of antichrist has occurred, but that our being gathered to him (also verse 1) cannot happen until these things have occurred.

Again, what Paul did not say is instructive. He did not say:

“That day cannot come until we are first gathered to him”.

He did not say:

“Don’t worry about the day of the Lord at all, because we will be Raptured by then”.

Instead, Paul describes the events to look out for which precede the day of the Lord (verses 3 and 4), and reminds Thessalonians that he had already discussed these signs with them (verse 5).

The “coming” that Paul speaks of is the event at which antichrist is stopped and judged (verse 8). He does not speak of the “gathering” as a separate event.

DELUSION

In the same chapter as Paul warns of apostasy being a sign that the day of the Lord was coming, he speaks of a time of delusion and deception accompanying the revealing of the antichrist:

“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders…” (2 Thess. 2:9).

There are strong parallels between Paul’s discussion of the revealing of the antichrist, as given in 2 Thess. chapter 2, and Jesus’ warnings given to his disciples about the end times. Just as Paul warned of apostasy, Jesus warned of apostasy:

“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other” (Matthew 24:10);

Because of the increase of wickedness the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).

Just as Paul warned of delusion and deception, Jesus warned of deception and counterfeit miracles:

“…false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect- if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time” (Matthew 24:23-25).

Considering such parallels, is it not possible that Jesus and Paul were warning the people of the same times – the same events – and that disciples living in the end times would witness them?

WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE MEAN WHEN IT SAYS THAT CHRIST WILL BE “REVEALED”?

Several passages speak of Jesus Christ being “revealed” in the Last Days. What is this “revealing”? Does it occur at the Rapture, at his visible return to earth, later, or all of the above? A few references to Christ being “revealed” seem to get rather specific in answering this question.

For example, Peter says that a believer’s faith now will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

“But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

These statements of Peter’s are remarkably similar to one of Paul’s, and contain the same reference to a specific event :

“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled…This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2Thessalonians 1:6-7).

Most importantly, the above passage defines the meaning of the term “revealed”. The “revealing” of Christ, according to Paul, is Jesus’ visible return to the earth. Notice that the relief which the Thessalonians and Peter’s readers receive does not come “before the Tribulation” or “before the day of the Lord”.

There also seems to be a parallel between Peter’s words, “when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13), and Jesus’ own account of his return to the earth:

At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24: 30-31).

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