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THEOLOGY > Future > End of the Age > Rapture Question > Two Events      



Following Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians information must have reached him that provoked him to write a second letter to them. Some of the believers, evidently, felt that the day of the Lord had already arrived or was imminent. Perhaps this is why some had stopped working. Why work if the end is near? Paul felt compelled to confront them with this directive: “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (II Thess. 3:10). He instructed them to continue with their vocations, and he also corrected their flawed conception of the Lord’s coming.

In order to show them the error of their thinking, Paul in Chapter Two gives two events that must take place before the Lord returns, and only after the occurrence of these events can the believer look for the Lord’s return. There must be “the falling away” (Apostasy) and “the man of sin” (Antichrist) must be revealed (II Thess. 2:3). Then and only then will the believers be united with the Lord. Following are the first four verses of II Thessalonians 2.

1 Now, brethren, concerning the coming (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

Verse one speaks of “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek word for “coming” is parousia, the same word used by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:3, 27) and used by Paul in the passage describing the Rapture (I Thessalonians 4:15). It is important to consider these four verses together, for in doing so it will be obvious that each of them is describing the same event. Following are the four verses:

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming (parousia), and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3);

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming (parousia) of the Son of Man be (Matt. 24:27);

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming (parousia) of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep (I Thess. 4:15);

Now, brethren, concerning the coming (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (II Thess. 2:1).

Surely, when Paul says “concerning the coming” (II Thess. 2:1), he is speaking of “the coming” the disciples asked Jesus about (Matt. 24:3) and that Jesus discussed in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24-27). It is good to be reminded that in Matthew 24 the coming (parousia) is without question after the Great Tribulation (vs. 27-30). In addition, when Paul says “concerning the coming” (II Thess. 2:1), he must be speaking about the same “coming” that he was talking about in his first letter to them (I Thess. 4:15). And the “coming” in I Thessalonians 4 is without question referring to the Rapture. It is clear that the “coming” (parousia) of Matthew 24 is the “coming” (parousia) of I Thessalonians 4 and is the “coming” (parousia) of II Thessalonians 2. How could anyone not think that these four verses are speaking of the same event when the identical Greek word is used? There is no justification for compartmentalizing these passages and dividing them up, separating them from each other. There is one coming, and these three passages speak of that one coming (see: One Second Coming and Harmonization of Scripture).

Verse one of II Thessalonians 2 speaks of “our gathering together to Him.” This is another way of speaking of the Rapture, for the Rapture is “our gathering together to Him.” In I Thessalonians 4:17 Paul states that we will “meet the Lord in the air” and that “we shall always be with the Lord.” To “meet the Lord” and “to always be with the Lord” is the same as “our gathering together to Him.” In different words Paul is making the same point. It is impossible exegetically to separate I Thessalonians 4 and II Thessalonians 2 by seven years. But this is exactly the claim of Dispensationalists, who specify that the Rapture of I Thessalonians 4 takes place seven years before the events of II Thessalonians 2. There is simply no justification for such a separation of these two passages. If Paul had intended to separate the passages in such manner, he surely would have said so.

Matthew 24:31 states that the Lord will send His angels and “they will gather together His elect from the four winds,” while II Thessalonians 2:1 speaks of “our gathering together to Him.” In both passages there is a gathering of believers to the Lord. The same Greek word is used in these passages: episunaxousin in Matthew and episunagoges in Thessalonians, with the difference being that the verb form appears in Matthew, while the noun form is used in II Thessalonians. Both passages, therefore, speak of the union of Christ with His people.

In II Thessalonians 2 Paul speaks of “our gathering”; note the word “our.” Without question, specifically in the epistle, Paul is speaking of himself and the believers at Thessalonica. And the believers, to whom the letter is addressed, composed the Church at Thessalonica. In 1:1 he writes: “To the church of the Thessalonians.” Paul, therefore, is writing to a Church about something that will happen to the Church in the future; and he includes himself. “Our” refers to believers who make up the Church; the “our” of 2:1 must be identical to the “church” of 1:1. And the “gathering” is the gathering of the Church.

Thus, in these three passages (Matt. 24; I Thess. 4; and II Thess. 2) you have the identical concepts of the Lord “coming” (parousia) and of believers being gathered to Him. II Thessalonians 2:1 is a brief statement of what is amplified in I Thessalonians 4:13-18, and both are commentary on His coming that Jesus presented in Matthew 24. It is vital to see that II Thessalonians 2:1 is a statement of the Rapture: the Lord is coming, and believers are being gathered together to Him. How can this not be the Rapture? Clearly, the Second Coming and Rapture are two aspects of the same event. II Thessalonians 2:1 succinctly summarizes the teaching Paul had given to the Thessalonians in his first letter (4:13-18).

After this brief reference to the Rapture, Paul goes on to correct their erroneous thinking. He does not want them “to be soon shaken in mind or troubled” (II Thess. 2:2). They were disturbed and were perplexed; that is why Paul is writing to them. He admonishes them to “let no one deceive you by any means” (v. 3). He has given them the Truth, and what he is going to teach them is the Truth. Two events still must take place before the “coming” and the “gathering”; there will be the Apostasy and the Antichrist. After these, the Lord will return, but not before.

Paul speaks initially of the Apostasy; he writes that that day (the day of the Rapture) “will not come unless the falling away comes first” (II Thess. 2:3).  “The falling away” is the translation of the Greek word apostasia, from which we get our English word “apostasy.” Apostasia appears only in II Thessalonians 2:3 and in Acts 21:21, where it is translated “to forsake” and is used with apo. Thayer gives three possible translations: “a falling away,” “a defection,” and an “apostasy.”

It should be noted that some translate apostasia as “departure” and then equate the “departure” with the Rapture. This is a novel and recent interpretation that is forced and contrived; it is another example of where the system determines the interpretation rather than the text determining the system. It is an attempt to evade the force of the text when the natural meaning is given to the word. Our English word “apostasy,” which is defined by Webster as “renunciation of a religious faith” or “abandonment of a previous loyalty,” accurately reflects the true intent of the Greek word. To seek to identify the Apostasy with the Rapture is fanciful exegesis. It is desperate exegesis.

What is the Apostasy? Some have related it to the Church and have suggested that at the end-time the Church will fall away from the Truth, at least the organized Church. There will be a departure or defection from the faith once delivered to the saints. Sound doctrine will be rejected, and pseudo truth will be embraced. A falling away will take place. Even Walvoord, a staunch Dispensationalist, stated that “the word probably refers to doctrinal defection” (The Rapture Question, 240). The Apostasy may very well be the end-time defection of the Church from sound doctrine.

But Paul does not specifically connect the Apostasy to believers or to the end-time Church. It may be related to the Church; Paul just does not so state. He does use the definite article before the word apostasia. It is a definite time, a specific event. It is “the apostasy.” And it takes place at the end-time. Possibly the Thessalonians were familiar with this future time; no doubt Paul had discussed it with them and had instructed them concerning its character. This explains why Paul does not elaborate in his epistle. He merely reminds them of this time by saying that the Lord will not return “unless the falling away comes first” (II Thess. 2:3). They knew what he meant. The Apostasy is “first”; it comes before the Antichrist.

In addition to the Apostasy, Paul states that the Antichrist must appear before the Lord returns. Who is the Antichrist? Who is this future end-time personality? Paul identifies him as “the man of sin” (II Thess. 2:3; lit., “the man of no law”). He is the embodiment of evil, becoming the law himself; “he opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God” (v. 4). He is also called “the son of perdition” (v. 3). He will claim to be God (v. 4). His end is determined; it will be one of destruction, one of utter ruin. He will be an end-time leader of great power and influence. For the believers, he will be the great persecutor of the Church. His activity and final judgment is discussed in the Revelation. What evil awaits the end-time world! What suffering awaits the end-time Church! “That Day [the day of the “parousia” and the gathering together to Him] will not come unless . . . the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition” (v. 5).

At the time of the Apostasy, he will appear. Perhaps it is best to understand the Apostasy in connection with the Antichrist. Paul certainly relates the two in this passage. The Apostasy will be that end-time rebellion against God, a denial of His Truth with its absolutes, and His Rule with its sovereign control. It will be the triumph of humanism over theism. It will be a belief system that will make it conducive for Antichrist to appear. The Apostasy is the environment in which Antichrist will flourish. It will culminate with Antichrist “showing himself that he is God” (II Thess. 2:4). Paul does state that the Apostasy must come “first”; it is then that the man of sin is revealed. Can it be that the Apostasy is that mind-set that will become so widespread that it makes possible the Antichrist?

The Scriptures also speak of other events that must transpire before the Lord returns. In response to the disciples asking Him about “the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3), Jesus speaks of numerous events that will characterize the period before He returns in verses 4-14.

4 And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. 9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

Obviously, the Lord was asserting that some things would and, therefore, must, because He said so, take place before the end of the age. Whether these things are characteristic of the entire age or are a description of the age closer to the end does not matter. The point is the same. They must, because Jesus said they would, take place before the end. He is predicting events that will definitely occur before He returns. In other words, the Lord will not and cannot return before these things take place. This means that His Second Coming has never been imminent in the sense that the Dispensationalists claim, that of an any moment occurrence throughout history (see: The Sequence of End-Time Events). He will not come until the things He said would take place have taken place.

But Paul is clear in his affirmation that both of these events, the Apostasy and the appearance of the Antichrist, must take place before the saved are united with the Savior. It is certain that at least these two events occur before the Second Coming. According to II Thessalonians 2:1-4, two events must take place before the Lord returns.

The return of the Lord and the Rapture of the church
must be preceded
by a great revolt against God
and the appearance of the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist.

This command to watch, therefore,
cannot be used to prove
an any-moment unexpected coming of Christ
for which the believer is to watch
for the day of the Lord will come only after definite signs
such as the Antichrist and the apostasy
which will indicate to those who are watching that the end is near.
George Ladd

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