He calls the Pre-Tribulation Rapture “a demonic deception,” a “lie,” a “fraud,” a “fairy tale.”
(Emerging church leaders use similar terminology to demonize the doctrine of an imminent Rapture.)
Anderson says, “The film [After the Tribulation] does two major things—number one, it completely demolishes the fraud that is the Pre-Trib Rapture. You know, this lie that says that Jesus Christ can come back at any moment, and that we're going to be taken out of here before the Antichrist, before the global government. So about half the movie is spent just completely destroying that idea; just a ton of Scripture is used to prove that false. And then the other half of the movie pretty much just explains how all this is going to play out...” (The Alex Jones Nightly News, Feb. 1, 2013).
Anderson’s presentations on prophecy do indeed include “a ton of Scripture,” but a ton of Scripture wrongly interpreted adds up to no Scripture at all.
In “After the Tribulation,” he teaches that the Rapture will occur after the Tribulation, but in part 2 of the video series “The Book of Revelation,” he says that the Rapture will happen 75 days after the “abomination of desolation,” which occurs at the mid-point of the Antichrist’s seven-year covenant with Israel. And in part 15 he says the Rapture will occur after the tribulation but before God’s wrath is poured out.
The bottom line is that the Rapture cannot be imminent, and he plainly states this. Anderson says, “The Rapture simply cannot happen at any moment” (After the Tribulation, 01:27:05).
If Anderson is right, it would be a matter of waiting until we see the Antichrist arise and make his covenant with Israel and rebuild the Jewish temple, and waiting until we observe the Two Witnesses preaching and being killed and rising from the dead, and waiting until we see the Antichrist desecrate the temple, which is “the abomination of desolation,” and exactly 75 days later the Rapture will occur. We would, therefore, be able to set the exact day of the Rapture.
The Bible’s Description of the Rapture
The word “Rapture” does not appear in Scripture, but the event is plainly described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 5:11 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-58. The Greek word translated “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is used in Acts 8:39 of the Spirit of God snatching away Philip after the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 5:11
This is the most extensive passage in the Bible on the Rapture.
Some of the lessons are as follows:
1. The Rapture is an event in which the dead in Christ will be raised (1 Th. 4:14-16) and the living New Testament saints will be changed and glorified (1 Th. 4:17).
2. The dead in Christ are presently with Him in heaven (1 Th. 4:14). The dead in Christ do not “sleep in the grave” as some false teachers claim.
3. The Rapture is the believer’s hope and comfort (1 Th. 4:13, 18). This is what we are waiting for. We are looking for Christ, not the Antichrist. This is the believer’s “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).
4. The Rapture occurs before the Day of the Lord’s wrath (1 Th. 5:1-10).
a. The “Day of the Lord” is the time of Tribulation when God will judge the world for its sin and idolatry. In that “day,” God will be exalted and rebellious men will be humbled. See Isaiah 2:10-21.
b. Note the change in pronouns in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10. In verse 3 the pronoun “they” is used, because the Day of the Lord will come upon the unsaved world. But in verses 4-5 the pronoun “ye” is used, referring to believers. That day will not overtake us.
c. The believer is to be watching for the Lord’s return at all times (“let us watch and be sober,” 1 Th. 5:6). We do not know when it will happen. It is imminent.
d. Church age believers are not appointed to go through the time of God’s wrath (1 Th. 5:9). Compare 1 Thessalonians 1:10. Believers have been subject to the wrath of men and devils throughout the church age, but we are not appointed to go through the wrath of God that will be poured out upon this wicked world. Compare Isaiah 2:9-21.
e. The place of spiritual protection during the days of apostasy before the Rapture is the New Testament church (1 Th. 5:12-14). Each believer needs to be a faithful member of a church that is led by godly men who are sound in the New Testament faith. The leaders and the church members work together to accomplish God’s will on earth in preaching the gospel to every nation while they wait for the Lord’s return. The way to have peace in the church is for the leaders to teach the Bible faithfully and for the members to show respect to the leaders and follow them as they follow Christ and His Word. Those who are unruly in the churches should be rebuked, because they harm the Lord’s work.
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
1. The Rapture is a mystery that was not revealed in the Old Testament prophecies (1 Co. 15:51). The Old Testament prophets taught about the bodily resurrection, but they did not teach that some would be glorified without dying. They prophesied about the resurrection of Jews at the end of the Tribulation (Da. 12:1-2), but they did not see the Rapture of New Testament believers before the Tribulation.
2. The dead in Christ will be raised to incorruption and the believers who are living at that time will be instantly changed from mortal to immortal (1 Co. 15:52-53). “Incorruptible” means the resurrection body will be incapable of such things as pain and sickness. “Immortal” means incapable of dying.
3. The Rapture of church-age believers is to be a source of great encouragement and motivation to godly Christian service (1 Co. 15:58). The imminent Rapture is a very important doctrine. It helps to motivate the Lord’s people to stay awake spiritually, and it helps to motivate the churches to stay busy in the work of preaching the gospel to lost souls before it is too late. It helps them not to be sidetracked from this work.
4. What about “the last trump”?
The trumpet that will sound at the Rapture of the church-age saints has nothing to do with the trumpets that will sound in Revelation as judgments on this world or the trumpets that sound in reference to Israel. The church is not a part of these other programs. Her “trump” is a different one. The church’s last trump is when she shall finally be congregated together to the Lord (1 Th. 4:17). Compare Numbers 10:7.
Yet the timing of the Rapture is not found in these passages. To understand the timing of the Rapture, we have to compare Scripture with Scripture and draw conclusions from Scripture.
I am convinced that any interpretation of prophecy that becomes convoluted and difficult to understand, that doesn’t have a basic simplicity to it (such as Anderson’s), is not the truth.
Why We Hold to a Pre-Trib Rapture
There are some difficulties with any position on the timing of the Rapture and some questions that cannot be answered with certainty, but having studied this matter from all sides for four and a half decades, following are the three of the fundamental Bible truths that convince me that the Rapture is Pre-Tribulational.
1. The Rapture of church-age saints is said to be imminent (it could happen any time), whereas the Second Coming is said to be preceded by specific signs.
Christ taught that the Rapture is imminent (Matthew 24:42, 44; 25:13; Mark 13:32-37).
Paul taught it (Php. 4:5; Titus 2:12-13).
James taught it (Jas. 5:8-9).
Peter taught it (1 Pe. 4:7).
The early Christians were living in constant expectation of Christ’s return (1 Th. 1:9-10). The apostle Paul instructed the church at Thessalonica that they did not need to heed signs and times, because the New Testament believer has been promised redemption from the “day of darkness” that shall overcome the whole world (1 Th. 5:1-9). The church is not waiting for the antichrist, but for Christ Himself.
2. The church is a mystery that is not revealed in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:1-11).
The New Testament church has no part in the chronology of events foretold by the Old Testament prophets. They clearly foretold the first coming of Christ as the Suffering Messiah: His miraculous birth, sinless life, atoning death, bodily resurrection, and ascension. The same prophets describe Christ’s Second Coming is the Reigning Messiah, preceded by a time of unprecedented worldwide tribulation and followed by the establishment of the glorious Messianic kingdom centered in Jerusalem. But these prophets did not see the church age--“which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5).
Between Christ’s first and second coming, there is a time gap that was not seen by the Old Testament prophets. This gap is the church age. The prophets did not see that Israel would be set aside temporarily while God called out from among all nations a special body of people. After He has accomplished this purpose and the fullness of the Gentiles is come in, God will restart Israel’s prophetic clock with the last seven years of Daniel’s 70th Week (Da. 9:24-28) and will fulfill all Old Testament prophecies and covenants pertaining to His ancient chosen nation. “... blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25).
The Great Tribulation pertains to God’s dealing with Israel and the Gentile nations, not to the church. This present mystery period will end with the removal of church-age believers from the earth; and the Lord will then pour out His judgments on the Gentile nations and fulfill His covenants with Israel. The Great Tribulation is called “the time of the heathen” (Ezek. 30:3), referring to the Gentile nations, and “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), referring to Israel.
3. The book of Revelation shows that the church is not on earth during the Tribulation.
a. The church is not seen on earth in chapters 4-18.
b. The witness for God in the earth during the Tribulation is Israel, not the church (Re. 7).
c. The prayers of the saints in Revelation 8 are prayers for judgment. Only Israel prayed such prayers. The church-age saints are instructed to pray for her enemies, not against them (Lk. 9:51-56). The imprecatory prayers of Revelation are those of the Psalms and are based on God’s promise to Abraham to curse those that cursed Israel (Gen. 12:1-3).
d. The scorpion-like creatures of Revelation 9 are given freedom to hurt all earth-dwellers except those Jews who were sealed by the angel of Revelation 7; if church-age believers were on earth, they would be subject to this horrible judgment.
e. Revelation 10 identifies the events of Revelation 4-18 with those foretold by Old Testament prophets--the days of the Great Tribulation, the “Day of the Lord.” The church age was never in the view of these Old Testament prophecies; it was a mystery not yet revealed. The church has a different purpose and program than national Israel. It is Israel that is in view in Old Testament prophecy and in Revelation 4-18.
f. The ministry of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 identifies them with national Israel and with Old Testament prophecies of the “Day of the Lord.” The two witnesses minister from Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. The churches have no such capital, her hope being heavenly, not earthly (Col. 3:1-4; Php. 3:17-21). The two witnesses are clothed in sackcloth, which speaks of Israel. The sackcloth signifies repentance from sin and sorrow because of some calamity (1 Ki. 21:27; 2 Ki. 19:1; Est. 4:1; Isa. 15:3; Jer. 4:8). Nowhere are the churches seen in sackcloth. The churches are told, rather, to “rejoice in the Lord alway” (Php. 4:4). The church-age believer’s judgment is forever past, and he is to keep his mind centered in the heavenlies where, positionally, he is already seated, eternally victorious with Christ (Eph. 2:5-10). Revelation 11:4 identifies the two witnesses with the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah 4:3, 11, 14. This is a prophecy about Israel, not the church. Further, the two witnesses call down judgment upon their enemies in Revelation 10:5-6. Jesus rebuked his disciples for desiring to do just this and instructed the church-age believer to pray for the well-being of his enemies, not for their destruction (Lk. 9:54-56; Rom. 12:14, 17-21).
g. The devil persecutes Israel, not the church, during the Tribulation (Re. 12). There can be no doubt that the woman in this chapter signifies Israel. Verse 5 shows the woman bringing forth Christ; it is obvious that Jesus was brought forth by Israel, not by the churches (Isa. 9:6-7; Rom. 9:5). Also, the symbols of Revelation 12:1-2 recall familiar Old Testament typology of Israel. She is referred to as a woman (Isa. 54:5-7). The sun and moon and the 12 stars of verse 2 remind us of Joseph’s dream regarding Israel (Gen. 37:9). The words of Revelation 12:2 are almost an exact quote from Micah 5:3, again speaking of Israel’s delivery of the Messiah. These symbols are not used in the New Testament of the churches.
When Was the Pre-Trib Rapture First Taught?
Steven Anderson follows Replacement theologians in claiming that John Darby was the first to teach a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, but it isn’t true.
As we have seen, two thousand years ago, all of the churches were looking for an imminent return of Christ. That was a long time before Darby.
In the 4th century, the Pre-Tribulation Rapture was taught by Ephraem the Syrian (c. 303-373). Ephraem is called “the Syrian” because he lived in that region.
Ephraem is venerated as a “saint” by the Catholic and Orthodox churches, but they would not allow him to teach his doctrine of prophecy today.
He was a voluminous writer. Many of his sermons and psalms are included in the 16-volume Post-Nicene Library. (The Council of Nicea was held in AD 325, and historians divide the “fathers” into Ante-Nicene, before 325, and Post-Nicene, after 325).
In the 1990s some of Ephraem’s writings were translated into English for the first time, one of these being On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, A.D. 373.
The translation was done by Professor Cameron Rhoades of Tyndale Theological Seminary at the bequest of Grant R. Jeffrey. It was subsequently published in Jeffrey’s 1995 book Final Warning.
It is obvious that Ephraem believed in a literal fulfillment of prophecy, including a Rapture of New Testament saints prior to the Tribulation.
“For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins” (Ephraem the Syrian, On the Last Times).
Observe that Ephraem taught that the saints will be taken to the Lord so they will not see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world, which is exactly what 1 Thessalonians 5:3-9 says.
Ephraem taught a literal Antichrist who will sit in a literal rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, a literal 3.5 year Tribulation, a literal Two Witnesses or prophets who will preach in Jerusalem, a literal battle of Gog and Magog.
“And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know, and on the day which the enemy or son of perdition does not know, will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty, with the sign of the word of salvation going before him, and also even with all the powers of the heavens with the whole chorus of the saints. ... Then Christ shall come and the enemy shall be thrown into confusion, and the Lord shall destroy him by the Spirit of his mouth. And he shall be bound and shall be plunged into the abyss of everlasting fire alive with his father Satan; and all people, who do his wishes, shall perish with him forever; but the righteous ones shall inherit everlasting life with the Lord for ever and ever” (Ephraem the Syrian, On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, A.D. 373).
Ephraem believed in the imminency of the return of Christ and urged his fellow Christians to live godly lives in expectation of His return.
Actually, Ephraem the Syrian was not alone in interpreting Bible prophecy literally in his day.
He was living one generation from the era of Augustine (354-430), at which time there was a dramatic change. When Ephraem died in 373, Augustine was 19 years old.
It was in the era of Augustine that allegoricalism widely replaced the previous method of interpretation. Prior to this, it was common among Bible believers to interpret prophecy literally. They believed that Christ would return literally (and imminently), bind Satan, and establish a literal millennial kingdom on earth.
This is acknowledged by church historians.
William Newell said, “The early Church for 300 years looked for the imminent return of our Lord to reign, and they were right” (Newell, Revelation).
Phillip Schaaf said, “... the most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age [prior to AD 325] is the prominent chiliasm, or millennarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment” (History of the Christian Church, 8 vols, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960, 2:614).
Henry Thiessen said, “It is clear ... that the Fathers held not only the pre-millennial view of Christ’s coming, but also regarded that coming as imminent. The Lord had taught them to expect His return at any moment, and so they looked for Him to come in their day. Not only so, but they also taught His personal return as being immediately, with the exception of the Alexandrian Fathers, who also rejected other fundamental doctrines” (Thiessen, Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 477).
In fact, Augustine, “the father of amillennialism,” once believed in a literal millennium himself. He said, “I myself, too, once held this opinion. ... They who do believe them are called by the spiritual, Chiliasts, which we may literally reproduce by the name Millenarians” (Augustine, City of God, book 20, chapter 7).
The following statement by Irenaeus (c. 120-203) is an example of what was commonly believed among the early “church fathers,” as they looked forward to Christ’s return and the establishment of His kingdom:
“The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth. ... In like manner [the Lord declared] that ... all animals feeding [only] on the productions of the earth, should [in those days] become peaceful and harmonious among each other, and be in perfect subjection to man” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, The Ante-Nicene Fathers).
The church at Antioch long interpreted Bible prophecy literally. Antioch was an important church founded by Barnabas and Paul, and it is from this church that the first foreign missionaries were ordained and sent out (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-4). It was at Antioch that the disciples of Christ were first called Christians.
Some of the preachers associated with Antioch were Lucian (died 312), Theodore (AD 350-428), Chrysostom (AD 354-407), Theodoret (AD 386-458), and Diodorus of Tarsus. These men interpreted Bible prophecy literally and believed in a literal millennium.
In History of Interpretation, F.W. Farrar observed, “Diodorus of Tarsus’ books were devoted to an exposition of Scripture in its literal sense, and he wrote a treatise, now unhappily lost, ‘on the difference between allegory and spiritual insight’” (Farrar, pp. 213-15).
“The Antioch’s school’s two greatest exegetes, Theodore of Mopsuestia (AD 350-428) and John Chrysostom (AD 354-407), were ‘anti-allegorical’” (Matthew Allen, “Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology,” bible.org).
Some of the early Christians after the apostles taught a form of dispensationalism. Examples can be found in the extant writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Methodius. Justin Martyr (100-165) believed in four phases of history in God’s plan: From Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Christ, and from Christ to the eternal state. Irenaeus (120-202) taught something similar, dividing the dispensations into the creation to the flood, the flood to the law, the law to the gospel, the gospel to the eternal state.
Dr. Larry Crutchfield observes that some of the early church leaders “came very close to making nearly the same divisions modern dispensationalists do” (“Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Ante-Nicene Period,” Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 1987).
The allegorical method of interpretation was invented by false teachers after the apostolic era as the apostasy was growing and spreading toward the formation of the Roman Catholic Church.
A school was established at Alexandria, Egypt, which became the headquarters for the allegorical method of interpretation. Egypt was a place where false teaching proliferated in the first centuries after Christ.
Clement, who headed the school from AD 190 to 202, corrupted the Christian faith by mixing it with the worldly philosophy and allegoricalism of Philo. He taught many false doctrines, including purgatory, and believed that most men would eventually be saved even though Jesus said only a few would be (Mt. 7:14). “Clement saw the literal meaning of Scripture as being a ‘starting point’ for interpretation. Although it was ‘suitable for the mass of Christians,’ God revealed himself to the spiritually advanced through the ‘deeper meaning’ of Scripture. In every passage, a deeper or additional meaning existed beyond the primary or immediate sense” (Matthew Allen, “Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology,” bible.org).
Origen (AD 185-254) was one of the chief fathers of allegoricalism. He led the school at Alexandria from AD 202 to 232. Though he endured persecution and torture for the cause of Christ under the Emperor Decius in 250, Origen was laden down with heresies. Like Clement, he mixed the truth of the Bible with pagan philosophy. He taught that celibacy was a holy state above marriage, contrary to the teaching of the apostles. He taught baptismal regeneration, purgatory, and the pre-existence of the human soul. He taught that all men, even Satan and demons, would eventually be saved. He taught that the Holy Spirit was the first creature made by God, and denied the full Godhead and eternality of Jesus. He did not believe that the Scriptures are wholly inspired by God.
Origen claimed that “the Scriptures have little use to those who understand them literally.” He described the literal meaning of Scripture as “bread” and encouraged the student to go beyond this to the “wine” of allegoricalism, whereby one can become intoxicated and transported to heavenly realms. Origen’s commentaries contained a wealth of fanciful interpretations, abounding in “heretical revisals of Scripture” (Frederick Nolan, Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, p. 367).
Another father of allegoricalism was Augustine (AD 354-430), one of the fathers of the Roman Catholic Church. He was exalted as one of the “doctors” of Rome. Augustine invented the terrible and unbiblical doctrine of the inquisition that was used by the Catholic Church against Bible believers for more than 1,000 years. The German historian Neander observed that Augustine’s teaching “contains the germ of the whole system of spiritual despotism, intolerance, and persecution, even to the court of the Inquisition.” Augustine instigated persecutions against the Donatists who were striving to maintain pure biblical churches. He taught that “the sacraments,” such as baptism, were the means of salvation. He taught that Mary did not commit sin. He taught the heresy of purgatory. He was one of the fathers of infant baptism, claiming that unbaptized infants are lost and calling all who rejected infant baptism “infidels” and “cursed.” He exalted the authority of “the church” over that of Scripture.
“Through Augustine, Origen's allegorical hermeneutic became the backbone of medieval interpretation of the Bible” (Matthew Allen, “Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology,” bible.org).
These heresies grew and became a fundamental part of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
When the Protestant denominations (e.g., Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist) broke away from Rome, one of the errors they brought with them was the allegorical interpretation of prophecy.
The Importance of a Pre-Tribulational Rapture
The doctrine of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture is not a minor one. As we have seen, Jesus, Paul, James, and Peter taught that the return of Christ was imminent and was to be expected at any time (Mt. 24:44; Phi. 4:5; Jas. 5:8-9; 1 Pe. 4:7). The early Christians lived in expectation of Christ’s return and the literal fulfillment of the prophecies (1 Th. 1:9-10).
The doctrine of a Pre-Tribulational Rapture is a great motivator for purifying one’s personal Christian life.
1. It encourages the believer in trials and persecutions. “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Th. 4:17-18).
2. It keeps the church’s focus on the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20; Mr. 16:15; Lu. 24:44-48; Ac. 1:8). It teaches us that preaching the gospel, baptizing and discipling believers, and establishing churches as the pillar and ground of the truth is the most urgent matter. D.L. Moody had it right when he said: “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’”
3. It motivates us to be busy in the Lord’s work (1 Co. 15:58).
4. It motivates us to live obedient lives (1 Jo. 3:1-3; 1 Th. 5:4-7).
5. It motivates us to separate from evil (Tit. 2:13-14).
6. It keeps believers on the outlook for heresy and apostasy (2 Ti. 4:3-4; 1 Jo. 2:24-28).
What about the Pre-wrath position?
The “pre-wrath” doctrine says that the Rapture occurs mid-way between Daniel’s 70th Week. It is based on the view that the “church” is to be kept from God’s wrath but the wrath is limited to the last half of the seven-year tribulation period, beginning when the Antichrist sets himself up as God in the Jewish temple.
I believe this position is wrong for three reasons, chiefly.
1. The first reason is the Bible’s teaching about the imminency of Christ’s coming, as we have already emphasized (Mt. 24:44; 44; 25:13; Mr. 13:33; Php. 4:5; 1 Th. 1:10; Jas. 5:8-9; 1 Pe. 4:7). This is a fundamental Bible teaching, but if the believer is not taken away until part way through the Tribulation, he would know the time of the Rapture precisely, almost to the day, because he would see the events unfold during the first half of Daniel’s 70th week as recorded in the book of Revelation.
2. We do not accept the idea that only the last seven judgments are the wrath of God (Re. 15:1; 16:1). The wrath of God is mentioned in Revelation 6:16-17, at the beginning of the Tribulation. The fact is that the entire Tribulation is the wrath of God, each part growing in intensity. The seal judgments affect a fourth of the earth (Re. 6:8). The trumpet judgments affect a third of the earth (Re. 8:7-11; 9:15). The vial judgments affect the entire world (Re. 16:2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 14, 20).
3. The entire period of Daniel’s 70th Week pertains to Israel and not to the church. As we have seen, the church is not seen on earth after Revelation 3. Everything described on earth in Revelation 6-18 pertains to the Gentile nations and to Israel. The “pre-wrath” position does not make a proper and consistent distinction between Israel and the church.
What about 2 Thessalonians 2?
Some use this passage as a proof text to support the position that the Rapture of church age saints occurs after the appearance of the Antichrist, but it teaches the opposite.
If Paul is saying in 2 Thessalonians 2 that the Rapture will occur after the revelation of the Antichrist, then he is contradicting what he taught in the first epistle to the Thessalonians.
Paul had taught the Thessalonians a lot about Bible prophecy in general and about the Rapture in particular. Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians mentions the coming of Christ. 1 Thessalonians contains the greatest teaching on the Rapture in the Bible (1 Th. 4:13-18). Paul used used this doctrine to comfort the believers (“wherefore comfort one another with these words,” 1 Th. 4:18). The Rapture would not be a comfort if it occurred after the coming of the Antichrist and the judgments described in Revelation. Paul had taught them that the coming of the Lord for them is to be expected at any time; it is imminent (1 Th. 1:10). He taught them that they were waiting on the coming of the Lord Himself, not the Antichrist. He taught them that they would not be overtaken by the destruction and darkness and wrath that will come upon the world at the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:1-9).
Sometime after they had received the teaching of 1 Thessalonians, the saints at Thessalonica had been shaken by false teaching that the day of Christ was at hand or already present. In 2 Th. 2:2, “at hand” means present. The Greek word, “enistemi,” is usually translated “present” (Ro. 8:38; 1 Co. 3:22; 7:26; Ga. 1:4; He. 9:9).
We believe that the solution to the apparent contradiction between what Paul taught about the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians and about the “day of Christ” in 2 Thessalonians is to understand that the “day of Christ” here refers not to the Rapture, but to “the day of the Lord” that Paul warned about in 1 Th. 5:2-9 and described as destruction and darkness and wrath. If we read 2 Th. 2:3 as follows, there are no contradictions: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [the day of the Lord] shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
2 Thessalonians 2 was specifically written so that the believers would not be shaken in mind and troubled by the false teaching that the day of Christ had already happened. In some places, “at hand” means imminent,” but here, it means present. As we have seen, the Greek word here, “enistemi,” is usually translated “present” (Ro. 8:38; 1 Co. 3:22; 7:26; Ga. 1:4; He. 9:9). (On the other hand, in Philippians 4:5; 1 Peter 4:7; and Revelation 1:3, “at hand” is translated from “eggus,” meaning near, imminent.) The comfort is the fact that we will be gathered unto Christ before the wrath and darkness come. This is the believer’s Blessed Hope. We are looking for the coming of Christ, not the coming of the Antichrist. What comfort would there be in teaching that we are waiting for the Antichrist? That would be a strange type of comfort! It would have the effect of doing the very thing that Paul was wanting to correct, that is to trouble and shake the mind. “A crucial question arises in verse 1 concerning the small word which Paul uses: ‘concerning’ (Greek ‘huper’). The problem is whether he is beseeching the saints ‘about’ the coming of our Lord or ‘by’ the coming of our Lord. If the first is the meaning, then the passage seems to teach that the Rapture and the Day of the Lord are one and the same event, since the following verses clearly deal with the Day of the Lord. If the second is the meaning, then Paul is appealing to them on the basis of the prior Rapture, that they should not think they were in the Day of the Lord. The question is debatable. We agree with William Kelly when he adopts the second view: ‘The comfort of the Lord's coming is employed as a motive and means for counteracting the uneasiness created by the false presentation that the day (of the Lord) was there.’ We understand Paul to be saying, ‘I appeal to you on the basis of the Rapture that you should not fear that you are in the Day of the Lord. The Rapture must take place first. You will be taken home to heaven at that time and will thus escape the horrors of the Day of the Lord” (Believer’s Bible Commentary).
The “falling away” is the final apostasy that accompanies the revelation of the Antichrist. It is not merely the widespread apostasy of the end of the church age as described in 2 Timothy 2-3; it is the complete apostasy of the revelation of the religion of Revelation 17 which is associated with the rise of the Antichrist. After the Rapture, there will be no born again churches on earth, only unregenerate Christians in all of the denominations, and they will be swept up in accepting the Antichrist.
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