For generations, true believers—born-again of the Spirit—have been waiting for their Savior to suddenly appear in the clouds above them, and deliver them from their earthly trials.
Many of these watchful believers have been mocked and scorned for their patience and hope in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ. False teachers, who either do not understand or deny God’s Word, have led the charge against the hope of the Rapture occurring before the Tribulation.
How can anyone – after actually reading and believing God’s Word – conclude that the Rapture happens after the wrath and horrors of the Tribulation and not before?
God’s Word lists the order of events as plain as day:
“Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Then—just two verses later…
“For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
Rapture: (1 Thess. 4:17) before Tribulation: (1 Thess. 5:2-3).
Again, first “we shall be caught up together…in the clouds”. “Then sudden destruction comes upon them”—not us.
The Apostle Paul had just revealed the Rapture to the Thessalonians in chapter four. Then, literally just two verses later, he answered the obvious question as to when the Rapture would take place:
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you” (1 Thessalonians 5:1).
It’s obvious that the Rapture is to take place before all of the destruction of the Tribulation (Day of the Lord), otherwise Paul wouldn’t have focused on the fact that the Day of the Lord will arrive as a thief in the night.
Paul was associating the timing of the Rapture with the arrival of the Day of the Lord.
What difference would the sudden arrival of the Day of the Lord make if the Rapture was to take place at the end of it? Remember, Paul was still on the subject of the Rapture when he said that the Day of the Lord arrives suddenly and unexpectedly, as a thief in the night to those who are not ready.
If the Rapture was to take place at the end of the Tribulation, then Paul would have talked about the events that will take place at that time (cosmic signs, etc.).
He said that those who are ready and watching—the true believers—have no need to be concerned about the arrival of the destruction of the Day of the Lord. We need not concern ourselves with the judgment of the Tribulation because we will not be here.
If Paul was teaching that the Rapture is to take place at the end of the Tribulation, then 1 Thessalonians 5:2 should say something like:
“For you yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord lasts seven years, so…” or “the time of wrath during the Day of the Lord lasts seven years, as spoken of by Daniel….”
However, Paul did not speak of any of the events that are to occur during the Tribulation or how long they will last; Paul only spoke of the arrival of the Day of the Lord. It’s obvious then that the Rapture has no part during the Tribulation, let alone after:
“For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
We are commanded to watch and be ready for the Rapture, when we will meet our Savior face to face and when:
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief… Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober… For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:4, 6, 9).
Now, concerning Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians.
Apparently, false teachers had used Paul’s teaching of the Rapture from his first letter, and its associated timing with the arrival of the Day of the Lord, as a pretext to trouble them into a cold-hearted deception.
They were tricked into believing that the persecution they were currently enduring was in fact the actual Tribulation, i.e. the wrath of the Day of the Lord. They were frightened into believing that the Tribulation had already begun.
(Side Note: This cruel tactic is vulgarly similar to that used today by those who seem to enjoy ridiculing those of us who believe in the doctrine of the Pre-Trib Rapture. Just as the false teachers in Thessalonica knew full well that the Thessalonians were taught that the Rapture will occur before the arrival of the Day of the Lord, so also do the false teachers of today know that we’re also taught that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation.
Both sets of cruel-hearted false teachers try to deceive those who long for the return of their Savior into believing that they will miss a gathering to meet the Lord in the air before the Tribulation. Consequently, we will then have to endure the trauma and pain of God’s Tribulation judgment on the world that currently rejects His salvation and the legitimacy of His nation Israel.
They love to mock us as if it’s some sort of satisfaction for them that we’ll be suckered into having to endure the wrath of the Tribulation, exactly like the false teachers did way back in Thessalonica).
How was it that the Thessalonians could be so easily deceived by the false teachers? Because they were already enduring persecutions and tribulations that they were no doubt told by the false teachers were signs that the Tribulation had already begun.
“So that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure” (2 Thessalonians 1:4).
Paul began his letter of comfort to them—2 Thessalonians—by commending them for their “patience and faith” in all their “persecutions and tribulations.”
Paul then went on to speak of the rest that the faithful Thessalonians would have during the time “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those” who are persecuting them (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
In order to make sense of exactly what Paul was teaching the Thessalonians in reference to the Day of the Lord—whether or not he taught them that they would have to endure through it or be raptured before it—let’s make all of the Thessalonians part of either group 1, or all part of group 2 below:
Post-Trib Rapture Gathering: The Thessalonians were taught by Paul and believed that they would somehow have to endure through the entire Tribulation (Day of Christ, Day of the Lord), survive (to be alive for the gathering in the air) and not take the Mark of the Beast. They would have to wait to be gathered together to meet the Lord in the air until after the Tribulation ends.
Pre-Trib Rapture Gathering: The Thessalonians were taught by Paul that they would be gathered together in the air to be with the Lord forever before the Tribulation (Day of Christ, Day of the Lord) begins.
Again, we know from Paul’s letter that the Thessalonians actually believed that they were already in the Tribulation. If they were all part of group one from above—and since they believed that the Tribulation had already begun—why then would they be upset (before Paul’s second letter arrived) that Christ was absolutely about to return within seven years or less and end their Tribulation suffering?
You might say that they would be upset that they would still have yet to endure the remainder of the Tribulation woes, and that is why they were so troubled. That makes perfect sense except for one thing…
(Please keep in mind that we’re still talking about Group 1 from above here.)
Why then would it be a comfort and a relief to them if the Tribulation time clock had not already begun counting down to the return of their Savior? How could the fact that the Tribulation hadn’t yet begun—as Paul is telling them in this his second letter—and that now the return of the Lord would even be farther away, be of any immediate comfort to them? Especially when the true horrors of the Day of the Lord could still arrive at any time?
How is it such a great comfort to know that the Day of the Lord has not yet begun even though you’re still going to have to be present on earth throughout the destruction once it does finally begin? That just doesn’t make any sense.
It’s far more likely that they belonged to Group 2, and they were upset that Christ had already returned and they missed the “gathering together to Him,” and that He left them behind to endure the Tribulation.
The great comfort to them would then not be that the Tribulation has not yet begun and could still arrive at any time, but that the Lord Jesus had not yet arrived and the Rapture can still occur at any time.
In keeping with his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul associated the timing of the Rapture (2 Thessalonians 2:1) with the arrival of the Day of the Lord:
“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 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. 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” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).
Paul told the Thessalonians that the Antichrist will “be revealed in his own time” (2 Thessalonians 2:6). Paul is still associating the Tribulation with a time (“his own time”) after the Rapture. He was telling the Thessalonians that they could know that the Rapture (2:1) had not yet taken place because the apostasy and the revealing of the Antichrist had not yet taken place.
The Antichrist will be revealed—to those who read or have read a Bible—the moment he confirms the peace treaty with Israel. Many false candidates have come over the generations, but only one will be revealed by exactly matching the biblical description.
Paul’s primary focus was not on the Thessalonians having to watch for the events that would occur during the Tribulation; his primary focus was on them being aware of the details that would happen before the Tribulation (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 5-7).
Then he explained what would happen after the Rapture, beginning in verse 8:
“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8).
Then, after Paul explained some of the events that would take place during the Tribulation, he reminded the Thessalonians that they would not have to endure such events:
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
Interestingly, in the verse above, the Greek word used for “salvation” is “soteria.” Its precise meaning is determined by the surrounding context.
The same word “soteria” is found in Philippians 1:19:
“For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”
Paul was assuring the Philippians that their prayers were powerful enough to affect his escape from a Roman prison.
Paul never spoke of any major celestial events that would immediately precede the Lord’s return for His saints at the Rapture (in 1 Thessalonians chapter four). However, when the Lord returns with His saints, there will be great cosmic signs and wonders:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29-30).
“Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all…’” (Jude 1:14-15a).
In closing, God’s Word explicitly lays out the timing of the Rapture as occurring before the arrival of the judgment of the Tribulation.
Jesus and His apostles warned us to specifically watch for only Jesus Christ Himself, not the many events that will take place during the Tribulation.
We were also exhorted by Jesus and His apostles that while we are watching for His return, we should not give ourselves up to the errors of the false teachers who increasingly say He is not coming.
“This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles” (2 Peter 3:1-2).
What “commandment of the Lord” is Peter referring to?
“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (Matthew 24:42-44).
The Lord Jesus exhorts us again in Revelation to persevere and continue to watch for His return:
“Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).
Jesus commends us for our perseverance in holding to the traditions of our hope in His imminent return. Then He tells us of a crown we will receive if we continue to love, hope in, and watch for His soon return:
“I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (Revelation 3:11).
Paul describes this same crown:
“In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
Paul tells us again to stand firm in his teachings of our hope of the Rapture:
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Peter also tells us to stay focused on the return of Jesus and not be deceived by the false teachings of unprincipled men:
“Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).
“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17).
We cannot let the evil that is rapidly closing in around us cause us to lose our hope in the Rapture by being deceived by false teachers. We must continue to persevere, no matter how much longer we have to wait, while continuing in our hope and love of the imminent return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).