The Day of the Lord is a future time when God directly intervenes in the affairs of man through unprecedented judgment. It will come on an unsuspecting world, plunging it into absolute darkness and terror. It will be preceded by the most stunning and unforeseen event in human history: the rapture. When Jesus Christ appears in the clouds to take his church to be with him, deliverance will be granted to those taken up, but judgment poured out on those left behind.
Not everyone, however, is convinced that the rapture will happen. There is also considerable debate among well-meaning scholars concerning the particulars of this thrilling but mysterious event. Furthermore, even within the church, there are dissenting views concerning the rapture’s timing.
This essay will explore “the day of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians and the Olivet Discourse and contend that Jesus and Paul taught a pretribulational rapture of the church. Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse will be consulted because it is primarily concerned with the events of Daniel’s 70th week. This essay was written with the conviction that excitement for Christ’s imminent return encourages evangelistic fervor and holy living among God’s people.
The Rapture in 1 Thessalonians
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess 4:16).
The rapture begins with Christ leaving heaven and descending into earth’s atmosphere. Following the blast of a trumpet, the dead in Christ will rise from their graves. Bodies that have been lost at sea will be instantaneously recreated. Graves will break open as bodies of deceased saints are recreated and glorified. Following the translation of all dead saints, they, together with all Christians who are still alive on earth, will be caught up (ἁρπάζω) into the clouds to meet Jesus in the air. This word means to seize, catch up, snatch away, carry off by force . In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the word suggests a sudden and instantaneous removal of all believers on earth by Jesus Himself.
This concept unsettles some biblical scholars. They claim that the word “rapture” appears nowhere in the Bible. Their assertion is touted as a fatal blow to the pretribulational rapture position when it is a straw-man argument. If these scholars were reading the Latin Vulgate, they would have read the Latin translation of ἁρπάζω, rapio, from which the English word “rapture” is derived.
The assertion that believers will be kept from God’s coming wrath is not extra-biblical; it is entirely biblical. Paul taught this truth to the Thessalonians. “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess 1:9-10).
Here, Paul reveals that believers are looking for and awaiting Jesus Himself, not the arrival of antichrist or any other preliminary event. He even says that Jesus “rescues us from the wrath to come.” While it is certainly true that Jesus has rescued believers from all forms of God’s judgment, the specific wrath here is the final eschatological wrath of the day of the Lord. Believers are said to be rescued from (ἐκ) it. This genitive preposition literally means “out of.” Thus, Christians will not merely be preserved through the tribulation; they will be kept out of it through the rapture.
The Day of the Lord
The day of the Lord is a technical term with roots in the OT, where it occurs 19 times. In the OT, historical judgments often foreshadowed the ultimate eschatological day of the Lord. Localized disasters, such as the locust invasion in Joel, anticipated global cataclysms associated with God’s final judgment. Isaiah 2:12 says, “For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased.” In Joel 2:30-31, scripture says, “I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, Blood, fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”
Concerning this same time, Amos writes that “It will be darkness and not light” (Amos 5:18). The day of the Lord may specifically refer to the second coming of Christ, or it may refer to the broader period between the rapture and the end of the millennium.
After detailing the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul continues his eschatological admonition into chapter 5, focusing on the times and epochs (καιρός, literally a fixed time-period). The day of the Lord is said to come upon the world “like a thief in the night.” On the contrary, believers will not be caught off guard. Why not? Because they will be taken to safety in the rapture that Paul discussed earlier. Paul wrote, “you have no need of anything to be written to you” (v. 2) because he had already taught the pretribulational rapture. Paul likely borrowed his thief terminology from Jesus in Matthew 24:43. There, Jesus likened his coming to the unannounced arrival of a thief.
The question in this discussion is, was Jesus referring to His second coming at the end of the tribulation or to the rapture of the church before the tribulation? A brief survey of the Olivet Discourse is in order.
The Olivet Discourse
In Matthew 24:1-3, Jesus’s disciples admire the second temple. Unmoved by their excitement, Jesus predicts the temple’s destruction. The disciples then ask Jesus two specific questions. First, they ask Him, “When will these things happen?” Second, they ask, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In vv. 4-14, Christ answers the second question, surveying the entire seven-year tribulation, which concludes with the second coming in vv. 29-31. Jesus reveals many signs that will signal the nearness of His return at the end of the tribulation, culminating at v. 14. These signs are false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, nations rising against nations, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. These are all identified as the “beginning of sorrows” because they are merely the initial judgments of the tribulation.
In v. 15, Jesus gives His listeners the super-sign of the end: the Abomination of Desolation. Here, the literary device of recapitulation returns the reader to the mid-point of the tribulation when the antichrist enthrones himself in the Jerusalem temple . In v. 21, Jesus designates this time as the Great Tribulation because its severity will be unmatched in all human history. The Great Tribulation intensifies up to the second coming of Christ in vv. 29-31. The parable of the fig tree (vv. 32-34) teaches that the convergence of all the signs will inform the terminal generation that Christ’s return is at hand.
In v. 36 however, a transition is observed with peri de, “now concerning.” This takes the reader back to the first of the two questions that the disciples asked, “When will these things happen?”  Jesus transitions from describing events that will characterize “those days” (plural, vv. 24:19, 22, 29) to surveying “that day” (singular, v. 36). This transition also marks a significant shift in Jesus’s earlier emphasis on what people can know via the signs of His return in “those days” to the mysterious, surprise return of Christ on “that day” . Jesus’ analogy to the days of Noah describes the business-as-usual mindset that characterized the world before the flood.
Apparently, this same unsuspecting mindset will once again be commonplace in the days leading up to that day, with the result that “that day” will catch the world by surprise . The question is, which day? It can only be the day of the Lord and the accompanying rapture of the church.
Is Matthew 24:36 a Rapture Passage?
A seeming contradiction must be resolved. All post-tribulationalists and many pre-tribulationalists, compelled by context, interpret Matthew 24:36-44 as referring to the same event outlined in vv. 29-31: the return of Christ in power and glory immediately after the tribulation of those days. Many of them do not observe the slight shift in focus from those days to that day. Are vv. 36-44 really describing the post-tribulational return of Christ? Jesus said in Matthew 24:39 that people “did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
Is it possible during the Great Tribulation that men will “not understand” (γινώσκω) what is happening, precisely when God’s judgments are poured out in all their intensity? Ryrie states that “when the Great Tribulation comes, men will act as if they think the world is coming to an end” . One-fourth of the earth’s population is wiped out in the fourth seal judgment alone (Rev 6:8). At the sixth seal judgment, all men recognize that God’s wrath has come, and they attempt to hide from it (Rev 6:12). The event of vv. 36-44, however, occurs during a time of relative peace, when a business-as-usual mindset still characterizes the world. This mindset is incompatible with the conditions on earth during the Great Tribulation.
Concerning the Great Tribulation in Daniel 12:1-3, Walvoord writes, “This description of the time of the end confirms Daniel’s revelation that the time of the end will be a period of trouble such as the world has never known, trouble of such character that it would result in the extermination of the human race if it were not cut short by the consummation, the second coming of Jesus Christ” . The event of Matthew 24:36 must be understood as occurring immediately before the tribulation begins.
The Timing of the Day of The Lord
A distinction must be made, however. The rapture does not begin the seven-year tribulation. According to Daniel 9:27, the confirmation of a seven-year covenant between Israel and the antichrist does. It has been increasingly common to postulate an indefinite time gap between the rapture and the confirmation of this covenant . There could be a gap, but it is unlikely to be significant because the primary purpose of the rapture is to remove the church from the world before God’s eschatological wrath begins (1 Thess 1:10).
The tension in the Olivet Discourse between what the disciples can know (γινώσκω in v. 32) and what they cannot know (οὐ δοκέω in v. 44) can only be reconciled by recognizing that Jesus references two distinct time periods: the days leading up to His second coming (vv. 4-32), and the time just before the pretribulational rapture (vv. 36-44).
Is Not the Olivet Discourse for Israel?
An objection is raised that because the Olivet Discourse is for Israel, it, therefore, cannot allude to the rapture of the church. Jesus, however, is answering His disciples’ question, “When will these things happen?” Jesus answers this question by teaching that the day of the Lord will catch the world by complete surprise and that not even believers will know the day in advance.
Matthew 24: 36-44 is not particularly concerned with the rapture but with the state of the world just before Daniel’s 70th week begins. Only then will a routine, business-as-usual mindset characterize the world . Then suddenly and without warning, a cataclysmic and signless event will catch the entire world by complete surprise and plunge it into a time of devastating judgment. This is the most literal interpretation of the “thief in the night” language that Jesus and Paul employ. A thief never provides signs that announce his arrival at night. He relies on the element of surprise. In the same way, the unexpected arrival of Jesus Christ in the clouds before the tribulation will be signless.
The admonition to the believer is to be always ready. The warning to the nonbeliever is that at any moment, he or she may be left behind to face Daniel’s 70th week.
When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about the rapture, he commanded them to “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:18). No greater comfort exists than the expectation of the imminent rapture of the church prior to the tribulation. Paul borrowed his “thief in the night” imagery from Jesus, who employed it in describing the conditions of the world prior to the tribulation, not the second coming. Pre-tribulationalists, using the grammatical historical method of interpretation, can teach that Jesus Christ will come for His church before the tribulation “as a thief in the night.” May it be that Christ finds his followers alert on that day.
Southern California Seminary
 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922), 60.
 John F. MacArthur Jr., Revelation 12-22, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2000), 61.
 John F. Hart. Should Pretribulationists Reconsider the Rapture in Matthew 24:36-44? Part 1 of 3. (Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, 2007), 70.
 Ibid., 71
 William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2040.
 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 540.
 John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key To Prophetic Revelation (Galaxie Software, 2008), 283.
 Bill Salus, The Next Prophecies (La Quinta CA: Prophecy Depot Publishing, 2018), 33.
 Some scholars identify the period of “peace and safety” of 1 Thessalonians 5:2 with the rise of antichrist. In this interpretation, antichrist rides forth onto the world scene with a short-lived pseudo-peace. However, it must be remembered that antichrist will bring order out of chaos following the first global cataclysm, the rapture. He will initially conquer through deceptive peace (Rev 6:1-2). The natural language of 1 Thessalonians 5:2 strongly suggests that the period of “peace and safety” occurs before the first global cataclysm, not after it. The order of events would be: 1) Peace and Security. 2) Pretribulational Rapture. 3) Chaos and fear. 5) Rise of antichrist and pseudo-peace (Rev 6:1-2). 6) Pseudo-peace ends with the second seal (Rev 6:3-4).