Don’t Be Deceived: The Rapture Happens First :: By Jonathan Brentner

As the world moves closer to another world war, which may include nuclear weapons, some speculate that the Tribulation period has already begun.

Others grow weary of waiting for the Lord’s return. How much longer will Jesus keep us on earth before He comes for us? Is He really going to keep us out of the time of the Lord’s wrath that’s rapidly approaching our world?

Please know that the Bible assures us that the Lord will come for us before the start of the seven-year Tribulation, which begins the moment that the antichrist makes a covenant with Israel. This has not yet happened!

1Thessalonians 5:1-11 provides much-needed encouragement regarding our hope in Jesus’ soon appearing. In this passage, the Lord, through the Apostle Paul, promises that we as believers in Jesus will miss the wrath of the coming Day of the Lord, which includes all of the Tribulation period.

Many Bible students also see 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as a verse that confirms the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the church:

“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (KJV).

The traditional way of regarding “falling away,” or “rebellion” in some translations, has been to regard this as a reference to a time of future apostasy in the church. The Greek word here, apostasia, normally makes one think of apostasy, such as in a spiritual falling away.

However, in recent years, apostasia has received heightened scrutiny from biblical scholars, with many now regarding it as a reference to Jesus’ appearing to take us home to heaven, the physical departure of the church from the earth. This actually aligns with the earliest English translations of the Bible, which translated apostasia as a departure, such as in a physical exit from a location. [[i]]

Do sound reasons exist for such an interpretation?

I believe they do. Below, I discuss the reasons that changed my long-held viewpoint of this matter to that of regarding apostasia as a reference to the pre-Tribulation Rapture.

The Word Apostasia Can Refer to a Physical Departure

The first question to ask is this: Is it possible for apostasia to refer to a physical departure such as the Rapture? Yes, it can.

In his book, The Falling Away, Dr. Andy Woods provides much evidence regarding the use of the Greek word apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as a physical departure rather than a “falling away” from the faith. He wrote this regarding the basic meaning of the word:

“…apostasia simply means to ‘to stand away from’ or ‘to depart.’ Only by examining how this word is used in its immediate context will determine what the departure is from, whether it be a spiritual or physical departure.” [ [ii]]

The root verb form apostasia confirms that it can refer to a physical departure from a location. New Testament writers used the verb form of apostasia fifteen times. As Dr. Woods points out:

“…only three times does it mean a spiritual departure. The remaining twelve times, it clearly means a physical departure. For example, Luke 2:37 says, “and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four, she never left the temple.'”  [iii]

Since apostasia can refer to either a physical departure or a spiritual falling away, we must rely on the context to determine the proper interpretation.

The Context Supports a Physical Departure

Both the immediate and extended context of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 support a physical departure. The Rapture is the main subject matter of both books that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians as well as chapter two of 2 Thessalonians.

2 Thessalonians 2 begins with these words, “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him…” (v. 1). Paul introduces this passage, verses 1-12, with a reference to the Rapture. Why would he not also have the Lord’s return to take us home on his mind two verses later? I believe he does.

As for the greater context, Dr. Woods writes,

“Since the ‘context is king’ in determining the meaning of the apostasia, and the larger context of the Thessalonian letters pertain to the return of Christ, interpreters should be open to a physical departure understanding of the word. Thus, the larger context of these two books does not favor spiritual departure interpretation of the apostasia, but rather it favors the physical departure view.”  [iv]

The usage of apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as our physical departure via the Rapture aligns with both the immediate and overall context of the verse. The context favors the interpretation of apostasia as a physical departure, such as the Rapture of the church.

Paul Is Referring to a Definite Event

Paul’s use of the definite article in front of apostasia tells us he has a specific event in mind, either a particular instance of apostasy or a definite occasion such as the Rapture. Because he does not further explain the event, this indicates the apostle was referring to an event that his readers would readily recognize.

The only apostasia of which his readers would have been aware of is that of the Rapture. They had no framework leading them to assume it meant a spiritual departure from the faith; again, we have no evidence that Paul even talked about this until much later. At the time, he assumed he would be alive at the time of Jesus’ appearing for His church. [v]                     

The apostle has a definite event in mind, one that his readers would readily recognize. On the other hand, Paul never refers to spiritual apostasy in either of his epistles to the Thessalonians and offers no additional clarifying information in the text.

The only departure that his readers would readily recognize is that of the Rapture.

Paul Does Not Mention Spiritual Apostasy in Either Epistle to the Thessalonians

As we look at 1 and 2 Thessalonians, we see repeated references to the Rapture, but Paul never mentions a falling away from the faith.

Why would Paul cite a spiritual departure from the faith as a key indicator of the Day of the Lord with no other mention of it in either book that he wrote to his readers? And if he had not yet mentioned it to them, we would expect to see an explanation. However, he provides no such background to his reference.

As Dr. Woods points out, Paul does not even refer to the spiritual apostasy of the church in the latter days until much later in his ministry, near its end. [vi] And when he does, the apostle always adds much supporting detail (1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 4:3-5).

The Sense of Physical Departure is Consistent with Verses 7-8

In 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8, Paul writes,

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.”

These verses tell us that the revealing of the antichrist cannot happen until the Restrainer is taken out of the way. The evidence strongly points to the Holy Spirit as the Restrainer and thus to the Rapture as the time His special restraining presence leaves the earth along with the church.

Notice the parallels with verse 3 if we assume apostasia refers to a physical departure.

  1. In verse 3, Jesus removes His church via the Rapture first, and then we have the revealing of the “man of lawlessness.”
  2. In verse 7, the Lord takes away the restraining work of the Holy Spirit that keeps the antichrist from making himself known to the world.
  3. In both verses 3 and 7, the antichrist steps onto the world scene after a “departure,” or the removal of either the church or the particular work of the Holy Spirit through the church.

If apostasia refers to a physical departure in verse 3, we then find a parallel in the context in verses 7-8, which provides us with additional evidence favoring a reference to the Rapture in verse 3.

An Example from Church History

As additional evidence supporting the interpretation of apostasia as a physical departure, we have an example from early church history. A key leader at the time referred to what we now call the Rapture as a “departure.” Cyprian, a bishop in the city of Carthage during the third century AD, wrote this:

We who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. Do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? [vii]

Cyprian (AD 200–258) used the words “depart” and “early departure” to refer to the Lord’s appearing to take His church away before a time of “shipwrecks and disasters.” While this by itself doesn’t confirm the translation of apostasia as “departure,” it lends considerable support to our interpretation of the word as a reference to the Rapture.

Please also note that Cyprian believed the church would depart before a time of great trouble on the earth.

The Rapture is Consistent with the Expectation of the Thessalonians

The young believers in Thessalonica expected the Lord to come for them before the start of the day of the Lord. Their response to an errant message telling them this time had already begun confirms this. They panicked when they received the mistaken communication.

In response to their frayed nerves, Paul told them “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2 Thess. 2:2). “The verb shaken denotes a rocking motion, a shaking up and down, like a building shaken by an earthquake…” [viii] To be “alarmed” signifies a feeling of “fright” with its usage here conveying a “state of alarm, of nervous excitement.” [ix]

Paul’s main purpose in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 was to comfort and assure the Thessalonian believers that the Day of the Lord had not yet started. The fact that they remained earthbound does that much better than a spiritual falling away from the faith that might occur far away.

This Confirms a Pre-Tribulation Rapture

In my book, The Triumph of the Redeemed, I wrote:

If apostasia refers to a physical departure, and the context and other evidence strongly support this conclusion, Paul is telling his readers, and us, that they could know that the Day of the Lord hadn’t yet started because they remained earthbound. This must signify that the Rapture occurs before the start of the Tribulation since the judgments of this time fall under the umbrella of the Day of the Lord. [x]

This is not wishful thinking but rather the result of a careful study of word usage as well as the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

If apostasia signifies the physical departure of the church from the earth, and the evidence strongly suggests that it does, the Rapture must occur before the antichrist makes his appearance on the world scene and makes a covenant with the nation of Israel.

The fulfillment of Jesus’ words in John 14:2-3 is the next event on God’s prophetic calendar. Keep watching and enduring until the glorious day Jesus comes for us!

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

My book, The Triumph of the Redeemed-An eternal Perspective that Calms Our Fears in Perilous Times, is available on Amazon. This book provides a step-by-step account of why the Rapture must happen before the Tribulation period.

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[i] The Wycliffe Bible (1384), Tyndale Bible (1526), Coverdale Bible (1535), Cranmer Bible (1539), Breeches Bible (1576), Beza Bible (1583), and Geneva Bible (1608) all translated “apostasia” as a physical departure.

[ii] Andy Woods, The Falling Away – Spiritual Departure or Physical Rapture? (Taos, NM, Dispensational Publishing House, Inc., 2018), p. 19.

[iii] Ibid. p. 23

[iv] Ibid. p. 27

[v] Jonathan C. Brentner, The Triumph of the Redeemed (Crane, MO: Defender publishing, 2021) pp. 146-47.

[vi]Andy Woods, p. 13

[vii] Cyprian, Treatises of Cyprian, “On the Mortality,” section 25.

[viii] Hiebert, D Edmond, The Thessalonian Epistles (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 301.

[ix] Ibid., p. 302

[x] Brentner, p. 148.