The Day Of The Lord
There are several specific “days” mentioned in Scripture, and for the most part they have to do with prophetic themes. A particularly heavy emphasis upon the Day of the Lord is found in both Testaments and as it will become evident, the correct understanding of this “day” enters into the problem of the time of the rapture.
I. Various Days of Scripture
A. Creative Days
Genesis 1:3-2:3 gives the account of the six days of creation, followed by a seventh day of rest. Scholarship has long been divided as to whether these were literal successive days of twenty-four hours each, or vast epochs of time during which God created all things. Those who accept literal days stress the ability of God to create instantaneously as an act of sovereign will (Psalm 8:3), while those who favor epochs of time point out that nature herself reveals that considerable time has elapsed since the creation of material things. In either event, the term day may be used of a period longer than twenty-four hours, for the entire act of creation is spoken of as one day:
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens (Gen. 2:4).
B. Sabbath Day
One of the requirements of the law of God for Israel was that they should set aside the last day of the week as a day of rest, when all labor and secular activity should cease. Every seventh year was a sabbatic period when it was required that the land should rest and not be cultivated. The sabbath is a distinctive mark of Judaism, and it is not by accident that it is mentioned in connection with those who will be on earth during the Tribulation (Matt. 24:20).
C. The Lord’s Day
This is the designation used for the Christian day of rest and worship, which is the first day of the week in commemoration of the resurrection of our Lord. The Sabbath day speaks of a finished creation; the Lord’s Day speaks of a finished redemption. The former is a day of legal obligation; the latter is a day of voluntary worship and service. The designation “Lord’s day” is not found in Scripture, unless it be in Revelation 1:10, but the first day of the week as the day of Christian worship is clearly substantiated (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2).
D. The Day of the Lord
This is one of the great themes of Old Testament prophecy, as will shortly be demonstrated. It is likewise mentioned repeatedly in the New Testament, and was still future when the Thessalonian epistles were written (I Thess. 5:1, 2; II Thess. 2:1-3). The Authorized Version of II Thessalonians 2:2 contains a notable error: the correct rendering (margin) is the Day of the Lord, rather than the Day of Christ.
E. The Day of Christ
The Day of the Lord in Scripture is always associated with the wrath and the judgment of God, while the Day of Christ is distinguished by the fact that it is universally spoken of as a time of blessing. Nothing is predicted as having to take place before the Day of Christ shall come, but the coming of the Day of the Lord is marked by signs in the heavens and notable events upon the earth. The Day of Christ concerns the Church and is to be looked forward to with anticipation.
So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:7, 8).
To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (I Cor. 5:5).
As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even ye also are our’s in the day of the Lord Jesus (II Cor. 1:14).
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ (Phil. 1:10).
Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain (Phil. 2:16).
The Day of Christ evidently is the termination of the Church’s pilgrim journey upon the earth. It is the time of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:7), the time when He will catch up His redeemed people “to meet the Lord in the air” (I Thess. 4:17), the time of which He spoke when He promised “to come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). It is the time when our salvation will be completed, when we shall be with our blessed Lord, and “shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2). The Day of Christ has to do with Church saints; it starts at the rapture and probably includes the seven years spent with Christ in glory before the return to earth at the revelation, embracing the judgment seat of Christ (II Cor. 5:10) and the marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7, 8). It is a day of glad anticipation and is in contrast at almost every point with the Day of the Lord, which is a day of wrath and darkness and judgment. Yet in spite of the obvious difference between the two “days,” posttribulationalism requires that they be made identical. Reese maintains that:
To most minds no doubt will remain from a consideration of Paul’s use of “the Day,” “in that Day,” “the Day of the Lord,” and “Messiah’s Day,” that all are synonymous expressions for the day of the Parousia, which closes the present Age, and ushers in the Age to Come; it is the day of resurrection, of reward, of rest for the saints; but of judgment and condemnation for the impenitent.
Reese prefers to call the Day of Christ “Messiah’s Day,” which helps his argument that “it is the day when Messiah comes forth in glory to set up His Kingdom in the Future Age.” But such an inference completely ignores the fact that Christ is Messiah of Israel, not the Church, and blurs over any distinctive meaning the Day of Christ may have for the Church in her relationship to her coming Lord. While these two days under consideration do roughly parallel and finds its fulfillment in heaven, while the other applies to Israel and the nations in the Tribulation and finds its fulfillment upon the earth. Any premise which makes these two days synonymous, both applicable to the Church upon earth, must completely ignore the characteristics of each as displayed in Scripture. It hardly needs to be said that conclusions based upon faulty premises are likewise in error and must be rejected.
F. Other Days
John 6:40, 44, 54 speak of the dead in Christ being raised “at the last day,” and evidently is a reference to the final day of the Church on earth before the rapture. Other Scriptures speak of the “last days” for the Church, and give the general characteristics of the end time (II Tim. 3:1-5; I Tim. 4:1-5; II Pet. 3:3). Still other Scriptures refer to the “last days” for Israel, which carry over into the Tribulation and on into the millennial kingdom (Isa. 2:2-5). II Corinthians 6:2 speaks of the day of salvation, identical with this present age of grace, and II Peter 3:12 speaks of the day of God, which is evidently a designation of the eternal state after the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. Although some of these days herein summarized do not directly concern the present discussion, it is well to remember the words of Peter: “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (II Pet. 3:14).
II. Day Used For a Period of Time
As already implied, the word day is used in Scripture in a number of different ways. It is used to speak of a period of twenty-four hours. This may well be the import of the repeated phrase of Genesis 1: “And the evening and the morning were the first [second, etc.] day.” It is employed likewise to designate that part of the twenty-four period which is light, in contrast to the time of darkness, which is night (Psalm 22:2). Day and night are also used with a symbolic meaning to designate the saved and the unsaved, the “children of light” and the “children of darkness” (I Thess. 5:5-8).
However, the term day is clearly used in another sense, to designate a period of time, whether long or short, in which certain events are to take place. Paul writes in II Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” This day was in progress when Paul wrote, and at the present hour nineteen hundred years later it is still in progress. It corresponds to this entire age of grace, yet God calls this long period of time a “day” (cf. II Pet. 3:8).
It has been indicated that the Day of Christ speaks of the period the Church spends in heaven with Christ between rapture and revelation, and that the Day of God designates the entire eternal state. The Scriptures of the following section will prove that the Day of the Lord is not one single event, nor one twenty-four hour day, but likewise a definite period of time, and that upon the earth. The Day of the Lord, seen as a period, upsets completely the posttribulational view at this point, although Reese finds it more advantageous to launch his attack upon Darby’s interpretation and dismisses the more normal pretribulational position with sarcasm but without investigation.
Messrs. Hoff and Vine in Touching the Coming have discovered that the expressions “Day of Christ,” “Day of Jesus Christ,” and “Day of the Lord Jesus” are a period of time beginning with the Rapture and ending with the Glorious Advent …. And the proof of this latest dispensational novelty? None but the requirements of their own fantastic programme; they make what they would prove, the presupposition of their exegesis…. One must sorrowfully remark that the defense of these false theories throws up sophistry that can give points and a beating to the Rabbis in Israel.
Thus, Reese dismisses unconsidered the very answer to his whole argument, as set forth in the chapter, “Messiah’s Day.” He does say that there are scores of texts against this position, but mentions only one, namely I Corinthians 1:7. It is most difficult to see how this verse damages in any way the claim that the Day of Christ and the Day of the Lord are periods of time: “So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Reese evidently was counting, at this point, on the tendency among readers not to look up references which are given without the text, and hoping that his allusion to “scores of others” would carry the day.
III. The Day of the Lord, and the Great Tribulation
There has been a great deal of confusion over the location of the Day of the Lord. Some writers have placed it at the time of the rapture, others at the time of the revelation, and still others, as a bridge which spans the two. Posttribulational writers make the Day of the Lord synonymous with the Day of Christ, both of which are equal to the parousia and fall on the same day as the joint rapture and revelation, although they have yet to explain why God calls the same thing by so many different names. They hardly seem to recognize that the Holy Spirit, the divine Author of the Scriptures, never uses terms indiscriminately. They dismiss with a wave of the hand any possibility that such terms, although related, are none the less distinguishable the one from the other. Reese laments that “those of us who still assert that the Day of Christ and the Day of the Lord are the same, are looked upon as benighted people.” However, it is warmly contended that those who do not teach that these expressions are interchangeable are misleading and false teachers, and that any distinction between the two “is another one of the many meaningless and confusing hair-splittings which characterize the dispensational school.”
It has already been demonstrated that the Day of Christ is a time of great expectation for the Church, and is associated with rapture and reward. Even a cursory examination and comparison of the following Scriptures should be sufficient to convince any open minded reader that the Day of the Lord, in both Testaments, does not concern the Church but is the time of God’s wrath and judgment upon the world. It is not a twenty-four hour day, or one single event, but a period of time which starts after the rapture of the Church and incorporates the entirety of the Tribulation period. The remarkable parallelism of the following verses concerning the Day of the Lord and the coming Tribulation hardly calls for comment. Italics are added to emphasize leading points of comparison.
“The word of the Lord come again unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Howl ye, Woe worth the day! For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen” (Ezekiel 30:1-3).
“Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come” (Joel 1:15).
“For this is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance …” (Jer. 46:10; Isa. 61:2).
“Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people … For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies; he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter …. For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance …” (Isa. 34:1, 2, 8; 66:15, 16).
And he gathered them together into a placed called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon (Rev. 16:16).
The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture in the cup of his indignation; … And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God (Rev. 14:10, 19).
And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken … and the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh (Rev. 19:19-21).
“Let the heathen be awakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: For there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:12-14).
And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for three to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped…. The great winepress of the wrath of God … was trodden without the city … (Rev. 14:14-20).
“For the day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen …” (Obad. 1:15).
“Behold, the day of the Lord cometh …. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle…. Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle” (Zech. 14:1-3).
“For behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Mal. 4:1).
And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues (Rev. 17:15).
Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine,; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her (Rev. 18:8).
And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he threadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God (Rev. 19:15).
And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory (Rev. 16:8, 9). [These judgments do not turn men back to the Lord, as the tribulationalists claim, for they “blasphemed” and “repented not.”]
“For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low…. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth” (Isa. 2:12, 19).
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6:15, 16).
“Behold the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it” (Isa. 13:9).
“The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the might men shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness…. And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord” (Zeph. 1:14, 15, 17).
For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Rev. 6:17; 14:10, 19).
And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God (Rev. 15:1).
Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! To what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light … even very dark, and no brightness in it? (Amos 5:18, 20).
“Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible” (Isa. 13:9-11).
“Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh … A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness” (Joel 2:1, 2).
“And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come” (Joel 2:30, 31).
And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise (Rev. 8:12).
And I behold when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth … (Rev. 6:12, 13).
“Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about…. I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it…. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zech. 12:2, 3, 9).
And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city … where also our Lord was crucified … And the same hour there was a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand (Rev. 11:8, 13).
A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness … there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations (Joel 2:2).
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened (Matt. 24:21, 22).
“The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel (Joel 3:15, 16).
“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about three; hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isa. 26:20, 21).
“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call” (Joel 2:32).
Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel (Rev. 7:3, 4).
And the woman [Israel] fled into the wilderness, where she hat a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days … into the wilderness, into her place … from the face of the serpent … And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christs (Rev. 12:6, 13-17).
“And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west … and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee…. And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one” (Zech. 14:4, 5, 9).
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse: and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war…. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he threadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Rev. 19:11, 14-16).
On this issue of the Day of the Lord, it would seem that certain conclusions are inevitable – let the reader check the Scriptures for himself.
(1) The message of the Day of the Lord is predominantly one of woe, wrath, and darkness. It contrasts at every point with what is said of the Day of Christ, no matter how diligently posttribulationalists attempt to identify the two.
(2) The events of the Day of the Lord occur over a period of time, and cannot be synonymous, as Reese asserts, with “Messiah’s Day” and with “the day of the Parousia, which closes the present Age, and ushers in the Age to Come.”
(3) As a period, the Day of the Lord includes the Tribulation, and in most of these texts, is synonymous with the Tribulation. II Peter 3:8, 10, however, gives a good indication that the Day of the Lord extends even beyond and includes the entire millennial kingdom, up to the creation of a new heaven and a new earth:
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day…. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
(4) The Day of the Lord does not mention and has no application whatsoever to the Church saints. It concerns Israel and the nations of earth, but not the redeemed of the Lord which now comprise the body of Christ. The only way in which the Church is involved at all with the Day of the Lord is that when Christ comes back to earth to consummate the judgment of the wicked, the saints appears as part of the “armies which are in heaven.” They come to earth with Christ, and the fact that they have been in heaven and must come from heaven shows that this event sustains the pretribulational position. Certainly, it is not in accord with any theory which maintains that the Church has not yet been taken to heaven.
(5) Posttribulationalists are quick to attempt the identification of the rapture and the Day of the Lord on the basis of I Thessalonians 5:2: “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” Fraser puts the assumption this way:
But here, too, is a clear identification of “the coming of the Lord” for His saints in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 with “the day of the Lord,” when He comes with His saints in judgment as indicated in Chapter 5:2. The first part of the fifth chapter is definitely a continuation of the discussion of the same scene as promised in the last verses of the fourth chapter. Only a new aspect of this blessed event is dealt with.
It must be conceded that there are no chapter divisions in the original manuscripts, but there all agreement stops. It is most difficult to imagine how a Bible teacher could call the Day of the Lord, whose judgments have been described in the verses considered above, “a new aspect of this blessed event,” referring to the rapture experience. Reese, who reaches similar conclusions with Fraser, has involved himself in the same difficulty:
Beginning to exhort them touching the Coming of the Lord, he proceeds to speak of the Day of the Lord. Is not this a remarkable circumstance? It is a convincing proof that the two things were synchronous in Paul’s mind, and not separated by a period of years as the theorists assert.
Again, we must concede that a partial truth has been spoken. Those who made the Day of the Lord a twenty-four hour day and identified it only with the return of Christ in judgment, were manifestly in error. But as usual, Reese attacks extremes, rather than the more normal pretribulational interpretation. It is here maintained that the rapture precedes and falls in no part of the Day of the Lord. The two follow in close sequence, which would explain the order of events set forth in I Thessalonians 4 and 5, but when that dread day breaks, the Church of Jesus Christ will be with her Lord.
Reese, setting forth the posttribulational position, lumps together a number of major events and places them on the day of Christ’s return to the earth. The revelation thus becomes the same as the Day of the Lord; the resurrection of Old Testament saints is in the Day of the Lord; the first resurrection, that of the Christian dead, and the rapture, likewise, are in the Day of the Lord. Evidently the Bema seat judgment of Christ, the judgments upon the nations, and the marriage of the Lamb all fall within the same day. No doubt a busy twenty-four hours! Such a view has many objectional features. The lumping together of prophetic events may at first seem to lead to simplification, but the end result is confusion. Among other things, such a view makes the rapture of the Church utterly unimportant, a mere incident in the midst of greater, fast-moving events.
It is a sentimental delusion that a secret Rapture, or a pretribulation Rapture, is the hope of the Church. Scripture, on the contrary, asserts in the clearest manner that the Glorious Appearing of Christ is the definite hope of Christians (Tit. 2:13) and with terrible inconvenience for theorists, locates it at the Day of the Lord. [No proof is offered for this statement. He is evidently building upon his interpretation of I Thessalonians 5:2. Note the following.] … The Rapture is a mere incident of the Appearing, spoken of in order to show the relation of the sleeping to the living saints at the one Advent in glory, and especially that the saints who survive till the Advent will have not advantage at all over the dead in Christ. It is a stupid obsession to make the Rapture the touchstone of everything.
However, when the Day of the Lord is given its rightful and Scriptural place as a period starting after the rapture, the first years of which correspond to the Tribulation, all the end time events drop into their proper place and the pretribulation position is confirmed rather than injured. The Day of the Lord may well be spoken of in close conjunction with the rapture, for it is next in sequence after that event, but it is gross assumption to identify the two. The judgments of the revelation of Christ are rightfully connected with the Day of the Lord, for they fall within that period. When properly related all the Scriptures harmonize. It is only when interpretation is strained by false premises that conflicts arise and theological delusions appear.
IV. I Thessalonians 4 and 5
It is recognized by most Bible students that I Thessalonians 4:13-18 is the primary passage of the Word of God on the subject of the rapture of the Church. It is likewise apparent that I Thessalonians 5:1-11 is one of the central passages from which an attempt is made to prove a posttribulational rapture. Paul begins this section by saying: “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren.” These are all good reasons for examining the entire passage closely.
A. I Thessalonians 4:13-18
This paragraph has much to contribute toward the right understanding of God’s future program for His Church. Paul would not have us ignorant (Greek: agnostic) and of doubtful persuasion about so vital an issue. It is evident that the Thessalonian Christians previously had some instruction concerning the coming of the Lord, but during the interval since the apostle had left Thessalonians, one or more of the converts had died. Also, the Thessalonians had received a letter, purporting to be from Paul, which implied that the Day of the Lord was already upon them. The Thessalonian letters were written to counteract these two fears: first, that the dead saints have no part in the coming of Christ for His own, and second, that the living saints were already in the Day of the Lord and would have to make their way through its judgments.
Paul writes in this section concerning “them which are asleep” (or, “them that fall asleep from time to time”). Now, sleep is the softened word used in Scripture for the death of a believer, as when Jesus said: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep” (John 11:11). The sleep of death will have its conclusion at the resurrection. The word cemetery comes from the Greek dormitory, or “sleeping place.” It is said that the following words were found inscribed upon one of the tombs at Thessalonica:
When our life on earth is past,
We enter into eternal sleep.
Christians, however, look past the sleep of death to physical resurrection and glorious reunion, and therefore are not “as others which have no hope.”
Thus Theocritus, a Greek poet of the 3rd century b.c., writes: “Hopes are among the living, the dead are without hope”; and Moschus, his contemporary, speaking of the plants that perish in the garden: “Alas, Alas! … these live and spring again in another year; but we … when we die, deaf to all sound in the hollow earth, sleep a long, long, endless sleep that knows no waking.” The Roman poets of the last century b.c. speak in similar strain; thus Catullus: “Suns may set and rise again, but we, when once our brief light goes down, must sleep an endless night”; and Lucretius: “No one wakes and arises who has once been overtaken by the chilling end of life.” These sorrowed with a double sorrow: first for the loss they themselves sustained, then for the loss suffered by the departed. Such was the gloom which Greek and Roman philosophy had failed to pierce, and which the gospel came to dispel.
Unbelievers who fall into the sleep of death have no hope, but in contrast, believers in Christ share the blessed hope of His return, at which time the Christian dead shall be raised.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them [precede them] which are asleep (I Thess. 4:14, 15).
The victory of the Christian over death rests securely upon the two cardinal pillars of the Christian faith: Christ died for our sins and rose again (I Cor. 15:3, 4). The doctrine of the rapture of the Church is similarly undergirded, for it is “by the word of the Lord.” The latter part of verse 14 refers either to the coming of Christ at the revelation, when He returns “with all His saints” (I Thess. 3:13), or to the rapture when the souls of the Christian dead are united with their resurrection bodies (II Cor. 5:1-4). In either event, those who sleep shall be raised, and the living will not precede, or go on before. All of this was evidently given to Paul by direct revelation, the word of the Lord, its “mystery” character (I Cor. 15:51) indicating that it was never a topic of Old Testament revelation. Christ had taught the simple fact that He would come again for His own (John 14:3), but until the time of Paul’s writing there had been no pointed revelation as to the relationship of the living and the dead at the coming of Christ. The phraseology seems to suggest that a special revelation was granted to meet the perplexity that had arisen at Thessalonica: The living shall in no wise attain an advantage over the dead!
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 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 (I Thess. 4:16-18).
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (I Cor. 15:51, 52).
Christ will not send an angel for us; it is to be the Lord Himself¸ the same One who died and rose again. (These words, in the Greek, are in the emphatic position: emphasizing that it will be a personal return. None other will do to meet the Bride than the Bridegroom Himself, who has redeemed her.)
Three sounds herald His coming, the first of which is a shout. Posttribulationalists make this the triumphant cry of Christ, the military command of one who gathers his armies about him, and apply it to Christ’s glorious appearing on earth following the Tribulation. It is true that the word is a command, military or other, but it does not say that Christ utters the shout. The only other Biblical usage is in the Septuagint version of Proverbs 30:27, where it refers to the signal used by locusts. Thayer’s Lexicon gives the meaning from classical Greek as the cry of charioteers to their horses, of hunters to their hounds, or of a captain to the rowers of his vessel. It may mean the cry of a captain to his soldiers, but Reese reads far too much into the text when he makes it descriptive of the “triumphant arrival of our Lord as King, assembling His hosts for the conflict with the powers of this world and the rescue of the Elect. This is the Day of the Lord.”
It is sufficient, rather to understand this “shout” simply as a signal cry, heard only by the Church, and accompanied by the voice of the archangel (possibly Michael: Jude 1:9) and the trump of God. This may indeed be descriptive of only one great signal from heaven, as it has been paraphrased: “a shout in the archangel’s voice, even with the voice of the trump of God.” It is a signal to the Church, both dead and living, and if it is heard by the world at all, it will not be understood and will engender no response. This is a catching up, not a coming down: it is the Day of Christ, not the Day of the Lord.
There are several parts to the glad anticipation of verses 16 and 17. There is resurrection: “the dead in Christ shall rise first.” This is evidently not a general resurrection of the saints from both Testaments. Israel, though redeemed, is never said to be “in Christ,” nor is her eschatology identical with that of the Christian. Such distinctions are glossed over by those who identify rapture with revelation, for their view requires that Israel and the Church be raised at the same time. There is rapture: those that are alive and remain are caught up. There is glad reunion: for both groups come together in the clouds (not “clouds of saints,” as a comparison with Acts 1:9 will demonstrate).
The great family of believers whose bodies are sleeping will rise “first.” The apostle is showing how unfounded is the despairing grief of those in Thessalonica, for instead of being at a disadvantage, the sleeping believers will be the first to experience the power of resurrection life.
With reunion, there will be recognition of loved ones who have died and gone before, but even more important will be the rejoicing of meeting the Lord in the air. So will be fulfilled the prayer of Christ recorded in John 17:24: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.” Paul then adds the words so freighted with meaning and happy anticipation: “and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” This last phrase suggests the prospect of rewards, and later, of reigning with Him. The text does not read: “we which live through the tribulation shall be caught up,” but “we which are alive and remain.” Therefore, Paul is able to conclude this wonderful revelation of coming rapture, not with “scare one another,” but with “comfort one another with these words.” The whole passage is one of encouragement, whereas it would never encourage persecuted saints to tell them that worse things were in store. The pretribulation rapture is woven into the very warp and woof of this cardinal Scripture.
B. I Thessalonians 5:1-11
Here is a passage that posttribulationists use in their attempt to prove that Paul links the Day of the Lord “with the hope and final salvation of the Church.” It is not difficult to show that their exegesis is in error at this point.
The immediate context of this chapter comprises a clear reference to the rapture of the Church. It is a message of comfort and contains absolutely no hint that Tribulation must first be endured, during which time many who are “alive and remain” will be forced to endure a martyr’s death. I Thessalonians 4:11, 12, with the command “study to be quiet and to do your own business” would hardly be suitable for persons enduring a raging persecution. In fact, the whole context implies that the Thessalonian saints had been expecting imminent rapture, rather than wrath, for it took a special revelation to comfort them concerning those who had by death, as they assumed, missed the rapture experience.
Moreover the language of I Thessalonians 5:1, 2 carries the definite implication that the subject of the rapture was a recent revelation, not found in the Old Testament and only now being clarified as to its details. “But of the times and seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” The believers knew about the Day of the Lord because, as it has been demonstrated, the Old Testament Scriptures which were in their possession were full of this teaching. Joel, for example, had written extensively about the Day of the Lord. Christ also had discoursed on the subject (Matt. 24:27-31), and Paul himself had evidently given some teaching along the same line (II Thess. 2:1-5). “Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” The Day of the Lord was familiar to those at Thessalonica: “no need that I write” for ye “know perfectly” these things. How different as touching the rapture: “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren!” Rather than being identical, the two subjects are worlds apart, and this in the very passage by which posttribulationalists would prove their identity.
Also, the careful use Paul makes of his pronouns throughout this section renders conclusive evidence that the Church is a distinct group from those who enter the Day of the Lord. “Ye, brethren, are not in darkness … ye are all the children of the light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night … let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober.” “Let us, who are of the day, be sober … for God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation [deliverance] by our Lord Jesus Christ. Who died for us, that … we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together …”
Contrast, from the same passage: “Then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child [cf. Isa. 13:8; Jer. 30:6]; and they shall not escape.” “They that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.” The children of light watch, but the children of darkness are drunken and sleep. If language means anything, Paul is here distinguishing carefully between those who are ready for the rapture, and those who have not put on the helmet of salvation at all, and so must enter the tribulation of the Day of the Lord.
Lastly, it is a common teaching of Scripture that unbelievers have “no hope, and [are] without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), but believers are to look with expectation for the “blessed hope” of Christ’s coming. It is significant that in this I Thessalonians passage, believers are spoken of as having “the hope of deliverance,” and are assured that they are “not appointed to wrath.” These are idle words if, in this context, deliverance from Tribulation is not included along with assurance of present salvation.
Although I Thessalonians is not the strongest passage for establishing a pretribulational rapture, enough has been said to show that it is in harmony with that position, and not without some evidence for its support. Posttribulationalism, however, empties the passage of its obviously intended meaning in a vain attempt to establish the idea that the rapture falls on the Day of the Lord. Everything points to the contrary, and the only connection between the two is that they happen to occur in close sequence.
It might be well to close this discussion of the Day of the Lord with a summary of the two principle viewpoints involved. The posttribulational line of reasoning seems to be as follows: The Day of the Lord refers specifically to the very day when Christ returns to the earth to rule and reign. Since it is admitted by all that I Thessalonians 4 is the cardinal passage on the rapture of the saints, and since Paul turns immediately in chapter five to a contemplation of the Day of the Lord, rapture and revelation must fall upon the same day and comprise one single event. Therefore, according to this line of reasoning, the rapture must follow the Tribulation.
The burden of this chapter has been to analyze these issues and to consider the important Scriptures which have been used to sustain the posttribulational contention. From this study, the following conclusions fairly may be drawn:
(1) Although the Bible speaks of a number of different days, the term day is not in every case limited to a twenty-four hour period.
(2) The Day of Christ commences with the rapture and evidently refers to the entire period the Church will be with her Lord prior to her return with Him to set up the millennial kingdom. It is a day of great blessing and is awaited with anticipation, which places it in marked contrast with the Day of the Lord.
(3) The Day of the Lord is likewise a period of time, but it commences after the rapture and comprehends the entire Tribulation period on earth, as the detailed comparison of Old and New Testament Scriptures at this point have abundantly demonstrated. This “day” involves Israel and the godless nations, wrath and judgment from Almighty God, but nothing by way of application to the Church of Jesus Christ.
(4) The cardinal Scripture involved, namely I Thessalonians 4, 5, lends no support to posttribulationalism. The rapture of chapter four is a new mystery-revelation and must not be confused with a time of judgment clearly predicted in the Old Testament. The resurrection spoken of applies only to those who are “in Christ,” and the whole passage is one of encouragement and comfort rather than warning and alarm. As for chapter five, it has been demonstrated from the personal pronouns used that the Church saints are held in contrast with those who enter the Day of the Lord. Here again the rapture is spoken of as a new revelation, and here also is recorded the promise that the believers are appointed unto deliverance rather than wrath. The rapture is found in the same general context with the Day of the Lord, only because of its proximity to it. But proximity is not identity, particularly when all of the evidence indicates the contrary.
(5) The pretribulational view places the rapture of the Church saints in the position of prominence which the New Testament emphasis upon that doctrine requires. On the other hand, posttribulationalism is guilty of lumping together a large number of end-time events, in which the rapture becomes an utterly unimportant and almost meaningless detail.
Thus, rather than destroying the pretribulational view, the study of the Day of the Lord and its related subjects adds yet another confirmation to the position that the Church will be spared this time of God’s wrath.
 Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, p. 179. Italics added.
 Ibid., p. 171.
 Ibid., p. 183.
 Loc. cit.
 Ibid., p. 182.
 Posttribulationalism thus joins forces with amillennial theology, both in its attack against dispensationalism and in its identification of the Day of Christ with the Day of the Lord. See Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, pp., 188-90 for the similarities of the amillennial view at this point.
 Reese, op. cit., p. 179.
 Alexander Fraser, Is There But One Return of Christ, pp. 56, 57.
 Reese, op. cit., p. 178.
 Ibid., p. 72.
 Ibid., p. 81.
 Ibid., p. 266. Italics added.
 C. F. Hogg and W. E. Vine, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians, p. 132.
 Reese, op. cit., p. 175.
 Hogg and Vine, op. cit., p. 143.
 Arthur B. Whiting, “The Rapture of the Church,” Bibliotheca Sacra, CII (July-September, 1945), 369.
 Reese, op. cit., p. 172.