Does 2 Thessalonians Put the Rapture at Mid-Tribulation?

A little while back, I wrote a series of posts on the "end times" (starting here).  This post was an addition to one of those, but I wanted to give it its own page.  Thessalonians tells us a bit about the end times and the rapture and the Antichrist (AC) ... but I think it's easy to misread 2 Thess.  And this causes many Christians to place the rapture in the middle of the tribulation, instead of before the trib, as I believe.

To sum up my view of what Thessalonians says about the end times, I believe 1 Thess tells us about the rapture (1 Thess 4:13-18), but 2 Thess is about the tribulation and when Jesus comes back again for Armageddon.

The reason why this is important is because many people think 2 Thess 2:1-4 is saying that the rapture can't happen until the "rebellion" occurs (or "falling away" as some versions say) and "the man of lawlessness is revealed."  

"Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.  Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction."

They say the rapture can't happen until there is a great falling away of people from the church (the "rebellion" or great apostasy) and until the Antichrist reveals himself for who he really is - which could either be when he signs the treaty (but I think he's just one of many who sign at this point, so he hasn't been "revealed") or half-way through the tribulation when he enters the temple (which means the church goes into the trib and is raptured out halfway through).

HOWEVER ... I have begun to think it doesn't mean what we thought it meant.  

A proper understanding of 2 Thessalonians hinges on one thing ...

Which "day" is Paul talking about in 2 Thess 2:3 when he says "that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed"?

If "that day" is the rapture (our "being gathered to him," in verse 1) then the rapture can't happen till the rebellion occurs and the AC is revealed.

But I don't think "that day" is the rapture.  I think it's the "day of the Lord" (spoken of in verse 2) - a reference to the tribulation when God starts pouring out His wrath on His enemies, ending in Armageddon.

It's not saying "the day of our gathering to him (the rapture) can't happen until the Antichrist is revealed."  

It's saying that "the day of the Lord can't happen until the AC is revealed."

From what I can tell, Paul is writing to Christians who were afraid that the rapture happened, that they missed it, and that they were now entering the "day of the Lord," God's judgmental wrath.  

But Paul is encouraging them that they didn't miss the rapture and aren't in the day of God's wrath ... because the "day of the Lord" (when His wrath is poured out during the trib) can't happen until the "rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed."  He's saying, "You don't see the rebellion or the man of lawlessness, so don't worry.  You didn't miss the rapture, and you are not in the tribulation."

The wording of 2 Thess 2:1-2 is different in various versions.  The NIV says, "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him ..."  This "concerning the coming ... and our being gathered" makes it sound like they had asked Paul when the rapture is going to happen, and so Paul answers by telling them that the day can't happen until the AC is revealed, making it sound like the day of the Lord is about the rapture.  

But the King James has an interesting way of wording it:  "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind ... as that the day of Christ is at hand."  The way this is worded makes me read it in a very different way.  This sounds like, "I am pleading with you, brothers, by reminding you of Jesus's promise to come back again and gather us to Him, to not be worried that you are somehow in the tribulation."  The "by the coming ... and by our gathering together unto him" sounds like Paul is using this as a reminder to calm them down, to plead with them to not be alarmed that they missed the rapture and are now in the trib.  

And Paul goes on to comfort them some more in 2 Thess 2:13-15 by reminding them that they are saved, so they should stand firm and hold to what they've been taught.  To me, this passage sounds like he's differentiating between what will happen to God's enemies and what will happen to believers.  It's like he's saying "The day of the Lord will come on those who are against God, and eventually the Antichrist will be destroyed.  But I'm thankful that you are saved and that this doesn't apply to you.  So take heart and remember what I told you in the first letter - that God has promised to spare you from the coming wrath (1 Thess 1:10, 5:9)."  

(And actually, the word used for "saved" in this verse, according to Strong's concordance, is not the one that means "eternal salvation."  It's a word basically meaning "saved from God's wrath when He pours it out on unrepentant mankind."  Paul is reminding them that they will be saved from God's wrath, the day of the Lord, not subjected to it.)  

[Note:  I wonder if the "rebellion" is not the great falling away from the church (although that is predicted to happen, too, in 1 Tim 4:1 and 2 Tim 4:3-4), but if it's actually the Antichrist's rebellion against everything related to God and against the treaty he signed with Israel.  And this is when he is "revealed."  The rebellion is the revealing.  And the rebellion is further described in the very next verse where the AC "opposes and exalts himself over everything that is called God ... so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God."

Or if the "rebellion" does mean a great apostasy of the church, it could be when many people fall away from the Bible's Truth to follow the Antichrist.  Either way, I think it happens after the rapture, not before.]        

So why am I convinced 2 Thess refers to the trib and Jesus's coming at the end of the trib, and not to the rapture?

1.  In 2 Thess, the people are asking about ultimate justice, when God will pay back those who trouble them.  This starts happening in the trib when God pours out His wrath on His enemies, and it ends with Armageddon.  2 Thess is referring to the time of ultimate justice being dished out, the "day of the Lord."  

And why do I think the "day of the Lord" refers to the trib?   

1 Thess 5:2 says that the "day of the Lord" will come like a thief in the night.  The "thief in the night" is also a reference to the rapture (I believe) in Matthew 24:42-44, when "one is taken, the other one left."  One will be raptured, the other left.  The rapture ushers in the "day of the Lord," when God removes His people and His Spirit and begins pouring out wrath on those who are left.  The rapture comes like a "thief" for believers, so we have to be always watching and always ready ... but the day of the Lord comes like a "thief" on unbelievers.  They will not see it coming.  They will think they've got "peace and safety" (1 Thess 5:3) but the end (destruction) will upon them unexpectedly and wash them away.  

Also Joel 1:15 talks about the "day of the Lord" and how it will come "like destruction from the Almighty."  The day of the Lord is not a reference to the rapture, but to the "day" He pours out destruction on His enemies.  The tribulation.  

And Acts 2:20 also refers to the "great and glorious day of the Lord."  It says it will start after the sun is turned to darkness and the moon to blood.  This is at the 6th seal of Revelation, during the trib, when Jesus comes back visibly to take the tribulation saints out and to start pouring out His judgments (trumpets and bowls) on His enemies.  The "day of the Lord" all happens in the trib.  And 2 Thess 2:2 is basically saying that the "day of the Lord" clearly hasn't come because the Antichrist hasn't been revealed (which happens in the trib).  So the rapture couldn't have happened either because the rapture precedes the day of the Lord.

[But maybe you are wondering that since the "great and glorious day of the Lord" doesn't start until after the 6th seal, then maybe the rapture doesn't happen until right before it, during the trib, at the 6th seal.  Maybe the church goes partway into the trib, through most of the seals, then is raptured out right before the AC is revealed?  

There was a time I thought this might be the case, that the "great multitude" taken out at the 6th seal was the rapture of the church.  However, after much study, I now firmly believe that the church will not go into the trib at all, that we will be taken out before the seals start opening.  And there are two main reasons why I think this.  

One, I think the elders around the throne before the seals start opening (Rev 4:4) are representatives of the raptured church.  And since they are in heaven before the first seal is opened, the church has been raptured out before the first seal is opened.  And two, I think the great multitude cannot be the raptured church because I believe Revelation tells us exactly who they are - those "who have come out of the great tribulation."  And that's exactly who I think they are.  They are not those from before the trib and all the dead believers who will rise first at the rapture (1 Thess 4:16).  They are strictly tribulation saints.  We run into confusion when we try to define people differently than what the Bible calls them.

So ... I do not think the church goes into the tribulation or gets raptured at the 6th seal.  Therefore, I think we will be gone before the AC is revealed, since he is revealed (I believe) about midway through the 7-year trib, at the end of the seals, before the "day of the Lord," when he enters the temple and declares himself "God."  (Or he is revealed when he signs the treaty, which I believe is the start of the trib, which is also after the rapture because the elders are around the throne before the first seal of the trib is opened.)  

For more on the rapture:  "Will There Be A Rapture?" and "The Stages of the End Times" and "What Will the Rapture Be Like?"]      

2.  Also, 2 Thess 1:7 talks about Jesus returning from heaven in blazing fire and with His angels.  This could be referring to His coming at the 6th seal, where He sends His angels to collect the tribulation believers.  Or it could be referring to when Jesus returns for Armageddon with the armies of heaven (which is believed to include the raptured church and angels).  Either way, it's after the rapture, during the trib.

But notice that
Rev 19:12 says that when Jesus comes back again for Armageddon, He comes with "blazing fire" in His eyes.  This could be the same "blazing fire" seen in 2 Thess 1:7, which means it's talking about His coming at Armageddon.  

And 2 Thess 2:8 talks about Jesus overthrowing the lawless one with the breath of His mouth.  This happens, I believe, in Rev 19:15 where the Lord destroys His enemies with the sword of His mouth.  Further evidence that 2 Thess is referring to Armageddon.  

If I am right, then 2 Thess is saying that the "day of the Lord" (the dishing out of ultimate justice) can't happen until after the Antichrist rebels and is revealed (or until people rebel from the Truth to follow the Antichrist and he is revealed for who he is).  And according to 2 Thess 2:7, the AC won't be revealed until the restrainer is taken out of the way.  I believe this is the Holy Spirit.  And when the Holy Spirit is removed from earth (along with those whom He inhabits, the true believers, the rapture), then the AC will be revealed.

After years of studying this issue, I have come to strongly believe that the rapture happens before the tribulation starts.  And my study of 2 Thessalonians only confirms it more.  

Personally, I think we are hurtling incredibly fast towards the end times.  I think all the pieces are falling into place and Jesus will return soon.  That is my hope and my prayer.  

"He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus."  (Revelation 22:20)

Are you ready?

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