1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:2 – 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
5:1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 – 1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
You will not often find me writing little pieces on eschatology (the study of end times), as I find this to be a very interesting yet difficult topic. Far too many Christians are separated from one another over projected timelines of coming future events. However, as this passage was in the daily reading for me today, I thought it acceptable to make a few observations that might cause us to think a little about this topic. I would ask, however, for us all to remember the love and kindness that is appropriate for Christians as they think through difficult doctrinal issues. This is a topic about which many disagree, and god would demand that we do so charitably.
Paul, in his writing and giving comfort to the Thessalonians, offers them comfort with teaching about the last days. At the end of 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul describes the event that we often refer to as the “rapture.” Rapture is a Latin word meaning to be snatched up or caught up, and it is used to describe the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Within two verses of Paul’s description of the rapture, he tells the Thessalonians that they know that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
The simplest reading of this text would make us believe that the events of 4:16-17 and “the Day of the Lord” (5:2) are linked, one and the same. And it is for this reason, besides others, that I am not one who holds to the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture—the belief that seven years of tribulation will separate the events of 4:16-17 and 5:2. A study of the concept of “The Day of the Lord” leads us to understand that this very special, unique day, comes at the end of the age. The Day of the Lord is the day when God will show himself holy, when he will reap his vengeance on the ungodly, and where he will forever change the world. It is this Day that will come like a thief in the night—terminology that Christians often employ to describe the rapture. And, make no mistake about it, if the Day of the Lord and the Rapture are connected, the same day, then a pre-tribulation rapture position cannot be valid.
Also, from the 2 Thessalonians 2 passage, the same language is used by Paul in a letter written only weeks after 1 Thessalonians with the intent to comfort the people by telling them they have not missed anything. The “Day of the Lord” has not yet come. When will the Day of the Lord come? It will come after the man of lawlessness is revealed (which I understand to be a reference to the rise of antichrist). The man of lawlessness is not revealed in a seven year tribulation until the mid-point of that tribulation. Thus, the Day of the Lord cannot come until after that occurs. And, if 1 Thessalonians is clear (which I think it is), the Day of the Lord is also the day of the rapture. Therefore, we have just one more evidence for a rapture that does occur, but not at the beginning of a 7 year period of tribulation.
Is my position unique, a new teaching? Not at all. This is a view known as historic pre-millennialism. Simply put, this view, which has been taught for centuries in the church (longer than a pre-tribulation rapture, by the way), expects a seven year period of intense tribulation at the end of the age to be followed by a rapture and the triumphant return of Jesus on the awesome Day of the Lord. I believe it to be more in keeping with the predictions of scripture in their contexts. I also believe it to require many fewer logical leaps than a pre-tribulation rapture position.
Now, let me also say that I am certainly aware that I might be mistaken. Men and women are notorious for misinterpreting God’s prophecy. I know many wise and godly men who hold to a pre-tribulation view (John MacArthur among them). However, I also know many wise and godly men who hold to the view I am espousing (Albert Mohler among them). So, I would expect that we hold to our views here gently, with grace and kindness. This is a topic for friendly discussion, not church-wide division. So long as a person understands that the bible points to a literal, bodily return of Jesus Christ to the earth in glory to judge the nations at the end of the age, it is not crucial that the same person have all their timelines correct regarding the rapture.