"Therefore ... watch" (1 Thessalonians 5:6)


First Thessalonians: Salvation

"The apostle Paul was a post-trib and I can prove it from First and Second Thessalonians."

"No, no, Paul was a pre-trib and I can prove it from First and Second Thessalonians."

Why so much disagreement about First and Second Thessalonians? Why do some people find Paul teaching post-trib and others find him teaching pre-trib? Could it be that Paul taught neither? Could it be that all this disagreement is over nothing? Yes, strange as it may seem, I believe that Paul was neither pre-trib nor post-trib, and ... I can prove it from First and Second Thessalonians.



Does this mean that there is no evidence whatsoever for pre-tribulationism in the Thessalonian epistles? Not really. Because looking back from our perspective of fuller revelation we can see little clues.

Suppose you go shopping to buy your son a surprise birthday present. When you arrive home your son knows you went somewhere and so he asks questions about where you were. You do not believe in lying, but you do not want to reveal the secret yet. So what do you do? You answer his questions vaguely with the truth carefully concealed. Then surprised on his birthday he exclaims, "Ah! Now I know why you answered me that way! If I were thinking I should have known all along that you had something up your sleeve."

In First and Second Thessalonians we can see clues as we look back, but we cannot establish a clear-cut pre-trib or post-trib teaching.


A Pre-trib Clue? Here is one of my favorite pre-trib clues in the Thessalonians epistles. First Thessalonians 3:3–4 says, "That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know."

Notice carefully how the Holy Spirit guarded Paul's words. Notice that Paul speaks of tribulation which already came to pass. He mentions nothing about the great tribulation yet future. Why is this a clue?

You see, Paul's main subject in this epistle is the events surrounding the great tribulation. If he were writing about something else I wouldn't expect him to mention the great tribulation, but when this is a major point, the omission is highly significant.

Now if Paul were a post-tribulationist, or if the Holy Spirit didn't guard his words, I think he would have written 1 Thessalonians 3:3–4 differently. Remember, Paul is leading up to his main point, events surrounding the great tribulation. Remember, he is known for making his arguments as strong as possible, like a lawyer. How natural, then, would it be for him to jump at this golden opportunity to cap off his exhortation by saying, "Be patient in present tribulation, even as we will need ultimate patience in the ultimate tribulation. Present tribulation prepares for the future tribulation. Learn patience now because you will need it even more when the great tribulation comes."

Why didn't you state it like that, Paul? Don't you know that your exhortation concerning present tribulation does me no good if a greater tribulation is coming for which I have no exhortation? If I really had to go through the great tribulation, you passed up your perfect opportunity to tell me to have patience for it. I thought your arguments were sharp and strong. What happened to your lawyer-like mind?

Did Paul's lawyer-like mind really slip? Or did the Holy Spirit prevent him from mentioning the great tribulation because we will not go through the great tribulation?


The Rapture Described. Let's quickly move on to Paul's description of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. Paul gives a detailed account but omits one detail, the time. Read this passage and see if you can tell whether Paul is a pre-trib or a post-trib:

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 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 [precede] them which are asleep. 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 (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).

Instead of teaching pre-trib or post-trib in this passage, Paul has a more basic and practical purpose in mind: hope and comfort concerning the dead. He is not concerned with the time. So Paul has the Lord descending from heaven, believers ascending from the earth, and he leaves all of us hanging in the air. The secret is clouded.

However, as we examine this passage with our detective cap on, we might uncover some revealing clues.


Of What Were They Ignorant? Let's begin examining this passage by looking at Paul's introduction:

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14).

Of what were they ignorant that was causing so much sorrow? If we knew exactly what the Thessalonians were ignorant of, we could better understand Paul's answer. Were they merely ignorant of the time of the resurrection in relation to other end-time events? Or were they entirely ignorant of the fact of the resurrection? Let's find out.

One theory suggests that the Thessalonians were ignorant about the resurrection at the pre-trib rapture. They mistakenly thought that their Christian loved ones who had died would miss the rapture and would not be resurrected until after the tribulation. They didn't know there was a resurrection at the rapture.

Against this theory I object that Paul did not teach a pre-trib rapture as we will prove later. Also against this theory, I would agree with Gundry that the delay of resurrection for a mere seven years is little ground for sorrow. Remember, these Thessalonians were sorrowing "even as others which have no hope."

Another theory suggests that the Thessalonians were ignorant about the resurrection at a post-trib rapture. They mistakenly thought that the resurrection was not until after the millennium. If departed loved ones were to miss that blessed one-thousand years, this would be sufficient ground for sorrow, according to this theory.

Against this theory I object that it still leaves the Thessalonians some hope. Keep in mind, they were sorrowing as those who have "no hope." No hope—this is the key. Also, the one-thousand-year length of the millennium was not revealed until years later (Revelation 20:1–7), and so the Thessalonians could not have known how long this period of time was. Consider also, that if the Thessalonians were sharp enough to discern the millennium, then they would also have been sharp enough to discern the correct time of the resurrection before the millennium as given in Daniel 12:2 and in Isaiah 26:19.

I believe, contrary to the above theories, that the Thessalonians were entirely ignorant of the fact of the resurrection. I find no reason to assume they had some hope, when the text plainly states they had "no hope." They had no hope even as unbelievers. Unbelievers do not believe in a resurrection at all!

But these are Christians, you say, not unbelievers. They obviously believed in a resurrection of some kind, didn't they? I reply, this assumes too much. Keep in mind that Paul spent only a few short weeks in Thessalonica; his teaching was unexpectedly interrupted. And at the date of Paul's writing, the Thessalonians were still only a few months old in the faith, raw converts fresh from paganism (Acts 17:1–10). If there is proof that they all knew of a resurrection, where is it? Before making assumptions, why not consider the evidence on the other side?

Consider the evidence from 1 Corinthians 15 that even believers did not believe in a resurrection! "How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? ... the dead rise not at all" (excerpts from 1 Corinthians 15:12,29). The Corinthians had the benefit of an entire year and a half of Paul's teaching, not just a few weeks as did the Thessalonians (Acts 18:11). So if it is possible for the Corinthians to be so mistaken—and Corinth is not far from Thessalonica; the same Greek culture and the same type of people were in both cities—then how much more easily could the Thessalonians likewise be mistaken? It is true, after all, that the Thessalonians had "no hope" of a resurrection. You see, there is Biblical precedent for Christians being mistaken about the fact of resurrection, but there is no Biblical precedent for Christians being mistaken about the order of resurrection. If there is any assuming to be done, let us assume with the evidence instead of against the evidence. When you toss a piece of wood into a stream do you assume it will float with the current or against the current?

To make the evidence even stronger, Paul uses the identical argument to combat the error both in 1 Thessalonians 4 and in 1 Corinthians 15. His argument rests on Christ's resurrection. If Christ was raised, he says, then those who belong to Christ will also be raised. Now if merely the order of resurrection were the question, then there would be no point in Paul's basing his answer in the resurrection of Christ. Christ's resurrection proves the fact, but it proves nothing about the order. Paul's identical answer in both chapters implies an identical question. A common solution, without evidence to the contrary, implies an identical problem. The problem was not believing in a resurrection at all.

But there is evidence, some will say, that the Thessalonians were merely ignorant of the order of resurrection. Does not Paul stress the order as he describes the rapture? How do we explain that?

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 [precede] them which are asleep. 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 (1 Thessalonians 4:15–16).

I reply that Paul's stress of the order is to further emphasize the fact of resurrection. You can see this in the grammatical structure of the passage. Notice the word "for" which begins verse 15. That word "for" introduces the reason or the explanation for what precedes. The fact of resurrection precedes the "for"; the order of resurrection follows. The order, then, explains and further emphasizes the fact. The little word "for" links the two together in this relationship.


Main point is resurrection, sub point is the order


Verse 14 similarly reveals the intended relationship. The emphasis is on "those who sleep" rather than "bring with Him" (because of the reversal of the normal verb-object order). This grammatical emphasis stresses the fact that the dead will rise instead of when they will rise.

Two literary keys in interpreting a passage are the introduction and conclusion. They are better than any commentary, because God's own commentary on the middle of a passage is the beginning and ending. We have just seen how the introduction (verses 13–14) speaks of the fact of resurrection rather than the order. Likewise the conclusion (verse 17) is directed at the fact, not the order, of resurrection: "And so shall we ever be with the Lord." As if this were not enough, there is another divine commentary (i.e., conclusion) in the next chapter (5:10) which is also directed at the fact of resurrection: "Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him." The fact is primary; the order merely strengthens the fact.

Of what were the Thessalonians ignorant? I believe they were entirely ignorant of the fact of the resurrection, because they were sorrowing as those who had "no hope," because better trained Christians like those in Corinth made the same mistake, and because the grammatical and literary structure of 1 Thessalonians 4 subordinates the order and lays stress on the fact.


Another Pre-trib Clue? Why is it so important to know what the Thessalonians were ignorant of? Fact or order, what difference does it make? What does it prove?

It is important, because if we understand their ignorance, then we can better understand Paul's answer. The way Paul answers is very interesting. Do you notice anything unusual about it? Put your detective cap on. Do you see clues you never noticed before?

If you were a Bible teacher in Paul's day, how would you answer the Thessalonians? Remember, we have to prove to the Thessalonians the fact of resurrection, not the order primarily; so let us concentrate on that aspect. If you wanted to teach the Thessalonians the fact of the resurrection, how would you do it?

If I were doing it, I would go to the Scriptures, and I would give them a verse like Daniel 12:2 which plainly teaches a resurrection. I would say, "See, the Scripture teaches a resurrection; therefore, there is a resurrection." But strangely Paul did not refer to a Scripture like Daniel 12:2. Instead he shared a word that he received directly from the Lord. Why? Is this a clue that Paul's resurrection is different than Daniel's resurrection? A different resurrection at a different time?

Well, maybe. Let us look closer and see if the difference is real or apparent. Read Daniel 12 and look for the answer to the question, "When is the resurrection of Daniel's body?" If you have a Bible handy, set this book aside and do it now.

Did you find the answer? The answer is in the last verse, "For thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days" (Daniel 12:13). Daniel's resurrection is at the end of the days. When is that? Daniel gives three sets of days in this chapter. Verse 7 gives 1260 days (a time, times, and an half) which is the day that Christ returns as we saw in Chapter 2. Verse 11 gives 1290 days. Verse 12 gives 1335 days. Three sets of days. When is Daniel's resurrection? Daniel's resurrection is at the end of the days. Which day is that? The 1335th day!

Day 1260 is the return of Christ and day 1335 is the resurrection of Daniel. Therefore, Daniel's resurrection comes 75 days after Christ's return. Yes, the difference between Paul's resurrection and Daniel's resurrection is very real. In Paul's resurrection the dead are raised first, the moment Christ descends in the clouds. In Daniel's resurrection, the dead are raised later, 75 days after Christ returns. These two men are talking about two different resurrections, different resurrections at different times.

No wonder Paul did not give the Thessalonians a Scripture like Daniel 12:2 in order to prove the resurrection to them. It wouldn't fit the resurrection he was about to reveal. And no wonder the Holy Spirit guided Paul to mention the order of resurrection. Church saints will not be raised at some later time as are Old Testament saints, and God wanted us to know that our departed loved ones will be raised first.


A New Revelation. We have noticed that the Holy Spirit guided Paul not to refer to the Old Testament to prove the resurrection of the church. Now keep your detective cap on. Do you notice anything else unusual?

A striking characteristic of 1 and 2 Thessalonians is that Paul is constantly referring to previous teaching or previous experience. At every chance he gets he repeats the refrain "you know" or "you remember" or "I told you before" or "you are witnesses." The lone exception to this pattern—the contrast is as striking as black and white—is Paul's description of the rapture!


Other Topics


"as ye know" (1 Thess. 1:5).

"But I would not have you to be ignorant ... for this we say unto you" (1 Thess. 4:13,15)

"For yourselves, brethren, know" (1 Thess. 2:1)


"as ye know" (1 Thess. 2:5)


"for ye remember" (1 Thess 2:9)


"ye are witnesses" (1 Thess. 2:10)


"as ye know" (1 Thess. 2:11)


"for yourselves know" (1 Thess. 3:3)


"we told you before (1 Thess 3:4)


"and ye know" (1 Thess. 3:4)


"For ye know" (1 Thess. 4:2)


"we also have forewarned you" (1 Thess. 4:6)


"For yourselves know perfectly" (1 Thess. 5:2)


"Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" (2 Thess. 2:5)


"ye know" (2 Thess. 2:6)


"for yourselves know" (2 Thess 3:7)



Now the rapture is an important subject. If Paul had taught them about the rapture previously while he was with them, don't you think he would have "reminded" them of his teaching, or said "You know this" or "I told you before"? This was Paul's pattern; he surely would have if he could have. Instead of saying "I told you before" he says "I tell you now," as if this were the very first time he was telling them this. Instead of saying "you know this well," as he does everywhere else he gets a chance, he says "you are ignorant." Unique!

Here is the evidence we have been looking for. If we let the epistle speak for itself, letting the facts fall where they may, we arrive at the conclusion that Paul never taught the rapture previously to the Thessalonians. The rapture is a brand new revelation, not a repetition of an old one. To assume otherwise is to swim against the river of evidence.



This evidence has led me to believe that his epistle was the first occasion that Paul taught the rapture to the Thessalonians. Now, what is so significant about this and why is it important? Keep your detective cap on. Do you notice a significant omission?

The time! Paul omits the time! Paul, are you pre-trib or post trib? You didn't tell us which!

Why didn't Paul reveal the time? Well, maybe he didn't know the time. As far as we know Paul was neither pre-trib nor post-trib.

Now if Paul had previously taught the Thessalonians the time of the rapture, then there would be no reason for him to repeat it here. But since the weight of evidence tells us he did not teach the rapture previously, then it is highly significant that he omits the time. He omitted the time because he had no time to reveal at this point. Paul was neither pre-trib nor post-trib.




They were "ignorant" of a resurrection instead of "knowing" about it.

Paul said, "This I [now] say" instead of "This I remind you of."

This was a first-time revelation of the rapture.

In his first revelation of the rapture, Paul omits the time.

Paul taught neither pre-trib nor post-trib.


I think we need to take a fresh look at the Thessalonian epistles and read them anew as if we had never read them before. This is what I tried to do. I tried to shove all bias out of my mind, all preconceived notions, all assumptions, and I tried to follow strictly the evidence that is given.

Do you see the problem that we have gotten ourselves into by assuming too much when we read Thessalonians? It causes problems in three areas. First, it causes problems among ourselves. Pre-tribs assume Paul taught pre-tribulationism previously to the Thessalonians, and post-tribs assume he taught post-tribulationism previously. As a result we disagree when we come to interpreting the Thessalonian epistles because we assume that Paul had to be either pre-trib or post-trib, and it never dawns on most of us that he might be neither. I think many of us are disagreeing over nothing and there is no reason for it.

Assuming too much in the Thessalonian epistles causes a second problem. It not only causes needless controversy among ourselves, it also leads to interpretations that contradict Scripture. In some cases when a post-trib derives his post-trib implications from these epistles, he feels that he doesn't have to explain other parts of the Bible. The question of the known day versus the unknown day he can leave hanging in the air. It doesn't matter who will populate the millennium. The question about the time of the wedding can be safely passed over as long as he has his post-trib implications from the Thessalonian epistles. In this way assuming too much in Thessalonians leads into a dilemma with other Scripture.

A third problem caused by assuming too much in Thessalonians is that we miss some of the meaning in the Thessalonian epistles themselves. If we are looking for pre-trib or post-trib, then we miss what he is really talking about. When Paul sat down to write these epistles, he had a certain point in mind that he wanted to get across. Today when I read the epistles, I want to put myself into Paul's shoes, to get inside his mind, to understand exactly what he was getting at in each passage. I have discovered that when I cast aside my preconceived notions I appreciate these epistles more than ever before. I have discovered that Paul really has something valuable to say, and if I push aside ideas of pre-trib or post-trib I can then see the passages clearly enough to catch the fuller impact of Paul's main point. Try it and see. As we discuss these passages I think you will see what I mean.


It's Only Natural. A natural reading of 1 Thessalonians has led me to believe that Paul was neither pre-trib nor post-trib. He did not teach the time of the rapture to the Thessalonians, either in person or by letter, as the above evidence indicates. Is this surprising? Or shocking? If you know anything about progressive revelation, this shouldn't be surprising at all.

Progressive revelation means that God reveals truths progressively or gradually, not all at once, but step by step. This is God's normal pattern, nothing unusual at all. This is the pattern of the Old Testament which gradually unfolds before us the prophecies of Christ's first coming. The same pattern holds true for the New Testament as it reveals step by step the truths concerning Christ's second coming. Paul's place in the steps of revelation is to give a description of the rapture. Through him God revealed the description, but not the time. That comes later in the steps of revelation. If Paul did reveal the time, it would be unusual; it would be a deviation from God's pattern of progressive revelation. (A worse deviation from the principle of progressive revelation is to inject the description and time of the rapture into Matthew 24.)

"But Paul was an apostle! How could the great apostle Paul not know the time of the rapture?" I reply that the Old Testament prophets did not always understand what they wrote.

Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (1 Peter 1:10–11).

The Old Testament prophets understood the two aspects of the coming of Christ, but the time they did not understand. If this was true for Old Testament prophets, I am not surprised at all if the same was true for the apostle Paul.


Where Did Paul Get His Revelation? We have pointed out that Paul did not appeal to the Old Testament for his revelation of the resurrection and rapture. If not the Old Testament, from where did Paul get his revelation? Could it be from the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24)? Could it be from those words which Jesus spoke on the Mount of Olives saying, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:31)?

No, Paul could not have received his revelation from these words of Jesus. First, these words of Jesus are not about the rapture. The gathering He speaks of is not a gathering into the air, but a gathering into an entirely different place as we will demonstrate in a later chapter.

A second reason for Paul's not receiving his revelation from the Olivet Discourse is Galatians 1:12: "For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." God normally gave revelation directly to Paul instead of through the mediation of men. Now the Olivet Discourse was spoken by Jesus and was later passed on by men, both orally and in written form. Paul was not there to hear Jesus speak on the Mount of Olives; so if Paul learned of the rapture from the Olivet Discourse, he would have learned of it through men. If it really happened this way, then it would be an exception to Galatians 1:12.

The available evidence indicates that Paul did not receive his revelation of the rapture and resurrection from the Old Testament, nor from the Olivet Discourse, but he received this brand new revelation directly from the Lord Himself.


Why Does Paul Speak of Comfort? Paul concludes his description of the rapture with comfort. Why? Does he offer comfort because the church will not go through the tribulation? No, he says nothing about the tribulation or the time of the rapture.

It is comfort regarding the fact of resurrection, not the time of resurrection. "Be comforted in that your believing loved ones will live again." That is all Paul is saying. A post-trib, just as much as a pre-trib, can be comforted in that his loved ones will live again. Such comfort has nothing to do with the time of the rapture.

Suppose for a minute that you had to go through the tribulation. You would still have the comforting thought that your believing loved ones will live again, wouldn't you? You see, even going through the tribulation does not wipe out this comfort that Paul is talking about. To derive a pre-trib implication from this comfort is as unrelated as grabbing for an apple in a bag of oranges.

As you can see, I am trying to take a fresh look at 1 Thessalonians, assuming nothing, but letting the evidence speak for itself. I have found this approach to be the most satisfying as well as the most revealing.



A powerful argument in the hands of post-tribs has been the "last trumpet." The "trump of God" which signals the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 is identified as the "last trump" in 1 Corinthians 15:52.


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 (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

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 (1 Corinthians 15:52).


What makes this the last trumpet? If this is the last trumpet, then what were the first trumpets? Post-tribs take us to the book of Revelation which tells of seven angels blowing seven trumpets during the tribulation. They reason that the rapture trumpet must be the seventh trumpet or after these seven tribulation trumpets in order to be last. This would clearly place the rapture at the end of the tribulation instead of at the beginning. Logical, isn't it?

How do we answer this argument? What does the "last trumpet" really mean? Before identifying what I believe to be the first trumpet, will you observe with me that the word "last" is a relative word. It does not necessarily mean there are none to follow. Your best friend, your concordance, can show you that. For example, Paul was the "last" to see Christ although John saw Him and we shall see Him later (1 Corinthians 15:8). Last is relative.

Surely, post-tribs agree on this point. Are there not trumpets used during the millennium? Or are trumpets banished forever? Certainly, "last" trumpet does not rule out any trumpets following; it merely tells us to seek a trumpet preceding.

With this in mind, let us ask the question, "When Paul spoke of the last trumpet, did he have in mind the seven trumpets of Revelation as the first trumpets?" When you think about it, you can see the discrepancy at once. Revelation was not even written by Paul's time! The book was not around for Paul to read. Nor for the Corinthians to read.

If you lived in Corinth and received a letter from Paul speaking of the "last trumpet," how would you understand it? Where would you go to seek the first trumpet? To a book not yet written? No, you would go to the Old Testament, of course. That was their Bible at the time.

If you were a faithful Corinthian trying to understand the "last trumpet" you would read in your Old Testament until you came to Leviticus 23. Then your eyes would light up and you would jump up from your chair and say, "This is it! The feast of trumpets!"


The Feast of Trumpets. The feast of trumpets is one of seven feasts described in Leviticus 23. It is no secret that these feasts have prophetic significance. Although Israel first celebrated the feasts, the church now benefits in their prophetic fulfillment:

The Passover Feast (Leviticus 23:4–5) finds its fulfillment in 1 Corinthians 5:7, "Christ, our passover, is sacrificed for us."

The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6–8) finds fulfillment in 1 Corinthians 5:8, "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

The Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9–14) pictures the resurrection of Christ according to 1 Corinthians 15:20: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept."

The Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15–22) is fulfilled in Acts 2 by the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:20–32) pictures Christ's atonement for us (Hebrews 9–10).

The Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34–44) prefigures the time of blessing (Deuteronomy 16:14) during the millennium (Revelation 21:3), during which the church will participate as rulers (Revelation 20:4).

The Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:23–25) finds its fulfillment—where? We have seen that each of the other feasts has prophetic significance for the church. Can you see any church-related event to which we could point the fulfillment of this feast? Maybe the Feast of Trumpets is the only feast that has no fulfillment in the church. Or could it be that the first trumpet is fulfilled in the "last trumpet"? Is this not the answer that we have been looking for?


Where is the Fulfillment? It is noteworthy that of the seven feasts, four of them find fulfillment in 1 Corinthians. Even more noteworthy is that the "last trumpet" shares the same chapter as the "firstfruits"! These are partners because both deal with the resurrection and second coming. We read, "Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (1 Corinthians 15:23). The resurrection of Christ is the "firstfruits," and the resurrection of believers is at the "last trumpet" (verse 52). If "firstfruits" alludes to the feasts of Leviticus 23, then its partner in the same chapter, the "last trumpet," does too.

Why does Paul use the "firstfruits" and the "last trumpet" together in 1 Corinthians 15? Because they represent the first and the last of the ingathering. If you were a Jewish farmer your holiday schedule would go like this: The Feast of Firstfruits celebrated the first of the barley harvest. Fifty days later the Feast of Weeks (also called the Feast of Harvest or Pentecost) observed the end of barley harvest and the beginning of wheat harvest (Exodus 23:16; Deuteronomy 16:16). About a half a year later the Feast of Trumpets occurred near the end of the summer's ingathering. Fifteen days later the Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the completion of the ingathering (Leviticus 23:39; Deuteronomy 16:13).

As it was with the feasts, so it is in the prophetic fulfillment. The resurrection of Christ signaled the beginning of the harvest of men's souls into the church. The day of Pentecost was truly a day of harvest as Peter preached and 3000 souls were added to the church. The time of harvest continues even now. But it will end for us when we hear the "trump of God" at the rapture, and we will celebrate all our labors for Him during the millennium.

(Be aware that the dates of the feasts can not be used to predict the day of the rapture. It is true that the first four feasts were fulfilled on their respective days. The last three feasts, however, form a separate group on the calendar, and their dates do not correspond with the time intervals of the end-time events.)

Not only does the typology fit, but the chronology also fits. The one-half year between the Feast of Pentecost and the Feast of Trumpets represents this long period of time known as the church age. We are now in that summer of harvest. The last major church event to occur was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The next main event to occur is the "trump of God" at the rapture.


Seven feasts of Israel


The prophetic view of the feasts is not new. Even post-tribs would agree in general, but some might object, "Does not the Feast of Trumpets typify the gathering of Israel rather than the rapture of the church? Does not Isaiah 27:12–13 link the trumpet with the gathering of Israel to her land after the tribulation?"

I reply, the trumpet applies to both Israel and the church, a concept with which even post-tribs agree, as I will show in a minute. It is true that Isaiah 27 applies the trumpet to Israel, but 1 Corinthians 15 applies it also to the church. It has double reference. The church partakes some way or another in the fulfillment of each of the other feasts. Why should the feast of the trumpets be the lone exception?

In addition to 1 Corinthians 15 which applies the trumpet to the church, indication of double reference comes from Numbers 10:1–10, The Lord told Moses to make two trumpets of silver. Why two trumpets? We know from Isaiah 27:12–13 that one is fulfilled in Israel and we know from 1 Corinthians 15:52 that one is fulfilled in the church. The trumpets were blown to "gather" the people (Numbers 10:2–3,7) just as God will blow the trumpet to gather the church and to gather Israel on separate occasions. But how do we know that these two silver trumpets were the same ones blown at the Feast of Trumpets? Because Numbers 10:10 says that these should be blown "in the beginnings of your months." And the Feast of Trumpets was the beginning of the seventh month.

Even post-tribulationists will agree with me that the "last trumpet" has double reference. They identify the trumpet of Matthew 24:31 as the rapture trumpet and "last trumpet." Also, does not a comparison of Matthew 24:31 with Isaiah 27:12–13 show that the gathering of Israel is in view?


And ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:12b–13).

And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24:31).


Unless post-tribs divorce Matthew 24:31 from Isaiah 27:12–13 to which it obviously alludes, they must conclude that Matthew 24:31 refers to both the gathering of Israel and the gathering of the church (as Gundry does). So even in the post-trib view view, the last trumpet has double reference. Carrying it further, if the church looks back to the same first trumpet as Israel does, then even a post-trib can safely identify the Feast of Trumpets as the first trumpet. Therefore, there is no compelling need, either Biblically or theologically, to resort to the seven trumpets of Revelation in order to explain the "last trumpet."

All I need to demonstrate here is the possibility. As long as this interpretation of the "last trumpet" remains possible, any post-trib proof from the "last trumpet" falls short.


We have demonstrated that the Corinthians, as they read about the "last trumpet" from Paul, could easily identify the first trumpet in their own Scripture, and there was no need for them to resort to trumpets not yet written about in Revelation. Paul alludes to the feasts four times in 1 Corinthians, and twice in the fifteenth chapter; so it would be perfectly natural for the Corinthians to catch the allusion to the feasts. This they could understand; a non-existent book they could not understand.


(See Leviticus 23; Exodus 12:18; Numbers 28:16–29:40; Deuteronomy 16; Numbers 10:1–10)

Old Testament Feasts


Prophetic Significance

New Testament Reference

The Passover

1st month,
14th day

sacrifice of Christ

1 Cor. 5:7

Unleavened Bread

1st month,
15th–21st days

communion with Christ (sinlessness)

1 Cor. 5:8


the day after the sabbath after Passover

resurrection of Christ

1 Cor. 15:20

(Feast of Weeks)

seven weeks after Firstfruits

formation of church

Acts 2:1–4

Feast of Trumpets

7th month,
1st day

1. rapture trumpet
2. Gathering of Israel (Isa. 27:12–13)

1 Cor. 15:52

Day of Atonement

7th month,
10th day

1. Christ's blood
2. Israel's cleansing (Zech. 12:10-13:1)

Heb. 9–10

Feast of Tabernacles

7th month,
15th–22nd days


Rev. 21:3

(Gray-haired perspective: The original edition showed the Firstfruits on the 16th day. But a brother showed me that the Bible doesn't read that way. The actual numbered day changes from year to year, because it is always the day after the sabbath. For example, if the Passover occurred on Thursday, then Friday would be the sabbath of Unleavened Bread, Saturday would be the weekly sabbath, and Sunday would be the Firstfruits.)



The main thrust of chapters four and five of First Thessalonians is tucked away in one little verse, 1 Thessalonians 1:10. Paul likes to give introductory previews or built-in outlines like this. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 he previews chapters four and five this way: "And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come."

The phrase "to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead" anticipates chapter four where the resurrection of Jesus is the basis for the resurrection of our loved ones. The second phrase of 1 Thessalonians 1:10, "who delivered us from the wrath to come," previews chapter five where deliverance from wrath is the basis for watchful living. Reading 1 Thessalonians 1:10 helps us to understand the heart of the matter in chapters four and five.

Chapter four, then, speaks of deliverance from death while chapter five speaks of deliverance from wrath. Chapter four promises life while chapter five promises salvation.

Comparing the chapters further we find an interesting and ironic play on the word "sleep." In chapter four believers sleep in death while in chapter five unbelievers sleep while alive. This presents some contrasts:


Chapter 4

Dead believers

Appointed to life

Have hope

Chapter 5

Living unbelievers

Appointed to death

Have no hope


From chapter four we learn not to sorrow as unbelievers (verse 13); from chapter five we learn not to sleep as unbelievers (verse 6).

We see, then, that chapters four and five are as two halves forming the whole. These halves are linked together in thought, but not necessarily in time as we shall see later.


When Is the Day of the Lord? The subject of 1 Thessalonians 1:5–11 is the day of the Lord. When is the day of the Lord? Does it begin with the tribulation or after the tribulation?

At this point I must part company with most pre-tribulationists and agree with Gundry's evidence that the day of the Lord begins after the tribulation.1 Pre-tribulationists have been afraid to admit that the day of the Lord begins after the tribulation, because they thought that would be the same as admitting the rapture is after the tribulation. Such is not the case as we shall see. If a painter stretched his canvas as much as we sometimes stretch our interpretation to fit our theological framework, he would end up with a distorted picture. But if we let the Bible speak for itself and patiently let the interpretations come naturally, then we will see a more beautiful and harmonious picture in the end.

Let's look at some evidence on the day of the Lord. What does the phrase "the times and the seasons" bring to your mind?

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 (1 Thessalonians 5:1–2).

According to popular usage today "times and seasons" might bring to mind signs of the times which indicate the rapture is near. But find a verse to support that usage. The only other verse I know of which uses "times and seasons" brings to mind, not pre-tribulational signs, but the Messianic kingdom which comes after the tribulation (Acts 1:6–7).

By the way, what did the Thessalonians "know perfectly"? Did they know perfectly signs of the coming rapture? No, they knew, not signs, but surprise. They knew perfectly of the day's surprise upon unbelievers. It says nothing of their knowing signs for believers to watch for. Does this passage say that we can know the time of the rapture? No, it is not talking about that at all.

Let's return to evidence concerning the time of the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord comes "as a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2). It may surprise you, but nowhere in the Bible does this figure of the thief occur in a pre-tribulational context. This is a post-tribulational figure (see Revelation 16:15).

The day of the Lord involves "sudden destruction" (1 Thessalonians 5:3). The tribulation, on the other hand, is not "sudden" destruction but gradual destruction. Also the day of the Lord is total destruction ("and they shall not escape"), but the tribulation is only partial destruction.

Elijah the prophet must come before the day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5). Although this was partially fulfilled in John the Baptist, it will be finally fulfilled in one of the two witnesses during the tribulation (Matthew 11:14; 17:11–13; Luke 1:17; Revelation 11:1–13). The day of the Lord, therefore, must come after the tribulation.

The sun and moon must be turned to darkness and blood before the day of the Lord (Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20). From Matthew 24:29 we learn that this occurs after the tribulation. (There is no distinction between the "day" of the Lord and the "great day" of the Lord. "Great" is merely a description of the day, as a comparison of Joel 2:11 and 2:31 will show.)

Joel 3:14 pinpoints the time. It says, "The day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision." This points to Armageddon at the end of the tribulation.

Evidence abounds, but even if there were no evidence, common sense would tell us that the tribulation is the day of man, not the day of the Lord. Not Christ, but antichrist is on the throne. Men all over the world shake their fist at God, raise their blasphemies to an unprecedented pitch, and cling more tenaciously to their idols. How different from the time when "The Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" (Isaiah 2:11,17). The tribulation surely is not the day of the Lord.

If it is true that the day of the Lord begins after the tribulation, then what about this puzzling question: "How can anyone say 'peace and safety' at the end of the tribulation?" This sounds like before the tribulation.

For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

Here are some possible reasons for people saying "peace and safety" at the end of the tribulation. First, the death of the two witnesses occurs shortly before the end (Revelation 11:14). "And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth" (Revelation 11:10). The extermination of these two tormenters may be one reason for saying "peace and safety."

Also, the world's armies are preparing for Armageddon at this time. The world could be saying, "We will once and for all exterminate that troublesome Jerusalem, and when we do we will have peace and safety at last. This will be the war to end all wars." This is another possible reason for saying "peace and safety" at the end of the tribulation. There doesn't have to be peace and safety, as Gundry points out, but the people say "peace and safety."

The opposite seems to be true now. Right now instead of saying "peace and safety" people are fearfully saying "war and danger." Prospects of peace will not be in sight until antichrist deceives the world and promises peace for all.

The "travail" of 1 Thessalonians 5:3 pictures the close of the tribulation rather than the tribulation itself. "Travail" in the Bible pictures several different things, as your concordance will reveal. The "travail" of Israel during the tribulation brings life (Jeremiah 30:4–7); whereas this travail at the end of the tribulation brings death to the unrepentant (Isaiah 13:6–9).

When is the day of the Lord? The day of the Lord begins with the sudden and total destruction of the wicked after the tribulation (1 Thessalonians 5:3), and it continues through the millennium until the new heavens and new earth (2 Peter 3:10–13).


Not Appointed to Wrath. Understanding the day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5 sheds light on verse nine: "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." Pre-tribs have used this verse to "prove" that God has not appointed us to go through the tribulation. Yes, some wrath does come during the tribulation, but the "wrath" spoken of here refers not to the wrath of the tribulation, but to the wrath of the day of the Lord after the tribulation. Now you see why post-tribs do not believe us when we try to "prove" pre-tribulationism from 1 Thessalonians 5:9. We have plenty of proof elsewhere. We're not hurting for evidence; so I'm content to let the Bible speak for itself. And to the post-tribs we say a hearty "thank you" for forcing us to dig and find out what the Bible really says.

More evidence concerning the time of the day of the Lord will come to light in 2 Thessalonians. That we will save until the next chapter.


Why Watch? Have I backed myself into a corner? If the day of the Lord begins seven years after the rapture, if the church will not even be around to meet the day of the Lord, then the question is thrown at me, "Why are we exhorted to watch in 1 Thessalonians 5? How can we watch for the day of the Lord if we will be raptured seven years prior to that day?"

Well, let me encourage you to read 1 Thessalonians 5 very carefully:

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. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do (1 Thessalonians 5:1–11).

Did you catch it? Not once does Paul say to watch for the day of the Lord. So to ask me the question, "Why should we watch for the day of the Lord?" is to ask me a loaded question. Paul never says to watch for the day of the Lord. In fact, he says the opposite.

Watch closely: "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness ... ye are all the children of light ... Therefore let us watch ... For [because] God hath not appointed us to wrath" (excerpts from 1 Thessalonians 5:4–9). We do not watch in order to be delivered from that day; rather we watch because we have already been delivered. Read it again. Paul says, "We are delivered; therefore watch," not "Watch in order to be delivered." Do you see the difference? Watching is not the cause of deliverance, but deliverance is the cause of watching!

Paul's reasoning is consistent with everything else in the Christian life. Good works are not in order to be saved, but they follow because we are saved. God has called us with a heavenly calling, and then we live up to that. He has sanctified us, and then we live out that holiness. He has given victory over sin, and then we believe and claim that victory. Likewise, we have been delivered from the wrath of the day of the Lord; therefore we watch. Isn't this the highest motive to please God? You watch, not to prove yourself, but out of gratitude for what God has already done for you. How wonderful is God's way!

When I was in seminary I was taught to take a red pencil and circle all inferential conjunctions such as "therefore," "for," in order that," etc. It is a simple thing that anyone can do, and it helps you to see at a glance the reasoning and the flow of thought. It is significant that Paul says "therefore" watch instead of watch "in order that." And it is all the more significant when everyone expects him to say, "Watch for the day." Humanly speaking, Paul could easily have made such a slip of the pen, but the Holy Spirit was guiding and guarding His Word so that it would come out just right.

By Paul's reasoning in this context, being children of the light refers to our spiritual position and destiny, not to intellectual enlightenment regarding signs and events. It has to do with the way we live rather than what we know and watch for.


What Does "Watch" Mean? If we do not watch "for" the day of the Lord, then what does "watch" mean? Does not the word "watch" imply looking for something?

Well, in modern English it does. But, remember the New Testament was written in Greek. In Greek, as well as in the old English into which our King James Version was translated, the word simply means "to be alertly awake." In fact, the identical word is translated "wake" in verse 10 of 1 Thessalonians 5.

You can prove the meaning of "watch" to yourself without even knowing Greek. Notice that it is the opposite of "sleep" in 1 Thessalonians 5:6. The opposite of "sleep" is "awake." In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus was praying while Peter, James and John fell asleep. When Jesus found them He said to Peter, "Sleepest thou? Couldest not thou watch one hour?" What did He mean? Watch for the soldiers? No, Jesus simply meant, "Stay awake and pray" (Mark 14:37–38).

If all our Bibles said "be awake" instead of "watch" for every occurrence of the word in 1 Thessalonians 5, then maybe this misunderstanding would never have come up. Maybe no one would have ever thought that we were supposed to watch for the day of the Lord. Maybe everyone would know what Paul really meant: "You are delivered; you are children of light; so wake up and live as a Christian should."


How Do We Stay Awake? What is involved in staying awake? How do we apply this to Christian living? I am amazed at how often the Bible explains itself. The Bible is its own best commentary. First Thessalonians 5:6–8 explains the meaning of "watch" in this context so that we know exactly what Paul means by it. The pattern of parallels reveals the meaning.


Paul Defines Watching

Therefore let us not sleep, as do others;

but let us watch and be sober (verse 6).

For they that sleep sleep in the night;

and they that be drunken are drunken in the night (verse 7).

But let us, who are of the day, be sober,

putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation (verse 8).


Notice that the two columns are opposites. "Sleep" opposes "watch," and "drunken" opposes "sober." But what opposes the second "sleep"? The parallel is perfect except for one thing. Instead of using the word "watch," verse 8 substitutes a definition for the word. Watching means "putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation." Faith, love, and hope. Exercise these virtues in your Christian life, and you will be a watchful Christian, or should I say, a Christian who is alertly awake. Thank you, Paul, for giving us your own definition of watching.

This kind of watching anyone can do. It is not limited to those with an intellectual grasp of world events. Those with the poorest minds can concentrate on their personal Christian character. Those also with pockets too poor to afford a newspaper are not stopped from this kind of watching. The lonely Christian isolated in a Communist prison cell can have a life of watching, even though he hasn't the faintest idea of "signs" happening outside of his four walls.


The Hope of Salvation. Of the three virtues involved in staying awake, faith love, and hope, the last one is especially highlighted by Paul in this epistle. Paul stresses the hope of salvation in verse 8 because it is opposite to the fear of wrath which unbelievers face. Why do we, as believers, have this hope of salvation? Here is the reason:

For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10).

Why do we have hope? Because "[Jesus] died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him." In other words, our hope of salvation is the rapture! Read verse 10 again. Verse 10 is actually a summary of Paul's description of the rapture in chapter four.

(Some would say the word "sleep" in 1 Thessalonians 5:10 is not the same as "sleep" in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 because a different Greek word is used. They would say it means "ungodly living," as in 1 Thessalonians 5:6–7, instead of "death." However, meaning changes as the context changes, and since 5:10 is an obvious reference to chapter 4, it is lifted into that context. To depend on the words being different in Greek is shaky in this case, because they are synonymous anyway. But to settle the matter once and for all, can you imagine the apostle Paul admitting that salvation will come to those who live ungodly! That would destroy the force of "edify" in verse 11. Would he give a big buildup for righteous living and then end by admitting that it doesn't matter anyway?)

Paul explains the hope of salvation in terms of the rapture. The rapture is our salvation from the day of wrath. The rapture is our means of deliverance from wrath. This is our strong hope. We look, not for wrath, but for rapture.

Now let me say that both pre- and post-tribs share the identical hope of salvation. To the post-trib the rapture comes to rescue them immediately before the wrath of the day of the Lord; while to the pre-trib the rapture comes seven years before. In either case the rapture is the means of salvation. And as we nurture this strong hope, along with faith and love, we will live as watchful Christians.


The Context. Post-tribs like to think that Paul said to watch for the day of the Lord, because this would mean going through the tribulation to meet the day of the Lord after the tribulation. As we have pointed out, Paul never said that.

Admitting this, post-tribs may then appeal to the context and say, "But the context implies watching for the day of the Lord." This is progress. By progress I mean that they now admit that Paul never said to watch for the day of the Lord. Now their argument has shifted from outright statement to implication. This is progress. I don't mind if you believe in implications; all I want for you to see is that it is an implication. I want you to recognize that the post-trib argument rests on nothing more than implication in 1 Thessalonians 5.

Now we mentioned previously two kinds of implications, strong ones and weak ones. Some implications you can get around and some you can't get around. With this in mind, let us examine the context in 1 Thessalonians 5. Let us see what it really implies. I don't know of one thing in the context to imply looking for the day of the Lord, but many things in the context imply wakeful living.

Notice the simple proximity of words. In the context "watch" has closer proximity to "daytime" than to "day of the Lord." The stronger implication, therefore, is "stay awake" rather than "look for signs."

Does mere mention of the day of the Lord imply that we should watch for it? No, not at all. That is a careless use of contextual interpretation. When we consider the context in interpretation, we must not only consider what is said, but how it is used, and how it fits into the flow of thought. For example, the day of the Lord is there and I am here. What is my relation to it? That's the question. Is it one of looking or living? Am I looking for signs of its coming so that I won't be surprised? Or am I so thankful that I am delivered from that day that I live now to please God?


Does the context imply looking or living?


Conjunctions Are the Key. How is the day of the Lord used in this context? What does the context really imply? Everything in the context points one way. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1–10 carefully, and notice Paul's progression of thought:


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. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape (verses 1–3).

The destiny of night people is destruction,

But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness (verses 4–5).

But we are day people;

Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation (verses 6–8).

Therefore let us live like day people,

For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him (verses 9–10).

For the destiny of day people is salvation.


Notice the conjunctions: "but" ... "therefore" ... "for." These little words show how Paul's thoughts are connected. They are like signposts guiding us along in a smooth-flowing natural-sounding progression of thought. Misread one of these signposts and the meaning becomes disjointed like this: "We day people will not be surprised by the day of the Lord; therefore, so that we won't be surprised let us watch for it." It doesn't make sense. What is the "therefore" there for? Maybe Paul should have reversed it and said, "We watch; therefore, we won't be surprised." Maybe he should have said, "We watch; therefore, we won't be destroyed" instead of saying, as he did, "We won't be destroyed; therefore, watch." He should have reversed his logic; he should have made the "therefore" do an about-face, if he meant "looking" instead of "living."


The Thief and Surprise. According to Paul's logic (as revealed by the conjunctions), it is the night people who have to watch out for the thief, not day people. Day people are concerned with living, not looking. If it is daytime at your house, do you stand at the window looking for a thief to come? Of course not. Thieves generally strike at night, not in the day. In the daytime you do your job, you stay awake, you stay sober, but you don't worry about the thief. The context deals with the life we live, not with what we look for. What good does it do to look for the thief in the daytime?

Not only do we have a day-night difference, but we have a destination difference. This diagram pictures the two destinations.


Day road and night road, two different destinations


The thief lurks along the night road. To those on the day road, the thief represents no danger. We are safe. Rapture awaits us, while destruction awaits them.

The surprise of destruction cannot touch us. We are on a different road. We are careful, not to avoid its surprise (because the rapture will surprise us anyway), but we are careful to live worthy of the road we are on.


Questions and Answers About "Surprise." In the lists below notice that there are eight spaces but only seven words contrasted.



no thief








What goes in the blank space? Post-tribs would answer "Awareness through seeing signs." I answer, "Safety."

How do we know that "surprise" is not contrasted to awareness? Because Paul mentions no signs to look for or to be aware of.

How do we know that "surprise" is contrasted to safety? Because verse 3 says, "For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them as travail upon a woman with child."

How does this work out in actual experience? In actuality we will be raptured safely to heaven before the destruction hits. Even post-tribs have us being caught up to meet Christ before He descends with "sudden destruction." This is why we are safe while they are surprised.

How do we know that safety comes through rapture? Verse 10 describes our salvation in terms of rapture (compare 4:14,17).

Does not the day of the Lord include the rapture? If it does, I do not know of any Scripture which says so. All we can be certain of is that the day of the Lord brings "sudden destruction," and this comes after the rapture.

Does not 1 Thessalonians 5 prove that we will "meet" the day of the Lord? We will meet the rapture (whenever that is) and they will meet the destruction of the day of the Lord. The only way that we will "meet" that moment of sudden destruction is by descending with Christ from the clouds.

Does not Paul require us to be on earth until the destruction hits? If so, the first generation Thessalonians did not make it. Certainly they "watched." (The signs they could not yet see, but they could stay "awake" spiritually.) Certainly they were safe from the thief. But that did not imply remaining on earth until the thief struck. Certainly the future events remained a valid motive for watchful living even though their living was separated in time from the events which motivated them.

Does not verse 4 imply that we will be "overtaken" by the day of the Lord, but not "as a thief"? Not necessarily. It is not that easy to separate "overtake" and "as a thief," because they go together like bread and butter. "Overtake" in the Greek literally means "come down upon." This is a bad connotation. God's wrath will not "come down upon" any believer. Even tribulation saints who "meet" the day and go through it protected will not have that day "come down upon" them at all. Therefore, "as a thief" merely reinforces the meaning of "overtake." It hardly implies that the day will overtake (come down upon) the church.

Why won't the day overtake us as a thief? Post-tribs answer, "Because we will be aware of approaching signs." Paul answers, "Because we are appointed to salvation" (in other words, we will be with Christ when the thief strikes).


Looking or Living? Does the context really imply looking? Let's think about it. Why look? Are we supposed to look in order to avoid destruction? That doesn't make sense because the destruction represents no danger to Christians. Even the post-trib scheme has the Christian safely raptured before destruction falls. If the destruction of the day of the Lord is no danger to us, why look for it?

Furthermore, mere looking doesn't exempt anyone from destruction. It is the life we live, the surrender of our wills to God, that makes us ready to meet the day of destruction. An unbeliever can fearfully look for the day of the Lord, but that won't help him when the time comes. If destruction is the reason, then living makes better sense than looking. Paul's purpose in this section is to "edify" (verse 11), to build up our living, to put it on a higher plane.

So why look? Are we supposed to look in order to see signs so that we know when the day is near? That doesn't make sense in this context because these signs have not appeared yet. In 2 Thessalonians Paul explains what these signs are and he says that since these signs have not occurred yet we should concentrate on living instead of looking. If I were a post-trib I would have no way of looking for the day of the Lord until the abomination of desolation occurred first.

So why look? Are we supposed to look so that we won't miss the rapture? According to 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51 we all will be raptured, looking or not, ready or not. The result is the same. We will be just as raptured and they will be just as destroyed.

So why look? Yes, we have reason to look and it is Peter, not Paul in this context, who explains it:

Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:12–13).

In this passage Peter uses the word "look," instead of "watch" as Paul does, because Peter means "look." The new heavens and the new earth is what we look for. This aspect of the day of the Lord occurs, not when Christ returns, but 1000 years later (see Revelation 20–21). We look for an event 1000 years beyond the rapture, 1000 years after we get our new bodies, 1000 years past the time when we have gone to be with Christ. The looking that Peter talks about, therefore, proves nothing about pre-trib or post-trib, because his looking is 1000 years removed from the issue and either a pre-trib or a post-trib can look for what he looks for.

I can go one step further. As a pre-trib, I do look for the day of destruction at the beginning of the day of the Lord. Now as I am on earth, I look for it; and when I am raptured and in heaven I will still be looking for it. Mere looking proves nothing whatsoever about the time of the rapture. And as I look, I don't get my Scriptural support for looking from 1 Thessalonians 5—that is not what Paul is talking about. I get it from a passage like Revelation 6:9–11 where the souls under the altar, although in heaven, still look for the day of destruction. If from heaven we can look, then looking proves nothing for post-tribulationism.

In a nutshell, number one, Paul does not say to watch for the day of the Lord. Number two, the context does not imply to watch for the day of the Lord. Number three, even if Paul did say or imply to watch for the day of the Lord, looking for that day would still not prove post-tribulationism, because we can look from heaven.


Motivation for Living. My purpose has been to let the context speak for itself. I am guided by the Greek meaning of "watch" rather than being misguided by the modern English meaning. I accept Paul's own definition of "watching" in verse 8 instead of injecting my own definition. I take the natural meaning of "therefore" in verse 6 instead of reversing its meaning. I consider that the primary duty of a day person is to stay awake rather than to look. I understand that "looking" does not make sense in this context.

If these considerations from the immediate context are not enough, then let me show you one more verse earlier in the book. Remember, Paul gives previews early in the book and explains more fully later in the book. 1 Thessalonians 2:12 captures the thought of 1 Thessalonians 5 in a nutshell: "That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory." Paul's point is our living, walking worthy of God. A glorious destiny is ours, therefore, let us live up to it.

I hope and pray that we can all quit trying to prove pre-trib or post-trib from this epistle when it teaches neither. We can all agree—as the Word of God speaks for itself—that the time of the rapture is not revealed in 1 Thessalonians. We can all agree that the rapture—whenever it occurs—is the hope of salvation prior to the day of the Lord. And we can all receive comfort and edification from this epistle and live in gratitude because God has made us children of light.


1. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation, p. 89ff.