"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught" (2 Thessalonians 2:15)


Second Thessalonians: Glory

After the Russian revolution of 1917, a man went up to his pre-trib pastor, tore his Bible in half and shouted, "You lied to us!" I read this account and similar accounts of the dangers of pre-trib teaching in a post-trib periodical. It makes my heart sink to think that pre-tribulationism has been improperly taught. Is pre-tribulationism some unrealistic escapist theology? Does it mean we won't ever have to prepare for tribulation? No, no, no, this is not the way to teach pre-tribulationism.

As long as we are in this old world we will have tribulation. We should expect it. We should prepare for it. Richard Wurmbrand suffered fourteen years of tribulation and torture in Communist prisons. He represents thousands of others who suffer for their faith. Just because I happen to believe that I will escape the last seven years of tribulation, that doesn't mean I have an easy road. In some degree I expect to suffer tribulation every day of my life for the rest of my life. That is my privilege—yes, privilege—as a Christian.

The Thessalonians prematurely expected escape from all their troubles. They thought the Lord would come right away to destroy their enemies. Paul writes his second epistle to the Thessalonians to correct this false notion, and his theme is God delays punishment of the wicked in order to produce patience in the believer.



A strong passage in the hands of post-tribulationists has been 2 Thessalonians 1:6–8. The following description of Christ's coming with fire and vengeance could only refer to His return after the tribulation:

Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:6–8).

The word "rest" in this passage is a noun, not a verb. God will recompense "rest" to us after the tribulation. If rest comes after the tribulation, the argument goes, then the rapture comes after the tribulation. But do rest and rapture come at the same moment? Does rest mean rapture? This is the unanswered question.

To get the picture clearly before us, look at this diagrammatical representation of the passage:


God will recompense

tribulation to them

when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels

rest to you


God will recompense two things: "tribulation" and "rest." "Rest" for believers comes after the tribulation, as post-tribs are quick to point out. Ah, but what about "tribulation" for unbelievers? When does that come? Does "tribulation" also come after the tribulation?

Obviously we need to do some unraveling or both post-tribs and pre-tribs will get tangled up in this passage. We pull first on the one loose string which we can agree upon. We all know that "tribulation" for unbelievers begins seven years earlier, but it culminates at the end when the Lord takes fiery vengeance. You see, the word "tribulation" can be used in two ways. Usually when we say "tribulation" we mean the period of tribulation. But Paul in this passage uses "tribulation" to mean God's vengeance at the end of the period. So the answer is yes, "tribulation" (in the narrow sense) occurs after the "tribulation" (in the broad sense).

Now, if Paul uses "tribulation" in the narrow sense, then what about "rest"? Usually when we say "rest" we mean rest in the broad sense, relief from persecution, escape from trouble. Rapture is rest in the broad sense. Rapture is relief from persecution. Rapture is escape. But Paul has a more specific meaning in mind for "rest." For him "rest" means the glory of the Lord being revealed in the saints.

Let me explain further. Or rather let Paul himself explain further, because Paul has a habit of introducing a topic and then explaining later on, and Paul's own explanations are the best commentaries that I have ever found. After introducing "tribulation" in verse 6, Paul explains in verses 8–9 what he means by "tribulation." It is vengeance and destruction. After introducing "rest" in verse 7, Paul explains in verse 10 what he means by "rest." "Rest" means glory and admiration. The Lord's glory shines forth in us, and others will behold with wonder and astonishment because they see that God is in us. That is rest in the fullest sense. It is not mere relief from persecution. Relief is only half rest. It is not mere escape from trouble. Escape is only half rest. It is not the rapture he is talking about. Rapture is only half rest.

As wonderful as the rapture is, that is not all we look forward to. After the rapture sin still reigns on the earth. God is still scorned. Neither are the raptured believers recognized and vindicated. Even though we are in heaven, no one else knows it. They might think we were taken away by UFOs.

No one who truly loves righteousness could be content with this half-rest condition. We long for that final victory when God reveals Himself to the whole world, when righteousness finally defeats sin, and when the whole world admires us for who we really are. When you and I come riding down from the sky on those white horses (Revelation 19:14), then those who knew us on earth will stand their with mouths gaping in astonishment. "They were not crazy after all! God is in them!" That's more than release. That's vindication.

This is not my feeling alone, because the martyrs in Revelation 6:9–11 feel the same way. These martyrs, even though they are in heaven, do not have full rest. "They cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" They are told to rest temporarily until the time for the full and natural rest that Paul talks about. Why are they not satisfied having full rest? Do they long for their resurrection bodies? No. They long for God's vengeance. Having relief for themselves does not satisfy.

My friend, as wonderful as the rapture is, it is not our final hope.

You can see from this diagram that rapture is only half the story:


Rapture going up, glory coming down


Going up is rapture. Coming down is glory (whether one second later or seven years later). Paul centers on the second part, glory, when he speaks of "rest."

So 2 Thessalonians 1:6–7 must be unraveled completely. We cannot leave half of it still tangled. Just as "tribulation," in the full sense, comes after the tribulation, so "rest" in the full sense comes after the half-rest of the rapture. Both "tribulation" and "rest," in the broad sense, begin seven years earlier; but both culminate at the end.

Now post-tribs can assume that "rest" means rapture and thereby "prove" that the rapture comes after the tribulation. And if I wanted to I could assume that "tribulation" means the seven-year period and thereby "prove" that the rapture occurs at the identical moment the tribulation begins. But such assuming misses the point of Paul altogether. Paul is not talking about rapture. I will let Paul define his own words as he explains "tribulation" in verses 8 and 9, and as he explains "rest" in verse 10.



Chapter two opens with the statement, "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord is at hand." Most commentators say the word "by" is better translated "concerning." The translation "by" makes the coming of Christ and our gathering unto Him the basis of Paul's beseeching (favoring pre-tribulationism). The translation "concerning" makes Christ's coming and our gathering the object of Paul's beseeching (favoring post-tribulationism). Which is right? Is Paul beseeching "by" our gathering or "concerning" our gathering unto Christ?

Well, if you question the majority of commentators what do you do? You check their reasons. Any average Bible student has a right to disagree with a commentator if he has better reasons.

The main reason they change "by" to "concerning" is that the Greek word was no longer commonly used in adjurations during New Testament times. In fact, they claim it is not so used even once in the New Testament. Although I respect their knowledge of the history of the Greek language, I still wanted to ask my good friend about it, my concordance. In the concordance I came across a verse which makes me wonder if this word is never used in adjurations without exception. Second Corinthians 5:20 uses this identical preposition: "We pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." He obviously is not praying "concerning" Christ, but "by" Christ or "on behalf of" Christ. Does this not prove the possibility of exception to the general rule? The word can mean "by" instead of "concerning" when used with a word in the same class as "beseech."

I wonder, too, if Paul wanted to say "by," which Greek word better expresses the idea than the one he used? You see, the root meaning of this word is "over." Having laid a foundation in First Thessalonians of our gathering unto Christ in the rapture, he now makes a plea "over" that. If the plea is "over" the foundation, the rapture is the basis of the plea. I know of no better Greek word Paul could have used to express this idea. He chose this word with a purpose. He easily could have used the other Greek word which more usually means "concerning," and that would have saved the commentators a lot of work in correcting Paul.

Let's evaluate the reasons further. I'm saying the best interpretation has the best reasons behind it. The decisive factor in any interpretation is the context. In this context what exactly is Paul beseeching? Is he beseeching concerning our gathering unto Him as post-tribs claim? Is he beseeching concerning the rapture? The discrepancy becomes apparent immediately. Not even once dos Paul mention our gathering or the rapture in the entire rest of the book. He does not talk about it at all! It lies in the background; it forms the foundation for what he is talking about. But a simple reading of the epistle shows that Paul is beseeching concerning something entirely different.

He is beseeching the Thessalonians concerning their attitude. He tells them to be patient. They were "troubled" (2:2), which means they were "agitated" like a wave of water hopping around. As Gundry points out, the Thessalonians entertained wild anticipations that the day of the Lord was at hand. But Paul beseeches them to calm down and be patient a while longer. The object of beseeching is the attitude of the Thessalonians and the disorderly conduct it led to.

Some of the Thessalonians were in such an uproar over the idea that the Lord's coming was upon them that they quit their jobs and were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Paul says, "Screw your heads back on, get back to work, and wait for the Lord's coming, but with patience." Notice Paul's command:

And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us (2 Thessalonians 3:5–6).

Comparing the latter half of this passage with 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2 illuminates the meaning. One passage helps us to understand the other because they are parallel. Both contain the object of beseeching and both contain the basis of beseeching.







Basis of beseeching

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him,

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Object of beseeching

That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

That ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.


Notice the parallels in the two passages. "Command" is similar to "beseech," only stronger. In one passage Paul pleads for a settled attitude, in the other passage he explains that the way to have a settled attitude is to be patient and settled in their work. In both passages the basis of Paul's plea is the Lord and the object of his plea is their unsettled attitude evidenced in disorderly work habits.

Notice how the second passage sheds light on the first. In 3:6 would you say that Paul is commanding them concerning the Lord? Of course not. He commands concerning their conduct, but he commands them by or "in the name of" the Lord. If you agree that these two passages are parallel, then 3:6 is a divine commentary on 2:1–2 showing that "by" should be translated "by" instead of "concerning" as some human commentators say. If you do not agree that the two passages are parallel, then just think of 3:6 as contextual evidence illustrating what Paul's point is in this epistle. He makes his plea by the Lord and concerning the attitude and conduct of the Thessalonians.

For the proper translation of the word "by" we have looked at evidence from the concordance, evidence from the context, and now let us look at evidence from common sense. If "concerning" were the correct translation, how could you possibly beseech, or ask, concerning the coming of Christ? Can you beseech Christ to come sooner? This Paul does not do. Can you beseech someone else to beseech Christ to come? This Paul does not do. Can you ask someone when Christ is going to come? This Paul does not do. I'm just showing that it doesn't make sense to beseech concerning the coming of Christ. Common sense tells me that Paul does not beseech, or ask, concerning the coming of Christ at all.

Instead of asking he tells them. Rather than beseeching he teaches concerning Christ's coming. Furthermore, he does not primarily teach concerning the gathering of believers; he teaches concerning the destruction of unbelievers. The whole context is overwhelmingly against the idea that the coming of Christ is the object of beseeching; it is rather the object of teaching which in turn provides the basis for beseeching.


Does Paul beseech "by" or "concerning" the coming of Christ?

The attitude of the Thessalonians

object of beseeching

The coming of Christ

object of teaching
basis of beseeching

Conclusion: He beseeches them "concerning" their attitude "by" the coming of Christ. The proper translation in 2:1 is "by" instead of "concerning."


Since Paul beseeches them "by" the coming of Christ, we then ask, how does Christ's coming form the basis of his beseeching? Is it based on the time of the rapture? Is Paul saying, "Since the rapture comes first I beseech you not to be troubled about the day of the Lord which comes later"? No, Paul says nothing about the time of the rapture in these epistles. This will become more clear as we go along.

Then how is Christ's coming the basis of Paul's beseeching? The basis is, not the time, but the rewarded patience at Christ's coming. Paul says, "You will gain your reward; so be patient. Because of the just recompense at Christ's coming, I beseech you to have a patient attitude during the delay."

What reward is Paul talking about? Reward at the rapture or reward at Christ's coming to earth? Which aspect of Christ's coming forms the basis of his beseeching? The answer is both aspects. Paul says, "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him." In this one verse Paul mentions both aspects of Christ's coming and both form the basis of his beseeching. The "coming" is that aspect when Christ returns to earth after the tribulation, because that is the coming Paul primarily talks about in this epistle. The "gathering," of course, is the rapture, the other aspect.

Does it seem strange that Paul mentions both aspects in one breath when the two aspects are seven years apart? Does it seem even stranger that he would reverse the order? Even for post-tribs who place the two aspects seconds apart instead of years apart the order in this verse is reversed. Even according to them our gathering in the air occurs before the coming to destroy antichrist and his followers. But here the coming is mentioned first in order to make a smoother transition from chapter one, because chapter one talks about the coming instead of the gathering.

Why are they mingled? Well, read on to see why it is not strange at all that Paul would mingle both aspects in one verse. It is the most normal thing that he could do.



The double aspect of Christ's coming brings a double reward, namely salvation and glory. Rapture brings salvation, and Christ's coming to earth brings glory. How do I know this? By comparing two passages. Study these two passages below. Read them over several times. Notice the parallels between the two. These parallels are not accidental because one passage introduces chapter two and the other passage concludes chapter two.


Two-fold Coming

Two-fold Reward

2 Thess. 2:1–2
(introduction to chapter 2)

2 Thess. 2:13–15
(conclusion to chapter 2)

Now we beseech you, brethren,

But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord,

by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ

because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth;

And by our gathering together unto Him,

whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, [or "agitated" from side to side]

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught,

Neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ [the day of the Lord] is at hand.

whether by word, or our epistle.


By setting these passages side by side, all I am trying to do is to let Paul explain himself as he does so many times. The color-coded items are in reversed order in the parallel (this is not unusual for Paul as you can see from the outlines in Appendix I). Now as we examine these two passages, point by point, we will better appreciate how the hope of Christ's coming produces patience in our lives.

"Coming" in one passage parallels "glory" in the other passage. I know that these are parallel because of 2 Thessalonians 1:7–10:

When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God ... when he shall come to be glorified in his saints.

Christ's coming to earth after the tribulation brings glory for us. Doesn't this inspire you to be patient? Every minute you wait means glory then. The longer you wait now, the more glory it will bring then. Every hardship, every trial you endure now will multiply exceedingly your glory then. So have patience.

"Our gathering together unto him" in one passage parallels "salvation" in the other passage. I know that these are parallel because of 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10:

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.

As we learned in the previous chapter, this passage alludes back to the rapture as described in 1 Thessalonians 4. We learned there that the rapture is our means of salvation from wrath. This salvation is ours because we have believed the truth and because we have been sanctified by the Spirit. As we are all gathered unto Christ in the clouds we will escape this old world. All its problems, all its pressure, all its heartaches will be left behind forever, and forgotten. But salvation from our problems is nothing compared to salvation from God's wrath. Such is our destiny; so have patience.

Now let us examine the two bold words in the parallel passages, namely "by" and "therefore." Both words point out the basis of Paul's plea. In the one passage his plea is based on the two-fold coming. In the other passage his plea is based on the two-fold reward. This forms additional evidence that "by" is properly translated "by" instead of "concerning" because the relationship of thought in both passages is identical.

We have a solid two-fold basis for patience, salvation at the rapture, and glory at His second coming. Salvation and rapture are emphasized in 1 Thessalonians. Glory after the tribulation is the keynote in 2 Thessalonians. This double aspect of His coming has nothing to do with the time of the rapture. All of us can be edified and encourage by the double reward we will receive. To be taken out of the world is salvation; to be admired by the world (whether it is one second later or seven years later) is glory.

Both aspects form the basis of Paul's beseeching, not the object. Paul is saying, "Since you will be rewarded by salvation and glory at the coming of Christ you can afford to be patient." That is how Paul beseeches them "concerning" their attitude "by" the coming of Christ.



Both pre- and post-tribs have used the following verse to "prove" the time of the rapture:

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

The troublesome term has been "falling away." What does it mean? There are two common views. Some believe it is a falling away from the faith, or apostasy. Others feel it is a falling away from the earth, or rapture. Depending on their view of the time of the day of the Lord, some use the "falling away" to "prove" that the rapture comes before the man of sin while others use the same verse to "prove" that the man of sin comes before the rapture.

Which interpretation is correct? Falling away from the faith or falling away from the earth? After wavering back and forth between these two views I finally settled on a third view. Let me explain the third view now before I answer the other two views. By the way, the third view will do nothing to "prove" pre-tribulationism or post-tribulationism—disappointing to both sides, I'm sure—but it will open up the passage in new light helping us to understand it better.

Paul does here what he does so many times elsewhere. He first introduces a topic and then he explains it. We saw how he did this in chapter one (where he introduced and explained "tribulation" and "rest"), and he does this consistently throughout 2 Thessalonians as the outline in Appendix I reveals. Once again Paul's own interpretation comes to our rescue.

Verse 3 introduces two topics: "the falling away" and the "revealing." The following verses go on to explain these two topics. Verse 4 explains the "revealing" of the man of sin while verses 6–7 explain the "falling away." No better commentary sits on my shelf than the Bible itself!






Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, (3a)

And that man of sin be revealed, (3b)


And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. (6–7)

The son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (4)


What is "the falling away"? It is none other than the taking out of the way of the One who is holding back the revealing of the man of sin. The removal of one allows the revealing of the other. Paul explains it so well. He explains "the falling away" as "taken out of the way" (verse 7). The phrases are synonymous. Both phrases are hinged to the revealing of the man of sin, because the removal and the revealing are linked together twice in this passage:


Except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed (verse 3).

Until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed (verses 7–8).


The next question is, "Who is the one withholding who is taken out of the way?" I agree with many Bible scholars that it is the Holy Spirit. He is the one with the power to hold back the man of sin. If it is not the Holy Spirit, then I do not know of any other explanation for both the masculine and neuter which are used in verses 6 and 7. "What withholdeth" (verse 6) is neuter in accordance with the word "spirit" which is neuter in the Greek. "He who now letteth" (verse 7) is masculine in accordance with the real personality of the third person of the Godhead.

How does the Holy Spirit restrain the man of sin? Through the church? No, but by direct and personal restraint. Gundry explains it well:

"Become out of the midst" [or, "taken out of the way"] does not demand removal from the world. "Midst" more literally means "middle." The restrainer is standing in the middle, i.e., between the person of the Antichrist and the revelation of the Antichrist. It is as though the Antichrist stands in the wings, eager to break forth onto the stage of history. But the Holy Spirit blocks entrance until the appointed moment when He will step out of the way and allow the man of lawlessness to stride onstage before the admiring eyes of mankind. Perhaps a misunderstanding of the expression "become out of the midst" as passive has aided the pre-tribulational idea of withdrawal from the world. The expression is not passive. Lenski captures the meaning exactly with his idiomatic rendering "get out of the way."1

This view does not demand the removal of the Holy Spirit from the earth during the tribulation. In this way we avoid the problem of trying to explain how evangelism and conversions take place on an unprecedented scale during that time. Second Thessalonians 2 speaks only of the Holy Spirit's relation to antichrist, not to the rest of the world.


Is "The Falling Away" the Rapture? Perhaps the reader may agree now that "the falling away" is the moving out of the way of the Holy Spirit. However, pre-tribulationists may still insist on coupling the rapture with that. If the Holy Spirit indwells believers, some say, do not the Holy Spirit and the church depart from the earth at the same time?

If you read the passage carefully you will see that they do not depart at the same time. The Holy Spirit is removed and the man of sin is revealed in the middle of the tribulation, exactly 3½ years after the rapture! The revealing of the man of sin involves his sitting in the temple claiming to be God. This is the abomination of desolation which occurs in the middle of the tribulation, as we saw in chapter two. Antichrist is around before then, of course, but he is not revealed as the man of sin until the abomination of desolation.

Not only this passage places the revealing of the man of sin at the abomination of desolation, but also Revelation 13:5 is very clear that antichrist is granted power to oppose God for only 42 months. If he has this power for only 42 months, the last 3½ years of the tribulation, then we know that he cannot be revealed as the man of sin who opposes God at the beginning of the tribulation when the rapture occurs.

If the revelation of antichrist occurs at the middle of the tribulation, some may yet object that the removal of the Holy Spirit could still occur at the beginning of the tribulation, resulting in a 3½-year gap between the removal and the revealing. However, the text indicates no gap. Removal and revealing occur virtually simultaneously. Watch closely. Verses 7–8 say, "Only he who now letteth [restraineth] will let [restrain], until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed...." The "only" thing standing in the way is the Holy Spirit. Once He steps aside what else is there to hold back antichrist for 3½ more years? Such a gap is unwarranted. Therefore, the removal or "the falling away" occurs at the mid-point.

If the Holy Spirit does not depart until the middle of the tribulation, some may wonder, "Does this not prove that the rapture also occurs at the middle of the tribulation?" No, let me give you one more piece of evidence that completely disassociates this departure from the rapture. Remember in the last chapter we demonstrated that the rapture was first revealed in the first epistle to the Thessalonians. Paul did not teach the rapture while he was with them. This is the key. Now in 2 Thessalonians 2:5 Paul says, "Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" This is a dead give-away. If Paul taught the removal and the revealing while he was with them, then the removal could not possibly refer to the rapture which was first taught later by letter.

"The falling away" is the removal of the Holy Spirit only. It has nothing to do with the rapture at all. The rapture and the "falling away" are totally separate, both in Paul's teaching and also in time by 3½ years.


Is "The Falling Away" Apostasy? As you can see, I am trying to let Paul speak for himself. I am satisfied to mold my theology around him rather than molding him around my theology. I find when I do that, I appreciate the Bible more as it opens up in crystal clarity.

Now let's handle another objection: If "the falling away" is not the rapture, is it a falling away from the faith, or apostasy? To believe this is to assume something Paul never says. In fact, the man of sin and his followers were never in the faith in the first place. If they were never in the faith, how could they possibly fall away from the faith? It doesn't fit.

Some would answer that the man of sin has a religious appearance, and that is why he can be tagged as falling away from the faith. It is true that he has a religious appearance in the first 3½ years as he pretends to be friends with the Jews (Daniel 9:27). However, Paul makes no mention of this and this has nothing to do with the context here. Paul's account begins at the middle of the tribulation when antichrist openly opposes God. In Paul's mind he comes on the scene opposing God from the first minute. No falling away from a previous position.

More crucial to the point, though, even if Paul could have in mind a falling away from the Jewish faith, this is not quite the same as falling away from Christianity. Apostasy to Paul meant turning away from the truth, namely Christianity. It is impossible for one already in error, namely Judaism, to apostatize from the faith. This makes the so-called "religious appearance" of the man of sin irrelevant to the question.

Never in all his career does the man of sin even claim to be a Christian. He puts on the cloak of Judaism in the first 3½ years, and he promotes his own religion in direct opposition to God in the last 3½ years. No room abides for a falling away from the true faith.

If not the apostasy of antichrist, could not "the falling away" refer to apostasy in general which is to occur sometime in the last days? First Timothy 4:1 says:

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.

Is this departure from the faith the departure that Paul is talking about in 2 Thessalonians 2:3? The word itself is neutral. It derives meaning only from the context. Whenever the Bible means departure from the faith, it says so by adding a qualifying phrase like "from the faith." First Timothy 4:1 says "from the faith," but 2 Thessalonians 2:3 does not. Paul included the phrase when writing to Timothy and he could have included it in writing to the Thessalonians if that is what he meant, but he didn't. If Paul omitted "from the faith," I hesitate to insert it myself.

Furthermore, apostasy in general is too vague. Apostasy in some degree has existed ever since Paul wrote to Timothy. How would this serve as a clear-cut sign to the Thessalonians? It's too hazy.

Rather than being vague, Paul is very specific. He says "the" falling away. (We do not see the definite article in the English, but it is in the Greek.) The article "the" in this context tells me that it is clearly identifiable in a point of time, not some nebulous thing that people would disagree about identifying. "The" refers back to that departure taught previously by Paul while he was with them, the one that they already knew about. "Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth" (verses 5–6a).


Simpler Is Better. As a general rule the simpler interpretation is to be preferred over the more complicated. To take "the falling away" as the departure of the Holy Spirit who restrains antichrist is as simple as cutting cake. When you cut cake you try to cut equal pieces; you cut it symmetrically. You normally do not chop off a bite-sized sliver for one guest and large pieces for the rest.

How natural it is to take "the falling away" as introducing one piece of cake and to take "revealed" as introducing another piece of cake, and then to find the symmetrical pieces of cake explained in the verses following. If I were preaching, these would be the two point of my outline, except I would alliterate them as follows: removal and revealing. Why didn't Paul alliterate them? Well, he did, as we shall see in a minute.

In contrast to the symmetrical cake, both commonly held views of "the falling away" cut off that term as a bite-sized sliver. It stands alone with little or no explanation. If you cut off "the falling away" and say it refers to the rapture, then you are left with a passing reference, very obscure, and it is left unexplained. Nowhere else in the Bible does this word mean "rapture"; so if it is unexplained here, how does Paul expect us to get "rapture" out of it?

If you would seek its explanation back in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and its description of the rapture, that too is obscure. How could the Thessalonians be sure that Paul intended a reference to something he wrote months ago, especially when he did not even use the same word? If you would see its explanation in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 which mentions "our gathering together unto him," that too is only mentioned in passing. If we are to depend on this passing mention, this brief mention, then we are expected to understand the obscure term "the falling away" without a full explanation. It is a bite-sized sliver. (All this is not to mention that Paul is referring to something he taught in person, not by letter. These explanations become impossible if we accept the evidence that Paul did not teach the rapture while he was with them.)

Also, if you cut off "the falling away" and say it means apostasy from the faith, it still stands alone as a bite-sized sliver with no support from the context. We have no apostasy from the true faith mentioned or hinted in the context. If it means apostasy from the faith, then it is a bite-sized sliver.

If Paul did explain "the falling away," he would explain it according to his normal pattern, wouldn't he? Paul's normal pattern is to introduce a topic first and then explain it. He does this consistently in 2 Thessalonians. Why forsake his usual pattern of explanation to seek an explanation elsewhere? When Mother usually serves your cake on a dish, why look under the table for it?

When both commonly held views cut off "the falling away" as a bite-sized sliver, what is the result? An unsymmetrical cake. Verses 6–7 which speak of the Restrainer is a lopsided piece because it carries no introduction with it. The description of the man of sin (verses 3b–4) enjoys an introductory word: "revealed." But the restraining of the Holy Spirit has to do without an introductory word.


Unsymmetrical slice of pie


What happens if we join the misfit pieces of the cake? Beautiful symmetry. We have two introductory words, "the falling away" and "revealed" (verse 3), and then we have two explanations (verses 3b–4 and verses 6–7). It all falls into place according to Paul's common style. It is as simple as cutting cake.


A Double Play on Words. One question remains. Why did Paul choose this word "falling away"? If "rapture" were intended he could have chosen better, because nowhere else does this word mean "rapture." If falling away "from the faith" were intended, he could easily have chosen to add the words "from the faith," because this word always carries a similar qualifying phrase when that meaning is intended. But why did he choose this word as it is?

Paul makes a play on words which you can see in the Greek. In Greek this is a compound word, literally translated "standing away." Now if you look back one verse, to verse 2, you read "as that the day of the Lord is at hand." The word "is at hand" is also a compound word, literally translated "stand in." As we put the two together, we see that Paul makes this catchy statement: "That day will not 'stand in' until the Holy Spirit 'stands away.' " The Greek Thessalonians would spot this play on words and get the message at once.

There is more. The next key word after "falling away" is "revealed." These are the two key words of the entire section as we have seen, and herein lies a second play on words. When a preacher wants you to remember the key words of his outline, what does he do? He alliterates! Paul makes a nice alliteration here in the Greek. Not only do both words start with the same letter, but the first three letters in each word are identical (a-p-o in Greek). These words form Paul's two-fold outline on which he elaborates in the following verses.

There is more. Not only is "falling away" choice because it makes a double play on words, but it also conforms nicely in meaning to what Paul intends to say, "The falling away" matches the parallel phrase in verse 7, "taken out of the way." As we saw above, this is better translated actively instead of passively. In other words, the Holy Spirit "gets out." To "get out" and to "stand away" are very similar in meaning, and in this context they explain each other. Paul could not have chosen a better word. Of course, he couldn't miss with the Holy Spirit guiding him.



In the last chapter we learned that the day of the Lord begins after the tribulation. Now let's look at further evidence of this from 2 Thessalonians.

Paul mentions the "day of the Lord" in 2 Thessalonians 2:2. (The King James Version has "day of Christ," but it is generally agreed that "day of the Lord" is the correct reading. I believe the two terms are interchangeable anyway.) He mentions it but he does not define it. He acts as though he has already been talking about it in chapter one. He assumes the Thessalonians already know what it is from what he has been talking about. Like a good detective, then, we ask the question: What was on the minds of the Thessalonians? And what was on the mind of Paul?

From the very first we see that persecution was uppermost on the minds of the Thessalonians (see 1:4 and following). If you were in their shoes you would hope for the day when the persecution would stop. That is exactly what the Thessalonians hoped for and that is why Paul told them about the "righteous judgment of God" (1:6). This righteous judgment comes after the tribulation (1:7–8). It is true that some will have "relief" from persecution by the time the tribulation begins, the first generation Thessalonians by death and the last generation of the church by rapture. But God does not actually stop persecution during the tribulation; final judgment occurs only after the tribulation. This is the day of the Lord.

If you were in the shoes of the Thessalonians, you not only would want persecution to stop, but you would want it to stop soon. If you received a supposed "letter from Paul" saying that the day of vengeance was immediately upon us, you would get all excited, and you might even quit your job as some of the Thessalonians did.

To correct this notion Paul wrote that the day is not yet upon us but it is delayed (2:2–3), and to prove the delay he reminds them of the events which lead up to the day of the Lord. These events lead up to the final destruction (2:8). This is the day of the Lord.

Therefore, permeating both chapters one and two is the emphasis on the final vengeance, not the intervening tribulation events. Chapters one and two go together like hand in glove. One introduces the other. Chapter one explains the fairness of vengeance, while chapter two explains the delay of vengeance. Through it all, the time is after the tribulation.

So when Paul mentioned "the day of the Lord" without definition, assuming that the Thessalonians knew what he was talking about, we too can know what he is talking about if we keep in mind the context.


Did They Think They Missed the Rapture? Did the Thessalonians mistakenly believe that they missed the rapture? Were they afraid that this landed them right in the middle of the day of the Lord, a period of unchecked persecution?

According to 1 Thessalonians 5, they knew perfectly that the day of the Lord brought sudden destruction (not unchecked persecution). This sudden destruction had not yet hit their persecutors; so they could hardly be mistaken about it. Unless they forgot completely what they knew perfectly a few months earlier.


Did They Think They Were in the Tribulation? Suppose for a minute that the day of the Lord were the entire tribulation period. Suppose that the Thessalonians mistakenly thought they were in the tribulation because of the great persecution they were suffering. If this were the case, then how would Paul's answer in chapter one introduce the topic of the tribulation if he talked about vengeance only after the tribulation? You had better change your introduction, Paul. And if chapter two gives antichrist as a sign in the middle of the tribulation, then what evidence does that give that the Thessalonians were not in the beginning of the tribulation? You had better give a better sign, Paul.

If presence in the tribulation were the concern, then why did not Paul clearly tell the Thessalonians the rapture comes first? If the tribulation were the day of the Lord, then why does Paul, in chapter two, quickly jump to the end of antichrist's career and take so much time to describe his destruction and the destruction of his followers? I think you ought to rewrite chapter two, Paul, in order to fit the concept that the tribulation is the day of the Lord. You ought to write it this way: "You are mistaken that your present persecution is the tribulation. The real day of the Lord comes when antichrist initiates an unprecedented wave of persecution upon believers whom he will destroy with the blasphemy of his mouth and consume by the deceitfulness of his coming."


Did They Think They Would Yet Experience the Tribulation? Take another supposition. Suppose that Paul were trying to prove that they were not yet in the tribulation, that the real tribulation was yet future. If this were the case, how would this be of any comfort to the Thessalonians? This would not remedy their present persecution any; it would aggravate it. What if you were undergoing deep trouble and I said to you, "Cheer up, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Just wait until the real tribulation comes!" You would probably say, "What kind of a friend are you? I don't need that kind of comfort. I need some solution to my problems."

God, through Paul, gave exactly that. The solution to all our problems is the great day of the Lord when every wrong shall be righted, when God's enemies receive vengeance, when God's children receive glory. This is true comfort to sustain us in present trouble. This is the day of the Lord.



Have I backed myself into a corner again? If the day of the Lord is after the tribulation, does this not imply that the church will be on earth to watch the events leading up to that day?

It is true that Paul highlights tribulation events in chapter two. Post-tribulationists suppose that the church is to watch for the day of the Lord through these signs. They ask, "Why does Paul give us tribulation signs if we will not go through the tribulation? The signs are irrelevant if we are not going to be around to see them."

This reasoning misses Paul's intent. Paul never gives these signs for us to watch. He never says that we are to watch for the approaching day of the Lord through these signs. His purpose is almost opposite. He gives these signs to prove that the day is not at hand. Paul makes his point from the absence of the signs, not the presence of the signs.

By secondary application, tribulation saints can look for the end of the tribulation through these signs, but for the church to whom Paul is writing, his primary purpose is entirely different. For tribulation saints the presence of the signs show the day is near, but for the church the absence of the signs show the day is far off.


To Prove the Certainty of Destruction. Let me elaborate on Paul's purpose by explaining two reasons for his outlining tribulation events in chapter two. Here are his two reasons: Paul wants to prove the delay of the day of the Lord and the certainty of it. First, verses 3–7 prove the delay, and Paul's purpose here is to give correction regarding the time. He says, "Do not get so excited yet hoping for vengeance on your persecutors. Let me remind you that God is waiting for the proper time to let wickedness come to a head in the man of sin first. This is why it must be delayed."

Secondly, verses 8–12 prove the certainty of vengeance, and his purpose here is to comfort the Thessalonians, not to give signs to watch for. Question: If these are signs to indicate the approaching day of the Lord, then wouldn't the mention of specific and telltale events be sufficient? Why does Paul take extra time to vividly describe the deceptive power of antichrist? And why does he take more time to explain the reasons for the destruction of antichrist's followers? If you insist that the "signs" have a purpose, then please tell me the purpose of Paul's getting carried away on a tangent like a preacher who forgot his main point. In verses 8–12 Paul goes far beyond what is needed for signs. Why?

Matthew 24 contains genuine signs. That is what the disciples asked for and that is what they got. Jesus lists the signposts without unnecessary explanation. Why didn't Paul do that? Why does Paul go far beyond mere signs?

Obviously Paul has more in mind than mere "signs." He wants to prove the certainty of vengeance in order to reassure the hearts of the Thessalonians. "Punishment may be delayed, but on the other hand it is still sure to happen. You may have to wait awhile, but do not give up hope completely."


To Confirm the Destiny of the Persecutors. In order to prove the certainty, Paul lists, not mere signs, but the events and causes leading up to that day. He is reassuring the Thessalonians who are wondering, "How will persecutors be destroyed?" He lists the chain of events. First the man of sin will arise. Then God will allow him to deceive and lead astray those who are against the truth. Then when they are all fully deluded God will with full justice apparent to all give them the punishment they deserved in the first place. Verse 12 is the key: God sends antichrist to deceive in order "that they all might be damned." This purpose of God to damn the persecutors is the culmination of all that Paul has been saying, and it is the key which unlocks every "sign" in chapter two.

You see, it was not mere "signs" concerning antichrist the Thessalonians were concerned about. It's deeper. They needed to know, "What are the chain of events leading up to the damnation of our persecutors?" This is the only way to account for every word and "sign" in chapter two. It also explains why Paul begins with the persecutors in chapter one and ends with the persecutors in chapter two, because the destiny of the persecutors is what the events of chapter two are all about.

When you read through the epistle, if you will keep persecution uppermost on your mind, just as the Thessalonians did when they read the epistle, then it will all become as clear and understandable to you as it was to the Thessalonians. If it looks fuzzy to you, try their glasses.


For Correction and Comfort. In chapter two, in order to prove the delay and the certainty, more than "signs," Paul lists the delayed but certain chain of events which lead to vengeance upon unbelievers. These events are not for the purpose of watching, but for the purpose of correction and comfort. It is correction regarding the time ("it is delayed") and it is comfort regarding the certainty ("it is sure to happen"). This has nothing to do whatsoever with the church being on earth during the tribulation. The church needs only to know about these events in order to receive correction and comfort. Paul does not require the church to be present to watch these events transpire.

These signs Paul talks about have not yet occurred. Paul taught the Thessalonians to watch in the absence of signs. Likewise, Jesus taught the disciples to watch in the absence of signs. So watching is something else besides sign-gazing.

Consider this. If "signs" were the primary impact of this epistle, it would lose its relevance to most generations, including the first generation Thessalonians who were supposed to be edified by this epistle. Christians through the ages would be looking for signs they never saw. By our interpretation, this epistle is very relevant to every generation of believers, not just the last. The final recompense is a motive for patient living no matter how far away it is in time. If signs are required in order to watch, then all earlier generations without signs would have excuse not to watch.

How ironic it is that post-tribs, who desired to maintain the "relevance" of the signs for the church, lose their relevance to most generations of the church, while the interpretation presented maintains the relevance of these events for every Christian of every age.

This epistle is tailor-made for believers behind the Iron Curtain of yesterday or the Bamboo Curtain of today. Some have been disillusioned because they have been falsely taught that the rapture would rescue them from persecution. But without promising them rescue, we can promise them reward. Persecution may continue for awhile, but it will be worth every tortured minute.



In the past, the non-mention of the rapture before the tribulation in 2 Thessalonians 2 has been embarrassing for pre-tribulationists. (This has caused them to see a questionable reference to the rapture in "the falling away" as seen above.) However, according to our interpretation, it is irrelevant for Paul to mention rapture because it does not form a direct causal link leading to the destruction of the persecutors. This chain of events is not set in motion until three and one-half years later when the man of sin comes onto the scene and draws a following after him. Since the rapture occurs a full three and one-half years before the beginning point of Paul's narration, we cannot accuse him of skipping over it, and so it forms no embarrassment to us at all.

Besides, if the question is turned around, it becomes more embarrassing for post-tribulationists. Why does Paul not mention a rapture just before the destruction of antichrist? If there is a rapture then, and if he supposedly is writing "concerning" the rapture, why does he skip right over it?

Post-tribs should expect to see the rapture mentioned in verse 8, mid-tribs should expect to see the rapture mentioned in verse 3 or 4, while pre-tribs expect it in neither place.


A Pre-Trib Clue? Second Thessalonians is full of solid teaching and comfort. Very practical. Its teaching concerning the future gives us much strength for our day-to-day problems. However, 2 Thessalonians does not prove the time of the rapture one way or another. This being the case, do we not have at least a clue?

Some might see a clue in "comfort" (2:17) just as in 1 Thessalonians. It is a comforting thought that we will not go through the tribulation, and so the word "comfort" implies a pre-tribulation rapture, according to this argument.

If you think that, do not feel badly. I used to think that way too, even well after starting to write this book. Then I discovered the true significance of this "comfort." This comfort is for continued tribulation! Paul is saying, "Be patient because the day of the Lord is delayed and your persecution will continue awhile longer. In the meantime, may God give you supernatural comfort to sustain you during your tribulation."

It is those in tribulation who need comfort the most, and that is why Paul offers comfort here. Of course, present tribulation does not prove that we will go through the future "great tribulation," and so this "comfort" gives us no clue one way or the other.


Why Is Work Commanded? A better clue is the command to work (2:15; 3:6–12). Have you ever thought through the reason for Paul's command to work? Have you ever thought about the reason some Thessalonians were leaving their jobs? The Thessalonians reasoned that the day of the Lord was at hand. If you knew the Lord was coming next week you probably would not go to work either. There would be no reason to, because you wouldn't get your paycheck until the week after and you would be in heaven by then. Besides, it would make better sense to use that last week to warn people to become saved and get ready.

Paul's reason for telling them to get back to work was that the day of the Lord was not at hand. Second Thessalonians 2:15 is the key verse: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." "Traditions" in this context refers to working (see 3:6–12). The word "therefore"—this is a key word—tells me his instruction to work is based on what he has just said in chapter two beginning from verse one. Paul has said, "Antichrist has not appeared yet, and so the day of the Lord is still some time away. That is why you had better continue working." Have you considered this reason for working?

Now just suppose that antichrist does come, then what reason remains for working? The whole basis for Paul's command to work in this epistle disappears! He gives no instruction regarding work in the great tribulation. To me this is a clue. There is no need for such instruction if the church will not be in the great tribulation.

In Matthew 24 Jesus gave definite instructions to the Judeans who will be on the earth to see antichrist revealed at the abomination of desolation. He told them to flee immediately into the mountains. If the Judeans have instructions, why do the Thessalonians have none?

If I were going through the tribulation and antichrist appeared, I would want to know, "Should I continue working or should I flee into the mountains somewhere like the Judeans?" That is important to know. If the church is going through the tribulation, Paul should have said, "Continue working now because antichrist has not appeared, but when he comes to power here is what to do...." Paul never says, "Here is what to do."

I believe that God will in some manner make known to tribulation saints what they should do when the occasion arises. But here Paul had the occasion because he was already talking about work and he missed his golden opportunity to give tribulation instructions.

It might be objected that God knew the Thessalonians would not live until the tribulation anyway and that is why He did not give instructions regarding work in the tribulation. To be consistent, however, remember that the Thessalonians' persecutors did not live until the tribulation either. But God told what would happen to their persecutors as if they would live through the tribulation and meet the Lord when He comes to take fiery vengeance upon them. You see, the epistle is written so that it could apply to the last generation. This inspired epistle is profitable for doctrine, not only for that first generation, but also for every succeeding generation. So the question remains: If he explained the final outcome of the persecutors, why did he not explain the final outcome regarding work? Could it be that, whichever generation you're in, the one is profitable to know about and the other is not?

Why does Paul only give instructions regarding work based on the absence of antichrist and not his presence? Just as 1 Thessalonians is missing exhortation to patience in the tribulation, so 2 Thessalonians is missing instruction regarding work in the tribulation. These are clues, but no more.



We have very meticulously gone through First and Second Thessalonians and demonstrated that the time of the rapture cannot be proven one way or the other from these epistles. This accords with God's normal pattern of revealing truths one step at a time.

Even after seeing all the evidence for a safe and sane interpretation of the Thessalonian epistles it may bother some that the two aspects of the second coming of Christ are mingled together. Both aspects are mentioned in one breath in 2 Thessalonians 2:1. Some may say, "The 'coming' and 'gathering' in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 are obviously the same. They can't be seven years apart because only an 'and' separates the two." Mingling both aspects in one verse might appear a little foggy for some, even though Peter himself admitted that some things were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16).

Let me reassure you. We have an island in the fog, solid ground to stand upon. For Paul to mingle the two aspects is the most natural thing he could do as a writer of Scripture. Sure, it seems strange if you don't know the Old Testament. But if you know the Old Testament....


The Old Testament and Christ's Coming. The following Old Testament passages unmistakably view two aspects of Christ's coming as one, just as two mountain peaks appear as one from a distance.

Consider this prophecy about Christ's forerunner in Isaiah 40:3–5:


Verse 3

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Verse 4

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

Verse 5

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.


Verse 3 was fulfilled by John the Baptist. Verses 4–5, though, will not be fulfilled until Jesus comes again. This is a 2000-year span! Not only does the text contain no hint of a gap, but it reads as if everything is joined together in one event.

Another amazing prophecy is Zechariah 9:9–10:


Verse 9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

Verse 10

And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off; and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.


Only verse 9 was fulfilled at Jesus' first coming. If you tried to tell an Old Testament believer that the King will not have "dominion from sea even to sea" until His second coming, he would accuse you of chopping up the text and inventing two comings when there is only one. I can hear him now: "If there were two comings 2000 years apart, the Bible would say two comings instead of one!"

Isaiah 9:2–7 goes back and forth between the first and second comings. I can imagine a staunch theologian in those days using this passage as proof conclusive that there is only one coming because of the way the two aspects are mingled together.


First coming

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined (compare Matthew 4:14–16).

Second coming

Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.

First coming

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:

Second coming

and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.


Another passage that reverses the order is Isaiah 65:17 and 20. Mere order of mention, therefore, proves nothing about the order of occurrence or the time of occurrence.

Isaiah 61:1–3 gives no indication whatsoever that Christ's coming would be in two stages:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

I can hear the theologians now: "This has to be one coming because only an 'and' connects the two." Jesus knew better, though, and when He was reading the text He knew where the break was. He broke off in the middle of a verse and made a separation where there was a conjunction (see Luke 4:16–21).

Malachi 3:1–5 begins with a prophecy of John the Baptist and continues with the Lord coming "suddenly" in judgment. Surely, if the other passages don't, this passage "proves" only one coming.


John the Baptist

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me:

Second coming

and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years. And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.


As it turned out, it was not "suddenly" then, but 2000 years later He will come "suddenly" in judgment. No hint whatsoever of a gap before His sudden coming.

Now for the grand finale:

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ [after the tribulation], and by our gathering together unto him [rapture] (2 Thessalonians 2:1).

"Surely this proves that Christ's coming after the tribulation brings the rapture because they are mentioned together." If this is supposed to be post-trib "proof" then this is mighty shaky proof indeed.


Why Are They Mingled? When God mingles two comings in one passage is He playing word games with us? No, I believe in God's mind this really is all one event. That is why it is written this way. Important are the events in God's program; less important is the number of years in between. Like mountain peaks separated by valleys, God steps from mountain to mountain while we have to tread through the valleys in order to get to the next mountain. We know that we must tread the valleys of time, but sometimes God takes us under His wing and lets us see the horizon from His vantage point.

That is one reason, but there is another reason that both aspects of Christ's coming blend into one in the Old Testament. If the nation of Israel had believed the first time, there really would have been only one coming: "And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come" (Matthew 11:14). The glory of Christ would have followed immediately upon His suffering. The kingdom would have been set up right then: "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). That is why the time interval is not revealed in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament it is the opposite. For those who do not believe there will only be one coming. They will miss the rapture and meet only the coming in judgment. And, contrary to Old Testament saints, New Testament believers can clearly distinguish a time interval because we will participate in both comings.





Old Testament

If believe

If disbelieve

One coming

Two comings

New Testament

If believe

If disbelieve

Two comings

One coming


Why can we clearly distinguish two future comings when the Old Testament believers could not? This question used to puzzle me until I discovered Matthew 11:14 and the above chart.

This did not excuse Old Testament believers from distinguishing the two aspects of Christ's coming (Luke 24:25–27). Suffering and glory were clearly predicted (1 Peter 1:11). But it was not clear that there would be a time interval between the two aspects. New Testament believers likewise should recognize two aspects to Christ's future coming, salvation and glory (2 Thessalonians 2:13–14). Even post-tribulationists can see these two aspects without seeing a time interval in between.

Those who are well grounded in God's normal pattern of revelation find this double-reference a pleasure instead of a problem. Does it still bother anyone that both aspects of Christ's coming are run together as one event in the Thessalonian epistles? Is it disturbing that Paul's pictures of two distant mountain peaks appear as one? If it is, they will have to request God to rewrite the Old Testament. To hide a 2000-year gap like that is inexcusable. Yet for some reason we gladly accept the 2000-year interval but reject a 7-year interval. We have swallowed the camel and are straining at a gnat.


The New Testament and Second-Coming Terminology. It is fine for the Old Testament to be written so loosely, some may say, but isn't the New Testament more rigid and precise? Well, Gundry finds a gap of 1000 years right in the middle of Matthew 25:31.2 All pre-millennialists agree on a similar gap in John 5:28–29 where two resurrections are lumped into one hour.

But what about the second-coming terminology? Some claim that certain New Testament words are technical terms and are rigid in meaning. The words, "coming," "appearing," "revealing" and "end," are said to uniformly refer to the end of the tribulation. Let us examine these terms and see if these words are actually so rigid that they do not allow for flexible usage.

The word "coming" is used not only of the second coming of Christ, but also of the first coming of Christ in 2 Peter 1:16. If the word can be used for both of those comings, it is not a rigid term, and there is nothing in the word itself to prevent it from being used for both aspects of the second coming.

Likewise the word "appearing" is used of Christ's first coming in 2 Timothy 1:10. The mere use of the word "appearing," then, does not prove an after-the-tribulation event.

The word "revealing" is made specific only by each context as it mentions a certain thing which is revealed. The preciseness rests in the context, not in the word itself. The revealing of His glory necessarily occurs after the tribulation (1 Peter 4:13). On the other hand, His revelation through the person of Paul occurred during that period of time (Galatians 1:16). He reveals Himself in one sense to believers at the rapture, and He reveals Himself in another sense to the whole world when He returns to earth. To convince me of the meaning of "revealing," you would have to argue from the context in each occurrence. The word itself in an ambiguous context carries no weight.

The word "end" in some places obviously means the end of the tribulation. But must it always mean that? Hebrews 9:26 uses the word "end" for the first coming of Christ. Therefore, it is not a rigid technical term. Generations of Christians now dead have kept Christ's works unto the "end" without being on earth until the "end."

I cannot be boxed in by mere terminology, because these terms are not technical and rigid as some suppose. As in the Old Testament, there is nothing in the New Testament to eliminate a double coming. Some passages clearly refer to either the pre-trib coming or the post-trib coming. Other passages are not so clear, and these may possibly be double-reference. We will know for sure when we get to heaven whether these ambiguous passages are double reference or not. In a later chapter we will demonstrate a clear and unmistakable double-reference.



Now we see the folly of those who depend on the Thessalonians epistles for their doctrine of the post-trib rapture. If the most that God allowed Paul to see was the two aspects of the second coming, without letting him know if they were identical in time or not, then we cannot make the epistles teach more than they were intended to teach. Before we jump to any conclusions, let's wait until all the evidence is in.

"But the Thessalonian epistles make such a nice starting place, a logical beginning point, because they talk about the second coming." Well, other passages talk about the second coming too. They also are inspired and of equal value for doctrine. Let's wait until all the evidence is in, shall we?


Our Hope Is Not Nearsighted. In the light of what we have been talking about, another class of problem passages in the New Testament now becomes understandable. Some passages exhort or encourage us in view of the post-tribulational coming (such as 1 Corinthians 1:7–8; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 4:13). These passages are not a problem if we recognize that the Bible normally looks at the far event as closely linked with the near event. This dual vision is perfectly consistent with pre-tribulationism. I will let you be the judge of this if you will let me be the lawyer and appeal to the precedent of the Old Testament which mixes the near and far views.


My Big Moment. We must remember too, even apart from dual vision, the church does have a real hope anchored in the post-tribulational coming. We discussed this previously under 2 Thessalonians 1:6–7. Certain things happen at that "big moment" that do not happen at the rapture. At that moment comes glory and vindication. Our rejoicing is enhanced. God confirms us unto the ultimate day because our hope is ultimate. Even though I happen to believe the rapture comes before the tribulation, in a real sense I do look for the blessed hope after the tribulation. My big moment is not just going up in the air, but my big moment will be when I come riding down from the sky on my white horse. And I don't have to be on earth for those last seven years in order to look forward to it.

The church will not go through the tribulation, but we are interested in tribulation events. It is not a shallow interest in mere "signs" to satisfy our curiosity. It goes deeper than that. It goes beyond the mind to the heart. God wants us to become involved in the battle of the ages between good and evil, whether we are on earth or whether we are in heaven, and so He causes us to be concerned about tribulation events because they lead to final vengeance on the wicked and the revealing of God's glory.

I hope this explanation will broaden the view and help post-tribulationists to better understand our position. Our interest in Christ's return after the tribulation is in no way lessened by intervening events. If post-tribulationists can look forward to His coming even though tribulation events intervene, then surely pre-tribulationists can look forward to His post-tribulational coming even though the rapture intervenes. They look for intervening signs while we look for an intervening rapture. But neither obscures our main hope, the coming of Christ in glory.

I hope this will also broaden the vision of pre-tribulationists who have narrowed their focus to the rapture. God's plan is wider than that. Only one chapter in the Bible describes the rapture. But two entire books, namely 2 Thessalonians and Revelation, are devoted to God's vindication as the wicked march into destruction. We have looked at one of these books, and now in the next chapter let's look at the second book.


1. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation, p. 127.
2. Ibid., p. 168.