The most neglected rapture passage in the Bible lies almost hidden prior to its famous sister passage in the next chapter.
The debate between pretribulation rapture followers and prewrath scholars about Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians has been fierce – mostly centered around 2 Thess. 2:3 and the meaning of the Greek word apostasia. I have written about that passage at length in my book Rapture: Case Closed? and have made my thoughts about that passage known. However, very little discussion has taken place about the passage that precedes 2 Thess. 2 and provides its “context,” that is 2 Thess. 1 – the most neglected rapture passage in the Bible.
In fact, I almost never read commentaries or books about this key passage. As most of us know, there were no chapter and verse divisions at the time Paul wrote his letter. The eschatological material in chapters one and two are really one continuous teaching! We cannot understand chapter two without understanding chapter one that provides introductory thoughts on the more hotly contested chapter.
In fact, it is my opinion that one should not “argue” one side or the other of the 2 Thess. 2:4 debate without first studying its context – which IS 2 Thess. 1. With that said let’s begin examining this awesome portion of God’s Word.
Worthy of the Kingdom
After some introductory greetings, Paul addresses the MAIN question on the minds of the Thessalonian believers, “Why are we being persecuted ?” This persecution was so severe that it is apparent from Paul’s answer that these believers were wondering if the Day of the Lord had already begun and that they had missed the rapture!
Paul begins his answer here in chapter one.
We ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. (2 Thess. 1:4-5)
Paul first indicates that he “brags” about the Thessalonians for holding up under the severe persecutions they were enduring. To Paul they were a model for the other churches (and for us) of how to endure. Paul then adds a phrase that this endurance is proof of their faith. This is an important and misunderstood point. The “works” (endurance) of the Thessalonians weren’t the cause of their future salvation and acceptance into the coming Kingdom of God on earth. No, rather it was proof that they already had the saving faith that God would judge worthy of entry into the Kingdom as sons. This faith was a work of God not of man.
The New Testament regularly confirms this opinion – that works don’t save, but rather that they demonstrate that we are already saved!
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (Jam. 2:17-19)
So in this first statement of his answer to the Thessalonians’ question, Paul is confirming that persecution and tribulation are not signs of God’s displeasure with us, but rather, our endurance of righteous persecution is evidence that we have saving faith.
This article is comparing the pretribulation and prewrath positions, and although this first portion of the passage doesn’t provide direct proof of either position, it does indicate clearly that God doesn’t insulate us from the wrath of man, whether tribulation or even great tribulation. It is His Godly wrath that he won’t allow us to enter. Paul’s statement in verse 5 indicates that the Thessalonians were suffering for the Kingdom of God. They were accomplishing God’s work and suffering for it.
The Most Neglected Rapture Passage
The Thessalonians were, of course, interested in when they would receive relief from their persecution. And Paul gave a direct answer in the very next passage:
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thess. 1:6-8)
Now this passage DOES prove rapture timing! I recommend everyone pay very close attention to this passage because it may be the most neglected rapture passage in the timing debate – and one of the most impactful.
Carefully looking at this passage shows that God is going to accomplish two things “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire.” He is going to afflict those who do the persecuting – He is going to pour out his wrath on them. Additionally he is going to grant relief to those who have been persecuted. Now this certainly isn’t via a pretribulation rapture! Jesus being visibly revealed with angels in flaming fire isn’t a pretribulational event. It is the coming of Jesus as depicted in Matt. 24:29-31. Yet that is the moment when Jesus will provide relief to the afflicted – during a prewrath rapture.
Now I have heard from some pretribulation scholars that this passage “only refers to tribulation saints,” and that the Church has already been raptured at this point. This can easily be disproven. Paul adds a tiny phrase that makes this thought nonsensical, “as well as to us (Paul and his companions).” Paul and his companions are dead. The Thessalonians are dead as well. The only way Paul and his friends and the Thessalonians can receive relief at the point Jesus is revealed in fire is through the resurrection of the dead – and that happens prior to the rapture. Thus the resurrection of the righteous dead and the Rapture happen when the Lord Jesus is “revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire.”
This is one of the passages of scripture that has most likely been intentionally overlooked! (more on this later)
Marveling at the Messiah
Paul then continues his discussion of the day of the Lord:
Inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thess. 1:8-9)
Paul concludes this introductory eschatological passage by explaining that the day that the saints are glorified (placed into resurrection bodies) and the day that they marvel at their Messiah is the day he visibly comes on the clouds with his angels in flaming fire. This is the event in Matt. 24:29-31, not a supposed pretribulation rapture.
The Relation to 2 Thess. 2
Then at the beginning of the more controversial passage in 2 Thess. 2 (remember there were no chapter divisions at the time), Paul links the introductory passage in chapter one to the Rapture:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless . . . (2 Thess. 2:1-3)
Paul now gets to the point. He quickly discounts the rumor of a letter supposedly from him that had suggested that that Day of the Lord and the Rapture had already occurred. This Day of the Lord and Rapture are exactly what Paul discussed in the previous few verses: Jesus visually appearing in flaming fire and providing relief to believers in the form of the Resurrection and Rapture. In chapter two Paul calls this the coming (parousia) of the Lord (in flaming fire) and our gathering together (dead and living gathered together) via the Resurrection and Rapture.
Nothing could be more plain. Yet I have read countless pretribulation rapture slanted articles and books that claim Paul is here referring to his previous letter (1 Thessalonians). This pretribulational opinion is terrible exegesis. Paul is obviously referring to what he just wrote about a sentence or so before!! The coming of the Lord in flaming fire with his angels – which is the same event as Matt. 24:29-31. That is the coming of the Lord and the Rapture.
So one does not even need to delve into the meaning of apostasia to disprove the pretribulation rapture – although the clear meaning of this word, rebellion, also discounts it.
Now the aforementioned book, Rapture: Case Closed? [ORDER HERE] was distributed to the 1000 most influential leaders of the church in September, 2017. I received a hundred thank-yous and congratulations from a number of the pastors, denominational leaders, and even seminary presidents. At that time, I called for an international academic forum to solve the question of the Rapture once and for all!
It is absolutely inexcusable that believers throughout the world do not have a definitive answer to the Rapture question. However, I did not have one of the 1000 influential leaders join me in the call for an academic forum – not even one. You would think that if they were truly confident in their position, they would welcome a discussion where they could prove their theory and end these endless internet debates. However, that was not the case. I heard “crickets” from the leaders.
Why would someone avoid a fair and balanced discussion between prewrath scholars such as Paul Kalbach, Alan Kurschner and myself and the best the of pretribulation scholars? There is only one reason that an international/interdenominational forum would be avoided – fear that the position these pretribulational leaders have based their ministries on will be proven incorrect.
So I ask you the reader to both pray and act to make such a forum a reality. Pray that the hand of God moves mightily to provide the world with an answer. And act by writing to your pastor and denominational leaders asking them why they are not supporting a forum of this nature.
Jesus is the truth. We need to seek him and what his Word truly tells us. What could be more righteous?