The Truth About the Rapture
Are We About to Be Evacuated From Earth?
Table of Contents
The New Testament teaching of the rapture of the church is dear to the heart of the Christian because of the blessed hope we have of being with Messiah and with our loved ones forever. But there is a heated debate in the church about when it will occur in the course of end time events. Since the topic of 2 Thessalonians 2 is, in the words of Paul himself, "concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him," our first task is to find out what Paul had in mind and what his readers understood by this "coming" and "gathering." By doing so, we will obtain some informative insights into the timing of the rapture.
In the opening phrase of 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul uses the Greek word parousia (parousia), which is translated into English as "coming." A glance at the normal meaning and usage of the word parousia (parousia) will shed a great deal of light on our study. Anyone who possesses a Greek lexicon can attest to the fact that parousia (parousia) implies the bodily presence or the close physical proximity of an individual at his arrival. Thus, in the New Testament, this word is translated almost exclusively as "coming" or "presence."
parousia (Parousia) was a common word in the Greek world of New Testament times, as Adolf Deissman explains:
From the Ptolemaic period down into the 2nd century A.D. we are able to trace the word in the East as a technical expression for the arrival or the visit of the king or emperor (or other persons in authority, or troops). The parousia of the sovereign must have been something well known even to the people, as shown by the facts that special payments in kind and taxes to defray the cost of the parousia were exacted, that in Greece a new era was reckoned from the parousia of the Emperor Hadrian, that all over the world advent-coins were struck after a parousia of the emperor, and that we are even able to quote examples of advent sacrifices (Light From the Ancient East, cited from William R. Kimball, The Rapture, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985, p.139).
This common use of the word parousia (parousia) to denote the public appearing of a dignitary was surely well known by the Thessalonians, to whom Paul described the glorious public arrival of Messiah as the hope of the grieving believers:
According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming (parousia) of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:15,16).
The events attending the Lord's parousia - the loud command, the trumpet call and the voice of the angel - together with the well established meaning of parousia as the public appearing of a VIP, persuasively suggest that Paul and the Thessalonian believers viewed the parousia of the Lord as a loud, public spectacle, not a quiet, secret rapture as some theologians have suggested. It is hard to imagine how all of this noise Paul describes could properly depict a secret, private rapture!
In his renowned discourse on his future coming, Yahusha himself explained that his parousia would be a highly visible, public event which follows a time of great tribulation! When asked by his disciples, "What will be the sign of your coming (parousia)...," Yahusha listed a series of events which would take place, including a time of unprecedented distress (tribulation) and persecution of his followers, after which, he said, "they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect" (Matthew 24:30,31). Again, in keeping with the normal meaning and usage of parousia, Yahusha describes his coming as a highly visible (on the clouds of the sky) and spectacular (with power and great glory) event.
Then, as if in anticipation of a future false message saying that his parousia would be in secret, Yahusha went on to warn his disciples,
if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming (parousia) of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:26,27).
Yahusha did not want his disciples in any way to think that his parousia might take place in some secret place or in a private manner. On the contrary, it would be as visible as the lightening in the sky (more about this later...). The fact that Messiah's parousia is a public, posttribulational spectacle, not a secret, private event is rather well established if Messiah's own testimony is to be given any credence.
Furthermore, Paul uses the word parousia to specifically designate the posttribulational coming of Messiah and links this to the hope of the church. In verse 8 of 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul informs us that Yahusha "will overthrow (the lawless one) with the breath of his mouth and destroy (him) by the splendor of his coming (parousia)." This parousia in verse 8 is obviously posttribulational; a point about which even pretribers will not dispute. But Paul had just linked this glorious coming with the hope of the persecuted Thessalonians. The apostle told them that Yahusha "will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels" (2 Thessalonians 1:6,7). Paul goes on to say that the destruction of ungodly unbelievers will happen "on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed" (vs.10).
The apostle made reference to the destruction of the troublemakers in general in chapter 1:9, and then to the destruction of that troublemaker in particular in chapter 2:8. In both cases, their destruction will take place at the posttribulation parousia of Messiah. Of interest to our research is that Paul states and then repeats that at the same time the unbelievers will be "paid back" with destruction, the believers will be "paid back" rest (vs.6) and enjoy fellowship with Messiah (cf. vs.10). It could hardly be more clear that the believer's hope (i.e., the rapture) will be realized at the posttribulation parousia of Messiah, not at a purported secret pretribulation rapture.
The simple straightforwardness of Paul's description of Messiah's parousia in 2 Thessalonians 1 clearly demonstrates the apostle's understanding of the posttribulation coming of Messiah and rapture of the church. This text is very difficult for pretribers to explain. Some simply downplay the import of Paul's rationale here. John F. Walvoord, a champion of pretribulationism, for example, merely sidesteps the problems this passage creates for his view and concludes that chapter 1 "does not contribute to the debate over the Tribulation"! (The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), p.237.) He explains that the Thessalonians and their persecutors all died without seeing the return of Yahusha. So, he reasons, Paul could not have been holding out the posttribulation parousia of Messiah as the believer's hope, because those believers were not rescued by the second advent! (The Rapture Question, p.236.) But that is nonsense!
The hope which Paul offered the Thessalonians was truly comforting to them and to all believers who have read his words - if we are to take his writing at face value. The Lord will repay his faithful ones with rest from their enemies and with fellowship with him when he comes at his posttribulational parousia. By this promise, the Christian really is encouraged and motivated to serve Messiah. So we see that Paul very specifically describes the parousia of Messiah as a public, posttribulational event, just as Yahusha Himself had described his parousia
And the remainder of the New Testament is in harmony with the testimony of Yahusha - which is just what we would expect! William R. Kimball insightfully discusses
further evidence in II Peter proving that the parousia is not a secret, mysterious evacuation of the church seven years prior to Christ's coming in judgment. According to the apostle Peter, "The promise of his coming (parousia)" will be consummated upon a scoffing world when "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat" (II Peter 3:4-10). In the immediate context of this revelation, Peter exhorts us to be "looking for and hastening unto the coming (parousia) of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat" (II Peter 3:11,12). A candid examination of these facts conclusively demonstrates that the word parousia has nothing whatsoever to do with a supposed secret presence, arrival, or appearance of Christ in the form of an invisible rapture. (William R. Kimball, The Rapture, pp 140,141)
Of special interest to us is Peter's use of the metaphor of the thief in the night. This metaphor is not original with Peter. Peter actually borrowed it from Messiah. Yahusha compared his own future coming (parousia) to the coming of a thief at night:
Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (Matthew 24:42-44).
The fact that Peter describes the inauguration of the day of God with the same metaphor which Messiah used with reference to his posttribulational parousia will convince the unbiased reader that Peter held out that same parousia Yahusha spoke about as the hope of the believing church.
In light of the evidence of the normal meaning of the word parousia and its usage in the New Testament by Yahusha, Paul and Peter, we are compelled to conclude that the coming (parousia) of our Lord Yahusha Messiah, to which Paul referred in chapter 2:1 was understood by the Thessalonians as that time when Yahusha would appear in glory after the great tribulation to judge the world and to reward those who love him. (Other occurrences of the word parousia used in reference to the coming of Messiah are in 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 5:23; James.5:7,8; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John.2:28.)
Paul links the "parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ" and "our being gathered to him" in 2 Thessalonians 2:1. The phrase, "our being gathered to him," is an unmistakable reference to the rapture of the church. The noun which Paul employs here, episunagwgh (episunagogee), which is translated "being gathered," occurs only once more in the New Testament, while the cognate verb, episunagw (episunago), occurs 7 times in the New Testament. A survey of these texts provides us with important theological 'baggage' this word carries with it, without which we would be sure to misunderstand the apostle.
James Moffatt notes that the cognate verb, episunagw (episunago), "to gather together", was "already in use for the muster of saints to the messianic reign" in Paul's day. ("The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians", in The Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol.4 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), p.47) Yahusha Himself had employed this verb three times in his lamentation over Jerusalem, when he cried out, "How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings" (Matthew 23:37; see also its parallel in Lk.13:34). This desire of Messiah to gather Jerusalem's children has obvious eschatological overtones. It alludes to the messianic expectation that the Old Testament Scriptures fostered.
The Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) uses this verb to denote the regathering of the dispersed Jews into Palestine (see, for example, 2 Maccabees 2:7.) One such prophecy about the regathering of the dispersed is found in Isaiah, who foretold the future gathering of God's people at the sounding of a great trumpet:
In that day the Lord will thresh from the flowing Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt, and you, O Israelites, will be gathered up one by one. And in that day a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:12,13; see also 40:11; 56:8; Ezekiel 36:24).
This prophecy is an "informing text" to the teaching of Yahusha cited above. By his use of the metaphor of the hen gathering her chicks, Yahusha was expressing his intention to personally fulfill this and other Old Testament prophesies by gathering together all of God's people to himself at his parousia.
The verb episunagw (episunago) occurs two more times in an even more explicit last days context. (Yet two other occurrences of this verb are in Mk.1:33; Lk.12:1) It appears in the Olivet Discourse and in its parallel in Mark 13:27. In response to the disciples' question, "What will be the sign of your coming" (Matthew 24:3), Yahusha explained that a series of events must happen first, including a great tribulation and heavenly disturbances, after which, Yahusha said, "they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather (episunagw, episunago) his elect from the four winds" (Matthew 24:30,31). Here, the longing of Yahusha to gather Jerusalem's 'chicks' will finally be satisfied. And clearly, this gathering of God's people (his elect) after the great tribulation is the fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah.
Thus, the usage of the verb episunagw (episunago) in the New Testament almost exclusively contains links or references, either implicit or explicit, to the gathering of God's people at the end time in fulfillment of prophesy. It would not be surprising then if the noun episunagogee made reference to that same gathering of God's people at the end of the age. And, of course, this is just what we find.
The first occurrence of the noun, episunagogee, is in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, which is the text we are examining. (We will return to this text momentarily.) The second and only other occurrence of the noun appears in Hebrews 10:25 and is set in the backdrop of the coming of the day of the Lord. The writer of Hebrews is encouraging his readers not to stop meeting together (episunagogee) as others have done but to continue to encourage one another in view of the soon arrival of the day of the Lord.
The verb which is usually used in the New Testament to denote the gathering together of people is sunago, and it's corresponding noun is sunagogee, which is translated "synagogue," or "gathering." These are the root words of the two words we have been examining. To the root words is merely added the preposition epi. But the apostle, while writing his letter to the Hebrews, does not employ the usual word to denote this meeting. Instead, he uses episunagogee to refer to the meeting of these Hebrew Christians. This was no mistake by the writer. It seems rather to have been intentional. Upon reflection, his purpose in employing episunagogee instead of sunagogee here is clever. The apostle wanted his readers to equate the weekly Sabbath worship meeting with that greater Sabbatical meeting which all believers will have with Messiah at his parousia. Evidently, the weekly gathering (meeting) of Christians (cf. Heb.10:25) for fellowship and mutual edification is a thumbnail picture and a prophetic type of the future gathering (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1) of all believers for fellowship with Messiah at his parousia.
When we take the context of messianic expectation with which the words episunagw (episunago) and episunagogee are saturated, and bring it to the text of 2 Thessalonians 2:1, we can begin to understand Paul's portrayal of the rapture. The relationship between the gathering which Yahusha spoke of in the Olivet Discourse and the gathering which Paul has written about in 2 Thessalonians 2 is the crucial point of this discussion. For Paul, the coming of Messiah and the gathering of his people are viewed not just as being closely related in time, but in fact, they are seen as simultaneous events.
Now the other primary text in the New Testament where the coming of Messiah and the gathering of his people are presented as taking place in proximity is in the discourse of Yahusha in Matthew 24. The parousia of Messiah, according to Yahusha in Matthew 24, will not precede, but will follow the great tribulation. And the gathering of the elect saints occurs in conjunction with this posttribulational appearing of Yahusha. Since Paul links these two events, it becomes quite evident that the apostle has in mind the very same parousia of Messiah and gathering of saints which Yahusha spoke of. So we conclude that the rapture to which Paul is referring in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 must be a posttribulational phenomenon.
There is further evidence in his first letter to the Thessalonians which supports our previous findings that Paul's teaching about the rapture is essentially synonymous with the teaching of Yahusha as recorded in Matthew 24. In response to the saints who were deeply grieved over the death of their loved ones, Paul is careful to appeal to the authoritative teaching of Messiah as a means of encouraging these believers. Paul's exhortation is "according to the Lord's own word" (1 Thessalonians 4:15). This appeal could mean only one of two things: either Paul is sharing a direct, private revelation that the Lord gave him, or he is reiterating the public teaching of Yahusha, the substance of which is preserved for us in the Gospels.
Dispensational theology stands by the former theory. Evidence to support the theory of a private Pauline revelation is based primarily around a peculiar interpretation of Galatians 1:15-19, where Paul maintains that when God called him to be an apostle, he did not go to any of the other apostles for council. This, they claim, is proof that Paul's message is not based on the public sayings of Messiah. Instead, they maintain, all of his own doctrine was a result of direct, private revelation Paul received.
This theory fails, however, because it does not take into account a wide variety of pertinent facts. First, it was a custom for devout Jews to be present in Jerusalem three times each year, according to a certain commandment of God in the law of Moses, for the celebration of the annual feasts. Jews and God-fearing Gentiles from all over the world faithfully kept this custom. Since Paul is a self-ascribed Pharisee of Pharisees, it is highly likely that he visited Jerusalem regularly and had firsthand knowledge of the sayings and teachings of Yahusha who taught openly in the temple courts.
Second, even if Paul had not heard Yahusha in person, he surely knew of his teachings, because the sayings of Yahusha were well known among 1st century Christians. Third, Paul was a highly educated man and the leader of the persecutors of the Way. It would be very strange indeed if this well-educated leader knew nothing about the teachings of the man whom he made it his personal quest to vehemently oppose.
The fourth reason we reject this theory is that the Christian church was built around the life and teachings of Yahusha. Paul could not have avoided the sayings and teachings of Messiah and still be a credible apostle. Fifth, Paul elsewhere attributes his authoritative teaching to the sayings of Yahusha (more about this in a moment). Sixth, even where Paul does not name Yahusha as his source, there is enough verbal and contextual evidence to deduce that his teaching is based on what Yahusha said publicly. And seventh, why would Messiah have revealed privately to Paul something (i.e., a pretribulation rapture) that contradicted his own public teaching about his future coming? Clearly, this would have been a conflict of interests. For these reasons, it is deemed highly unlikely that Paul's teaching about the last days was based solely on the visions and private revelations he received.
The second theory of the two is much more plausible. The phrase "according to the Lord's own word" must refer to the oral teaching of the Master that has been transmitted to us in the Gospels. There are three solid reasons for adhering to this theory. First, an appeal to the oral tradition of Yahusha would have been more reassuring and comforting to the Thessalonians than would have the revelations given privately to the apostle. It's as if Paul was saying to those grieving saints, "Don't take my word for it. Look to what Yahusha himself said about his coming and the resurrection of the saints." So the comfort with which Paul was consoling them was not his own, but the comfort that comes from the knowledge of Yahusha's own authoritative word.
Second, Paul has shown elsewhere in his writings a tendency to credit the Lord Yahusha for the teaching which he is sharing. Much like a writer uses footnotes to give credit to a source from which he has borrowed, Paul gives credit for his teaching to the Lord Yahusha, who is the source of that teaching. Thus, Paul must be appealing to the known sayings of Messiah because he used a similar appeal to the Lord's teaching in 1 Corinthians, where he explicitly referred to Messiah's own words.
That Yahusha spoke a definitive word to the issue of divorce is clear in Mathew 5:31,32; and 19:2-12, even though he did not exhaust that subject. New Testament scholar Gordon D. Fee points out that
on the question of divorce Paul says, "not I, but the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:10), meaning Jesus himself spoke to that question. But to the question raised in a Greek environment as to whether a believer should divorce a pagan partner, Jesus apparently had no occasion to speak. The problem simply lay outside His own Jewish culture. But Paul did have to speak to it, so he said "I, not the Lord" (v. 12). (Fee, Gordon D. & Stuart, Douglas. How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1982. p.71.)
In a similar vein, the phrase, "according to the Lord's own word," is another way Paul gives credit to the oral teaching of Yahusha on the subject of the gathering of the saints. And this word of Messiah is found in Matthew 24.
The third reason we are convinced that the phrase, "according to the Lord's own word" refers to the oral teachings of the Master is that there are numerous verbal affinities and contextual similarities between specific Gospel texts and sections of Paul's letters. These verbal parallels indicate that Messiah's discourse is the source of Paul's explanation of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff. There are nearly a dozen such parallels between the sayings of Yahusha and Paul's "rapture" text. Let's go over these verbal parallels in detail.
First, as we have already explained, Yahusha's discourse was spoken in reply to his disciple's question regarding the time of his coming (parousia, Matthew 24:3). Paul's exhortation is also centered on the parousia of Messiah (1 Thessalonians 4:15). Second, Yahusha placed the gathering of his elect in conjunction with his posttribulation parousia (Matthew 24:31). Paul, too, describes the "catching up together" (i.e., "gathering") of the saints at the time of Messiah's parousia (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Third, Yahusha said he would be seen coming on the clouds of the sky (Matthew 24:30). Paul stated that "the Lord himself will come down from heaven...," and believers will be taken up "in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). Fourth, Yahusha mentions the angels as assisting him (Matthew 24:31). Likewise, Paul notes the voice of the archangel (vs.16), and implies angelic assistance in the "catching up" of the saints (note the passive, "caught up," v.17, Gr. arpaghsomeqa, harpageesometha).
A fifth verbal parallel is that Yahusha and Paul both mention the sounding of a trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Matthew 24:31). Sixth, both of them discuss the unexpectedness of Messiah's parousia. Yahusha told his disciples, "Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (Matthew 24:42). He then compares the unexpectedness of his coming to the coming of a thief in the night. Paul assumes his readers knowledge of Messiah's words when he tells them, "About times and dates, we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:1,2).
Another similarity of speech between the discourses of Messiah and Paul is explained by James Moffatt. Regarding the "labor pains of a pregnant woman" (1 Thessalonians 5:3), he notes that
The saying of Jesus which is echoed here has been preserved in Luke xii.39 [the thief was coming] and xxi.34 [and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap], but the common original seems to have been in Aramaic or Hebrew (so Prof. Marshall, Exp.ii.73 f.), since Paul's [as labor pains] and Luke's [like a trap] must reflect a phrase like [(c)hvl], which might be rendered either as [hevel] (snare) or as [havel] (travail), the latter echoing the well-known conception of [the beginning of birth pains]. (Moffatt, James. "The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians", in The Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol.4. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1983. p.9.)
Still another parallel is found where Paul says that "they will not escape" the destruction that will come upon them (1 Thessalonians 5:3). This, too, is an echo of Yahusha's exhortation to his disciples to "be always on the watch and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen" (Lk.21:36).
And finally, Paul mimics Messiah three more times in his word to the church in chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians. He encourages his friends to "be alert and self-controlled" (Gr. grhgwrew, greegoreo and nhfw, neepho, v.6) in view of that coming day of judgment, just as Yahusha urged his listeners to "keep watch,...you also must be ready (Gr., grhgwrew, greegoreo)" (Matthew 24:42,44). Yahusha then goes on to relate by way of parable the case of a man who was not ready or self-controlled: That man had noticed how long his master was delayed and "begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards" (Matthew 24:49). Luke, in his account of this parable (12:45), says that the man began to eat and drink and get drunk (Gr. mequskw, methusko). Likewise, Paul stresses the importance of remaining alert and self-controlled and not "getting drunk" (5:7,8) in view of Messiah's surprise return.
If there had been only a couple of verbal similarities between Messiah's sermon and Paul's writing about the rapture, we might have dismissed them as coincidental. But in light of the fact that there are many striking parallels, and that Paul attributes the substance of his teaching to Yahusha's own word, can there be any more doubt that Messiah's Olivet Discourse is the primary source of information Paul used to teach the Thessalonians about the posttribulational coming (parousia) of Yahusha and rapture of the church?
We have seen that the word Paul chose to employ to depict the coming of Messiah (parousia), combined with the attending circumstances of the coming (the trumpet call, the loud command and the voice of the archangel), argues strongly that Yahusha's coming will be a spectacular public event, visible to all. And we have noted that the "gathering" of God's people will take place at that same posttribulational parousia of Messiah. Paul accordingly credits the very word of Yahusha as the authoritative source for his teaching about Messiah's coming and the rapture. Shouldn't we, too, take Paul's writings at face value and believe that the posttribulational coming of Messiah is when he will rapture his church?
The following table summarizes why we must understand Paul's message in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 as being the exact same message Yahusha spoke regarding his second coming which are recorded for us in Matthew 24 and Luke 21.
By comparing the verbal affinities (the use of the same words and
phrases while writing about the same subject) between these passages of
Holy Writ, it is evident that Paul used all the same words, phrases,
figures of speech and themes when speaking about the "rapture of the
church" as Messiah used when he was teaching about his posttribulation
coming. Therefore, we can confidently conclude that Paul's rapture
message is the same message Messiah delivered to his apostles as
recorded in Matthew 24.
Written by David M Rogers
By comparing the verbal affinities (the use of the same words and phrases while writing about the same subject) between these passages of Holy Writ, it is evident that Paul used all the same words, phrases, figures of speech and themes when speaking about the "rapture of the church" as Messiah used when he was teaching about his posttribulation coming. Therefore, we can confidently conclude that Paul's rapture message is the same message Messiah delivered to his apostles as recorded in Matthew 24.
Written by David M Rogers