A Pre-Tribulation Rapture?

 

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  - Matthew 24:27

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The Testimony of 1 & 2 Thessalonians disprove a pre-tribulation rapture

by Bill Wong

 

 

 

1 Thessalonians proves a pre-tribulation rapture is false

 

 

1 Thessalonians 4

 

A pre-tribulation rapture doctrine states that the Lord Jesus will come secretly/quietly to take away the Christians before tribulation begins; it is a secret rapture of the Lord Jesus’ saints, both living and dead, to avoid the Great Tribulation. The verses in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 below are often used by this doctrine to support this view:

 

1 Thessalonians 4:

14    For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

15    For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord,

       shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep.

16    For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God:

       and the dead in Christ shall rise first;

17    then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air:

       and so shall we ever be with the Lord.    (ASV)

 

 

In Matthew 24, we see a similar scenario being described:

 

Matthew 24:

30   And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn,

     and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

31   And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds,

     from one end of heaven to the other.     (KJV)

 

 

We see in 1 Thessalonians 4 that the Lord Jesus’ return will be accompanied by “a shout” and the trumpet of God. In Matthew 24 we see His arrival is accompanied by “a great sound of a trumpet”.

 

The first thing we notice is that His appearance in the heavens in both books is anything but secret. The second thing we must take into account is that the Lord Jesus’ own words and timeline in Matthew 24 only mention just one return for His bride, and therefore places the time of 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 to be the exact same event in Matthew 24:30-31.

 

This trumpet call which will be blown with a great sound is the very same trumpet of God that will be blown by an archangel upon the Lord Jesus’ return in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 (please also see the article What 1 Thessalonians 4:16 really means - Jesus is not the archangel Michael). This means it will happen after the tribulation, because there will be no one left alive at all if He did not come back to put a stop to the tribulation:

 

Matthew 24:

22  If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

 

 

The combination of the following in both 1 Thessalonians 4 and Matthew 24:

 

1. great sounds during the Lord Jesus’ return;

 

2. the presence of the trumpet of God;

 

3. the elect being gathered to Him;

 

4. the indication that all life would perish if He did not return;

 

 

Along with the fact that:

 

5. the Lord Jesus never speaking about a secret rapture when asked about events during the end times preceding His return;

 

All tells us that the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine is false. Christians will not be taken away from tribulation at all. They will be refined in the fire of tribulation; they will experience it and will suffer and die in Christ’s name, but they will reap an eternal reward.

 

The Bible truth is that 1 Thessalonians 4 and Matthew 24 both describe the exact same event and it occurs at the end of tribulation, when the Lord Jesus returns to put a stop to it.    

 

 

 

1 Thessalonians 5

 

A pre-tribulation rapture doctrine likes to describe its rapture as secret, sudden, and swift; like “a thief in the night”:

 

1 Thessalonians 5:

2     For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.   (NKJV)

 

 

But the Bible truth is that this has nothing to do with a rapture at all. The verse is taken completely out of context and the meaning is very much the opposite. Instead, when we take a closer look at 1 Thessalonians 5 we will find that it refers to those who are unprepared and unsuspecting of the Lord Jesus’ return as people who will be destroyed.  

 

Let us read the true context from which 1 Thessalonians 5:2 comes:

 

1 Thessalonians 5:

  1     But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.

2     For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.

3     For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.

     And they shall not escape.

4     But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.   (NKJV)

 

 

Instead of quoting 1 Thessalonians 5:2 without a thought, if we read verse 3 we will find that the description “like a thief in the night” has nothing to do about a secret rapture, but while they say “Peace and safety”, “destruction will come upon them suddenly….and they will not escape.”   It does not mean saints who are supposedly taken into heaven before the tribulation, but it means those who do not believe or are unprepared will be destroyed suddenly.

 

Verses 4-6 also tell us this, because they tell us that the brethren are not in darkness and will not be overtaken by that day like a thief. It is explicitly telling us that Christians will not be taken away on that day of the Lord which comes like a thief in the night! Therefore, to be taken away – to be overtaken by that day when the Lord comes like a thief, is NOT a good thing; it means sudden destruction upon the unprepared.

 

The Bible says the brethren should NOT be overtaken/taken away (destroyed) during this day as a thief. So how can a pre-tribulation rapture doctrine say to be taken away is good and proves their doctrine? Instead, it reveals that the Lord coming like a thief in the night can only be after the Great Tribulation. For the enemies of God and those who are unprepared, they will be suddenly destroyed, but for the bride of Christ, they will be prepared and changed in the twinkling of an eye.

 

 

The apostle Peter also makes it clear that the day of the Lord coming like a thief has absolutely nothing to do with a rapture away from tribulation, but instead it comes after the Great Tribulation, which is when the unprepared and non-believers are destroyed – and the heavens and earth are remade:

 

2 Peter 3:

10   But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,

     in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat,

     and the earth and its works will be burned up.

11   Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,

12   looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning,

     and the elements will melt with intense heat!

13   But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.    (NASB)

 

 

Peter then warns us that Paul’s writings will be distorted and used to deceive Christians about the return of the Lord:

 

2 Peter 3:

14   Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless,

15   and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul,

     according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,

16   as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand,

     which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17   You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand,

     be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness,

18   but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory,

     both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.       (NASB)

 

 

So we see that Peter and Paul are agreed: the day of the Lord which comes like a thief results in the destruction of the unprepared and the enemies of God, which is when the new heavens and new earth will be made.  They therefore agree that the day of the Lord which comes like a thief comes only after tribulation, because that is when all that is not God’s is destroyed and the heaven and earth are remade anew.

 

 

Even more, the apostle John agrees as well.  In the Book of Revelation he tells us this:

 

Revelation 16:

13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

14 For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.

17 And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.   (AKJV)

 

 

The Lord Jesus is telling us He is coming like a thief again in verse 15.  Note that people must be prepared for this coming which again means that His coming like a thief will bring about destruction to the unprepared.  But we must note especially the context and the time element in Revelation 16.  The Lord Jesus' warning that He is coming like a thief comes immediately before the battle of Armageddon happens.  The context declares that He is coming soon and this return will bring about the complete destruction of the enemies of God and the unprepared.  

 

In other words, His return as a thief undeniably comes at the end of the Great Tribulation --- at the time of the Battle of Armageddon.  His returns comes at this battle and when the final wrath of God in the seventh vial/bowl is poured out and God says: IT IS DONE.  There is no doubt when Jesus' return is --- it is at the end of the Great Tribulation in order to put an end to it and establish the Kingdom of God.  Blessed are those who watch and are not unprepared. 

 

So what we find in 1 Thessalonians 5 is that a pre-tribulation rapture of saints will not happen, but instead it verifies and supports the Lord Jesus’ descriptions in Matthew 24 and Luke 17 and 27, that the unprepared, one out of two people, will meet an untimely and unexpected end (please see article: ‘What does Matthew 24 really say?’).  

 

The apostles Paul, Peter and John all tell us that the Lord Jesus' one return is at the end of the Great Tribulation, at the Battle of Armageddon.  The Bible tells us we must not be deceived by a pre-tribulation rapture doctrine, because it means those who do believe in it will be counted among those who are unprepared to their everlasting shame as those who perish "when the thief comes". 

 

 

 

The combined testimony of 1 Thessalonians 4 & 5

 

And we must not overlook the fact that 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 immediately follows Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. When Paul says the unprepared will be overtaken by that day like a thief, he cannot possibly be saying it is the same event as the Lord’s elect meeting him in the sky upon the trump’s call.

 

The complete context is that after the tribulation, God’s people will be gathered to Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17), but the unbelievers/unprepared will be taken by surprise and destroyed (overtaken/taken away like a flood, thief, etc. in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4). The rapture of the saints and destruction of the unbelievers/unprepared happen at the same time: upon the Lord Jesus’ return for His bride sometime after the tribulation at the "Last Trumpet" --- the Feast of Trumpets, after the 7 trumpets of the 7th seal are blown (which the Book of Revelation also reveals is after tribulation):

 

1 Corinthians 15:

50    Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.

51    Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed ---

52    in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

53    For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54    So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."    (NKJV)

 

 

So being taken away/overtaken is a bad thing and means total destruction, and is separate from the Lord Jesus gathering His own with the trumpet call, which means the gathering of the elect is NOT a pre-tribulation rapture.

 

The saints must endure through the Great Tribulation.

 

 

 

 

2 Thessalonians proves a pre-tribulation rapture is false

 

 

The pre-tribulation rapture doctrine also uses Paul’s 2nd epistle to the Thessalonians to try and prove Christians are taken away before tribulation. In our review of 1 Thessalonians we have seen its arguments do not stand up.  We will now also review a key passage in 2 Thessalonians and we will find again that the pre-tribulation rapture is false.  

 

 

2 Thessalonians 2

 

The pre-tribulation rapture doctrine interprets 2 Thessalonians 2 to mean that Christians will be suddenly and swiftly snatched away before the Great Tribulation starts. There is a huge problem with the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine which 2 Thessalonians 2 clearly points out. Let us look closely at what 2 Thessalonians 2 tells us:

 

2 Thessalonians 2:

1     Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you,

2     not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us,

     as though the day of Christ had come.

3     Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first,

     and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,

4     who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped,

     so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

5     Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?

6     And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.

7     For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.

8     And then the lawless one will be revealed,

     whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.  (NKJV)

 

 

Some of these verses are highlighted below in red to show what the Bible truth is. The apostle Paul is telling Christians in verses 1-3 when to expect to be gathered to the Lord Jesus on the day of His return, and he says we will not meet the Lord Jesus until only after the following two things happen first:  a great falling away and the man of sin is revealed:

 

2 Thessalonians 2:

1     Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you,

2     not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us,

     as though the day of Christ had come.

3     Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first,

     and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,

4     who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped,

     so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

5     Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?

6     And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.

7     For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.

8     And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth

     and destroy with the brightness of His coming.   (NKJV)

 

 

The Lord Jesus gives us signs of His coming.  One of these signs is the revealing of the man of sin (the Beast or Antichrist of Revelation) as given in 2 Thessalonians 2. This man of perdition will be the one who establishes the abomination of desolation (at the time he sits in the temple of God showing himself he is God), which means the Great Tribulation is already upon us. The Lord Jesus references the abomination of desolation in:

 

Matthew 24:

15   "Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,'

     spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand),   (NKJV)

 

as referenced in the Book of Daniel:

 

Daniel 9:

27   "And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week,

      but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering;

      and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate,

      even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed,

      is poured out on the one who makes desolate."   (NASB)

 

 

But what happens after the abomination of desolation is set up and the man is revealed?  Jesus says He will only come back for His bride after the tribulation:

 

Matthew 24:

29   "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

30    Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

31    And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.    (NKJV)

 

 

As can be seen in Matthew 24 above, the Lord Jesus will return with His mighty angels, which is shown in just the previous chapter in 2 Thessalonians 1:

 

2 Thessalonians 1:

3    We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly,

         and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other,

4    so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure,

5    which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God,

         for which you also suffer;

6    since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you,

7    and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,

8    in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.   (NKJV)

 

 

The context of the letter of 2 Thessalonians as seen in chapters 1 and 2 is that Christ returns in great glory and only after the great apostasy and the revealing of the man of lawlessness.

 

Therefore, the undeniable Bible truth is that 2 Thessalonians 2 tells us Christians will be gathered to the Lord Jesus upon His return which will only be after the Great Tribulation.

 

 

We must be reminded that the Bible truth in 2 Thessalonians 2 shows the believers in Thessalonica had the same problem many believers have today:  they were deceived into thinking that Christ will return in an un-Biblical way (including that He had come already).  This is what the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine is: a deception that makes people believe Christ will come secretly and before He actually will when the Bible does not indicate this. 

 

So the apostle Paul sets them straight Biblically:  the Lord Jesus will not return until sometime after the great falling away occurs first, and then after this, also the revealing of the man of sin.  The Bible tells us directly that such beliefs which state Christ can come secretly and at any moment, or even come among us, are lies; and that they existed even as long ago as the time of Paul --- and have evolved into the present-day pre-tribulation rapture doctrine.  The Bible says certain things must happen first before Jesus returns.  In other words, the Bible tells us that the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine is false; the Lord Jesus only returns after tribulation.

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

So what we find is that the Bible does not teach believers are taken away from tribulation at all (secret or otherwise), but believers must endure to the end as stated in Matthew 24:13 from the Lord’s mouth: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” The end of our endurance is not until we are supposedly “taken away” from/before tribulation, but the end of our endurance is until the Lord returns for His bride.  This means we must endure tribulation even unto death and the Lord will raise us again. 

 

What makes things worse is that many believers in this doctrine think they are immune from falling away, because they think they will already be taken up into heaven before it occurs. However, we have proven without a doubt that Christians will not only be present during the falling away, but they will be present throughout the entire period of Great Tribulation.

 

It is this aspect of the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine that is so deceptive and deadly. Christians who have always been taught and believed they will be raptured away from tribulation will not be immune to the falling away at all, but instead will be heavily affected by it and will comprise a great portion of those who fall away, because they have been misled and left completely helpless and unprepared by this false pre-tribulation rapture doctrine.  

 

Those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture will be those who the Bible says are the unprepared.  They are not prepared to meet the "thief in the night"; they will be counted as those who are destroyed when the Lord Jesus returns because they have believed a great lie.  These unprepared believers are the ones who are guilty of gathering teachers for themselves that will tell them what they want to hear:

 

2 Timothy 4:

3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.    (NASB)

 

 

But the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine leads to death.

 

However, it is not too late to know the truth. To know that you have been lied to now is much better than to know later when the tribulation which will soon come upon the world will find your faith – and you, in ruins. The truth is a pre-tribulation rapture doctrine does not exist. And this truth shall set you free.