The Rapture of the Church: The Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-13 Lesson # 6
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-13, the apostle Paul teaches the Thessalonian Christian community that the rapture of the church will precede the day of the Lord.
2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? 6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 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 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. 13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (NASB95)
Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians to reassure the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord had not taken place.
The purpose of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 is to identify three events which indicate that the day of the Lord is taking place or in other words, these verses identify that these three events are evidence that the day of the Lord is underway.
The first evidence the apostle gives that the day of the Lord was not present is found in the two important occurrences that had not taken place and a third important and related event will follow in verses 6 and 7.
These together provided the proof that they were not then in the day of the Lord.
The question is whether these first two occurrences must take place before the day of the Lord begins, or are they evidences that the day has begun or is present and this question arises because the clause, “For that day will not be here” is not in the Greek text but expresses an ellipsis.
This or something similar is needed or must be understood to supply the missing thought.
The NIV has “that day will not come,” the NASB has “it will not come,” and the NET Bible has “that day will not be here” and an equally valid possibility is “For that day is not present unless …”
This ellipsis is the main clause (the apodosis) of the conditional sentence (the protasis) and the conditional sentence is seen in the words “unless (ean me„, “if not,” “except,” “unless”) the rebellion comes first …”
Thus, Paul says either (1) that day cannot come or (2) the day cannot be present without certain events being in place first.
Based on the context and similar grammatical constructions used elsewhere, I am of the conviction that the ellipsis is “for the day is not present unless …”
I believe this because grammatically similar constructions elsewhere (Matt 12:29; Mark 3:27; John 7:51; Rom 15:24) show these two happenings are conceived of as within the day of the Lord, not prior to it.
The day of the Lord had not yet arrived because these two conspicuous phenomena that will dominate the day’s opening phase had not yet happened.
Some wonder how the failure of these two to arrive can be a proof of the nonarrival of the day and the answer lies in understanding Paul’s reference to these phenomena as his way of identifying the very earliest stage of this eschatological period.
The readers had not missed the rapture (1 Thess 4:15-17) and were not in the day of the Lord (v. 2) because these two clear indicators of the day’s presence had “not yet” appeared.
The absence of these two occurrences, which are so essential to the presence of the day of the Lord in its beginning phase, is the apostle’s proof that the Thessalonians were not then in the day of the Lord.
Though Paul was not directly discussing the timing of the rapture, the fact he was writing in the interest of the coming of the Lord and the gathering of the Church together to meet Him in the air, the implication is that the rapture must occur before this day begins.
Why else would these believers be shaken by the idea that they might then be in the day of the Lord unless they had expected to be taken up to meet the Lord prior to that time?
Thus, two events are needed for the day of the Lord to be present and these are (1) the rebellion that must come first, and (2) the revealing of the man of lawlessness corresponds to this.
Now, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “the apostasy” in the NASB95 translation is rendering the noun apostasia (ἀποστασία), which appears only twice in the New Testament (cf. Acts 21:21).
The word means “rebellion, an abandonment, an apostasy” since the word pertains to rising up in open defiance of authority, with the presumed intention to overthrow it or to act in complete opposition to its demands.
The NET, ESV LEB, TNIV and NRSV all translate this noun “the rebellion” and some take this word as referring to the rapture by contending that this word means “departure” referring to the departure of the church from the earth.
However, this word does not have this meaning in the Greek classics (Plut. Galb. 1.5; Plut. Mulier. 16), Septuagint (Josh. 22:22; 2 Chron. 29:19; 1 Macc. 2:15; Jer. 2:19) or the writings of Josephus (Life 43; Wars 7.82, 164).
In classical Greek, hē apostasia (ἡ ἀποστασία), “the apostasy” was used to denote a political or military rebellion and in the Septuagint, this expression hē apostasia (ἡ ἀποστασία), “the apostasy” was used of rebellion against God (cf. Josh. 22:22; Jer. 2:19) and in 2 Maccabees 2:15, the word is used of apostasy to paganism.
In Acts 21:21, the noun apostasia (ἀποστασία) is used of Israel’s spiritual departure from the teaching of Moses.
Furthermore, it must be remembered that the rapture of the church does not involve the volition of the individual members of the church since they are forcibly removed from planet earth by the Lord Jesus Christ by means of His omnipotence and this noun apostasia (ἀποστασία) has an active sense and not a passive.
The latter would correspond to the rapture.
Lastly, Paul speaks of the rapture explicitly in 2 Thessalonians 1:1 by describing it as “our gathering together to him,” thus, it would seem very unlikely that the noun apostasia (ἀποστασία) in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 would refer to the rapture in light of this designation of the rapture in verse 1.
Therefore, “the rebellion” mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 refers to the great rebellion led by the Antichrist during the seventieth week of Daniel and it does not refer to a great apostasy in the church since this event and the other two take place during the day of the Lord, i.e. the seventieth week of Daniel.
This “rebellion” is described by Paul in the rest of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 4, namely, “and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.”
Therefore, since the noun apostasia is ambiguous and begs to be defined, the apostle Paul explains what he means by his use of the word, thus, this “rebellion” is Antichrist opposing God by demanding the human race worship him rather than God.
Of course, Satan is behind the Antichrist since Isaiah 14:12-14 teaches that he desires the world to worship him and not God.
Now, in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, the apostle Paul also refers to the Antichrist’s desecrating the temple and declaring himself God and demanding the worship of the world.
The expressions “the man of lawlessness” and “the son of destruction” is a reference to Antichrist.
Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 that Antichrist will “take his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as God” is a reference to the statement in Daniel 9:27, “on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate.”
Revelation 13:14-15 also mentions Antichrist exalting himself as God and receiving the worship of the world as such.
Paul’s statement that the Antichrist “opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship” means that he ranks himself superior to all the supreme beings worshiped by the various religions of the world, which will be a fulfillment of Daniel 11:36.
Daniel 7:25 makes mention of the Antichrist putting an end to the sacrificial offering during the final three and a half years of the seventieth week and Daniel 7:7-8 mentions the Antichrist, identifying him as “the little horn” and Daniel 7:23-25 interprets Daniel 7:7-8.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “he who now restrains” refers to the Holy Spirit since He is the only one who has the power to restrain evil and the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit permanently indwells the church age believer’s body anointing (John 14:16-17; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:18-20).
A comparison of these passages with 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 teaches that Antichrist cannot be revealed until the Holy Spirit is taken out of the way and for the Holy Spirit to be taken out of the way, every church age believer would have to be removed as well since the Spirit permanently indwells every church age believer.