Because we are living in extraordinary times; a time in history when our world is becoming more and more volatile and knowing that greater turbulence is on its way, it is important that we incorporate God’s instructions for “such a time as this.” We have also been given exceptional promises that we need to integrate into our way of thinking and manner of living. The passage below has some of both:
…but let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:8-11
While still on earth, Jesus told His disciples that they would face difficulties. Life would have its hardships, tribulations, and even persecution. God’s Word and our constant companion and comforter, the Holy Spirit, provide whatever needed to overcome the adversities that have been thrown into our path. One of our greatest encouragements is God’s promise that it is all going to come to an end and the coming Messiah will straighten all things out and bring them into alignment with His eternal will. Praise God!
The Scripture passage above provides several important instructions. One is to face life soberly. In the epistle by James, we find the words:
“…for what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” James 4:14b
Being sober goes beyond not allowing ourselves to be intoxicated. It also has to do with a soberness in our watching and in our prayer life. Additionally, it has to do with knowing and believing God’s Word for what it says. It is He, the all-powerful Eternal One, Who has said that at His time—not our time, all things will be brought to fulfillment. So…we believers and followers of Jesus, our Messiah and LORD, need to keep His promises in mind, and never let go of them!
One of these promises is that the True Church will not go through the time of Apocalypse known as the Great and Terrible Day of the LORD and by several other identifiers. For those that may not be aware, this is speaking of a specific seven year period of time at the end of the age when God will judge this wicked, rebellious, God-rejecting world just prior to His physically coming to set up His millennial kingdom.
There are those who teach that everyone on earth alive at the time of the Day of the LORD will go through it, regardless whether they are believer or unbeliever. One of the Scripture passages used for this argument is found in John 16:33:
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Jesus here warned his disciples, and by extension, the entire Church, that in this fallen world there will be troubles, tribulations, stresses, pressures, temptations, and much more. These are the consequences of living in a fallen world that is presently under the dominion of the fallen Lucifer. Jesus warned that this would especially be the case for His followers because the same hatred that the world had for Him, would be the same they would themselves experience. The same persecution He would endure would be what many of His followers would find themselves going through in the future. This has been going on now for the past two thousand years. These tribulations, troubles, and persecutions however are not synonymous, nor can they be compared with the one single time slot in history God Himself described as the worst time ever in history, before or after, including the time the great flood of Noah. This time period known by most as The Great Tribulation, and detailed in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and of course nearly the entire Book of Revelation, as well as in many of the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, is now very near, and a reason for my writing this article.
During the time of the Great Apocalypse, the evil trinity will be revealed; the Dragon (Devil), the Antichrist (world political dictator), and the False Prophet (world’s religious leader). They will be allowed to take control over the world, deceiving the masses who have rejected the Creator and Messiah, Jesus Christ. Planet Earth will endure the wrath of the fallen Lucifer, the wrath of the Lamb of God, and the wrath of the Father GOD—all in one seven year period of time. It is not the purpose of this writing to go into the details of the Apocalypse which will be covered in other writings, but rather to make a distinction between the trials and tribulations all of us face and the Great Tribulation, which will be brought down on a wicked, out of control, Christ-rejecting world.
The words written to the Thessalonians at the beginning of this article tell us, not only to know and believe God’s promise that we the true believers and followers of the Messiah Jesus have no part in this outpouring of God’s wrath on evil, but that through the Salvation we have been gifted with through the Blood of the Perfect Lamb of God—whether we are awake or asleep at the moment of His appearing in the clouds—we will be removed from this earth for the entire seven years of God’s judgment of this earth. Then it says that we should edify and comfort one another with these words! Thank God for the love He has for His people, and this very special provision that was His plan from before man ever fell in the Garden of Eden or was even created!
In 2 Thessalonians we find the phrase “comfort one another with these words” used twice. It is also used in chapter four. In this earlier passage the Apostle Paul was making sure that the believers at the time would not be confused concerning the events surrounding the Messiah’s second coming. In this passage he was clearing up a question concerning those who had already died. He didn’t want them to grieve in the same way most people do, and he wanted them to understand God’s order in bringing His people into His presence. This is what Paul had to say:
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as other who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will be no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel , and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. 2 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (emphasis, mine)
Several questions are answered in this passage:
- Who are those who have no hope? Those who have died having rejected Jesus and the power of His Blood to forgive sin.
- Why do Christians not sorrow or grieve as unbelievers concerning believing loved ones who have passed away? Because their eternal life has been assured by the Blood of Jesus.
- Is there an order to how God calls His people into His presence? The dead in Christ are raised to life first, then those of us who are alive will join them.
- How are God’s people called home? The Lord Himself will descend from Heaven to the clouds with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God.
- For how long? FOREVER!
After making all these things clear, the apostle added: “comfort one another with these words.” Sandwiched in between the first and second times the Apostle Paul told the believers to comfort one another, we find more comforting details:
“For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 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. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as as thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 2 Thessalonians 5:2-6
This passage provides us with several important points we should take notice of:
- The Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night
- Declaration of “Peace and Safety” will one day be a sign of sudden destruction
- When this specific day of destruction comes, there is no escape
- God’s people do not live in darkness, they are of the light
- The “Day” should not catch God’s people off-guard as a thief
- God’s people must not be asleep as others are, but should be sober and Watch!
Even though most of these things appear pretty obvious, we sometimes have a tendency to read through them without really taking notice of what is being said. There are some contrasts being made that define this passage. I would like to point out what we sometimes don’t see. (from verses 2-10)
- For you…know well…that the day of the Lord…comes as a thief in the night
- When they say “Peace and Safety”, they shall not escape
- But you brethren are not in darkness so that this Day should overtake you…
- You are sons of the light…We are not of the night…
- Let not us sleep as others…Let us watch
- For those who sleep…and those who get drunk
- Let us who are of the day…
- For God did not appoint us to wrath…that whether we wake or sleep, we should be together with Him
The contrasting emphasis to us, the believers, and them, the unbelievers is unmistakable! This is something that should give us great encouragement and comfort. Our God has made provision for those who love Him. Are you a you, we, or us? Then take God’s Word for what it says and be encouraged! Be comforted!
The closer we get to the return of our Messiah, the sharper the attacks on those who believe that the Rapture of the Church is before the Day of the LORD. So often there is a condescending chiding for the desire to “escape” that time in history. Many see it as a mark of greater faith and love for the Lord if one is willing to go through the Great Tribulation. I see that as faith misplaced and erroneous. It is like saying to our Lord, “Thanks for your provision of escape, Lord, but no thanks! I would rather prove my faith to you by not seeking a way of escape–as those are who are spiritually weaker.” That is being a bit sarcastic, but sometimes we don’t realize how transparent our own spiritual pride really is. Before returning to 2 Thessalonians, let’s take time to take a brief look at a familiar passage in Luke:
“Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36
Here in this passage we have the Messiah Himself describing the Great Tribulation and saying that God has made provision for His faithful ones to escape all of the things that will come to pass during this terrible time and stand in the presence of Jesus instead. Would I really insult Him and say that I’d rather suffer through the Apocalypse and most likely die just to prove myself of greater faith and love for Him than those who have been found worthy to escape—by Him? This is one of the enemy’s deceptions!
Another of my favorite promises is found in Revelation 3:
I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it, for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name…Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. Revelation 3:8,10-11
Once again, we have the words of the Messiah Himself saying that it is He Who will pull His own faithful remnant out of the path of God’s judgment and wrath which will be poured out on a wicked, godless world—not on His own believing remnant! The “hour of trial” is coming on the whole world but that trial will be spared those who have believed in Him before it begins. And…God always keeps His promises. Now to 2 Thessalonians chapter 2:
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as through the day of Christ had come. 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…verses 1-3
The Apostle Paul was here referencing a fraudulent letter that had apparently been sent out in his name, telling the Christians that they had already entered the time of the Great Tribulation. Paul was telling them, “Don’t let anyone deceive you by any means!” Then Paul assured them that this letter didn’t come from him. He goes on and says something that has now been hotly debated for centuries, “…that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first…” What “falling away” is the apostle referring to?
A little background will help at this point. Paul the Apostle was the one who had founded the church in Thessalonica. His letters to the Thessalonian Church were some his very earliest. One of the things Paul had taught these young believers had to do with the “harpazo” (Latin word used for the English word “Rapture”) of the Church. He had made it very clear to them that the Body of Believers all across the world would be physically removed from this world and into the presence of the Lord before the ensuing Day of the LORD.
As early Church history confirms, Paul was forced out of Thessalonica early on because of Jewish leaders who had become envious of the following he had built and also because of some unruly pagan mobs that had formed and sought to kill him. Paul ended up writing the letters to the Thessalonian Church from Corinth.
It was after Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians that at least one forged letter had been sent to the Thessalonians. The letter, in Paul’s name, told the Thessalonians that they were already in the time of the Apocalypse. In those early days of the Church, there were no Bible Schools, no Seminaries, and not even a New Testament to refer to yet. This forged letter was a source of much confusion. We might remember that Jesus had warned many times while still on earth: “do not let yourselves be deceived!” One goal of Satan has always been to deceive believers! In those early days, Satan’s attacks centered heavily on the teaching of the early apostles because they were laying the foundation of what would become the New Testament. He did everything possible to twist Biblical doctrine. And…this is why the understanding of this passage of Scripture is so critical. The explanation of the wording of this passage is worthy of a long article all on its own, but I will attempt to touch as briefly as possible on the important points for now.
The question is: What did Paul mean when he said, “That Day will not come until there is a ‘falling away’ first…” The Greek word used is “apostasia” and is the source of the traditional explanation which has always been that what is being referred to here is a “spiritual” falling away. The word can in deed mean exactly that. This word however is only the noun version of the original Greek root word. The verb form is the Greek word “aphistemi” and is defined: “to make to stand off; cause to withdraw; to remove.” An example in English of this would be the word, “catch.” I can go fishing and after returning from a successful fishing trip tell my friends that I had a great “catch” today. That would be theword used in the noun form. The same word can be used as a verb by saying, “I am going to go “catch” a fish. It’s the same word but depending on how it is used, it can have a very different meaning. This is what we have with “apostasia” and “aphistemi”
A person may ask, “Why should I care which Greek word is used?” The reason is because it paints a whole different picture of what Paul is saying to the Thessalonians…and to us today. If this is true, and I believe it undoubtedly is, a proper understanding of this passage seals the deal concerning the timing of the Rapture of the Church. I believe the Rapture of the Church is easily enough proven to be before the beginning of the Day of the LORD even without this passage, but what Paul is saying here in these verses is a most powerful confirmation of the timing of the Rapture of the Church.
Let’s look into a few more convincing details. The noun form of this word only appears one other time in the New Testament and that is in Acts 21:21 where the Apostle Paul is accused of causing Jews to “depart” Judaism. The verb form of this word however appears at least 15 times in the New Testament and 12 of these references have the word being used as one form or another of “remove.” Below are three examples:
- “…a thorn in the flesh was given me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might “depart” from me…2 Corinthians 12:7b-8
- “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he “departed” from Him until an opportune time. Luke 4:13
- Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not “depart” from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. Luke 2:36-37
The Apostle Paul asked that the thorn in his flesh would be made to “depart”. The devil when he had finished his temptation of Jesus in the desert—at least for the time being—”departed’. And in the third example, Anna the prophetess, never :departed” the temple. In all three examples, the verb form of the word was used, as it is in at least nine other examples that could be provided. It is the verb form of the word that was used in the original Greek translation of the New Testament, and this is the way the early Church understood the passage in 2 Thessalonians until the third or fourth centuries when many Scriptures were taught to be symbolic rather than literal, including the Harpazo / Rapture.
Another strong argument concerning the meaning of this word is the fact that in the original Greek, there is an article in front of the word. It would make little sense to say that “the Apostasy” has arrived. Apostasy is not something that just arrives at a given point in time. It comes gradually. We see great apostasy in our Christian world today; in fact, the Church has fought with apostasy for most of its 2,000 year history! It has however become patently worse in the last few years. Apostasy is a major part of the description of the Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3.
Most of us, at least in the West, have heard the “three rules of real estate”— “Location; Location; Location.” The three rules of Bible study are “Context; Context; Context!” The context in this passage in 2 Thessalonians 2 tells us exactly what Paul was saying. In verse two he says he didn’t want them to be confused about the timing of “that Day.” What day? He was referring back to verse two when he was writing to them about “the Day of Christ,” which is synonymous with “The Day of the LORD.” That same context is carried right on through verse eight and beyond. Let’s read the passage from verses 3-8a:
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, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is take out of the wayu. And then the lawless one will be revealed…
The entire context has to do with the timing of “that Day.” Instead of saying that the man of sin will be revealed after the “falling away” has come about, it is tying the timing of “that Day” to the removal from this earth of “the Restrainer” found in verses six and seven. The Restrainer is more powerful than the man of sin and must be removed before Satan can ever successfully delude the masses and bring the horrors of his nefarious plans to fruition upon the earth. Who is the Restrainer? It is God, the Holy Spirit, working through the Body of Christ, the true Church. This tells us in no uncertain terms that the Church has to be pulled out of the world before the Day of the LORD can ever begin! This is the context of what the Apostle Paul is telling the Thessalonians…and us today!
As we see what is unfolding in our world today, because of the prophetic warnings given us in the Word of God, we know we now are on the very precipice of beginning of “The Day of the LORD.”
Many more proofs could be added here to show that God will remove His people from the earth before He unleashes His judgments of wrath on this wicked world, but, due to the length of this article, they will be saved for another time. I do find it fascinating that in studying the ancient writings of the early patriarchs of the Old Testament, people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s sons, and even back to the ancient writings of Noah, Enoch, and many others that have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was understood by nearly all that there was coming a time in the distant future that there would be a Rapture, and this Rapture or removal of the people of God from the earth would be before the beginning of the Great Apocalypse at the end of the age. Who would have told them such things so many thousands of years ago? Could it be that they were given this prophetic knowledge by the same Person who inspired the authors of the Bible we have today? There is no other explanation! So…
Comfort one another with these words!