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The Thessalonians Nightmare
In Defense of the Faith
Friday, October 10, 2014
Alf Cengia

A few years ago I came across a pastor who wrote that the pretrib rapture theory has no basis of support and avoids interacting with problem passages such as 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8.

Recently, prewrath proponent Chris White produced a popular eight minute YouTube presentation which claims that 2 Thess 2 is a nightmare for pretribbers. He says he's "heard many pretrib sermons and read many commentaries," and "almost none of them are the same."

So, do pretribulationists ignore or scramble to explain?

Oddly enough, two minutes of this video is devoted to an acknowledged pretrib minority view that the apostasy is the rapture. Rosenthal saw the apostasy as a Jewish revolt occurring during the first five seals (The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church p 197). In The Sign (Second Edition pp 431-432, 487) Van Kampen appeared to agree. Yet in a later book he modified his position by declaring that the apostasy and the revealing of the Antichrist are a "single event, occurring simultaneously" at the Abomination of Desolation (The Rapture Question Answered p 120, see note 3).

Based on 2 Thess 2:4, proponents of the view say the Antichrist is revealed at the Abomination of Desolation when Michael the Archangel ceases his restraint. White asserts that Paul is telling the Thessalonians that the "falling away" (apostasy) and the revelation of the Antichrist must precede the rapture.

Eric Douma notes that 2 Thess 2:4 describes what the Antichrist does, not when he is revealed. Even if Michael was the Restrainer (I don't think he is), it makes no sense that he should cease his restraint at Daniel 12:1. This same verse states that Michael stands watch over Israel and that Israel will be delivered, and it correlates to Rev 12:7-8. Michael fights until Israel's redemption.

F. F. Bruce writes that The Apostasy is likely a wholesale rebellion of public order, not just a Jewish or Christian rebellion. He sees this rebellion as coincident with the arrival of the Antichrist (Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians p 167).

This is important because, as Douma explains, this apostasy and associated arrival of the Antichrist are likely to occur at the beginning of the 70th week. Therefore the Restrainer's cessation must occur by the time of the opening of the 1st seal when the Antichrist rides out conquering, and confirms The Covenant.

In White's view, the rapture piggybacks with the Day of the Lord, so he treats them as one synergistic event. Yet the book Antichrist Before the Day of the Lord has a chart depicting the 6th seal as portending God's wrath, then an interlude and then the 7th seal pronounces God's future wrath (p 99).

Accordingly, the rapture occurs somewhere between the 6th and 7th seals. If the Day of the lord occurs after the 7th seal then it cannot be the same event as the rapture. Pretribulationists are therefore correct in maintaining a distinction between the rapture and the Day of the Lord (2 Thess 2:1-2).

In the video, White paraphrases Paul and Jesus:

"He [Paul] says that neither the falling away nor the Antichrist revealing himself in the temple had happened and so, therefore, the Rapture could not have happened yet either. Paul is essentially reminding them of the Bible study he gave them of the Olivet Discourse - or Matthew 24. He's about to remind them what events need to happen before the gathering together. This exact same phrase in English (gathering together) and Greek (episunago) are used by Jesus in Matthew 24 to refer to the rapture...."

We've seen in previous columns that Matt 24:31 is not the rapture. The word episunago sounds important, but it isn't significant to the rapture since it's also used for Israel's gathering in Matt 23:37.

While White presumes Paul refers to the Olivet Discourse, he cannot allow Paul's reference to birth pangs (1 Thess 5:3) to equal the pangs at Matt 24:8. This is because Paul's birth pangs form part of the Day of the Lord. In contrast, White's system has the birth pangs within the 70th week but preceding the Day of the Lord.

Jack Kelley rightly points out:

"Paul criticized the Thessalonians for being so easily alarmed by a letter that turned out to be a forgery, saying the Day of the Lord had already come. Think about that. If he had taught them a post-trib rapture position, they would have known that in just a few years they’d be in Eternity."

Even taking White's position that the Great Tribulation is followed by the Day of the Lord, we should wonder why Paul didn't comfort the Thessalonians regarding the worst time there ever was or ever will be (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1; Joel 2:2; Matt 24:21-22). And how can the Day of the Lord possibly be worse than the worst time ever? The Great Tribulation is so severe that it must be terminated otherwise no flesh would survive (Matt 24:22).

White's view has the trumpet and bowl judgments containing God's wrath. We know from Rev 11:2, 13:5 that the Beast's empire lasts 42 months, and the 5th bowl is poured on the kingdom of the Beast (Rev 16:10). This confirms that the Great Tribulation is contained within the Day of the Lord. Also, in Isaiah 2, the context is a Day of the Lord (v 12) containing an event (vv 19 & 21) which parallels the 6th seal.

If that isn't enough, in Ezek 7:3-19 we find references to God's anger, fury and wrath associated with famine, sword and pestilence (v 15) and this time in context to the Day of the Lord's wrath (v 19). These are also components of the 4th seal. This suggests that the Day of the Lord is present throughout the 70th week.

Aside from this, White has a problem with 2 Thess 2:8 which states that Antichrist is destroyed at Christ's appearing (Isaiah 11:4). Antichrist is not destroyed at the beginning of the Day of the Lord, yet his view has Christ appearing before then.

One solution was to say the Antichrist is "handcuffed" at v 8. But how can that be if he musters armies to Armageddon? A more recent strategy is to say that Christ's "single" appearance occurs over an extended period (involving several comings) culminating in the Antichrist's destruction.

To be consistent, then, there should be no objection to the pretribulational appearance of Christ to gather His church within the broader scope of a "single" appearance.

Finally, Robert L Thomas has shown that the Greek construct in 2 Thess 2:3 allows for two possibilities:

"It can mean that the coming of the apostasy and the revelation of the man of lawlessness precede the day of the Lord [not the rapture], or it can mean that the coming of the apostasy precedes the revelation of the man of lawlessness, both being within the day of the Lord." (Emphasis mine)

Thomas argues for the latter based on 1 Thess 5:2-3 (and other reasons). The pangs are part of the Day of the Lord and destruction comes while they are saying peace and safety. This aligns with Matt 24:36-39 where Jesus says the coming of the Son of Man would be during a time of relative normality. There is no peace and safety after the 2nd and 4th seals or during the Great Tribulation.

Taking into account all the above observations, Thomas is likely correct.

It is disingenuous to claim in an eight minute video that 2 Thess 2 is a nightmare for pretribulationists (quite the contrary). This is part of a growing YouTube-Theology phenomenon where attacks are made on pretribulationism using short sound bites.

Contrary to these skeptics, Scripture strongly infers a pretribulational rapture. The following promise is given to the Philadelphian Church just before the opening of the Seal, Trumpet and Bowl judgments:

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. Rev 3:10


About Alf Cengia

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