There is a lot of confusion concerning a number of future events, including the rapture and the day of the Lord. There is a gap of seven years between these two events, and the rapture of all true believers, whether they have passed away or form the assembly on earth at the time, comes first. The object of this article is not to explain them and how they relate to each other but to compare the two epistles to the Thessalonians, which both speak of the day of the Lord. However, to make it easier for the reader who may not be sure about the truth of the rapture, I will explain that though the word does not occur in the Bible as such, it does convey the meaning of the words ‘caught up’ in 1 Thess 4:17. Yes, the rapture is when the Lord Jesus comes for His saints (all who accept Christ as Saviour are called saints – see Rom 1:7) to take them up to be with Him. The day of the Lord, on the other hand, is when He appears to the world and comes with His saints to reign on the earth. I will dwell a little more on the rapture, as this is vital, and then compare the bearing of the two epistles on the day of the Lord.
There are many who do not believe in the rapture of the saints, and say that the Church – true believers – will go through the seven-year period of which the last half or second three-and-a-half years are known as the great tribulation. This is a serious mistake because the truth of the rapture is taught in 1 Thess 4:17-17 and Revelation 3:10 says, ‘Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.’ Other indications that the Church will not go through the tribulation period include John 14:1-4, where the Lord Himself promises His own that He will come for them and they will be with Him not only in heaven, but in His Father’s house. It is His desire to have us with Him there. Is this consistent with us going through the tribulation? Surely not! It should be a comfort to us in this respect just as it is in relation to loved ones who are true believers in Christ, but who have passed away. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians not to be grieved even as the rest (those without Christ) who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). We do grieve over the loss of loved ones who are Christians, but knowing that they are with the Lord is a comfort for us who still remain. If we also think of the disciples who were looking into heaven after the Lord Jesus ascended there, we will remember they were comforted by the words, ‘This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, shall thus come in the manner in which ye have beheld Him going into heaven’ (Acts 1:11). Coming back to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, we see that the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout. The Lord Himself! How marvellous as well as comforting these words are. He will not send angels for us, but will come Himself with a shout! What a wonderful privilege we have that the mystery of the rapture has been unfolded to us, for the Old Testament believers did not have it even though they knew about the day of the Lord. And yet they and those New Testament saints who have fallen asleep (died) since the day of Pentecost will rise first when the rapture takes place. What joy and comfort for the Thessalonians, and for us! This should suffice regarding the few words on the rapture, so I will go on now to the next subject that people have had difficulty understanding – the day of the Lord.
The day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5
Verse 2 of this chapter reads: ‘for ye know perfectly well yourselves, that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief by night.’ Many think these words refer to the rapture, for instance, some well-known Christian films about the rapture are based on such an interpretation. However, the expression conveys the thought the Lord’s coming will be both unwelcome and unexpected. Surely this is not the attitude of the believer who looks forward to His coming and should expect it at any moment. It is because of this the apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians in verse 4 that the brethren are not in darkness that the day overtake them as a thief. It is clear then the words ‘a thief by night’ do not refer to the rapture, about which the apostle had written already in chapter 4, but to the day of the Lord. However, the presentation of the day of the Lord in chapter 5 is a matter of comfort and expectation for the believer, in contract to 2 Thessalonians 2, where it is presented as a matter of great and lasting danger for the unbeliever – those who have rejected or neglected the gospel of salvation.
The apostle introduces the teaching in 1 Thessalonians 5, with the thought of ‘the times and the seasons.’ These words connect the Lord’s coming with the world and the judgment that will come upon it after the rapture. So ‘the times and the seasons’ have nothing to do with the rapture and the Church, because we expect the Lord to come for His own at any time. Rather, these words have to do with events preceding or leading up to the Lord’s coming to set up His kingdom here on earth. They are also mentioned in Daniel 2:19-22 and Acts 1:6-8. The words ‘they’ and ‘them’ in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 refers to the unbelievers who will go through the terrible seven-year period of tribulation. There will be sudden destruction upon them and they will not be able to escape. Then the apostle tells the Thessalonians, and us too, that ‘all ye are sons of light and sons of day; we are not of night nor of darkness’ (1 Thess 5:5). We are also reminded in verses 9 and 10 that God has not set us for wrath, but for salvation. Is this not wonderful and encouraging? To conclude this section, the apostle writes for us to encourage and build up one another – verse 11.
The day of the Lord in 2 Thessalonians 2
Having been presented with the day of the Lord concerning believers in 1 Thessalonians 5, we come to the second epistle in chapter 2, where we are presented with the day of the Lord in relation to unbelievers who remain in this world after the rapture takes place. This is a time of solemn judgment on those who have rejected the precious gospel of salvation. The Thessalonians, though faithful believers, were persecuted by ungodly people who were telling them that they too had to go through the tribulation period as it was the portion for all, and even so far as to write letters as if the writing was from Paul himself. The apostle counters this by setting out the events that must occur before the day of the Lord takes place, to comfort them and also us. The first thing to note is that the day ‘will not be unless the apostasy have first come, and the man of sin have been revealed, the son of perdition; who opposes and exalts himself on high against all called God, or object of veneration; so that he himself sits down in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God’ (2 Thess 2:3-4).
The term ‘apostacy’ means a falling away. But from what? It is a falling away from the precious truth in the Word of God. The system of Christendom (the profession of Christianity at large) will have no desire for, and will turn away from, the truth. So will every other unbeliever, those who reject or neglect the gospel of salvation, no matter what religion they profess, even if outside Christianity. Although, apostacy really refers to those who have heard the gospel many times, whose who have been brought up in a Christian environment, seen the work of the Holy Spirit in those around them, and have deliberately rejected and refused the truth of the Word of God in its entirety. Please read Hebrews 6:4-6 very carefully. This was about Jews who had outwardly converted to Christianity, but as a result of difficulties, or for whatever reasons, they returned to Judaism, therefore crucifying for themselves the Son of God. This can apply for any who profess the name of Christ.
The next event is the ‘man of sin’ will appear on the scene, who is the antichrist and will deceive all unbelievers into believing the lie of Satan and worshipping the beast (the political leader of the revived Roman empire and the first beast of Revelation 13). The antichrist will present himself as ‘Christ’ and deceive as many Jews as he can. The Lord Himself told the crowd in John 5:43 that because they do not receive Him who came in the Father’s name, they will receive another who comes in his own name, and this will be true. He was referring to the antichrist as described here in 2 Thessalonians 2 and pictured in Daniel 11:36-37 and the second beast of Revelation 13. I do not intend to go into any further detail about him here. In 2 Thess 2:7 we read that the mystery of lawlessness is already working now, but he who restrains is still here, and has to be gone. This ‘he’ refers to the Holy Spirit who is still in the world, because all true believers in Christ are still in the world. The antichrist may be alive here in this world today, and as many people like to have a guess as to who this antichrist may be, I would suggest that we as believers look for Jesus Christ, and not the antichrist. So, the antichrist will not be revealed as such until the Holy Spirit departs in the sense of being present in the Church – all true believers in Christ at the rapture. The antichrist will have an end, as is mentioned in verse 8 that the Lord will consume him. What a solemn warning for this person who will call himself ‘God’! This person’s coming will be ‘according to the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood’. The Lord did many signs and miracles here on earth, but always by God’s power. The works of the antichrist will be counterfeit miracles, such as there was even in the days of the apostles, designed to deceive all unbelievers who had no desire for the truth when it was presented to them in the gospel of God’s grace.
There are many people, even true believers, who believe there will be a ‘second chance’ for everyone after the rapture, those who will not worship the beast and believe the lie. However, God makes clear this will never be the case. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 states that God will send them a strong delusion that they will believe what is false, because they did not believe the truth, and even found pleasure in unrighteousness. This means that anyone who has heard and understood the gospel of salvation, but rejects or neglects it, will not have a second chance. God will send them this strong delusion, or working of error so that they believe the lie and accept what is false. We see this illustrated in Luke 16, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, when the rich man asked Abraham (again he asked the wrong person) to send Lazarus to his five brethren and argued that if he came back from the dead they will believe. What was Abraham’s response? If they do not believe the writings of Moses and the Prophets (the Word of God), they will not even be persuaded if one rise from the dead. Is this not the case when the blessed Lord rose from the dead? We only need to read the account of Matt 28 about the Jewish chief priests. They were not persuaded, and even today, people at large are not persuaded that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Coming back to the ‘second chance’, one might argue, ‘but I have been brought up in a good Christian home. I will realise the truth of the rapture after it takes place and then repent. I will not worship the beast or accept the antichrist’. Dear reader, if this is your attitude, then no, you will still be deceived, and you will not repent. God has said so. Please do not test God in this solemn matter. The book of Revelation speaks of unbelievers who know the truth of what is happening when God’s judgements fall on the earth but who do not praise God, but rather blaspheme Him and do not repent of their sins. See Revelation 9:20-21; 16:11, 21 for some references. Satan is very clever in deceiving everyone, especially if you have been brought up in a Christian home or environment. In fact, these are the first people who will be deceived. Having set out before us these events, let us be encouraged and comforted by the fact of the hope that is in us (1 Thess 4:18). Let us also be sober and watch, because we expect the Lord to come at any moment, even today. What great joy and gladness this day will bring when we are with the Lord forever. If you are not saved yet, dear reader, you will be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, and not in 1 Thessalonians 4. If you are not saved, make the decision now and you will have great joy, comfort and hope, because ‘now is the well-accepted time; behold, now the day of salvation’ (2 Cor 6:2). Now is the time, not after the rapture.