(2 Thess. 2:1-8) Does this passage describe the rapture?

CLAIM: Some interpreters argue that this passage supports a post-tribulation rescue (or rapture) of the Church. Paul explicitly teaches that the subject of this passage is the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him” (2 Thess. 2:1). Then, he goes on to write that the rescue of the Church will not come until the “apostasy” and the “man of lawlessness” are revealed in the Great Tribulation (v.3) and the Antichrist sits in the temple (v.4). Since these events occur during the Tribulation, post-tribulationists argue that Paul must be consoling the Thessalonians with the fact that they had not missed the rapture, because these events hadn’t occurred yet. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: To begin our reply, we need to ask why the Thessalonians were so “shaken” and “disturbed” (v.2)? It must have been because they thought that they had missed the rescue of the Church (i.e. the rapture). That is, they believed that they had entered into the Tribulation without being rescued by Jesus.

This passage simply makes little sense in light of a post-tribulation view. If these believers were taught a post-tribulation view, then why would they be “shaken” or “disturbed” at the thought that they were in Tribulation (v.3)? Why wouldn’t they be rejoicing, knowing that everything was on schedule for the post-tribulation return of Christ?

Far from it. These believers were most likely “shaken” and “disturbed” at the fact that they thought they were currently in the Tribulation, and they had missed out on the pre-tribulational rescue of the Church.

In context, Paul is referring to the tribulation—not the rescue of the Church. When Paul writes that “it will not come,” (v.3) he is referring to the “day of the Lord”—not the “coming of our Lord Jesus.” The “day of the Lord” (Isa. 13:6, 9; 34:8; Ezek. 30:3; Amos 5:18; Zeph. 1:7-13; 1 Thess. 5:3) refers to the Tribulation. Thus, Paul is saying, “We haven’t entered into the Tribulation yet. The Tribulation will not come until the Antichrist and the Apostasy occur. Since these haven’t occurred yet, there is nothing to worry about.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Paul teaches that Jesus will rescue the Church before the “day of the Lord” (i.e. the Tribulation; 5:1-11). Later in the chapter, Paul urges them to remember his verbal teaching and the “letter” that had been written to them (2 Thess. 2:15). This “letter” is undoubtedly 1 Thessalonians, where Paul taught explicitly on the rescue of the Church (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

What about a Preterist reading of this text?

Preterist Gary DeMar doesn’t believe that Paul is describing Jesus’ Second Coming in this passage at all. Instead, he believes that this refers to Christ dwelling in believers. He understands the parousia as “the fulfillment of the promise that the presence of Christ will reside with the true Israel forever.”[1] Moreover, he understands the “gathering” (episunagogue) to refer to the gathering of Christians on Earth—not heaven (cf. Heb. 10:25). Finally, he understands the “day of the Lord” to refer to “God’s judgment upon the Old Covenant order localized in Jerusalem that occurred in AD 70.”[2]

This interpretation shows to what great lengths Preterists need to go in order to keep their systematic alive. Preterists typically argue that the prophetic portions of Scripture are written in the apocalyptic genre, and therefore, we need not take them literally. However, this passage is written in an epistle—not in the apocalyptic genre. In order to adhere to this Preterist reading, we would need to reinterpret the whole concept of the parousia (i.e. the “coming” of Christ) and the “day of the Lord.” This view fits closer to what Paul is teaching against in 2 Thessalonians 2—that the “day of the Lord has already come.” Such a reading stretches our credulity beyond the breaking point.

[1] DeMar, Gary. Last Days Madness. Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1999. 277.

[2] DeMar, Gary. Last Days Madness. Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1999. 283.