"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


  • Rev. John Samson
  • Rev. David Thommen (URC)
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  • Marco Gonzalez

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    Pre-Trib?...Pre-Mill?....Left Behind?

    The following is an excerpt from Dr. Sam Waldron's book, The End Times Made Simple

    Eschatology Made Simple!

    A Matter of interpretation

    With this chapter we reach a turning point in our study. In the previous chapter we briefly surveyed the history of the church on the subject of eschatology. We briefly listened in on that great conversation about last things that has been going in the church for 20 centuries. My purpose in this 'holy eavesdropping' was to acquaint you with the basic questions, terminology, and options to be considered as we turn to a study of the Word of God. There is a downside to this study of the opinions of even Christian men. This brief survey of the history of eschatological discussion in the church could well be sub-titled Eschatology Made Difficult (by Men). With this chapter, however, we turn from the complications and complexities of human tradition to the clarity and simplicity of divine revelation. I have entitled this part of the study, (I hope without too much audacity.) Eschatology Made Simple.

    Of course, when we turn to the Word of God there are prophetic passages and detailed questions about the doctrine of last things that arouse our curiosity, provoke our interest, and may result (if we are not careful) in a sense of general confusion. If one unwisely sets out to explore such passages and questions first, the result may be general confusion.

    It is important, therefore, to state at the outset several crucial principles of biblical interpretation that must guide one in the study of eschatology. There are three self-evident principles of biblical interpretation that ought to prevent us from setting out on such a misguided course. The first principle is that we should study the clear passages before we come to the difficult passages. To put this in other words, we should interpret difficult passages in light of clear ones. The second principle is that we should study literal passages before we come to figurative passages. Figurative passages should be interpreted within the doctrinal boundaries set by the literal passages. The third self-evident principle of biblical interpretation is that general truths of eschatology should be grasped before we come to discuss the details of prophecy. Clarity will be served by an attempt to grasp the big picture or the overall structure of prophecy. In order to do this we must remember that eschatology has to do with history in general as well as the goal of history. Before one can deal with the details of eschatology and properly interpret the numerous difficult and figurative passages, it is necessary to discover the broad or basic structure of history and eschatology.


    In the interpretation of Bible passages related to prophecy we should study...
    * The Clear before the Difficult
    * The Literal before the Figurative
    * The General before the Detailed

    Each of these principles assumes that eschatology is not a subject confined to only certain prophetic books of the Bible (like Daniel and Revelation). Prophecy permeates the whole Bible. The doctrine of last things is a vital part of the gospel of Christ itself. For instance, the doctrine of Christ's bodily return, the bodily resurrection of the saints, the eternal and bodily punishment of the wicked-all these are truths vital to the gospel of Christ itself. Appropriately, they are truths confessed in the great confessions of the church from the simple creeds of its earliest days to the great confessions that followed the Reformation.1 A broader understanding of the eschatological system of the Bible will illuminate many aspects of the Bible's teaching. One purpose of this study is to help you come to a clearer grasp of the Bible's teaching as a whole by providing you with a systematic understanding of its teaching about eschatology. Simply by keeping in mind these obvious and self-evident principles of biblical interpretation the whole subject can be delivered from mind-boggling confusion and reduced to divine simplicity. If we take the literal before the figurative, the clear before the figurative, and the general before the detailed, eschatology will be made simple!

    There are three broad biblical categories of thought that enable us simply to understand the basic structure of eschatology. These considerations provide, so to speak, the basic floor-plan of the house of eschatology. If we impress upon our minds this basic floor-plan, we will be greatly helped when we come to look at all the different, prophetic furniture and fixtures found in the more difficult passages. We may, of course, still be somewhat puzzled by certain pieces of this furniture, but we will at least know that these furnishings must fit someplace in the basic floor-plan.

    In the examination of these broad biblical categories of thought we will implement the principles of biblical interpretation mentioned above. We will be looking first at the clear, the literal, and the general passages. Later in the study of these categories we will examine some of the more important figurative and difficult passages in light of the literal and clear passages.

    What are these broad, biblical categories of thought that will enable us to understand the floor-plan of the house of eschatology? In the following chapters we will consider:

    The Bible's Own System--The Two Ages
    The Dividing Line--The General Judgment
    The Coming of the Kingdom--The Eschatological Kingdom

    The Bible's Own System

    There is no more basic or formative issue for our understanding of the structure of biblical eschatology and, indeed, of much else in biblical doctrine than the teaching of the Bible with regard to what I have called the two ages. In this and the following two chapters this formative issue will be examined under three headings:

    The Biblical Terminology of the Two Ages
    The Basic Scheme of the Two Ages
    The Modified Scheme of the Two Ages

    The Biblical Terminology of the Two Ages

    The Greek word for age (aion) refers not only to time, but also to space. It includes in itself both a temporal and a spatial dimension. Interpreters mingle these two meanings in their definitions. It is "a vast period of time marked by what transpires in it" or "the world in motion." The New Testament uses of this word confirm that it combines in itself the ideas of world and age. Perhaps the best way to convey its meaning would be by the hyphenated word, world-age. This can be seen in Gal. 1:4 which speaks of 'this present evil age'. Since it is not an evil age in heaven, the term, age, must refer to an age in this world's history. Similarly, in Luke 20:35 Jesus speaks of those 'who are considered worthy to attain to that age'. Again, the time reference of the word cannot be doubted, but the space dimension of this word is clearly assumed. The wicked do not cease to exist in the coming age. Rather, they do not inhabit the world in the coming age. The key terminology contrasts this world-age with the world-age to come.


    The use of this unique word to refer to both the present and the future life makes an important fact clear. The Bible views future, eternal existence as endless existence in space and time. To put it differently, the Bible views eternity as the age to come, unending time. As creatures we will always live in space and time. Only God transcends these categories both now and forever. George Eldon Ladd has properly remarked:

    In biblical thought eternity is unending time. In Hellenism men longed for release from the cycle of time in a timeless world beyond, but in biblical thought time is the sphere of human existence both now and in the future. The impression given by the AV at Revelation 10:6, 'that there should be time no longer,' is corrected in the RSV, 'there should be no more delay.'2

    Ladd is correct to say that the biblical idea of eternity for human beings is unending time. He is also right about Revelation 10:6. The word for time used there can mean a moment of time, occasion, or delay. In most modern versions of the Bible (including the New Kings James Version) the word is translated delay and not time.

    This point exposes a flaw in many studies of eschatology. Many prophetic interpreters assume that if biblical prophecy predicts that an event will happen in space and in time that this means it must occur before the eternal state. They think that if the Bible predicts that something is to happen in history and on earth that it must happen before (what we call) the end of the world. A close reading of many prophetic manuals will reveal this flawed premise.3 The Bible does not, however, share this faulty assumption. It views the eternal state as the world-age to come. Events predicted to happen in time and in space (in history and on earth) may be fulfilled in the unending or eternal world-age to come. One of the major themes of biblical prophecy is the glory of the world-age to come. The content of biblical prophecy is far from being fulfilled at the consummation of this world-age.

    To give proper weight to the importance of the phraseology, this age and the age to come, it is important to overview the places where it occurs in the New Testament. Those uses will in various ways point us to closely related terminology that will further tend to vindicate the fact that the ideas embodied in this terminology are at the core of biblical teaching.

    There are 18 places in the New Testament where this terminology or a distinctive part of it are used:

    Matt. 12:32: "And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come." This age and the age to come exhaust all time. Note how the parallel passage in Mark 3:29 confirms this: "but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin".

    Mark 10:30: "but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life." This passage teaches that along with the blessings of being part of the Christian community persecutions will also be the lot of Christ's disciples in this age.

    Luke 16:8: "And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light." The sons of this age are contrasted with the sons of light. This suggests that the age to come is the age of light. It also suggests that the sons of this age are children of light.

    Luke 18:30: "who shall not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life." A synonym for this age is this time.

    Luke 20:34-36: "And Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; 36 for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection." The significant contrasts between this age and that age must later be examined in detail.

    Rom. 12:2: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." Here the duty of being transformed by the renewing of our minds is described negatively in the exhortation, "Do not be conformed to this age." It is the word, age (aion), in the original. The ethical contrast between the two ages is suggested by this exhortation.

    1 Cor. 1:20: "Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" The debater of this age is the advocate of the wisdom of this world.

    1 Cor. 2:6, 8: "Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away....the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;" Note the three uses of "this age" in this passage to refer once again to this world's wisdom and twice to its rulers. Both are devoid of the wisdom of God.

    1 Cor 3:18: "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise." Parallel to the previous passages in 1 Corinthians, this passage speaks of the man "who thinks that he is wise in this age".

    2 Cor. 4:4: "in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." The god of this age is Satan! The darkness of this age is contrasted with the light of the age to come, the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

    Gal. 1:4: "who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father," Deliverance from "this present evil age" is the fruit of the death of Christ for our sins.

    Eph. 1:21: "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come." Christ is king already and will be forever: "not only in this age, but also in the one to come."

    Eph. 2:2: "in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." "Walking according to the age of this world" is descriptive of the way of life dominated by "the prince of the power of the air" and "the lusts of our flesh" and characteristic of "the children of wrath".

    1 Tim. 6:17-19: "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed." Here we have the contrast between the riches and life of "the present (now) age (and) .... the one coming. (Life in the one coming is) life indeed."

    Titus 2:12: "instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age..." The present (now) age is to be lived in with an eye to the blessed hope of Christ's glorious appearing mentioned in verse 13. This blessed hope climaxes this age. Nevertheless, verse 11 teaches that the grace of God that brings salvation to all men has also already appeared in this age.

    Heb. 6:5: "and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come..." The powers of the age to come are already operative in the world. This is in all likelihood a reference to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit of which the apostates were 'made partakers' at the time of their conversion. These supernatural powers or miracles are a projection of the supernatural future age into the present age.

    Terminology in the New Testament closely related to the two-age phraseology is revealed by the foregoing overview. John in all of his New Testament writings never uses age (aion) in the way described above. World (cosmos) is used instead. While this world is a synonym for this age, world (cosmos) is never used of the age to come by John. The reason is probably that the term, world, conveyed an evil connotation for him (John 12:25, 31 and 16:11). This time is a synonym for this age (Mark 10:30; Rom. 8:18). This time in Romans 8:18 is contrasted with the glory that is to be revealed. The world (economy) to come is also parallel in Hebrews 2:5: "For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking." The reign of Christ is already inaugurated, but not yet consummated in Heb. 2:8-10. The phrase, consummation of the age, is parallel (Matt. 13:22, 39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20). There are textual variants in Matt. 13:22, 40 which read "the consummation of this age", rather than "the consummation of the age". This and concepts in Matthew 13 parallel to Luke 20:34-36 (see the next chapter) confirm that this terminology is also parallel. Both this age and the age to come are composed of many lesser ages which are not to be confused with the two ages. The many ages which compose this age are mentioned in 1 Cor. 10:11 and Heb. 9:26; and the many ages which compose the age to come are mentioned in Eph. 2:7. The exact identity and boundaries of these lesser ages remain undefined in these passages and does not appear to be of importance in biblical teaching.


    Three practical conclusions are warranted by this survey of the two-age terminology in the New Testament.

    First, this survey of the two-age terminology and related terminology plainly manifests how this terminology permeates the New Testament. The explicit phraseology is frequent and extends through most of the major writers of the New Testament. The closely related terminology supplements this terminology in the other writers of the New Testament. In this terminology, therefore, we have a truly foundational aspect of New Testament teaching. Here we touch the beating heart of the biblical scheme of redemptive history and eschatology.
    Second, the passages surveyed above are not normally thought of as prophetic passages. They are, however, some of the plainest and most literal passages in the New Testament. It is clear, then, that it is not necessary to unlock the mysteries of Daniel and Revelation to obtain a basic grasp of the biblical doctrine of last things. The clear, literal, and general passages here overviewed will provide us with the basic floor-plan of eschatology.

    Third, this language of the two ages (so crucial to biblical prophecy) permeates the teaching of the New Testament about almost everything. This is why a study of eschatology is so important. It helps us to understand more clearly the teaching of the Bible about many other things.

    Will Christ come before the final tribulation? {Arguments Against Pretibulationism}

    Suppose you suddenly had no Bible and had to judge what the teachings of the Bible were from the shelves of Christian bookstores. From the many shelves of books containing manuals on the Pretribulation rapture and from the many popular novels sensationalizing this theory (with titles like Left Behind!), you would conclude that prominent among the teachings of the Bible was the Pretribulation rapture. You would certainly be surprised when-upon recovering your Bible-you searched and discovered that there was not one text supporting the Pretribulation rapture theory in all the Bible! You would be even more surprised to find many texts that seemed to strongly contradict it.

    Pretribulationism, or the secret rapture theory, is the teaching that Christ will come for the church before the Great Tribulation at the end of the age. It is a distinctive feature of Dispensationalism. The teaching that Christ will come both before (secretly) and after (gloriously) a future tribulation (whatever terminology may be used for these two comings)4 is justified by and based upon the church/Israel distinction of Dispensationalism. As we will see, only the strict separation of the church and Israel assumed by Dispensationalism can justify and ground this theory.

    There are many reasons why a study of Pretribulationism is both necessary and important. First, the dogmatism with which this theory is believed and the divisive consequences of this dogmatism demand it. Its wide-spread incorporation into statements of doctrine in Fundamental and Evangelical churches excludes believers who reject this theory from membership or leadership in such churches. Second, since it is so widely believed, most pastors will almost certainly be confronted with the necessity of publicly or privately refuting it and defending their rejection of it. Third, and as we shall see, in a very real sense it is the source of many of the practical, destructive tendencies of the modern, popular eschatology. Finally, Pretribulationism must be examined because of its theological interest. It is the outgrowth and result of the view of the imminence of Christ's return at work in the resurgent Premillennialism of the 19th Century. Here the observation of Sandeen is helpful:

    But perhaps more important was the continually reiterated argument of the pretribulationists that the hope of Christ's return had to be an imminent hope or it was not hope at all. If one believes that a period of tribulation must first take place before the coming of Christ, they said, then he cannot look forward to the second advent but must wait only for greater suffering. Regardless of the question of scriptural justification for one point of view over the other, the pretribulationist position was certainly more likely to appeal to that portion of American Christendom which was attracted by the millenarian message.5

    Though Pretribulationism is justified by means of the Dispensational church/Israel distinction, in all likelihood the doctrinal force which created this view was what Sandeen calls above "the imminent hope" of the 19th century Premillennialists.

    We will follow a straightforward procedure. In this chapter we will present Arguments Against Pretribulationism. In the next chapter we will consider Arguments for Pretribulationism.

    Arguments against Pretribulationism Presented

    The Unity of the Church and Israel

    In an earlier chapter the forceful, biblical reasons for rejecting the church/Israel distinction of Dispensationalism were examined. Not withstanding the clear element of superiority in the church, the fundamental principle of the unity and continuity of the church and Israel was clearly established. We saw beyond any doubt that the church is the new and true Israel of God. If the church is the new Israel, this completely undermines Pretribulationism. This is so for three reasons.

    First, it destroys the foundation of Pretribulationism, the alternate dealings of God with the church and Israel. The stiff division of time between the Church Age and the Great Tribulation can only be maintained in conjunction with a stiff division between the church and Israel. But such a division between the church and Israel is not taught in the Bible. Here is a simple presentation of the Dispensational understanding of the alternate dealings of God with the church and Israel.

    This Dispensational structure of the alternate dealings of God with Israel and the church is annihilated if the Bible teaches that the church is the continuation of Israel, or, in other words, the new Israel of God.

    Second, if the Bible teaches the unity of the church and Israel, the whole rationale for the secret rapture theory is destroyed. One of the main props of Pretribulationism is the argument that the church will be taken out of the world before the Great Tribulation. This temporal deliverance is the practical rationale for the Pretribulation theory. It would be a mistake to assume, however, that this implies that no true saints will be on earth during the seven year tribulation. As a matter of fact, Pretribulationists hold that many people will be saved during the Great Tribulation. Unless, however, you believe in the strict church/Israel distinction, such saints belong to the church. If they belong to the church, then this destroys the whole practical rationale for a Pretribulational rapture-the deliverance of the church from the Tribulation! Without the Dispensational church/Israel separation, the whole point of the Pretribulation rapture is nullified.

    Third, the unity of the church and Israel destroys the only hermeneutical defense of Pretribulationism. In other words, only the sharp division of the church and Israel allow Pretribulationists to explain many passages of Scripture in a way consistent with their theory.

    Luke 17:22-37 plainly speaks of the Second Coming of Christ and may be used to illustrate this assertion. This passage obviously does not have in view a Pretribulational rapture. The coming is universally visible (vvs. 23, 24). It brings immediate destruction to the wicked (vvs. 28-30). It is the coming that concerns Christ's disciples (v. 22, cf. vvs. 31-35).

    Pretribulationists realize all this. Thus, they explain that Christ wasn't speaking to His disciples as representatives of the church, but as representatives of the saved Jewish remnant of Israel. (Pretribulational exegesis usually regards the disciples of Christ in the Gospels as representative of Israel and not the church.) Many obvious objections may occur to the reader with reference to this explanation. One point, however, is unavoidable. If no separation between the church and Israel exists, the only possible explanation of the passage from a Pretribulational standpoint is destroyed.

    The Obvious Relation Between the Coming, Rapture, and Tribulation in Those Passages Where They Are Explicitly Related

    Now I must explain that this argument is to some degree ad hominem. What I mean is that I do not accept the identification of the tribulation in a couple of these passages with the "little season" (Rev. 20:3) or final tribulation at the end of the age. Nonetheless most, if not all, Pretribulationists would, and therefore the argument holds against them.

    If the Pretribulationists are correct, we would expect that we would find passages in the Bible where the Pretribulational order of events is clear. This order would be the coming of Christ and rapture of the saints6 first and then the final tribulation. Interestingly, we find no passages where such an order is presented. Rather, we find several passages where the opposite order is clear.

    Matthew 24:29-31 is a good example of this problem. Pretribulationists identify the tribulation of Matthew 24:14-28 as what they call the Great Tribulation. This presents a problem for them because there is no mention of a coming or rapture prior to this tribulation. The order of the passage is clear. There is the tribulation and after that in verses 29-31 there is the gathering of the saints at the coming of Christ.

    The entire book of Revelation, chapters 1 through 22, presents a similar difficulty for Pretribulationists. The typical Dispensational and Pretribulational understanding of Revelation is as follows:

    Chapters 1-3

    Chapters 4-18

    Chapter 19

    Chapter 20

    Chapters 21-22

    Church Age


    2nd Advent


    Eternal State

    Again assuming for the sake of argument that this presentation is correct, the clear order is the Church Age (with no mention of a Pretribulational rapture); the Tribulation, the Second Advent (issuing in the first resurrection). Again the order is not at all Pretribulational.7

    It is evident that 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 creates the most intense difficulty for the Pretribulational rapture theory. I accept the identification of the events of this chapter with the final tribulation or little season at the end of the age. Again, however, the order is explicit. Tribulation (the apostasy and the revealing of the man of lawlessness), occurs first. Following that there is the rapture (the coming of Christ and the gathering of the saints to Him).8 ; this is clearly the meaning of verses 1 through 3 in particular.

    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 may 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,

    Certainly these passages, the only ones in the New Testament where coming and rapture and tribulation are explicitly related would seem to leave little doubt on this issue. At the very least, they create an immense presumption in favor of Posttribulationism, the view that Christ's coming and the rapture of the saints occurs after the final tribulation.

    Paul's Systematic Teaching on the Subject to the Thessalonians

    The clear teaching of 1 and 2 Thessalonians together provide us with extensive teaching on the return of Christ. This teaching is, however, plainly and pointedly at odds with the Pretribulational theory.

    We will consider Paul's teaching in these two epistles at some length. There are a number of good reasons to lay this sort of emphasis on it. First, even the most extreme Dispensationalists accept 1 and 2 Thessalonians as authoritative for the church. Second, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is supposed by Pretribulationists to be the classic passage on the rapture. Third, 1 and 2 Thessalonians contain the most detailed, systematic, and continuous presentation of Paul's teaching on the subject. Granted, much of significance is conveyed elsewhere. 1 Corinthians 15 is especially rich in this subject. Yet 1 and 2 Thessalonians taken together as Paul's doctrinal instruction to a single church is of unparalleled importance and clarity. The teaching of Paul on this subject to the Thessalonians ought to be understood as a whole, and when it is, tremendously clarifies our subject. In examining this teaching we will take up in order the three major passages where it occurs.

    The first of these passages, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, may be examined by means of the discussion of five exegetical issues.

    The first of these issues may be called the problem of the Thessalonians. The theme of this passage in general is clearly to comfort and encourage the Thessalonian believers concerning believing loved ones who had died. This is the theme with which it begins and with which it concludes (4:13, 18; 5:11). This raises the question: What precisely was the doctrinal problem that resulted in their `grieving like the rest who had no hope'? In answering this question, we must be careful not to twist the clear aspects of the passage to fit a speculative answer about the exact problem Paul now addresses.9

    Nevertheless, if a clear picture of the misunderstanding that troubled the Thessalonians can be formed, it will certainly assist our understanding of the passage. Is it possible to form such a picture? If we examine carefully Paul's first and last statements in the passage, such a clear picture does emerge. According to verse 13, the problem centered on the condition of those believers who die before Christ's return. Paul's first words in verse 14 are to the effect that such will be brought with Christ, i.e., brought again from the dead at Christ's coming because of their union with Christ. Paul proceeds to assure the Thessalonians that so far from their death being a cause of grief, it is, if anything, a promotion (vvs. 15, 16). After digressing in the early verses of chapter 5, Paul returns to the opening theme of the passage in verse 10, where he repeats his assurance that whether we are awake or asleep at Christ's return resurrection-life with Christ will be ours. All this suggests that some doubt was entertained by the Thessalonians about the very resurrection of dead believers.

    It has seemed unlikely to some that the Thessalonian problem could center on the resurrection of believers. They reason, Surely such a fundamental doctrine could not have been doubted. There are, however, reasons to reject this reasoning and adopt the more natural understanding of Paul's terminology. (1) Paul's teaching at Thessalonica, though effective, was brief and violently interrupted (Acts 17:1ff.). (2) Any but the most clear teaching on this issue would be subject to misinterpretation or doubt because of the intellectual hostility of the Greek world to the idea of bodily resurrection (Acts 17:32). (3) As a matter of fact, Paul's word in 1 Thess. 4:13 rules out any minimizing of the problem. He says explicitly, "we do not want you to be uninformed that you may not grieve as do the rest who have no hope." This statement is unambiguous. In solving the Thessalonians' problem and supplying their lack of information, Paul makes clear that, while the coming (parousia) of Christ, the resurrection of dead Christians and the rapture of living believers occur in a definite order, they also occur in immediate succession.

    The second of these issues may be called the sounds of the descent. Every Pretribulationist believes, and must believe, that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 speaks of the Pretribulational rapture of the church. This rapture, so they say, is secret. If this is so, Paul certainly gives a misleading presentation of the subject in verse 16. The shout of the Lord, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God seem more calculated to wake the dead than to encourage secrecy. Furthermore, when one examines the biblical backgrounds of these matters, more evidence for a posttribulational viewpoint accumulates. Gundry supplies this background:

    Posttribulationism gains nevertheless, in the parallel between the "great (i.e. loud) trump," in which the emphasis lies on the publicity of the posttribulation advent (Matt. 24:27-31), and the "voice" and the "trump" in 1 Thess. 4:16. And there is good reason to connect the "voice of the archangel" (presumably Michael, the only archangel named in the Bible) with the resurrection of Old Testament saints. Michael is specially associated with Israel in Dan. 10:21 and 12:1, 2, in the latter reference in close juxta-position with the resurrection. If the resurrection and translation of the Church will occur simultaneously with the resurrection of Old Testament saints as indicated by the "voice of the archangel," the rapture will occur after the tribulation, for the resurrection of Old Testament saints will not occur till then (Isa. 25:8; 26:19; Dan. 12:1-3, 13).10

    The third issue may be called the meeting in the air. Verse 17 contains Paul's famous assertion that believers will meet the Lord in the air. Pretribulationists assume that statement implies that after this meeting, Christ and the church return together to heaven. Actually, this is neither stated, nor implied. In fact the word in the original (apantesis) implies exactly the opposite. F. F. Bruce says:

    When a dignitary paid an official visit or parousia to a city in Hellenistic times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escorting him on the final stage of his journey was called the apantesis....11

    Gundry aptly comments on the implication of this word: "This connotation points toward our rising to meet Christ in order to escort Him immediately back to earth."12 This meaning of meeting (apantesis) is confirmed by its two other uses in the New Testament. Matt. 25:6 speaks of the ten virgins who were waiting to go out and meet the bridegroom and then return with him to the wedding feast. Even more clearly Acts 28:15 speaks of how the brethren came out to meet Paul and accompanied him on the final leg of his journey to Rome. If this is the meaning and implication of the word, then it is utterly inconsistent with the Pretribulational theory.

    The fourth issue may be described as the connection with chapter 5. I refer, of course, to the close connection between the teaching of 4:13-18 and that of 5:1-11. The uninspired chapter division has created the impression for some that 5:1f. takes up a different subject than 4:13-18. This idea has been defended by some and (as will become clear) is necessary to a Pretribulational interpretation of 4:13-18. Such an interpretation cannot, however, be defended for several reasons.

    (1) The articles in 5:1 prevent this division and tie 5:1ff. to the foregoing. Paul refers to "the times and the epochs." The articles obviously indicate that Paul is continuing to speak of Christ's parousia. It is the times and the epochs of the events just being discussed to which Paul refers. The article is clearly used here as Dana and Mantey say, "to denote previous reference".13

    (2) The typical division between 4:13-18 and 5:1ff. is to the effect that the first passage deals with parousia and the second with the Day of the Lord. The implication is that these are distinguishable events. The day of the Lord, however, designates precisely that event described in 4:13-18. Note that the fivefold use of Lord in 4:13-18 leads up to and anticipates the phrase, the day of the Lord in 5:2.

    (3) The supposed implication of this distinction between the parousia and the Day of the Lord is that the church does not have to do with the Day of the Lord because the Pretribulational rapture removes the church from the world before the day of the Lord. This, however, is not the teaching of 5:4-6. Paul's language is careful, "you brethren, are not in darkness that the day should overtake you like a thief." The warning of verse 6 to be alert and sober implies that believers must await with expectation the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord comes like a thief to both believers and unbelievers, but it does not overtake believers like a thief. The result is that one must identify the Day of the Lord with the parousia of 4:13-18. This, however, is devastating for Pretribulationism. It is to say that the same parousia which brings resurrection and rapture to the church brings "sudden destruction" (v. 3) to the wicked and overtakes the wicked like a thief in the night (v. 2).

    The fifth and final issue may be called the timing of the Day. Paul comments in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 that the Thessalonians do not stand in need of written instruction concerning the timing of the parousia. No doubt, this was because of the previous oral instruction he had given them during the time of his ministry in Thessalonica. Thankfully, Paul does not leave us in doubt about what he had taught them during that time. He elaborates what it is that they know already in verses 2-4. These verses tell us two bits of information concerning the timing of the Day of the Lord.

    (1) Verses 2 and 3 indicate that the day will be wholly unexpected by the wicked and will catch them in a state of carnal security. The analogy of a thief in the night indicates this. It occurs in a similar context in Matthew 24:36-44 (note esp. vvs. 37-39). 1 Thessalonians 5:3 conveys a similar impression. Note that they are saying (not crying out for) peace and safety. (cf. Jer. 6:14 and 8:11.) In other words, verse 3 does not speak of people crying out in fear and terror for peace and safety. It rather speaks of carnal people congratulating themselves on the peace and safety of their condition.

    (2) Verse 4 indicates that the church will be alert and ready for the day of the Lord. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief. Thus, they will not find the day to be like a thief to them (Matt. 24:42-44).

    The second of the major passages that make up Paul's systematic teaching on the Second Coming to the Thessalonians is 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10. This passage is often overlooked on the question of Pretribulationism. In the context of verse 4, Paul is commending the Thessalonians for their faith in the midst of persecution. Verse 5 adds Paul's encouragement that such sufferings are a mark of their future inheritance of glory. Verses 6 and 7a then proceed to describe in what the righteous judgment of God mentioned in verse 5 will consist. It will consist in God's repaying with affliction those who afflict the Thessalonian believers (v. 6). It will also consist in God's giving relief to His afflicted people including the Thessalonians as well as Paul and his helpers (1 Thess. 1:1).

    The crucial point is reached in verse 7b where Paul tells us explicitly when all this will happen. It will be "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire." Paul's plain meaning is that the event that brings relief to God's afflicted church is the revelation of Jesus Christ bringing immediate destruction to the wicked. There is no conceivable way this can be squared with Pretribulationism. (1) Most Pretribulationism acknowledges Christ's "revelation" to be Posttribulational (for the obvious reason that a revelation can scarcely be a "secret rapture"). (2) Christ's revelation means immediate and eternal destruction for those afflicting Christ's people (v. 8ff.). (3) Christ's revelation brings relief from affliction to the church (vvs. 6, 7, 10). Thus, the church is still on earth and still being afflicted up to the point of Christ's revelation. Every escape route for Pretribulationism is cut off.

    2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is the last of the three major passages that constitute Paul's systematic teaching to the Thessalonians. Paul states the general subject of this passage in verse 1 in the words: "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him." The parousia of Christ and the gathering of Christians to Christ are here viewed as one event occurring at one time. Four considerations demand this. (1) In 1 Thess. 4:13-18 Paul has taught in the most explicit terms possible that the parousia of Christ and the rapture and resurrection of Christians occur in immediate succession and are certainly not divisible by seven years of time. The word for coming used here in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 is parousia. (2) A single article introduces and connects the coming and gathering. The single article "means that the two things are closely connected.... two parts of one great event".14 (3) Unless the gathering is identified with the parousia, Paul does not discuss or mention the gathering again in the passage. Paul, however, tells us that he intends to discuss this very subject in verse 1. This again points toward the two being viewed as a single occurrence. (4) The order is significant: parousia, then gathering. This is the order of 1 Thess. 4:13-18.

    The idea that the parousia occurs after, but the gathering before the tribulation is contradicted by this. The point of all this for the subject under discussion is clear. In this passage the one, inseparable event of parousia and gathering is clearly placed after the great apostasy (v. 3) and the appearance of the Antichrist (v. 8), events that Pretribulationists believe occur during the final tribulation.

    The precise occasion of this instruction is mentioned in verse 2. The words of this chapter were penned to counter aberrations that were beginning to trouble the church at Thessalonica. There was a practical aberration related to a doctrinal aberration. The practical aberration is identified in the words, "that you may not be shaken from your composure or disturbed." The problem seems to have been an inordinate excitement leading to the undisciplined life rebuked in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12.

    The related doctrinal aberration becomes clear in verse 2 also. The source of this doctrinal problem was the rumor that Paul had taught or was now teaching, "that the Day of the Lord has come". Much discussion has been devoted to the precise meaning of the verb, has come, in this verse. Does it mean "is at hand" or "has come"? The meaning is clearly the latter. (1) It is in the perfect tense. This demands the understanding that the action of the verb has happened in the past even though it has standing results in the present. (2) In its other occurrences in the New Testament it always designates something already present and is often contrasted with things about to come. Note the contrast in 1 Cor. 3:22 and Rom. 8:38. (3) Paul could not be refuting the notion that the day was at hand, because this would have contradicted his own teaching that the day was at hand (Phil. 4:5; Rom. 13:11, 12).

    This interpretation, however, raises a problem. How could the Thessalonians have taught or believed that the day had come in the absence of the things Paul had taught them were to be associated with it from 1 Thessalonians 5:1?

    The false teaching must have been that the parousia or the Day of the Lord was certain to occur in the immediate future. It had come in the sense of being certainly in the immediate future. The false teachers affirmed that it would only be a few more days, weeks, or months at most. This understanding makes sense of the reaction of some in Thessalonica who apparently gave up their normal employment in wild anticipation of the parousia (2 Thess. 2:2 with 3:6-14). It avoids making the day of the Lord encompass preceding events in a way that contradicts 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and 3. It also distinguishes the Thessalonian error from Paul's own teaching that the day of the Lord was near (Romans 13:11 and 12).

    Tragically, there are modern counterparts to the Thessalonian fanatics. Those who affirm that Christ's coming will take place at a specific date in the near future certainly commit the same doctrinal blunder and promote the same practical error. Any emphasis on a "soon" coming which could be "any moment" approaches the error of the Thessalonians and also tends toward the practical error of the Thessalonians.

    Paul next gives some very clear teaching calculated to correct these aberrations in the Thessalonian church. Verse 3 declares: (It will not come) unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness be revealed. Paul here refutes the fanatics, by clearly asserting that the Day of the Lord could not be in the immediate future because two events must first occur. Several observations are warranted.

    (1) The doctrine that imminence means any moment-ness is clearly refuted by Paul's words. Paul did not believe either that no prophesied event remained before the parousia or that it could be at any moment. In fact he exposes such teaching as in seed form the Thessalonian error.

    (2) Paul clearly assumes that "the apostasy and the revelation of the man of sin" would be clearly observable and identifiable events to the generation of Christians living when they occur. This militates against identifying these events with any that have occurred so far in church history! No event has given rise to such a consensus.

    (3) The presumption is that the events described in verse 3 occur shortly before the parousia. Once they do occur, Paul implies, and only then, will the statement that the Day of the Lord has come be appropriate. The fact that the man of lawlessness is destroyed by the parousia is a further indication of this (v. 8).

    Though the teaching of this passage plainly refutes Pretribulationism, interpretations have been advanced in an attempt to blunt its force. These must now be addressed.

    Some Pretribulationists have identified "the apostasy" of verse 3 with the rapture. English, Wuest, and others have attributed the meaning departure to apostasy (apostasia) deriving that meaning from the cognate verb meaning literally to stand from and sometimes depart (aphistemi). This interpretation would neatly insert a reference to the Pretribulational rapture into this chapter.15

    There is no example in the entirety of the Koine Greek writings (including, of course, the 40 occurrences in the Septuagint and the one occurrence in the New Testament) of this word designating anything other than political revolt or religious apostasy. As Gundry comments, "It is unthinkable that Paul would use for the rapture a word the connotation of which overwhelmingly has to do with civil and religious defection".16

    Other Pretribulationists have identified the "restrainer" (vvs. 6 and 7) with the Holy Spirit in the church.17 This allows them to assert that, when the Holy Spirit is taken out of the way, the church whom He indwells is also taken out of the world. In this way they find a Pretribulational rapture in this passage. Several comments show the unsatisfactory character of this view: (1) Any identification of the restrainer must be established on the strongest exegetical grounds, since Paul himself did not explicitly identify the restrainer. (2) Even the identification of the restrainer with the Holy Spirit does not entail the idea that it is the Holy Spirit in the church and removed in the rapture that is the Restrainer. (3) A more likely identification of the restrainer and the restraint is that of an angel and his angelic power. Nothing can be urged against such identification. Angels are viewed as in conflict with the powers of darkness in closely parallel passages (Dan. 10:10-13; Rev. 20:1ff.; 13:7ff.). Since the mystery of iniquity is the product of (fallen) angelic operation, one might expect for reasons of parity or analogy that its restraint would be angelic. (4) Unanswerable objections can be raised against the restrainer being the Holy Spirit in the church.18 For instance, the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the accomplishment of the work of Christ. Such a withdrawal of the Spirit amounts to a reversal of an infallible result of Christ's death-the outpouring of the Spirit.

    Agree? Disagree? Find out more from the book The End Times Made Simple

    11See, for instance, Keith Mathison's fine summary in Postmillennialism, An Eschatology of Hope, (Presbyterian and Reformed, Phillipsburg, 1999), pp. 245-248.
    2George Eldon Ladd, The Theology of the New Testament, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1974), p. 47.
    3This flawed premise permeates the prophetic interpretation of Keith Mathison in his Postmillennialism, An Eschatology of Hope. See pp. 84-93 and 107. This defective view may also be illustrated from the pages of J. Stuart Russell's The Parousia, (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1985), pp. 527, 549, 550.

    4Many different distinguishing phrases have been used to make this distinction. The "two" comings have been distinguished by means of the phrase, "the rapture and the revelation." They have also been contrasted with the phrase "Christ's coming for His saints and coming with His saints."
    5Ernest Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism, pp. 220, 221.
    6I am using the term, rapture, in this context to refer to the translation of the living saints without death into their glorified bodies. Many, I understand, use the term, rapture, to refer to the secret rapture. This is not my meaning here. Nor is it the necessary reference of the term.
    7Some Pretribulationists have recognized this difficulty. They have, therefore, sought in some figurative, typical, or spiritual fashion to identify the reference to the door standing open in heaven and the call to John in Revelation 4:1 to come up here as the secret rapture. This is desperate exegesis indeed!

    8A more lengthy treatment of this passage is given later in this chapter.
    9Robert H. Gundry, The Church and The Tribulation, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1973), p. 100.
    10Gundry, The Church and The Tribulation, p. 104.
    11Gundry, The Church and The Tribulation, p. 104.
    13Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (Macmillan, New York, 1967), p. 141 and p. 137.
    14Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1959), p. 214.
    15Gundry's thorough destruction of this thesis should be consulted. Gundry, The Church and The Tribulation, pp. 114-118.
    16Gundry, Ibid., p. 117.
    17Gundry, Ibid., p. 125.
    18Gundry, Ibid., p. 126ff.

    Posted by John on June 23, 2006 01:19 PM


    Very interesting. I began to distrust disspensational eschatology when looking at 2 Thessalonians and thinking how it could it mean pre-trib rapture.

    Very interesting book, it seems. I will have to look into it.

    Once again, interesting eschatology post.

    Facinating. And organic unfolding of God's redemptive work in history. Not replacement of Israel, but expansion of Israel. The church does not replace Israel in this scheme, but expands upon it organically. Israel is also part of the body of Christ, saved by grace, just like the church, not two separate bodies. Christ has only one spouse. This book seems to take this perspective and it is appreciated.

    Wow, excellent stuff here! I ran into an article on Google that features recently found facts on the short (since 1830) but long hidden history of dispensationalism including the pretrib rapture. It is titled "Pretrib Rapture Diehards" (and you can't believe how much dishonesty can be packed into that latter-day view!). A couple other fascinating items: "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)" and "Famous Rapture Watchers" (showing, among other things, how Rev. 3:10 was interpreted prior to 1830). Can you see a rapture rupture or eschatological earthquake building up? Jon

    Thank you for this post. I will buy and read this book.

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