In our opinion, one of the most controversial passages in the New Testament debated by adherents of the Post, Mid and Pre-Trib Rapture teachings would have to be II Thessalonians 2:1-8.
The questions and opinions held to by the diverse points of view comes down basically to 3 subjects: the timing and the meaning of the events recorded by the Apostle Paul in verses 1-3 and who is the "Restrainer" of the man of sin in verses 6-7.
Quoting verses 1-2 we read, "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 though the day of Christ had come."
It is generally agreed upon that in verse 2 Paul was assuring the Thessalonians that they were not entering into the day of the Lord's judgment. Fraudulent messages and distressing circumstances surrounding them made them fearful that they were experiencing the time of God's judgment.
It is also largely agreed that Paul is speaking of the time of the Rapture in verse 1 as is described in John 14:1-3 and I Thess. 4:15-18.
Verse 2 begins the debate. Pre-Trib supporters say that while verse 1 unquestionably speaks of the Rapture (which they believe transpires before the Tribulation Period), verse 2 refers to the day of Christ's judgement which begins at the start of the Tribulation when the Lord Jesus opens the first seal of judgment in Revelation 6:1.
It is important to understand that refuters of this interpretation maintain Paul is still speaking about the Rapture in both verse 1 and verse 2.
The pivotal question put forth by the Pre-Trib position concerns the clear reference to the Rapture in verse 1. It is rightly asked, "Why did Paul reassure the Thessalonians in his letter that they had not missed the Rapture?"
The point veiled behind this question is commanding and demands a reflective answer. If Paul had taught the Thessalonians a Mid or Post-Trib Rapture then they would not have had any reason to be confused about having entered the Tribulation. It is logical to deduce by Paul's assurance to them concerning the Rapture that the Thessalonians had been taught a Pre-Trib Rapture.
The Apostle Paul had been their teacher according to verse 5. If Paul wanted to remedy an incorrect Pre-Trib Rapture outlook then verses 1 & 2 would have been transposed in his letter to them. He would have encouraged them to prepare for the judgment day of Christ first and then the gathering together at the Rapture instead of vice-versa.
If the Rapture was something which they did not believe they may have missed, why then we must ask, was it addressed as their primary concern in verse 1? If verse 2 is still speaking of the Rapture as Pre-Trib opponents contend, then we must accept that the Apostle Paul had no intention of relieving their distress, but instead for some unfathomable reason intended to add even more. Paul would have in essence replaced their hope of deliverance by the Rapture with the terror of someday facing the Great Tribulation.
In contrast, Pre-Trib adherents accept that the obvious purpose of these words penned by Paul is to relieve the anxiety of the Thessalonians by assuring them they had not entered into the Tribulation Period of verse 2 and therefore had not missed the Rapture spoken of in verse 1.
Continuing on to verse 3 in our study of Ch. 2 of II Thessalonians, we must point out that the words, "that day will not come" are not in the original Greek, but are added in by translators to help understand the passage connection to the previous subject.
Quoting verse 3 we read, "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." The focus is on the day of Christ's judgement.
While studying verse 3 it is helpful to keep the different view points in mind.
The various views of Mid-Tribulationists teach that the Rapture could happen at any time between the start and the conclusion of the 7 year Tribulation Period. Generally we can say that the dominant Mid-Trib position holds that verse 3 is speaking of both the Rapture of verse 1 and the day of Christ in verse 2, and that they are occurring in close proximity at selected points during the Tribulation Period.
Post-Tribulationists who believe that the Rapture takes place during Armageddon are compelled to teach that verse 3 is referring to verse 1 & 2 combined together. They maintain the Rapture will happen at the close of the Tribulation Period as Christ returns.
Returning to verse 3 we find that the Greek word for "falling away" is a matter of considerable debate. Some say this "falling away" is a departure of the Church from the sound doctrines of the Christian faith. Others have said that it must be Israel that is being spoken of. And then there are those who maintain that those being spoken of are neither the Church nor Israel, but false professors of Christianity. Apostates who are exposed after the true Church is removed at the Rapture.
The Greek word for "falling away" is the Greek word "apostasia" where we get our word apostasy from. It is derived from the verb "aphistemi" which means "to do away, depart or remove." Some believe this is a reference to the Rapture.
In verses 18 & 19 in Ch. 2 of II John, the Apostle vividly speaks of the departure of false believers in these last days and gives solid scriptural direction for understanding the "falling away" in our opinion. Verse 3 then reveals to us that the Day of the Lord cannot come until the man of sin (that is the Anti-Christ) is revealed.
Momentarily skipping ahead to verses 6 & 7 it is necessary to point out that these verses speak of a "Restrainer" which must be taken out of the way first before the Anti-Christ can be revealed.
Pre-Trib adherents believe for good reasons that this Restrainer can only be the Church. They also justifiably believe that the Anti-Christ will be revealed at the very start of the Tribulation Period when Christ opens the first seal of the last day's judgments as is prophesied in Revelation 6:1-2. Therefore they come to the sequential conclusion that the Church must be removed before the start of the 7 year Tribulation Period.
Once again the Pre-Trib Rapture supporters main point of argument must be emphasized when realizing that Paul has just informed the Thessalonians in verse 3 that the appointed Restrainer of the most evil ruler of all of history will be removed by the start of the Tribulation Period.
Chapter 1:4-6 of II Thessalonians makes it abundantly clear that the Thessalonians were suffering terrible persecutions and tribulations already and Paul now tells them that evil will soon be unrestrained.
The question must be asked as to exactly what kind of consolation was Paul supposedly giving to the Church in this passage of II Thessalonians?
According to Post and Mid-Trib interpretations, Paul was telling the troubled Thessalonians they should give up their hope of the Lord's appearing for deliverance and that the terrible suffering they were enduring was nothing compared to that which lie in store for when the horrible son of perdition would be revealed.
This is an unacceptable conclusion to Pre-Tribulationists since in verse 2 Paul stressed his desire to offer the Thessalonians the greatest of comfort and deliverance from any doubts.
We now come to verses 6-8 of Ch. 2 of II Thess. Verse 6 is a fascinating, albeit cryptic message. The Thessalonians understood "what" and "who" Paul was speaking of as the 'Restrainer" of the Anti-Christ in verse 7, but we are left to the Lord's leading. Paul writes, "And you know "what" is restraining, that he (the Anti-Christ) 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 taken out of the way."
Theories as to the identity of this "what" and "who" include, world government, the Archangel Michael, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Church.
Pre-Tribulationists are persuaded that the identity of this mysterious entity described both in neutered impersonal and also personal terms could be none other than the Church or the Holy Spirit.
It is soundly argued that only the Church and the Holy Spirit can fulfill the Restrainer's role of being both a neutered impersonal entity and also a singular male individual at the same time.
This matches perfectly the scriptural portrayal of the Spirit-filled Church as it melds into the Body of Christ. All other choices fail to meet the scripturally required personal/impersonal qualifications of the Restrainer. Thus Pre-Tribulationists conclude that the restraining role of the Church must be removed before the Anti-Christ can make his appearance at the start of the Tribulation Period as is revealed in Rev. 6:1-2 & Dan. 9:27.
The suggestion that the Restrainer is solely the Holy Spirit apart from the Church is refuted by the scriptural necessity for Him to remain on the earth throughout the Tribulation Period because it is only through His ministry that people can be led to salvation in Christ (See I Cor. 12:3).
Pre-Trib Rapture believers point out to those who insist otherwise that Ephesians 1:13-14 establishes that even if the Holy Spirit's presence could ever be removed from the earth, the Church would have to go also since the Holy Spirit indwells the Church as a down payment of their inheritance according to the Word of God.
Pre-Tribulationists therefore conclude that Paul was faithful and consistent in his intention to alleviate what was troubling the Church when he wrote to them in Ch. 2 of II Thess. and in his offer of hope to future generations. He first assured them in verses 1 & 2 that they had not misunderstood his original teaching of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture and therefore had not entered into the Tribulation Period as many had come to believe.
In verse 3 he reassures them that the Tribulation Period can not take place until after the falling away and the revealing of the Anti-Christ.
In verses 6-8 Paul concludes his unwavering words of assurance by reemphasizing that an entity is holding back the Anti-Christ from making his appearance (an entity which they will recognize has been removed) and that that entity must be taken out of the way first before the day of the Lord will start. That entity can only be the blood-washed Church of Jesus Christ.
Our purpose in this message is to present the solid ground which supporters of the Pre-Trib Rapture stand upon in their blessed hope. We do not agree with Pre-Tribulationists who take Matthew 24:48-49 out of its context and apply it to Mid and Post Tribulationists.
The evil servant spoken of in this passage of Scripture was not involved in the study of the timing of the Rapture, but was fostering an attitude of complacency in order to cast off restraint. The evil servant's desire was to indulge in his sin unencumbered.
Also we are in disagreement with Post and Mid-Tribulationists who say Pre-Tribulationists are going to cause believers to cast off their faith if they should enter the Tribulation. This accusation goes directly against the Word of God found in I John 2:18-19.
There we are told that deserters from the faith are apostates who are manifested for what they always had been - non-believers. True believers, whether they be Pre, Mid or Post-Tribulationists are abiding in these evil days together no matter what position one holds to on the timing of the Rapture. What happens to one will happen to all.
We are convinced that we are at the threshold of the start of the Tribulation Period and that an exercise in love between the divergent groups at this point would demonstrate a sober wisdom in the Lord.
We believe without a shadow of a doubt that the Pre-Trib Rapture teaching will be proven correct in the very near future.
Are you ready to meet the Lord through Rapture or death? Believe on the Living Lord Jesus Christ this moment for the forgiveness of your sins through His shed blood and this very moment you will receive eternal life.
Soon the trumpet will sound and the dead and living in Christ will shed their fallen natures like polluted garments, never to be put on again. We pray that you all will be ready.