"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..." - 2 Thessalonians 2:3 (NASB)
The Bible never precisely states when the Rapture of the Church will take place. That's why there is so much disagreement over when it will occur. All positions are based on inferences in the Scriptures.
Some believe the Rapture will occur in the middle of the Tribulation. Others place it near the end. And some combine it with the Second Coming. I happen to believe that the best inference of the Scriptures is that it will occur before the Tribulation begins.
I have many reasons for my belief, including scripture verses, prophetic symbolism, and logic. I have written about these reasons in detail in articles that are posted on our website (www.lamblion.com). I hope someday to put all my arguments together in a book devoted to the subject.
With regard to scripture verses, some of the more important ones that relate to the Rapture's timing are the following:
Luke 21:36 — "...keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Jesus spoke these words in His Olivet Discourse which He delivered to His disciples the week He was crucified. They concluded a long speech in which He outlined the major signs of the end times that would signal the season of His return. Notice that He says that believers should live anticipating the Lord's appearance at any time, and that they are to pray for their escape from all the horrors of the end times which He had been talking about. To me, this passage strongly infers a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 — "...you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come."
I consider this passage to be the most convincing one that points to a Pre-Trib Rapture. After all, the Bible clearly teaches in both the Old and New Testaments that the Tribulation will be a period of the pouring out of God's wrath (Isaiah 24 and Revelation 6-19). This verse promises that Jesus will deliver believers "from the wrath that is to come." A similar promise can be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 which states: "For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ..."
Revelation 3:10 — "'Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth."
These are some of the words that Jesus addressed to the church at Philadelphia. They constitute a promise that true believers will be kept from the testing that will one day encompass the entire world. We know from many other scriptures, including Revelation 6-19, that the "hour of testing" will be the Tribulation period of seven years when the wrath of God will be poured out on the earth (Revelation 11:18 and 15:1).
There are many other verses that refer to the Rapture besides these. I have isolated these three passages because they give us clues as to the timing of the Rapture — namely, that it will take place before the Tribulation begins.
Another Pre-Trib Passage?
There is another verse that is often cited as proof that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation begins. It is the one I quoted at the beginning of this article — 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
The reason it is often presented as evidence of a Pre-Trib Rapture is because it states that "the day of the Lord" (The Tribulation and Millennium) will not occur until "the apostasy comes first." How does this relate to the timing of the Rapture? Because the word, "apostasy" can also mean "departure." And thus, this verse could be saying that the departure of the Church must occur before "the man of lawlessness" (the Antichrist) is revealed and the Tribulation begins.
I personally have never thought much of this argument. I am always suspicious of biblical doctrines that are based on alternative translations. People who are straining to prove a doctrinal point, will often look in a Greek or Hebrew lexicon for the definition of a word and then will choose whichever one fits their pre-conceived doctrine. The problem with this approach is that the true meaning of words must always be determined by their context, not by the possible alternative definitions.
A New Insight
But recently, my thinking about 2 Thessalonians 2:3 has changed — all because of an outstanding presentation on the subject that I heard Tommy Ice make at a conference where the two of us were speaking.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Tommy Ice, he is a biblical scholar who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary and who serves as the Director of the Pre-Trib Research Center (www.pre-trib.org).
Tommy pointed out that the Greek noun, apostasia, is used only twice in the New Testament. The other occurrence is in Acts 21:21 where it states that an accusation was made against Paul that he was "teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake [apostasia] Moses."
The word is used in verb form a total of 15 times in the New Testament, and only three of these have anything to do with a departure from the faith (Luke 8:13, 1 Timothy 4:1, and Hebrews 3:12). In other settings, the word is used for departing from inquity (2 Timothy 2:19), departing from ungodly men (1 Timothy 6:5), departing from the temple (Luke 2:27), departing from the body (2 Corinthians 12:8), and departing from persons (Acts 12:10 and Luke 4:13).
This insight about the use and meaning of the word was certainly compelling, but the argument Tommy presented that was most convicting to me was his revelation that the first seven English translations of the Bible rendered the noun, apostasia, as either "departure" or "departing." They were as follows:1
- The Wycliffe Bible (1384)
- The Tyndale Bible (1526)
- The Coverdale Bible (1535)
- The Cranmer Bible (1539)
- The Great Bible (1540)
- The Beeches Bible (1576)
- The Geneva Bible (1608)
Tommy also noted that the Bible used by the Western world from 400 AD to the 1500s — Jerome's Latin translation known as "The Vulgate" — rendered apostasia with the Latin word, discessio, which means "departure."
The first translation of the word to mean apostasy in an English Bible did not occur until 1611 when the King James Version was issued. So, why did the King James translators introduce a completely new rendering of the word as "falling away"? The best guess is that they were taking a stab at the false teachings of Catholicism.
One other point Tommy Ice made that I thought was significant is that Paul used a definite article with the word apostasia. The significance of this is emphasized by Daniel Davey in a thesis he wrote for the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary:2
Since the Greek language does not need an article to make the noun definite, it becomes clear that with the usage of the article, reference is being made to something in particular. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3 the word apostasia is prefaced by the definite article which means that Paul is pointing to a particular type of departure clearly known to the Thessalonian church.
In light of this grammatical point, Tommy observed that "the use of the definite article would support the notion that Paul spoke of a clear, discernable notion."3 And that notion he had already identified in verse 1 when he stated that he was writing about "our gathering together to Him [Jesus]."
This interpretation also corresponds to the point that Paul makes in verses 6 and 7 where he states that the man of lawlessness will not come until what "restrains" him "is taken out of the way."
And what it is that restrains evil in the world today? The Holy Spirit working through the Church.
1) Tommy Ice, "Is the Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3?" www.raptureready.com/featured/ice/TheRapturein2Thessalonians2_3.html, page 2.
2) Daniel K. Davey, "The 'Apostasia' of 2 Thessalonians 2:3," Th.M. thesis, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, May 1982, p 47.
3) Tommy Ice, page 2.