Sunday, July 21, 2013


            This article is written with a heavy heart.  I believe that it is necessary in order to be clear and “up front” with people.  It is possible that what I write applies to none of my readers.  Nevertheless, I do not want to be misunderstood.  I want to be clear that, as I have made my position fairly clear in advocating a Post-Tribulation Rapture of the church, I am not advocating some of the teaching that some have connected with that position.  I am especially referring to the kind of church-triumphant teachings that some advocate.  In order to clarify what I am discussing, I shall review some history.  I shall not give references for this particular essay.  Readers may confirm much of what I say through various sites on the internet.


            At the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century, a movement was being born.  It came mostly out of movements of the nineteenth century that sought a deeper and closer and more powerful walk with God.  In Kansas a small group experienced the first documented instances of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues in modern times (foreign or unknown languages).  Some from this group eventually played a role in the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles.  That prolonged series of meetings eventually led to the formation of a series of Pentecostal denominations.  Eventually, the Pentecostal movement was mostly “housed” in such denominations as the Assemblies of God, the Foursquare Church, the Church of God in Christ, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), and others. 

            The Pentecostal denominations became some of the most dynamic churches in America.  Their doctrine was, for the most part, “standard evangelical” theology—inspiration of Scripture, deity of Christ, the Trinity, vicarious suffering of Christ to bring about the blood atonement for sin, salvation by grace through faith, and so forth.  Their eschatology was generally Dispensationalist and Pre-Tribulational Rapture. 

            In addition these denominations taught that a believer can receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.  They also taught that the Spirit endowed individuals with one or more of the gifts of the Spirit that are listed in I Corinthians 12. 

            Through their Spirit-empowered ministry and boldness, these denominations became some of the fastest-growing groups in America.  They were filled with missionary zeal and sent missionaries in numbers that were disproportionate to their size.  Some of the largest churches in Latin America and Africa were Pentecostal. 

            In the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s, the Pentecostal experience spread into mainline denominations.  This new movement was called the Charismatic movement.  Some people eventually left their mainline churches and formed small groups, prayer meetings, and even non-denominational churches.  The Jesus movement of the early 1970’s—which formed among the hippies—tended to gravitate to the Charismatics.  As the 70’s progressed, a new phenomenon took hold—the church growth movement.  In some cases church growth and Charismatic teaching were wedded.  During that time the mega-churches began to explode.

            Along the way, Christian radio and television began to take off.  This development, along with highly successful pastors, put the spotlight on certain extremely successful pastors.  And so, the TV evangelist phenomenon was born.

            Now, to be clear, not all mega-churches nor all TV evangelists nor all non-denominational churches were Charismatic or Pentecostal. 


            I speak in tongues almost every day.  I believe in the Baptism with the Holy Spirit.  I attended Pentecostal and Charismatic churches for many years and have no regrets for those years.  I recognize that some of the teachings of these groups have a certain degree of validity.  For example, I believe that sometimes we, under the power of the Holy Spirit, can speak a word of faith into a situation.  I believe that God can heal bodies beyond the power of medicine.  I believe that God can lead people to give prophecies and to have discernment of spirits and other exercises of the gifts of the Spirit. 

            I do not, however, buy into every teaching of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.  Nor do I appreciate the behavior of some in this group.  I believe that some are lifted up in pride and some cater to the fleshly pride of those they minister to.  Some take advantage of willing followers and exploit them for money and power. 

            Moreover, I am sometimes aghast at the fast and loose way that some of these preachers interpret Scripture.  These folks can take a phrase or part of a verse and turn it into a major teaching.  For example, “the tabernacle of David” became popular for a year or so.  Related to this is the fact that this group (they are not the only such group) is vulnerable to the “winds of doctrine.”  There are constantly new teachings.  I doubt if one can survive as a leader among these people if he or she cannot come up with some new teaching at least every three months.  This way of living caters to a flesh that needs excitement, sensation, constant change, and titillation.  Such a Christian lifestyle does not promote maturity in the faith. 

            So, I do not criticize these people because I am coming from a non-Charismatic, fundamentalist background.  I criticize them for their excesses and, I believe, in some cases, for their errors. 


            As all of these developments unfolded, certain teachings began to ride along with the Pentecostal teaching.  For one thing, the standard teaching of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit was not taught as dogmatically in these new groups as in the “old-line Pentecostal” churches.  Some groups did not insist on speaking in tongues as evidence of “the Baptism.”  The new groups tended to emphasize the exercise of the gifts more than some had done in the Pentecostal denominations.

            In the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s certain teachers began to be very popular.  They did not all have the blessing of the Pentecostals.  There was a group called the “Latter Rain” movement and there was the “Word of Faith” movement.  The Word of Faith movement was especially influenced by Kenneth Hagin’s teachings.  This group used phrases such as “name it and claim it” and “positive confession” and similar slogans.  The idea was that one’s faith had creative power especially through the spoken word (rhema).        
            One of the teachings that came out of the Latter Rain movement was the “Manifest(ed) Sons of God.”  This teaching was based on Romans 8:19:  For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” (King James Version)  The teaching was that Christians would experience a dramatic transformation in the last days so that they would be manifested as the sons and daughters of God.  This teaching first came out in the 1940’s.  I observed a group of people affected by it in the 1970’s.  Today, it still is having an influence on some in the Charismatic movement.

            The New Apostolic Reformation is a development among Charismatic/Pentecostal groups.  C. Peter Wagner has had considerable influence on this group.  The group believes that there are apostles and prophets operating today.  Among the teachings that have come out of this group are new ideas about the last days.  Within this movement there is a wide range of ideas and doctrine, varying from Post-Millennium teaching to Dispensationalist Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  Many have been influenced by the Dominion teachings (a group generally non-Pentecostal and often Calvinist).  A number subscribe to Post-Tribulational Rapture teaching. 

            As background in understanding some of these movements and teachings, it is helpful to know that most of these groups are not denominations and, in some cases, not even local churches.  Some of the teachings come through sermons, some of which get audio- or video-recorded and passed on to followers in the nation and around the world.  The teachings tend to continue to evolve and so what might have been exciting last year is now old hat.  Thus, it is difficult to pin some of these folks and their teachings down.

            One particular teaching that caught my eye is a twist on Post-Tribulational Rapture teaching.  This teaching is that the church will go through the Tribulation.  However, at some point the church will be transformed in a Rapture-like miracle.  The result is the Christians will be invincible.  They will be able to withstand anything.  This is probably an outgrowth of the old Manifest Sons of God teaching. 

            In some cases, the teaching ignores the idea of the Tribulation.  The triumphant, transformed Christians will subdue the whole world and take over, just as the Dominion movement hoped.  The difference is that the Dominionists thought it would years and years—even centuries to bring about Dominion.  Some of those in the New Apostolic Reformation believe it can happen in decades.


            Paul declares that we shall have glory “revealed in us.”  (Romans 8:18)  We are God’s children (8:16), and this makes us joint-heirs with Jesus (8:17).  We share Jesus sufferings so that we may also share His glory (8:17). 

            The whole creation is waiting for our glory—for us to be fully manifested as the sons of God (8:19).  After all, the creation itself has been frustrated (8:20) and has been locked in a bondage that brings about decay (8:21).  But, God put creation into this condition with a hope.  Hope is one of Paul’s favorite words.  It evokes the future.  It is not a wishy-washy, “hope so, maybe so” kind of hope.  It is one of the virtues that lasts forever (I Corinthians 13:13).  So, though the universe slowly winds down, entropy (disorganization) ever increasing, there is deep down in the fabric of the universe a hope that there will be a release from this bondage into the same kind of freedom that God gives to His children.

            In the midst of all this decay and bondage, the universe groans, as though trying to give birth (8:22).  What does that mean?  I do not know.  I sense that there is a spiritual dimension to the physical universe.  God spoke and there was light.  How could matter-energy obey the voice of God unless there is a spiritual dimension to the universe?  And we are groaning also (8:23a).  Are you aware of your groaning?  I’m not sure I am.  I know that I am discontented.  Sometimes I’m discontented because my flesh wants something.  But sometimes I am discontented because I know this is not the best of all possible worlds.  This world is not right.  There are weeds and thorns, viruses, cancer, death everywhere—tornadoes, earthquakes, drunk drivers.  God made this universe and it was very good.  Someday He is going to put it right.

            Paul clarifies what it is we are groaning about (8:23b):  we are waiting for the “redemption of our bodies.”  Now we know that our redemption has already been paid for on the cross of Jesus.  Paul admonishes the Corinthians to remember that they are bought with a price (I Corinthians 6:20).  But the full impact of that redemption has yet to be realized, especially in our bodies.  That awaits the resurrection.  “In this hope we were saved.” (8:24a) That could be taken in more than one way.  One way to understand it is:  “We were saved into a complex of salvation benefits which included the hope of the resurrection.”  Another way to understand it is:  “We were saved through our belief in the gospel message, which included a belief in the resurrection of Jesus and our eventual resurrection.”  In other words our faith is a faith that has a future component, and that future includes our resurrection (see I Corinthians 15).  That future is obviously not our present.  We hope for something that will be ours some day, but is not ours now (8:24b).  So, we wait patiently for the resurrection (8:25).

            In this present order of existence, we are aware that we are not yet whole.  “We know in part and we prophecy in part.”  (I Corinthians 13:9)  So, in this time we have the Holy Spirit, who is our helper.  We do not even know what to pray for.  Though that may seem strange to some, I have found myself many times recognizing that I really did not know God’s will for a situation or how God was going to work, and so I could only name the person or the situation and say, “Lord, I just pray for that,” and give it to God.  In this condition—not seeing or knowing or understanding, only sensing an inward groaning—the Spirit deep within us also groans and prays (8:26).  And so God the Father knows us and knows the Spirit and receives the perfect prayers of the Spirit who intercedes for us (8:27).

            This remarkable passage gives us a perspective on the present order of existence.  It looks forward to a new day, a great day of victory, but it also looks with eyes wide open at how we live today.  Now we know that someday Jesus is going to come back for the saints.  Those who have died will rise and those who are alive will be changed and we will meet the Lord and be with Him forever (I Corinthians 15, I Thessalonians 4:13-18).  We have these assurances from Scripture of the Rapture/Resurrection.  We generally understand that the present order of existence will continue until that day.  I cannot see anything in Romans 8:17-27 that changes our concept of that.  It seems that when we experience that new body and our son-ship is fully manifested, the universe itself will also experience a transformation (8:21).  If one advocates that Christians will be transformed in advance of the Second Coming, then how could the universe be renewed in that time frame?  I believe that the proper understanding of Romans 8:19 is that, when the church is raptured and the deceased saints are resurrected (either at a Pre-Tribulation or Post-Tribulation time setting), then will take place the “manifestation of the sons of God.”

            I do not believe that an understanding of the timing of the Rapture/Resurrection as Post-Tribulational affects my interpretation of Romans 8:19.  Furthermore, I do not want to be misunderstood.  When I present evidence for a Post-Tribulational Rapture/Resurrection, I am not attempting to give support for the various theories of the New Apostolic Reformation or the Manifested Sons of God teaching.



Thursday, July 18, 2013





            II Thessalonians 2 contains some statements regarding the “Day of the Lord” that possibly could settle some debates concerning the timing of the Rapture/Resurrection.  In verse 2:2 Paul admonishes the church not to be shaken by false messages that they had received.  Those messages stated “that the day of the Lord has come.” (ESV)  Paul corrects this false teaching by explaining “that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed…” (verse 3, ESV)  As one would expect, this passage is hotly debated by scholars who hold different views of the timing of the Rapture.  In this article I shall describe the viewpoints of Robert Gundry, John Walvoord, and Dwight Pentecost on this Scripture.  Gundry is a Dispensationalist, but he advocates that the Rapture/Resurrection will take place at Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation (Post-Tribulation Rapture/Resurrection).  Walvoord and Pentecost are Dispensationalists with the usual understanding of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture/Resurrection.


I shall only refer to Pentecost in this section, so that the back-and-forth between Walvoord and Gundry can be concentrated on.  The following is Pentecost’s summary of the issues.  One will find that he and Walvoord are in close agreement.  Pentecost’s views are as follows:

The Thessalonian Christians were concerned for fear that the rapture had already taken place and they were in the day of the Lord.  The persecutions which they were enduring, as referred to in the first chapter, had given them a basis for this erroneous consideration.  Paul writes to show them in verse 3 that the day of the Lord could not take place until there was a departure.  Whether this departure is a departure from the faith or a departure of the saints from the earth, as already mentioned in verse 1, is beside the point here.   Second, he reveals there was to be the manifestation of the man of sin, or the lawless one, further described in Revelation 13.  Paul’s argument in verse 7 is that although the mystery of iniquity was operative in his day, that is, the lawless system that was to culminate in the person of the lawless one manifesting itself, yet this lawless one could not be manifested until the Restrainer was taken out of the way.  In other words, some One is preventing the purpose of Satan from coming to culmination and He will keep on performing this ministry until He is removed (vv. 7-8).  Explanations as to the person of this Restrainer such as human government, law, the visible church will not suffice, for they will all continue in a measure after the manifestation of this lawless one.  While this is essentially an exegetical problem, it would seem that the only One who could do such a restraining ministry would be the Holy Spirit…However, the indication here is that as long as the Holy Spirit is resident within the church, which is His temple, this restraining work will continue and the man of sin cannot be revealed.  It is only when the church, the temple, is removed that this restraining ministry ceases and lawlessness can produce the lawless one.  It should be noted that the Holy Spirit does not cease His ministries with the removal of the church, nor does he cease to be omnipresent, with her removal, but the restraining ministry does cease.

     Thus, this ministry of the Restrainer…requires the Pretribulation rapture of the church, for Daniel 9:27 reveals that that lawless one will be manifested at the beginning of the week.  (Pentecost, 204-205)


            Walvoord introduces the chapter by discussing the false teaching that the Thessalonians had been exposed to.  This teaching is mentioned by Paul, who urges the church “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”  (II Thessalonians 2:2, ESV)  Walvoord characterizes this error as teaching that they were “already in the day of the Lord.”  Walvoord states the issue this way because he understands that they were IN the Tribulation period, a condition equal (for him) to being IN the Day of the Lord.  Gundry (121), incidentally, understands the error in the much the same way.   

Walvoord believes that the false teaching included the idea that the church would go through the Tribulation.  He writes that it is widely known that this was taught in the second century, but people miss the fact that this “posttribulationalism” was one of the “heresies” that Paul dealt with.  The following are his comments:

It is most important to observe that Paul labeled this a false doctrine and urged the Thessalonians not to be deceived by this teaching. The passage clearly implies that Paul had taught them that they would not enter the day of the Lord and that the Rapture would come before the final persecutions of the saints. Paul here was refuting this early form of posttribulationism.

It is not immediately apparent how Paul “clearly implied” that they would not enter the Day of the Lord (the Tribulation, for Walvoord).  I shall explain his reasoning later.  Do note that Walvoord uses the phrase “clearly implied” and not “clearly stated,” for Paul did not state that in this or any other of his epistles.

            Gundry proposes what he believes was the nature of the false teaching, as follows (121):

·         The Day of the Lord will include the Tribulation.

·         They had entered the Tribulation.

·         The Second Coming was in the immediate future, so many of them quit working and were “fanatical.”


            Walvoord believes this situation of the Thessalonians creates a “real problem” for those who advocate a Post-Tribulation Rapture.  The problem is that, if the church were in the beginning of the Day of the Lord, then the Rapture would be approaching and they should be rejoicing.  Instead, as Walvoord puts it, they were in a “panic.”  He believes the panic was the disparity between what Paul had taught them and what the false teachers were teaching them.

 Gundry (114) frames this challenge from the Pre-Tribulationists in the following way: 

·         The church had been convinced that the “Day of the Lord” had come.

·         This meant that they thought they were in the Tribulation (according to those who believed the Day of the Lord includes the Tribulation).

·         If they believed that the Rapture/Resurrection would take place at the end of the Tribulation (as Gundry believes), then they should be fast approaching that event.

·         Thus, they should be rejoicing, and not be troubled.

He believes that the reasoning I have outlined above sets up “false alternatives, joy versus sorrow.”  Rather, Gundry terms the condition of the church as “agitation.” (114)  He maintains that the church was in a state of fanatical excitement and disorder, in anticipation of the Rapture, to the degree that they quit working (121).  He refers to Paul’s exhortation to work in 3:6-15 as evidence that people in the church had quit working as an “outgrowth of the agitation” brought on by the prospect that the Second Coming was coming soon (114). 


            Walvoord frames Paul’s response to the false teaching that they were in Day of the Lord (Tribulation) in the following way:  Paul explained that “the Thessalonians were wrong in thinking that they were already in the day of the Lord because there was a total lack of evidence for it.”  The “evidences” that were lacking were the apostasy and the revelation of the Man of Lawlessness (verse 2:3).  (I call these the “Signal Events.”)  “Both of these would be necessary before the day of the Lord could really ‘come.’”

            Gundry responds to this in the following way (119-120):

·         The Pre-Tribulationists say that Paul used the absence of the Signal Events (apostasy and Antichrist) to demonstrate that the Tribulation was not taking place.  This fact would reassure the Thessalonians that the Rapture had not taken place.

·         Gundry answers this, first, by saying that the Pre-Tribulation Rapture is nowhere expressed.

·         Second, he says that pointing out that the Signal Events had not occurred “exceeds what he [Paul] needed to write,” whereas “he would merely have needed to remind them” of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture

·         Third, Paul does NOT say that the absence of the Signal Events proved the Tribulation was not taking place.  He DOES SAY that the Signal Events will occur before the Day of the Lord (verse 2:3).
            It is critical to decide who understands verse 2:3 correctly.  The difference is subtle, but is a profound difference.  I dealt with this issue in a previous article.  The English translations are consistent in the meaning they convey:  There are two things (the Signal Events) that must happen BEFORE the Day of the Lord.  Walvoord’s interpretation is an incorrect understanding, for he is saying the Day of the Lord will not be fully manifested until the Signal Events occur.  This means he is not grasping what Paul is saying about the timing of the Day of the Lord.  Paul is saying that the Day of the Lord comes after the Signal Events.  This would put that Day beginning well into the Tribulation period or, as Gundry believes, at the end of that period.

Gundry says that Paul corrected the misconception of being in the Day of the Lord by explaining that the Signal Events must precede the Day of the Lord.  This explanation strongly implied the correction of the second misconception—that they were in the Tribulation period; since it was obvious that the Signal Events had not occurred, then the Thessalonians could be assured that they were not in the Tribulation period.  Moreover, without the Signal Events, the Day of the Lord and the Second Coming were not imminent.  Therefore, in 3:6-15, Paul’s exhortation to work and orderly living brings the correction into everyday life.


Gundry devotes considerable space in seeking to demonstrate the fallacy of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture by considering logical consequences.  These arguments are difficult to follow.  Quite frankly, Walvoord misses the point of these arguments, not recognizing that Gundry temporarily assumes the Pre-Tribulation Rapture hypothesis.  In each case, Gundry is explaining how the church might come to the conclusions it did under that hypothesis and why the scenario creates logical problems.

In the first argument, Gundry assumes the church had two preconditions in their teaching (118): 

·         They were unaware of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching.

·         They understood the Tribulation was part of the Day of the Lord.

Therefore, when the false teaching informed them they were in the Day of the Lord, they assumed they were in the Tribulation.  Gundry then asks:  could they have been unaware of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching?  He points out what their “education” had been.  They had received the first epistle from Paul that contained the passage 4:13-18.  They also had received Paul’s oral ministry, which Paul refers to in II Thessalonians 2:5.  Yet, with all of that, under this hypothesis, they had missed the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  Gundry then asks:  if they could not get it, when they had Paul’s oral ministry plus the written record that we have, how can we get it?  Therefore, it is inconceivable that they were convinced about being in the Tribulation because they did not know the Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching.

            In the second argument, Gundry proposes (119) that the people of the church knew of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture but thought that they had been left behind and were in the Tribulation (as part of the Day of the Lord). He states that this idea—that the Thessalonians thought that the “momentous coming of Christ” had occurred without their knowing it--“borders on absurdity.”  This would imply that they also thought that Paul had been left behind; for the text indicates that they were in contact with Paul.  Moreover, they would not have thought that Paul had experienced the Rapture and they had been left behind, since the “erroneous doctrine purported to have come from the apostle himself (v. 2).”


            Walvoord then            turns his attention to a key contention of Gundry.  Gundry writes that…

1.      If the Thessalonians thought they were in the Tribulation

2.      And if, in fact, Paul taught a Pre-Tribulational Rapture

3.      Then, “Correction of the error would have required a categorical statement to the effect that the rapture will take place before the tribulation.  Such a statement nowhere appears.” (119)

Walvoord maintains that, “Paul was not silent about the Rapture intervening, if his teaching is rightly interpreted.”  He then refers to verses 2:6-7 about the Restrainer.  His point is that the removal of the Holy Spirit implies the removal of the church by means of the Rapture.  He refers to Gundry’s agreement with himself, Pentecost, and other Pre-Tribulationalists (but not all) who believe that the Holy Spirit is the Restrainer.  Walvoord maintains that such a view is “incompatible with posttribulationism.”  He also maintains that Gundry identifies the Holy Spirit “as in the church.”  This however is not precisely Gundry’s position.  He recognizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church, but also maintains that His restraining activity is not dependent on His residence in the church. 

            Walvoord and Gundry agree on the identity of the Restrainer as the Holy Spirit.  However, Gundry (122-126) rejects the “corollary” to that idea. That corollary is the following (126):

·         The “Church constitutes His [the Spirit’s] agency of restraint” of the Antichrist.

·         Removal of the Restrainer (the Spirit) “entails removal of the Church from the earth” (i.e. the Pre-Tribulation Rapture).

·         Furthermore, the Spirit continues in a ministry that is a “weaker, OT [Old Testament] form.” 

Gundry answers this by maintaining that there is Biblical evidence for a New Testament-type of Spirit activity during the Tribulation period.  He refers to Acts 2:32-33 to establish that the Spirit’s ministry comes out of the victory of Christ, which is “not subject to negation.”  He refers to Mark 13:11 to establish the “indwelling” of the Spirit during the Tribulation (assigning that verse to the Tribulation).  He also refers to the powerful evangelism that will take place during the Tribulation.  He asserts that it would be impossible for the 144,000 to evangelize the world in seven years “with less than the fullness of the Spirit.” 

Furthermore, he argues that the Holy Spirit does not necessarily limit Himself to the church.  He can do things beyond His ministry through the church.  Finally, he makes the point that the expression indicating the Spirit is removed from restraining the Antichrist does not mean the Spirit exits the world.  Rather, the expression could be translated “gets out of the way.”  Thus, the Spirit is blocking the Antichrist until the moment He gets out of the way and allows “the man of lawlessness to stride onstage before the admiring eyes of mankind.” (127)  Thus, the fact that the Spirit no longer restrains the Antichrist does not imply that the church—and the ministry of the Spirit in New Testament fullness—are removed from the world.  In other words, the Restrainer/Spirit’s removal is not a basis for the idea that the church is removed at the beginning of the Tribulation in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.


            I have already given a commentary on this passage in a previous article, so I shall avoid going over all the ground again.  These writers focus our attention on the following issues:

·         What misunderstanding led the Thessalonians to conclude they were in the Day of the Lord?

·         How did Paul correct that misunderstanding?

·         What do these first two issues tell us about the theories of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture and a Post-Tribulation Rapture?

·         When does the Day of the Lord begin?

·         Who or what is the restrainer?

The straight-forward statement of Paul in verse 2:2 is that the Thessalonians believed either that the Day of the Lord had come and gone or that they were “in” the Day of the Lord.  All three writers assume that the Thessalonians believed that the Tribulation was part of the Day of the Lord and that they were in the Tribulation.  Gundry believes that they were mistaken in their belief that the Tribulation was part of the Day of the Lord, but Pentecost and Walvoord both believe that the Tribulation IS part of the Day of the Lord. 

Gundry devotes a chapter explaining why he believes that the Day of the Lord does not include the Tribulation.  Incidentally, he names several Pre-Tribulationalists who agree with him.  It is beyond the scope of this article to assess his arguments. 

I do not believe that we can say definitively that the Thessalonians believed that they were in the Tribulation.  Just what they thought is an unknown, but it is possible that they thought that Christ had come and was hidden somewhere.  Jesus predicted that those kinds of deceptions would come up in the last days (Matthew 24:23-26).

At any rate, the question is:  what was the nature of the error that led to the church’s confusion?  Walvoord says it was a false teaching of a Post-Tribulational Rapture.  Gundry says it was a false teaching that the Tribulation is part of the Day of the Lord.  It seems to me that we can decide which is correct by how Paul corrects their misunderstanding.  Walvoord says that Paul gave the church the Signal Events to prove that they were not in the Tribulation/Day of the Lord.  Gundry says that Paul gave the Signal Events to prove that the Day of the Lord had not come yet.  Walvoord’s interpretation of verse 2:3 is erroneous.  Paul is not giving signs of the Day of the Lord, but rather he is giving precursors to the Day of the Lord.  So, in fact, the Signal Events must come and then the Day of the Lord.

Whatever understanding that the Thessalonians had about where they were on God’s time line, Paul clarified that they could be sure that they were not in the Day of the Lord.  So, if they thought they were in the Tribulation or they thought Jesus had come in a hidden fashion, their misconception was cleared up by the fact that the Signal Events had not occurred. 

What is very obvious by its absence in Paul’s answer is any mention of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  If there is to be a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, then the most straight-forward correction of the Thessalonian error would be to explain the timing of the Rapture.  They could not be in the Tribulation because they were not going to go through the Tribulation, but, instead, experience Rapture first!  Walvoord says this is argument by absence as though this is defective somehow.  I just cannot see any reason to reject this argument. 

Walvoord claims that Paul’s discussion of the Restrainer IS a statement, by implication, of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  He says it is “clearly implied.”  First, as Gundry points out, no one really knows for sure who or what the Restrainer is.  He agrees with Pentecost and Walvoord that the Restrainer is probably the Holy Spirit, but it is still an open question.  So, Gundry says a doctrine of the timing of the Rapture should not rest on such a vague conclusion (122).  In fact, verse 2:6-7 are in no way a “clear” implication of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.   

So, the evidence from the passage rules out that a false teaching of a Post-Tribulation Rapture was the error to which the church was exposed.  Rather, the false teaching convinced the Thessalonians that they were living either in the Tribulation or at the Second Coming.  Paul’s teaching that the Signal Events must come first before the Day of the Lord corrected their error. 

I say that Gundry has “won” this debate.  He has

·         Pointed out the absence in the passage of a clear statement of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture

·         Correctly interpreted the meaning of verse 2:3, which requires that the Day of the Lord take place after the Signal Events; this corrects the church’s misconception of being in the Day of the Lord and preserves the notion of a Post-Tribulation Rapture

·         Countered the idea that the removal of the Restrainer/Holy Spirit necessitates the removal of the church in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture; this negates the idea that the discussion in verses 2:6-7 implies a Pre-Tribulation Rapture

·         Explained how several hypothetical scenarios based on a Pre-Tribulational Rapture reduce to absurdity

·         Accounts for the “shaken in mind” (2:2) condition of the church; although this is probably the weakest of his various arguments

I believe this passage critically challenges the theories of the timing of the Rapture.   Careful analysis reveals that the logic of the passage does not fit a Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the church.


Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Gundry, Robert H.  The Church and the Tribulation.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Acadamie Books,

            Zondervan Publ. House, 1973.

Pentecost, J. Dwight.  Things to Come.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publ. House, 1958.

Walvoord, John F. (2010-12-21). The Rapture Question (Kindle Location 3209). Zondervan. Kindle


Saturday, July 13, 2013


            In this and the next article, I shall consider the viewpoints of various authors as they consider II Thessalonians (and, to some extent, I Thessalonians). 




            J. S. Russell is the originator of the Preterist approach to Scripture.  I have written a great deal in previous articles on his views of Matthew 24.  The material in I and II Thessalonians presents a challenge to Russell.  Russell’s view is that the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus and others regarding the Parousia of Jesus.  Although there is material regarding the resurrection in the gospels, in Matthew 24 and parallels the material regarding the resurrection is vague. However, in I Thessalonians the description of Resurrection/Rapture is explicit and is tied to the return of Christ.  Russell reviews the material of I Thessalonians 4:13-17 (165-166), and he explicitly lists the major events that are described in the passage (166). 

            At this point, it would seem Russell has a problem.  If he believes the Parousia took place in AD 70, then he has to believe that the Resurrection/Rapture also took place then.  Although he DOES believe that, he avoids immediately facing that issue.  First, he goes back to the argument that he pushes throughout his book:  there is an expectation and understanding that the Parousia will take place within a generation of the events of the gospel—i.e. about 40 years after the crucifixion/resurrection of Christ:  “The legitimate inference from the words of St. Paul in ver. 15, ‘we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord,’ is that he anticipated that it is possible, and even probable, that his readers and himself would be alive at the coming of the Lord.” (Russell, 166)  He then disputes with interpreters of his day that try to, in his view, worm out of this expectation, when he believes that the apostles were “fully justified in believing as they did.”  (Russell, 167) 

            Perhaps I am somewhat cynical and am ascribing motives that I cannot prove, but I believe the Russell is creating a red herring by hammering on this theme for several pages before he gets down to the real issue.  Finally, after he seems confident that he has made his point, he admits to the facts of the passage before him:  “It may be said that we have no evidence of such facts having occurred as are here described,--the Lord descending with a shout, the sounding of the trumpet, the raising of the sleeping dead, the rapture of the living saints.” (Russell, 168)  One might say, in response, “Yes, you are very correct.  You have one event that you ascribe to the Parousia—the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Roman legions.  This is your sole historical proof of your thesis that the Parousia took place in AD 70.” 

Russell answers us immediately:  “True, but is it certain that these are facts cognizable by the senses?  Is their place in the region of the material and the visible?”  He goes on to say that “a very large portion of the events predicted by our Lord…did actually come to pass…” (Russell, 168) He then refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  He maintains that the Parousia includes the events in Jerusalem and the resurrection of the dead.  They both are “different scenes in one great drama.”  Then, he differentiates the two major portions of the Parousia:  “We accept the facts verified by the historian on the word of man [that is, the events in Jerusalem]; is it for the Christian to hesitate to accept the facts which are vouched by the word of the Lord? [italics in original]” (Russell, 169)

With this bit of rhetoric Russell completes his comments on I Thessalonians 4:13-17.  In my opinion he fails completely to defend his position as he considers this passage.  Notice that he creates a dichotomy between two sets of events that he ascribes to the Parousia—the events in Jerusalem and the events of the Resurrection/Rapture.  The first set of events are verifiable in history, and the second is utterly absent from history.  Russell is content with this absence of data on the Resurrection/Rapture.  He believes it could have happened without any human evidence of its happening.  So, he concludes that one set of events is verified “on the word of man” and one set is verified “by the word of God” (as quoted above).  In this latter statement, he probably obliquely is referring to Paul’s statement that his description in I Thessalonians 4:13-17 is “by the word of the Lord” (4:15, King James Version).  However, if he is making that reference, he is doing so incorrectly.  For Paul is not saying that he has had a revelation that  the Resurrection/Rapture has occurred, rather, he is saying it has had a revelation as to how the Resurrection/Rapture will occur.

Moreover, there is not one statement in Scripture that the Resurrection/Rapture has occurred.  This passage, as well as the one in I Corinthians 15 (which Russell interprets and comments upon in a way very similar to the present passage), describes the events of the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the rapture of living Christians as events that will take place in the future.  It is true that Paul acted as though he would experience the Rapture:  “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds…”  (I Thessalonians 4:17a, ESV)  Russell maintains that Paul and other apostles expected this as a reasonable expectation from the Lord’s predictions (for example, Matthew 24:34).  Russell, 167-168) However, Paul did not experience the Rapture, even if it did occur in AD 70, for he was executed before that year.  One could argue that Paul could still have a reasonable expectation of the Parousia occurring in his lifetime, even if he missed it because of his untimely execution.  Or one could argue that Paul was giving a “word of the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:15) in describing the Rapture and yet appeared to include himself among those experiencing the Rapture.  Would it not be reasonable to understand Paul’s “we” in 4:17 as “we Christians” no matter what generation? 

Do we not consider the admonitions in the Pauline epistles to have authority in our own lives?  In I Thessalonians 5 there are a series of admonitions to the people of that church, in the first century.  They are to respect their leaders (5:12), live together in peace (5:13), not take vengeance (5:15), rejoice (5:16), etc.  These are admonitions that are important for all Christians to follow.  Obviously, Paul’s epistles mix current affairs and circumstances with general principles.  They were written to respond to the needs of particular churches.  Paul’s responses to those needs were general principles that applied to those needs.  So, the Thessalonians were grieving about their dead loved ones.  Paul’s response to that need was to give to them a vivid description of the Resurrection/Rapture.  That event was relevant to the needs of that church, but it was also an event that is relevant to every Christian.  So, Paul counts himself among all Christians in using “we” in verse 4:17.

In Matthew 24, Jesus addressed the issue that some would try to invent a secret return of Himself:

So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  (Matthew 24:26-27, ESV)

It appears to me that Jesus predicted a very public, visible return of Himself.  He would not use the Roman legions as mediators of His Parousia.  He would not create a secret Rapture or Resurrection.  When He comes, it is going to be big deal that all will know about from Antarctica to Sweden to China to Nebraska. 

            Russell hangs his entire book on one event, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  Any other events that must be accounted for—for example the visible return of Jesus—he avoids or hides.  He is faced with the most spectacular event—short of the resurrection of Jesus—in all of history in the Resurrection/Rapture that is described in I Thessalonians 4:13-17.  He cannot account for it and must resort to making this event invisible.  That, in my view, is a failure of his thesis and pretty much a death blow to Preterism.


            Russell hammers at the idea that end-times prophecy was fulfilled in the first century in his comments on chapter 5, as follows:

It is manifest that there would be no meaning in these urgent calls to watchfulness unless the apostle believed in the nearness of the coming crisis…Why urge men in A.D. 52 to watch, and be on the alert, for a catastrophe which was not to take place for hundreds and thousands of years?


            Russell begins his commentary by focusing, in a few sentences, on verse 1 (Russell, 174).  He notes that the coming of Christ (Parousia) and “our gathering together unto him” are “regarded by the apostle as simultaneous, or, at all events, closely connected.”  Then, he considers the phrase “gathering together unto him.”  He connects it with Matthew 24:31, in which Jesus prophesies that angels will gather together the elect.  He also connects this event to I Thessalonians 4:16-17—the description of the Resurrection/Rapture.  I believe that he has made an accurate connection among these various Scriptures.  So, how does he explain or describe this event?  In one sentence he sums up the meaning of the mysterious phrase:  “This can be nothing else, then, than the summoning of the living and the dead to the tribunal of Christ.”  This sentence borders on the meaningless.  First, the phrase “living and the dead” does not distinguish Christian from non-Christian, and we are left scratching our head about what that implies.  Second, does he refer, by “the tribunal,” to the last judgment?  How could the last judgment be in the first century?  Or does he refer to the judgment poured out on the Jews by the Roman destruction of Jerusalem?  All Christians were not gathered in Judea to witness that event.  Or does he refer to a judgment of Christ on the works and faithfulness of the Christians?  I have already dealt with his concept of the Rapture as something that occurred in AD 70 without anyone witnessing it.  So, is he saying that the “gathering unto him” of the living for the “tribunal” was a judgment of the living Christians that took place without anyone knowing it?  Did that tribunal have any effect on those living Christians?  In fact, the idea—that something happened to the “living and the dead” in AD 70 which satisfies the descriptions of the Resurrection/Rapture found in I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4—is a preposterous.  So, his brief commentary on II Thessalonians 2:1 is totally nonsensical.

            Russell continues his commentary by devoting several pages to the correct translation of verse 2 (Russell, 175-177).  He notes that the King James Version is incorrect in rendering the latter part as “the day of Christ is at hand.”  In fact, Russell maintains (as do all modern translations) that it should be “has come.”  Incidentally, textual evidence also supports “the day of the Lord” rather than “the day of Christ,” but that information was not available to Russell.

            He continues his commentary by noting that there are two precursors to the Day:  the apostasy and the “Man of Sin” (so King James Version).  He connects the apostasy to Jesus’ prediction of problems in the church in Matthew 24:10, 12 (Russell, 179).  I tend to agree that the two mentions of church problems may refer to the same development.  I discussed this in the last article and noted that “apostasy” may refer to a general rebellion in the world led by the Man of Lawlessness.  The apostasy in the church may be related to this general rebellion.  Russell (179) also connects the apostasy to the descriptions in I Timothy 4:1-8 and II Timothy 3:1-9.

            Russell then devotes pages 180-190 to a consideration of the “Man of Sin.”  He is consistent with his Preterist thesis by finding a person to fit Paul’s description.  That person is Nero.  His interpretation is that Claudius was the one who hindered or restrained Nero’s entry onto the world stage.  He was taken out of the way by being poisoned, possibly by Nero’s mother Agrippina.  He was the first Roman emperor to persecute the Christians.  He also gave orders for Vespasian to invade Jewish territory.  He died in AD 68.  This was interpreted to be the “dawning” of the Parousia. 

This latter expression is Russell’s interpretation of II Thessalonians 2:8b:  “…whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” (ESV)  The word translated “appearance” is epiphaneia, and which Russell interprets as “dawning.”  There is no other instance in which this word has the meaning “dawning.”  In this verse it is translated by various translations as follows (thanks to ((see that website for copyright information for versions))):

·         King James and New King James Version:  brightness

·         English Standard and New American Standard Version:  appearance

·         New International Version:  splendor

·         New Revised Standard Version:  manifestation

The problem of translation is that epiphaneia and Parousia are in the same sentence, and they have similar meanings.  For this reason, I think “manifestation” might be a good translation.  However, notice that in no case is “dawning” implied by these translations.  The truth is that Russell was faced with the fact that Nero died two years before the destruction of Jerusalem.  If he equates the events of AD 70 with the Parousia, then he cannot make Nero “fit” as the Man of Lawlessness without claiming that Christ’s Parousia had a “dawning” two years before it actually occurred.  There is no basis for “dawning.”

            Moreover, Nero was dead before the Temple was destroyed and cannot be said to have sat in the Temple of God and declared himself God.  Suetonius describes Nero as one of the vilest men who has ever lived.  He was a sadistic, bisexual, incestuous pervert.  He was a thief, a liar, a murderer, and a cheat.  He also was a lazy and profligate leader who almost bankrupted the Empire.  In a sense his incompetence probably disqualified him from being the Man of Lawlessness or Antichrist/Beast, if we consider the usual image of that person.

            Again, Russell tries to force events of the first century into the mold of prophecies of the last days.  It is generally true that when we attempt to apply prophetic Scripture to events, we find it difficult to make things “fit.”  An example is the Antichrist/Beast.  Over the centuries, this person has been identified with Nero, the Pope, Mussolini, Hitler, Henry Kissinger, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and, I suppose, Barack Obama.  Notice that a precondition of the Day of the Lord is the REVELATION of the Man of Lawlessness.  It is useless to play a guessing game about someone who is going to be revealed at the proper time.  Russell claimed that Nero was the one, yet there is not a sense in which Nero was revealed, either to the church or the world as this particular person of Scripture. 

            Russell never fails to pay attention to Scripture or to be diligent in his exegesis.  Yet, he has caught himself in the “Matthew 24:34 trap,” of which I have written in a previous article.  That trap forces him to interpret all prophetic Scripture as being fulfilled in the events of AD 70.  In the case of his interpretation of II Thessalonians 2, he comes up two years short in trying to equate Nero with the Man of Lawlessness. 

NEXT:  Debate between Pre-Tribulation and Post-Tribulation Rapture theorists


Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Graves, Robert, trans. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.  The Twelve Caesars.  Harmondsworth,    
          Eng.:  Penguin Books Ltd., 1980.
Russell, J. S.  The Parousia, A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our

            Lord’s Second Coming.  (Google Internet Book)  London:  Daldy, Isbister

            & Co., 1878.