Last night we continued our study of what the Bible teaches about the end times by looking at a corollary to last week’s study–namely, if the Day of the Lord is a defined series of events which happen over certain period of time, how do believers relate to this time of God’s judgment? Here are the notes:
The Rapture: When, What, and Why
WHEN: Before the Day of the Lord, at any time.
1. Before the Day of the Lord
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 “The day of the Lord” cannot “be present”, because these two things aren’t happening.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 “delivered from the wrath to come” (as in Malachi 4)
1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
4:13-14 — Their problem: fearing that those who had died would miss the coming of the Lord
4:15-17 — Paul’s response: no, when the Lord snatches us away, they will have risen first to be with him.
5:1-2 — But you don’t need me to tell you about when this will happen, since you know this: The day of the Lord is going to come as a surprise. What does he mean by “Day of the Lord”?
5:3 — The Day of the Lord will break on everyone like “labor pains”—unexpectedly. These “labor pains” are exactly how Isaiah describes the Day of the Lord (13:8), and Jesus uses the same imagery (Mt 24:8). In other words, Paul taught the Thessalonians what the Old Testament Prophets and Jesus taught about the Day of the Lord. He expects us to define what he means by “Day of the Lord” by using the definition of it we saw in the OT and Olivet Discourse—a seven year period with a series of events culminating in the appearing of Christ to rule on the earth.
The key? We are speaking here about how this period will begin. It will begin unexpectedly, like the onset of labor pains. (This imagery of “birth” is appropriate—a series of events which culminate in someone’s appearance.) Now notice—
5:3-11 Introduces us to two groups of people:
- “They” —non-believers who do not escape this sudden onset of a process of God’s wrath being poured out (2, 3). THIS COULD HAPPEN AT ANY TIME.
- “We” —believers who will not be overtaken by this day and caught up in this wrath. (4, 9, 11) So the beginning of the Day of the Lord introduces a division among these two groups of people—one group who will suddenly enter in to this time of judgment, and one who will not.
How does God make this division?
v. 9 – “salvation” = “deliverance” or “rescue”
v.10 – “living together with him” whether we’re dead or alive
1:10 – “deliverance” from the wrath of the Day of the Lord.
This deliverance must be the same event as the “catching up” described in 4:17.
Therefore, this give us the timing of 4:17’s “Catching up.” Why? This catching up to be with the Lord happens in order to remove believers in Christ from the world before the onset of the “labor pains” which signal the beginning of the Day of the Lord and the pouring out of his wrath. It is the rescue of his people from a world he is about to judge. This “catching up” is what we usually call the rapture of the church, and here we see that it happens before (or as the first part of) the tribulation.
Paul tells the Thessalonian church that the Day of the Lord will overtake everyone on the earth in a time of outpouring of God’s wrath. They shouldn’t listen to anyone who tells them that they’re in it, or that they’re going to go through it, because there’s a clearly defined pattern with certain unmistakable events which identify the Day of the Lord. This pattern, and these events, were foretold by the prophets and the Lord himself. And Paul is clear that those who trust in Christ won’t be overtaken by these things. Instead, he says, we should be comforted by the expectation that we will be delivered from God’s Day of wrath by the Lord himself, who will descend from heaven to catch us up to be with him forever.
Other Hints: Isaiah 26:19-21, Zephaniah 2:3, Luke 21:29-36, Lot in Sodom.
2. At Any time (Imminent) – Because there is nothing from stopping the day of the Lord from beginning.
WHAT: The Catching up of Believers to meet the Lord in the air, as they are given their new bodies, and commence eternity with the Lord.
1. Believers will be “caught up” to meet Christ. (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
2. Believers will be transformed—given their eternal, resurrection bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:50-52, Phil 3:20-21, 1 John 3:2-3)
3. Believers will then always be with the Lord. (John 14:1-3)
WHY: Removal, Revealing, Reassurance
1. To remove those who are forgiven from the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth. Since Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath for us, we will not drink any part of it.
2. As a current source of comfort.
3. As a current incentive to holiness.
4. To precipitate the “apostasy” Paul speaks of—to reveal the true state of earth without the “salt” preserving it, thus revealing God’s judgment even more righteous.
5. As a sign of encouragement to those who get saved during the Tribulation: God can defeat evil and raise the dead?
Any prophecy about the second coming of Christ and how it applies to believers is helpful,
since it is all “his coming.”
The Day of the Lord is how God brings in the fulfillment of the three covenants. It includes the purifying of Abraham’s seed, and the sweeping away of all rebellion to his rule, so that David’s son can set up his kingdom in Israel and extend his rule over the whole earth. But those who have taken advantage of the day of salvation get to skip the day of wrath.
Since we have already begun to enter in to the fulfillment of those covenants, we don’t need to go through the preparation the rest of the earth will. We simply experience the complete fulfillment, beginning with our own bodies and our fellowship with Christ, and leading on to our participation in the kingdom.
The good news for those who don’t currently believe in Christ? The coming wrath has an escape hatch. Believe and be saved. (Revelation 22:6-12, Acts 17:30-31)