"And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day." (II Thess. 1: 7-10)
"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (II Thess. 2: 1-12)
In looking at what is taught by the Apostle Paul in these texts, it is clear that he is talking about the coming (parousia) of the Lord Jesus Christ and that he refers to it as also being the apocalypse and epiphany of Christ. He also shows that the rapture ("our gathering together unto him") is that which occurs at the parousia, apocalypse, and epiphany of Christ. He refers to this event also as "the day of Christ."
Paul denies that the coming of the Lord or the rapture is "at hand." The Greek word is enistēmi and denotes what is either impending or present. One who reads an English translation of the new testament scriptures might think that Paul here denies what he and other writers affirm elsewhere. He said in Romans 13: 12 that "the day is at hand." But the Greek word here is not enistēmi but eggizō which means drawing near or approaching. The day of the Lord is not imminent, but it is drawing near, approaching. It is the same word used by Peter when he says "the end of all things is at hand." (I Peter 4: 7)
This single statement by the Apostle Paul should be enough to refute the pre-trib teaching that the Apostles taught the "any moment" or "imminent" return of Christ. Greek scholar Lightfoot translates "at hand" as "is imminent." Paul denied that the coming of Christ and the gathering together (rapture) of believers was imminent! Though the Thessalonians thought the coming of Christ was "at hand," or imminent, Paul denies it to be so. Greek scholar A.T. Robertson says:
"Certainly it flatly denies that by conversation or by letter he had stated that the second coming was immediately at hand."
He also said:
"Moreover, Paul's words should make us hesitate to affirm that Paul definitely proclaimed the early return of Jesus. He hoped for it undoubtedly, but he did not specifically proclaim it as so many today assert and accuse him of misleading the early Christians with a false presentation."
In commenting upon "for it will not be," he writes:
"The second coming not only is not "imminent," but will not take place before certain important things take place, a definite rebuff to the false enthusiasts of verse 2." (Word Pictures)
Pre-trib commentators think that the Greek word enistēmi means "present" and so they judge the error of the Thessalonians to be that they thought that Christ had already come and that they had missed out on meeting him in the air and that this is why they are in tribulation or suffering persecution. They reason that the Thessalonians believed in a pre tribulation coming of Christ, and a pre tribulaton rapture, and that since they were in tribulation, Christ's parousia was then already a fact, already a present reality. However, if the Greek word enistēmi does not mean "already present," but impending or imminent, then this would argue that they believed that the tribulation that they were experiencing was proof that the coming of Christ, the gathering rapture, and day of Christ, was immediately to occur.
When an event is imminent, we say that it is "near." Likewise, when an object is near to another object, we may say that it is near. In the first instance we use the word "near" in regard to time, but in the latter case we use the word "near" in regard to space. But, Paul does not use enistēmi spatially but in respect to time and chronology. Thus, the word "present" is not the correct translation of the Greek word. Today, being December 20th, I can say that Christmas is "near." But, can I say that it is "present" because it is "near"? I can, however, say that Christmas is imminent or "at hand." The error of the Thessalonians, therefore, was not in thinking that the parousia of Christ was already a present reality, but in thinking that it was an impending event.
To think that the Thessalonians thought that Christ had already come and that the rapture had already occurred leads us to believe that the Thessloanians believed that the tribulation and persecution of Christians followed the coming of Christ, and that they did not believe that the kingdom of God would be the immediate result of his coming.
Paul's Explanatory Purpose
Paul clearly wants either to assure the Thessalonians that 1) Christ has not already come, or 2) that the coming of Christ was not imminent, would not immediately occur. Of course, Paul's affirmation that the coming of Christ was still future, though not imminent, would also overthrow any idea that it had already occurred.
Paul says "that day shall not come except there come a falling away first and that man of lawlessness be revealed." In saying this he dismisses the misconception that the tribulation and persecution that the Thessalonians were then experiencing was that tribulation that must precede the return of the Lord. Doubtless the Thessalonians were familiar with the teaching of Christ concerning the relation of coming tribulation to the return of Christ. Jesus taught:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matt. 24: 29-30)
Here Jesus says that it will be "immediately after the tribulation" that people will "see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven." Sadly, however, the pre-tribbers say that it is "immediately before the tribulation" that Christ comes rather than "immediately after."
When Paul says that "that day shall not come" he also includes the idea that "Christ shall not come" and "our gathering together unto him shall not come." The return of Christ and the rapture will not come "except there come a falling away first" and until "the man of lawlessness be revealed." I can think of no other clearer denial of the pre-trib doctrine than is contained in these words of the Apostle.
In these words Paul clearly affirms that some things must occur before the coming of Christ and before the rapture, a thing denied by those of the pre-trib school. Paul is also, by these words, assuring the Thessalonians that their present tribulation is not the tribulation foretold by Christ as occurring immediately before his return. The tribulation of which Christ foretold involved events that were not present in the tribulation being experienced by the Thessalonians. There was as yet no "falling away" and as yet no revelation of antichrist. Christ had foretold his disciples that they would first "see the abomination of desolation stand in the holy place" before his return. (Matt. 24: 15). It is this event that Paul has in mind when he says, of the man of lawlessness, that "he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." Paul thus denies that the tribulation that the Thessalonians were experiencing was that tribulation foretold by Christ because there was as yet no falling away nor any appearance of antichrist.
The Day of Christ
Though we agree with Seiss (see former posting) that "the day of the Lord" does not always focus on one event, nor cover one moment or a twenty four hour day, yet in the context of Paul's words in II Thessalonians chapter two, Paul does focus on a single event. By "the day of Christ" and "that day" Paul is focusing upon the visible bodily coming of Christ, the thing he had previously written to the Thessalonians about in his first epistle (I Thess. 4: 13-17). Though the entire time of the opening of the seven seals may be called "the day of the Lord" and "the day of judgment," it is not the case with the specific event of Christ descending bodily from heaven. Paul had said that the Lord "shall descend from heaven," and the angels in Acts one said Christ would descend from the clouds just as literally and visibly as he ascended into the clouds. This visible bodily descent does not take years to accomplish. In fact, this visible bodily descent from heaven does not occur till Revelation chapter nineteen when Christ comes riding upon the white horse.
When Paul mentions "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering unto him" he is clearly focusing upon the visible bodily descent of the Lord and upon the righteous living and dead meeting Christ in the lower air. That is the particular "day" Paul has in mind. "That day," says Paul, will not occur until some things occur "first." By "that day" Paul refers to the personal descent of Christ and the rapture.
A Singular Coming
Paul plainly says that the antichrist, or man of sin, will be destroyed by the epiphany of the Lord's coming, or by the appearing of his presence. (vs. 8). Thus, the question - who comes first, Christ or the man of sin? - is easily answered. Antichrist comes first. How could Christ destroy antichrist at his coming if he were not already here? The only thing the pre-tribber can do is to try to read the passage and put into the text more than one coming again of Jesus. But, this is not possible.
Paul mentions the "coming" of the Lord in two verses in this section of chapter two. In verse one he announces that the "coming" of the Lord and that gathering of the saints to him is the subject of his following remarks. Then again he mentions the "coming" of the Lord in verse eight, saying "whom the Lord shall destroy with the epiphany of his coming." If the "coming" of verse eight is the same coming of verse one, then the pre-trib, pre falling away, pre antichrist, coming of Christ is denied. That the coming of verse eight is the same coming of verse one is obvious. And, this being the case, Paul plainly affirms that Christ's coming, and the rapture that occurs at the time of his coming, must follow the apostasy and the revelation of antichrist.
The coming of verse eight, which follows the appearance of antichrist, cannot be anything other than his bodily descent and presence in the air and on the earth. This is clear not only from the fact that it is the same coming as mentioned in verse one, but because Paul adds the word "epiphany" (appearing or brightness) in verse eight. "The appearing (epiphany) of his coming (parousia)" cannot refer to a mere coming in judgment, but to his bodily descent from heaven as described in I Thessalonians 4.
Thus, in conclusion, we observe how Paul, like Christ, taught that the coming of Christ and the rapture of believers would not occur till after the tribulation and until after there had occurred "first" a general and great falling away and the appearance of antichrist. We may also say that Paul could just as easily referred to other prophesied events, other than the falling away and appearance of antichrist, to show that the coming of Christ and the rapture were not then imminent in his day. He could have said - "that day shall not come until the Gospel has been preached in all the world." He could have said - "that day shall not come till Elijah first appear." Etc. Paul did not teach, as do the pre-tribbers, that there are no events that must occur before the coming of Christ and before the rapture of the church.