In Christian circles there are three common teachings regarding the timing of the rapture as it relates to the tribulation. They are: pre-tribulation; mid-tribulation; and post-tribulation. A recently published book has added a fourth possible time: at some point between mid-tribulation and the end of the seven years.
I believe the rapture will occur before the revelation of antichrist and that this event will occur at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week (pre-tribulation).
While we do have a New Testament chronology in I Th. 4:13 - 5:10 (resurrection, rapture, day of the Lord), the definitive scripture is II Th. 2:1-8.
We see in I Th. 5:2 that the day of the Lord is to follow the rapture. Doing a simple check of ‘day of the Lord’ scriptures very quickly lets us know that this phrase is a reference to the wrath and judgment of God being poured out on the earth. This is an entirely different matter than the day of Christ which is properly a day of reward and blessing for Christians (I Cor. 1:8; II Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6,9-10; Phil. 2:16): i.e. the rapture.
II Th. 2 begins with a rapture statement: "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him…" Paul is about to make a very strong appeal, and he refers to his previous teaching on the rapture as the foundation for what he is about to say. He goes on to state that the reader should not be troubled by deceiving spirits, false teachers or forged epistles declaring that the day of Christ was near.
A paraphrase of II Th. 2:1-2 would go something like this: I beseech you brothers, by the rapture, that you are not troubled due to the nearness of the rapture. This is nonsensical. If the day of Christ is a reference to reward and blessing (the rapture), those in the persecuted Thessalonian church would not have been troubled by statements that it was near: they would have been thrilled!
However, the reference notes in my study Bible (Scofield), the Interlinear Bible (Biblesoft PC Study Bible), Ungar’s Bible Dictionary and several newer translations of the scripture, translate the phrase to read that they should not be troubled by false teachings that the day of the Lord was already present. This is an entirely different matter: a matter of great significance to the Thessalonians (and to us) because the gospel was on the line. In I Th. Paul had taught an imminent rapture that would precede the day of the Lord and that it would occur as a co-event with the resurrection. According to I Cor. 15:12-19 the entire scriptures hang on the resurrection of Jesus and the church. If Paul’s teaching regarding the rapture was incorrect, then it followed that he was also in error regarding the resurrection, and in fact, there was no gospel.
This explains why in II Th. 2:1 Paul based his argument on the rapture: he is stating that the day of the Lord could not possibly have arrived because the Thessalonians had not been resurrected and were still on earth.
In II Th. 2:3 Paul names two events that absolutely must precede the coming of the day of the Lord: first there must be a falling way, and last, the man of sin must be revealed.
The phrase ‘falling away’ is translated from the Greek word apostasia and we get our word apostasy from it. The word apostasy is simply a Greek to English transliteration of apostasia. In order to understand what apostasy is, the Greek definition and scriptural usage need to be consulted. The word apostasia is a noun and is found only twice in the entire New Testament: once in the passage we are addressing, and once in Acts 21:21 where the disciples in Jerusalem are questioning Paul regarding Jewish Christians having heard that they should ‘forsake’ (apostasia) Moses by not having their children circumcised. In Acts the word is further defined by qualification as to what is being forsaken and how, while in II Th. it is not. Accordingly, we must look to context to define the term, and the context is the rapture and the revelation of antichrist.
In a conversation with a friend whose native language is Greek, I was told that apostasia means: should be standing here, is standing there. Vine and Thayer define the word as: defection; and it is from a root word (aphistemi), a verb that means: to depart. The word defection is not necessarily a negative term. Witness all the Russian athletes and dancers that defected to the U.S.A. during the cold war. A person defects from a not so good place to a better place.
Most people interpret the word apostasia as meaning a turning from the true faith. While this is definitely prophesied for the last days (I Tim. 4:1; II Tim. 4:3 - neither of which contain the word apostasia) it is not necessarily implied in II Th. 2. While this word CAN mean defection from the truth (apostasy), there is a second correct definition, and that is departure.
Bibles from the 15th century that translate this word as departure include the Geneva Bible, The Great Bible, and Tyndale’s Bible. Scholars who do the same include: Coverdale (1535); Crammer (1539); Beza (1564); Rev. J. R. Major (1831); John James (1825); Robert Scott (Oxford Press 1811-1887); and Kenneth Wuest (Teacher Emeritus of New Testament Greek, Moody Bible Institute).
The point is this: there is a second correct translation of the word apostasia, and given the content of I Th. as well as the logic and order given in II Th. 2, I believe departure is the correct translation of the word.
Indeed, if the corrections are not made in the translations of ‘day of Christ is at hand’ and ‘falling away’, the imminency of the rapture is destroyed because it cannot occur until AFTER the revelation of the son of perdition (antichrist). This means that Christians are to be looking for the coming of antichrist, not Jesus Christ, and it removes the incentive for godly living and self-purification that go hand in hand with the doctrine of the rapture (I John 3:2-3). However, if the corrections are made, the departure IS the rapture, imminence is maintained, and we go on to learn WHY its timing is significant.
In II Th. 2:5 Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he had well taught on this subject while he was with them, and in verse 6 he states that they knew what was withholding the antichrist so that he might be revealed in his time. ‘His time’ is the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy.
Dan. 9:27 tells us that he will be revealed when he confirms the seven year covenant made with Israel and others. It is important to note that Daniel specifically used the word CONFIRM, not negotiate, sign, finalize, or any other word relating to the drafting or signing of this covenant. The Hebrew word that is translated confirm is a primitive root defined as: to be strong, to prevail, act insolently. In common usage, we confirm something that has already occurred or has been planned previously. For example, one can make a hotel reservation and then call back later to confirm the reservation, or one can call an airline to confirm whether or not a scheduled flight has arrived on time. I think we must consider the fact that there could very well be a gap of some duration of time between the actual finalization of this covenant and its confirmation. Antichrist will be revealed at the confirmation, not necessarily the signing.
According to II Th. 2:7 there was (and still is) a singular male person who is preventing the full working of the mystery of iniquity, and this person would continue to do so until he "be taken out of the way." Most people humbly agree that this person is the Holy Spirit. But notice the verse says "be taken", not, ‘leave under his own power.’
I raise a question: WHO could possibly remove the Holy Spirit? He is co-equal God with the Father and the Son and the three are in perfect agreement. He’s the person of the godhead who effects salvation (Eph. 1:13-14). If the Holy Spirit is to ‘be taken’ out of the way, from that point salvation would be an impossibility. This cannot be the case because salvation will continue so long as there are human beings in existence, which means at least through the millennium. Remember, God is not willing that any should perish, therefore he will always provide a way of salvation, and that way is provided by Jesus, the surety (Heb. 7:22) or guaranty of the better testament, which includes humans being sealed in our hearts with the Holy Spirit. If that covenant in its entirety ever loses any part of its effectiveness at any time, Jesus would no longer exist. As long as there are fallen human beings in existence, New Testament salvation will always be available for whosoever will come.
Others believe that since the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit has been the withholder of the mystery of iniquity and that he will be taken, not necessarily from the earth but from that position as withholder, thus allowing end-time events to occur. If this is so, then Rome, the kingdom "that is" in Rev. 17:10 (and which will rise again in the end-times to be ruled by the antichrist) should have fallen on Pentecost in 30 A.D. It didn’t. Instead, the ministry and works of the Holy Spirit are irrevocably tied to salvation. I don’t believe they will change in any way.
Since the ministry of the Holy Spirit will not change in any way, the withholder must be some other singular male person who definitely will BE TAKEN out of the way. I Th. 4:17 says the church will be "caught up". This phrase is translated from the Greek harpazo which is defined as: a forceful, violent seizure. It is the church who will literally be seized, or taken, out of the earth.
The withholder is in fact the Holy Spirit-sealed body of Christ. It’s true that we Christians are the body of Christ by virtue of our being sealed in our hearts with the Holy Spirit, but scripture states that this is not a permanent condition. Eph. 1:14 says of this sealing, "which is the earnest of OUR inheritance (jointly) UNTIL (there is a cut off point) the redemption (apolutrosis - ransom in full) of THE PURCHASED POSSESSION (singular), unto the praise of his glory." According to that verse, Christians will only be sealed with the Holy Spirit until we are totally delivered (spirit, soul and body) and that happens at the rapture. This means that Christians, the singular male body of Christ, are the withholder of the antichrist and will continue to withhold until we ARE TAKEN out of the way, and THEN shall That Wicked be revealed. As is stated in II Th. 2:3 there will be a departure before the revelation of antichrist, and that departure can only be the rapture of the church.
While many will be saved after the rapture, at that moment there will not be even one blood-bought believer left in the earth, and Satan will seize that moment to begin the process of revelation of the antichrist to the world. His time will have come.
Making the translation corrections and understanding the identity of the withholder in this chapter makes the entire passage crystal clear, presents a beautiful flow of logic, preserves the imminency of the rapture, and prevents scripture from contradicting itself. It also absolutely proves that the rapture will definitely occur before the revelation of the antichrist when Jesus opens the first seal in Rev. 6:1-2.