“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2not 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. 3Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”[2 Thessalonians 2:1-4]
As I discussed in an earlier post, those who hold a pre-tribulation rapture of the church are required to divide the Second Coming of Christ into two distinct stages, or phases. In this view, the pre-tribulation rapture is the FIRST PHASE of the SECOND COMING and could happen at any moment without warning or sign. Then the SECOND PHASE of the SECOND COMING would be considered the final return of the LORD to the earth, which is preceded by specific signs on the prophetic timetable.
The Scriptures, however, make no such distinction and rather emphasize the great and terrible Day of the LORD and His Second Coming, which will be immediately following the great tribulation (Matthew 24:29-31). There is only one Second Coming of Christ, and according to the spirit of prophecy and testimony of Jesus (Rev. 19:10), there are many significant and specific signs that must precede the return of the King to earth.
My introductory passage from 2 Thessalonians 2 is one of the most straightforward in all of Scripture that proves this fact. If interpreted correctly, this passage clearly indicates that Jesus Christ cannot return “at any moment.” There are certain events on the prophetic timeline that must happen before Jesus comes again.
Before we examine this key passage, I want to clarify that I am not telling the King of the universe what He can and cannot do. Obviously the Lord Jesus is capable of doing anything and everything He so pleases according to His perfect nature and holy will. But what I am saying is that God has inextricably bound His future actions to His own prophetic word, meaning that which has been foreordained in the Scriptures will come to pass as it has been revealed in His Holy word. (Isaiah 46:9-11)
Now let’s break down 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4.
The context of this letter to the believers in Thessalonica is dealing with the church’s misunderstanding of the return of Jesus. The Apostle Paul is attempting to correct false teachings and comfort the church by reminding them that the Day of the LORD (i.e. the Return of Jesus) has not yet come. The reason Paul is able to assure them is that he provides several specific signs that must precede the return of Christ. In other words, there is no reason to be alarmed or anxious that the church could miss the second coming of Christ because God has promised these signs must first take place.
Here we are nearly 2,000 years removed from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, and these signs have not manifested and Jesus has yet to return. Therefore, we also should heed Paul’s words.
The Coming of the Lord
Paul makes it clear that the following passage is “concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). For those who hold a pre-tribulation (or even mid-tribulation) position, which coming is Paul referring to here — the first second coming or the second second coming?
This isn’t a problem for the post-tribulation position because historically the church has only recognized one second coming of Christ at the end of the age. The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to earth will take place immediately following the great tribulation at the end of the age (Mt. 24:29-31, 1 Cor. 15:23-28).
Our Being Gathered unto Him
Next, Paul mentions “our being gathered unto him” (v. 1). This is one of the most clear, plain references to the rapture of the church in all of Scripture. The Greek word Paul uses here for “gathered” is [episunagó], which is the exact same word Jesus uses in the Olivet discourse to describe the gathering of God’s people at His second coming.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather [episunagó] his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”[Matthew 24:29-31]
Paul draws directly from the words of Jesus and describes this very same event in his first letter to the Thessalonians.
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”[1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]
That DAY Will Not Come Unless …
Now that we have established that this passage is describing the second coming of Jesus Christ which coincides with the rapture of the church, Paul wants to ensure believers that we will not miss His return because certain prophetic signs must happen first. Paul emphasizes the importance that God’s people avoid deception and false teaching concerning the second coming of Christ.
In my opinion, the teaching of a secret, imminent pre-tribulation rapture is precisely the kind of erroneous teaching that Paul is talking about. Nothing could be more discouraging for a believer than to be hoping to escape the great tribulation and suddenly be thrust into the midst of trials and persecution. It is easy to see how such a major misinterpretation of Scripture could cause alarm, anxiety and great doubt in the heart of a believer who isn’t prepared.
Sign #1 — The Great Apostasy
Pauls provides the first sign that will precede the return of the LORD, saying that there will be a collective turning away from the faith and rejection of Christ in the last days. Obviously we are seeing more and more compromise in the church and the great potential for mass deception and a subsequent defection the faith. Jesus and Paul both warn us of the spirit of apostasy in the end times.
“And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”[Matthew 24:10-12]
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.”[1 Timothy 4:1]
As false teaching abounds and more people are deceived, Satan is setting the stage to come working false signs and wonders that would deceive even the elect, if it were possible. This rebellion, or apostasy, will be unique and unmistakable to the remnant of true believers who remain faithful to Christ.
Sign #2 — The Man of Lawlessness
Next we learn that Jesus will not return until after the Antichrist is revealed. Paul makes it clear that the church will not only be here on earth for the revealing of the Antichrist — the son of destruction — but that believers will suffer persecution at the hands of the Antichrist and his evil forces. Historically, the church fathers overwhelmingly agreed that the last generation would face the Antichrist. They developed this view directly from the Scriptures. Paul, again, is drawing from the teachings of Jesus, who warned all believers about the coming of the Antichrist and the abomination of desolation.
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.[Matthew 24:15-22]
Sign #3 — The Third Temple
Finally, Paul says that the Antichrist will exalt Himself in a literal Temple in Jerusalem. Being that there is no existing Temple today, we can expect a third Temple to be constructed in these last days, and we can expect the Antichrist to hijack the holy place of God and profane the Temple and use it as his throne of self-glory.
So we can be certain that Jesus will not come again until there is another literal Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem. The Apostle John also reminds us that the Temple and Jerusalem will be trampled under the foot of the nations for 3 1/2 years.
“Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.”[Rev 11:1-2]
To briefly recap, the Bible says that the coming of the Lord Jesus and the rapture of the church (our gathering unto Him) WILL NOT TAKE PLACE unless these specific signs happen first. Why else would the Lord Jesus give us so many signs to look for and the Holy Spirit to discern the times if we aren’t going to be here to begin with?
Can Jesus Christ return at any moment?
According to the testimony of Jesus Himself, NO. These things must take place before He comes.
He is calling us to wait and watch and witness until that Day!