— Is The Man of Sin Revealed Before or After The Rapture? A Study of 2 Thessalonians Chapter 2 —
2 Thessalonians Chapter 2 has been a major source of debate, question and confusion when it comes to discussion of the Rapture of the church and its timing. Many pastors, writers and Bible students cite this chapter as proof that the Rapture must occur after the Antichrist has been revealed, based on verse 3 of the chapter. But is this the case? This article will show a very simple interpretation of this much-debated verse and correct a common mistake in its interpretation that will show that in line with the timing outlined in the Beginning and End Rapture series, the Rapture of the Church indeed takes places before the Antichrist emerges on the global scene.
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? – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5.
The verses in bold are where the Apostle Paul gives two clear “prophetic signposts”: the apostasy or falling away of many people in the church from the Christian faith and the revealing of “the man of sin”, a title for the Antichrist, the Satanically-empowered False Messiah who rule the world in the final years before the Second Coming of Christ. The questions and debates arise over, what event comes after these 2 signs? What is Paul talking about? Is he saying that the Rapture will not happen until the falling away and the revealing of the Antichrist? Will the church be here to see the Antichrist in power before being Raptured? Or is there another meaning altogether? Let’s examine the Scriptures in detail.
The Context Of 2 Thessalonians
It is always important to understand the context of a Biblical passage that one is interpreting. In the first letter written to the Church of Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul wrote a great deal about the end times. He explained the process of the Rapture, the end times gathering of the church, both dead and alive to meet The Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds and be taken into Heaven before the judgments of the end times:
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18.
He also discussed the Day of The Lord, the end times pouring out of God’s wrath on the unbelieving world.
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6.
The Day of The Lord is a series of judgments detailed in the chapters of the Book of Revelation’s seven trumpets and seven vials (for a more detailed discussion of the Day of The Lord, please see Part 1 of the Rapture series here). This period is also known Biblically as the Great Tribulation. In 1 Thessalonians Chapter 5, Paul assures the church that unlike the unbelieving world, they will not be surprised or overtaken by the Day of The Lord. He closes this passage writing:
“God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11.
The “wrath” referred to in verse 9 is not just a reference to the wrath in the lake of fire. It is an assurance that Christians will not experience the wrath of God during the Day of The Lord, but will escape through Jesus Christ via the Rapture, which Paul had just described in the prior chapter. So Chapters 4 and 5 flow perfectly together: there will be a gathering of all believers, supernaturally, to meet Jesus in the air and be taken to Heaven as described in Chapter 4. Following this, there will be the Day of The Lord, where the unbelieving world will be shocked, overtaken and punished in God’s wrath (described in Chapter 5). But this is not something believers need to worry about, because they are not appointed to wrath. This is why Paul tells the church to “comfort” one another with this information as they share it. It was good news! And it is still good news for Christians today.
False Information Invades The Church
By the time 2 Thessalonians was written, false information had entered this church. Whether it was by an incorrect interpretation or prophecy, or by a false letter written by an imposter in Paul’s name, something had shaken the faith of this church in their belief about the end times. They were under the impression that due to the persecution they were suffering, that they were experiencing the end time wrath of God during the Great Tribulation at that time. Paul uses the book of 2 Thessalonians to reassure them that was not the case. It is very important to understand this background when reading chapter 2. With this understanding we can examine the verses in question.
Dividing The Scriptures
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him.
This verse describes two distinct events: the Second Coming of Christ to Earth (“the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”) which occurs in Revelation 19 and the Rapture (“our gathering together unto him”), which occurs at the 6th Seal in Revelation 6. The description of the two events is consistent with the dual nature of “Christ’s Coming” as described in prophetic Scripture. He comes in the clouds at the Rapture to receive His Bride, the Church and return to Heaven. And He returns on a white horse with His Holy Angels and all His saints for the battle of Armageddon at His Second Coming. This is dual nature is supported by various Scriptures:
(B&E: The careful Bible student is strongly encouraged to check those passages and see the confirmation of the author’s point for themselves).
The Day of Christ
Continuing in the passage we get to the critical verses for understanding the timing of the revealing of the “man of sin”, or the Antichrist:
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; –2 Thessalonians 2:2-3.
Verse 2 is where much of the confusion arises. Many articles and commentaries skip over the phrase “the day of Christ is at hand” and jump to the two signs given in verse 3 (the falling away in the church and the revealing of the Antichrist). However, this phrase cannot be overlooked. When Paul is giving the signs in verse 3 he is mentioning them with respect to the “day of Christ.” The “day of Christ” is a term for the Second Coming of Christ to Earth as described in Revelation 19. Even in the first chapter of 2 Thessalonians Paul described the Second Coming as “that day”:
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. – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10.
Jesus returns to take vengeance on the Antichrist and the unbelieving world at Armageddon. This passage is clearly referencing the Second Coming. We also see the specific term “Day of Christ” used by the Apostle Paul in several other instances:
“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” – Philippians 1:9-11.
Paul’s exhortation in this passage is that the Christians in this church remain in Christ until the Second Coming, which is the end of this world (as the Kingdom of Christ will then begin). So from the context the phrase “the day of Christ” is referring to the Second Coming.
Some have argued that the Day of Christ and the Day of The Lord are the same event. However, Paul dispels that notion in the following verse:
Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. – Philippians 2:16.
When interpreting the Bible, God instructs us that Scripture defines Scripture. Clearly Paul would not be rejoicing in the midst of the devastating end times judgments poured out during The Day of The Lord. Instead he is writing that he will rejoice at the Second Coming knowing that this moment, when Christ returns to Earth to establish His Kingdom, will make all of Paul’s work and labor in spreading the Gospel not be in vain. The Second Coming is the full glorification of Jesus Christ and His Church on Earth for all to see. Thus it will be a time of great rejoicing.
By the context of the passage and other Scripture confirmations, the Day of Christ refers to the Second Coming. So when Paul is addressing the Thessalonians he is telling them not to be shaken or scared to think the Second Coming was “at hand” and thus they missed the Rapture and were in the middle of experiencing the Great Tribulation.
For some reason, many have interpreted “that day” in verse 3 to mean the Rapture and wrongly teach: “So what Paul is saying is that the Rapture will not happen until the apostasy and the Antichrist is revealed.” But we can know from basic Scriptural interpretation and looking at the context of the verses that Paul is clearly talking about the “day of Christ”, just described in the prior verse.
Remembering the context of this book (the Thessalonian church based on false information thought they were experiencing the Great Tribulation and thus missed the Rapture) we can see that Paul’s correction makes sense. In short he is telling them that the Second Coming of Christ will not take place until there is the falling away in the church and the Antichrist is revealed. These 2 major signs were proof to the Thessalonians that they were NOT experiencing the Great Tribulation. This is the correction to their belief that Paul is trying to drive home.
In giving the context of this passage, Bible commentator Jonathan Gill wrote:
“In this chapter the apostle guards against a notion, as if the second coming of Christ was at hand; declares that, previous to it, there must be a great apostasy, and a revelation of antichrist; comforts the saints against fears of being included in this defection; exhorts them to stand fast in the faith, and closes this chapter with petitions for them.” (source).
The Christian Perspective
If the Rapture was supposed to take place after the Great Tribulation, why would the Thessalonians be troubled or shaken? Wouldn’t they have been excited and thrilled to know that they were just years away from being raptured, the Second Coming and the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ? Christians, especially in the first century, were eagerly awaiting the Second Coming and the Kingdom of Christ on Earth. If it were just years away there would be no concern or fear on their parts. But since they wrongly believed they had missed the Rapture of all believers and were experiencing the wrath of God on Earth with unbelievers, Paul assured them with two clear prophetic “sign posts” that would mark the time of Day of The Lord: the falling away of the church from Biblical Christianity and the revealing of the Antichrist.
There is an escape from the massive persecution and judgments of the end times: the Rapture. And this is why Paul “comforts” the Thessalonians by informing them that they had not missed the Rapture because it had not occurred yet. If they were destined to experience the entire end times, Paul would have stated so plainly and encouraged them to “get ready” for it. Instead he wrote to correct their misunderstanding and comfort them from their fears.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work. – 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17.
Conclusion – The Rapture Precedes The Revealing of The Antichrist
Lord willing this article provides some clarification on a verse that has been widely misinterpreted in much of prophetic research today. When understood in context, 2 Thessalonians 2 confirms that the Rapture of the church will indeed take place before the revealing of the Antichrist. And when Paul speaks of “that day”he is referring to the Second Coming of Christ and not the Rapture.