– By Jack Kinsella –
In the days of the Apostle Paul, the city of Thessalonica
was the largest city in Macedonia, boasting a population of
nearly 200,000 people – a megapolis of the ancient world.
The majority of its inhabitants were Greek, although there
was a mixture of ethnic groups, including Jews.
Paul’s letters to the Church at Thessalonica are accepted
as authentic by virtually all New Testament scholars. The
book was quoted by name by early Church Fathers including
Iraneus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Polycarp.
The first epistle is divided into three parts or themes. In
the first part, Paul reiterates his relationship with the
Thessalonians, gives thanks to God for them, and outlines
the evidence that the Thessalonians were truly saved, in
contrast to what the Judaizers were saying about them.
“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in
we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to
serve the living and true God; And to wait for His Son from
heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which
delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians
In the second part, Paul defends his credentials as an
Apostle and the legitimacy of the Thessalonians’s
conversion and his urgent desire to see them again.
“For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you,
that it was not in vain: But even after that we had
suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know,
at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the
gospel of God with much contention” (1 Thessalonians
“But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in
presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to
see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have
come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan
hindered us” (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18).
The third major theme of the epistle is the imminent return
of the Lord for His church at the Rapture. It is a source
of endless fascination to me to read the various polemics
arguing against the Rapture on the grounds that it was a
nineteenth-century invention of J.N. Darby or Margaret
MacDonald or C.I. Schofield.
Other scholars, such as my friend Grant Jeffrey, have long
since proved that the Rapture doctrine was taught by the
early Church as far back as 373 AD when he discovered an
ancient text authored by Ephraem the Syrian, a prominent
In On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the
World, Ephraem wrote:
“For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to
the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord
lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world
because of our sins.”
The most fascinating aspect of Grant’s discovery is the
effort to discredit it by opponents of a pre-Trib Rapture
by denying Ephraem’s authenticity, called the discovery
This argument says that Ephraem didn’t write it, somebody
else did. Is that even a relevant argument?
I was at Grant’s house visiting shortly after he made his
discovery in 1995 and Grant showed me a book in his
collection published in the 1600’s in which Ephraem’s
teaching on the Rapture was quoted by a French theologian.
So denying Ephraem’s authorship is meaningless to the issue
at hand, (which was whether the Rapture had been taught
prior to the 1800’s.)
Personally, I’ve never understood how there could be a
controversy. Whether pseudo-Ephraem or just plain Ephraem –
or Darby, Schofield, MacDonald – they are largely
irrelevant – since the Apostle Paul taught of an imminent
Rapture in his FIRST epistle to the Thessalonians.
The controversy is about whether or not some subsequent
interpreter confirmed what God told Paul, and it extends
until what Paul actually wrote doesn’t seem to matter.
But Paul not only outlined the Rapture in detail, he fully
expected to witness it himself.
“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 (or precede) 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
But the verses about the Rapture don’t actually complete
the third theme of Paul’s first epistle to Thessolonica.
Paul addresses questions concerning his credentials as an
Apostle, confirms that the Thessalonians are truly saved,
and reveals the details of the Rapture.
The Thessalonians, like many in the Church today, missed
the point of Paul’s first Epistle. The point was that the
Lord’s return should be a source of great comfort, not a
source of contention.
“For 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 message is as clear as it can possibly be. As clear as
this message is, some have trouble understanding it, even
today. Paul says that Lord will appear in the air, the dead
in Christ will rise, those still living will rise right
after, and we will then spend eternity with the Lord.
Paul says the purpose of this revelation was to comfort
believers facing hard times. What completes the theme is
Paul’s exhortation at the end.
“Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1
Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians had but one
primary purpose, as specifically outlined in Chapter Two.
It was to correct the doctrinal errors that an apparently
forged letter from Paul had created about the Day of the
The Thessalonians feared that the Day of the Lord had come
and gone and they had been left behind.
“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” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
The phrase, “our gathering together” is translated from the
Greek, episunagoge, which means “a complete collection;
especially a Christian meeting: assembling, gathering
together.” It is used but one other time, in Hebrews 10:25
exhorting believers to meet for worship.
As we go on, let’s ask and answer some questions from the
text of Scripture.
First question: “What is Paul beseeching the Thessalonians
about?” Answer: “That they not be shaken by a letter that
said they had been left behind.”
The primary theme of 2nd Thessalonians is therefore, the
coming of our Lord and our gathering together, or
collecting, unto Him. Paul begins by offering two reasons
why the Thessalonians should not be afraid that they had
been left behind.
“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
So, what is the first reason why the Thessalonians should
know that they had not missed the event Paul had described
in his last letter? Because the day would not come until
there came “a falling away first.”
The translation “a falling away” should actually be
rendered, “THE falling away” namely, the specific falling
away of which Paul warned them of “when I was yet with you”
(2 Thessalonians 2:5).
The “falling away” is the great apostasia, meaning, “a
defection from the truth.”
The second reason why the Thessalonians should not be
afraid that they had been left behind was because the man
of sin, or the son of perdition, had not yet been revealed.
The man of sin is, of course, the antichrist.
The man of sin can’t be revealed until after the great
apostasia because it is through the apostasia that the man
of sin is revealed. Without the apostasia, the antichrist
couldn’t get a foothold because the population would not be
prepared to buy what he will be selling.
But what else does this passage teach us? The Rapture
couldn’t have happened because the antichrist had not been
revealed. What does that mean? It HAS to mean that the
Rapture comes first and then later, the antichrist is
I have heard all kinds of clever and imaginative
explanations for why these verses don’t mean what they say
they mean, but none of them ever actually take on the
They just go out and find others from elsewhere that seem
contradictory but I’ve never heard anyone adequately
dispute these two simple points – which is probably the
reason Paul raised them.
One can come up with verses that seemingly put the Church
in the Tribulation, or verses that seemingly dispute the
meaning of “the wrath of God” and verses that question who
the Restrainer is, or dispute the meaning of the Day of
Christ, and so on.
But Paul says that there are two things that must come
after “our gathering together unto Him” – the great
apostasia, and the revelation of the son of perdition. So
if the Thessalonians don’t perceive a great apostasy,
followed by the revealing of the antichrist, then it means
they didn’t miss the Rapture.
Let’s reverse this equation and take another look at what
Paul is saying from that angle.
Paul is saying that if the Thessalonians DO perceive a
great falling away and they DO recognize “the man of sin,
the son of perdition,” then YES, they missed the Rapture.
Turned back around, he’s saying that because the man of sin
hasn’t been revealed, the Rapture has not happened. Why?
Because the Rapture comes first. Not because Darby,
MacDonald, Schofield or even Ephraem the Syrian invented
the doctrine after the fact.
But because the doctrine was already well-established in
the first century by the Apostle Paul!
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound
doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to
themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall
turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned
unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
The first reference to a pre-Trib Rapture comes from the
Bible. It is not a cunningly devised fable, but is a
doctrine made known to us by eyewitnesses of His Majesty (2
It wasn’t turned into a cunningly devised fable until after
the great apostasia first kicked off at the end of the
nineteenth century with the “Age of Enlightenment.”
The Great Apostasia is Part One and it is pretty much fully
developed. As for Part Two, the revelation of the
antichrist, well, THAT looks like it’s fulfillment is just
around the corner. And according to the Apostle Paul, we
won’t be here for Part Two.
“Wherefore, comfort one another with these words” (1