A dominant theme in both of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian church is End Times’ prophecy. In the first letter, Paul primarily answers the question of whether believers who have died will be reunited with those who are still alive at the time of the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18), and Paul instructs them concerning their own hope in the Lord’s return. In his second letter Paul primarily writes to reassure the Thessalonian believers that they are not already in the day of the Lord.
A very important eschatological revelation in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians is that during his stay with them, he had taught about a pre-Tribulation rapture and therefore, they contain the most detailed explanation of it.
The first letter to the Thessalonians
The first letter to the Thessalonians is written after a report back from Timothy, who had just returned from a visit with the fledgling church. Timothy’s report to Paul revealed that the young church had not fully understood Paul’s teaching on the rapture. They were concerned that the members of the church who had died since Paul’s visit, would miss both the rapture and the Millennial Kingdom rule of Jesus. So, Paul answers this concern with a detailed explanation of what will happen to both those believers who have died before the rapture, and those believers who are alive at the trumpet call (1 Thess. 4:13-18). After his explanation Paul reminds them that no one knows the timing of the return of Jesus, as He comes as a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2). Paul goes on to make a distinction between the saved and unsaved at this time by alternating his pronouns between “you” (believers) and “they” (non-believers). For example, in 1 Thess. 5:3 Paul says “For when they shall say, peace and safety, then suddenly destruction cometh upon them as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape” (KJV; emphasis added), indicating the suddenness of the return. Notice that the “peace and safety” they are living in prior to the Lord’s return discounts both a post-Tribulation and a pre-wrath rapture. There will be no peace and safety for the world during the Great Tribulation. Then in 1 Thessalonians 5:4, Paul clarifies that the Church will escape by saying “but ye brothers are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief” (KJV; emphasis added). Because the Church does not live in darkness, they are not part of the judgement that the Lord brings to the earth, and so the Church will be raptured before the judgement. The Church is required to be like a Jewish bride, expectantly watching and waiting for the Lord’s return, all the while dutifully carrying on the work of the Lord, daily putting on the armour of God.
Paul emphasises this in 1 Thess. 2:19 when he says “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?” The great hope that Paul writes of in this Scripture, is that the Church will escape the “destruction” that will come upon the earth during the Tribulation.
Paul ends his detailed explanation to the Thessalonians on what will happen to both those believers who have died before the rapture and those believers who are alive at the trumpet call (1 Thess. 4:13-18), by saying “therefore comfort (exhort) one another with these words (KJV)”. Scripture records that the first part of the Tribulation is filled with spiritual deception and lies, as the Antichrist rises to world dominance. And, the book of Revelation records the severe judgements God will pour down upon the Earth in the last days, which will result in the deaths of billions of people and the devastation of the earth. How is it possible that mid-Tribulation, pre-wrath and post-Tribulation proponents are able to say that their views give comfort to believers? Both the spiritual deception of the first three and a half years of the Tribulation, and the extensive judgements of the Great Tribulation are a part of the wrath of God. The Antichrist must be seen as a judgement from God, he is Satan’s ultimate deception, who will lead multitudes to an eternity in the Lake of Fire. Only the pre-Tribulation view can truly say that Jesus will “deliver us from the coming wrath,” and therefore only the pre-Tribulation view can give comfort to believers. Jesus is coming soon!
Since a correct understanding of the rapture plays a key role in interpreting 2 Thessalonians 2, an explanation of the event is necessary:
The rapture is an amazing revelation of the great love Jesus has for His Bride the Church. We, the Church, “the Bride of Christ,” should be responding to Jesus with that same love, which includes a yearning to be with Him. A Bride longs for the day of her wedding, a time when she will at last be truly bound to her husband in a union of love. This is the emotion our Lord Jesus expects from His Bride, the Church, which would be in line with, but never matching, His great love for us – His Bride – the body of people He died for. Jesus longs for the time when we will be with Him to rule and reign with Him. The rapture needs to be understood from this perspective: a bride is being called out to be with her bridegroom for the marriage ceremony.
There is an often repeated accusation by those that reject the rapture as an end time even, that the rapture is only in the imagination of the pre-millennialists and that the word rapture does not even exist in Scripture. This is very true, the word “rapture” does not appear anywhere in the various English Bible translations. However, the word “rapture” was introduced into the English language by Protestants who took the word from the dominant Bible of the pre-Reformation Church, Jerome’s Vulgate, a Latin translation of the original Greek New Testament. The word “rapture” is taken from the statement in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where Paul explains that believers will be “caught up… to meet the Lord in the air.” The Greek word explaining the act of being “caught up” is harpazo, which means to be grasped hastily, to be snatched up. The Greek word harpazo translated into Latin is raeptius, which eventually became the term used today – rapture – which signifies the believer being caught up to be with Jesus, in the air, for the marriage supper and the union of Jesus with His Church. The event is described in detail in both 1 Cor. 15:50-57 and 1 Thess. 4:13-18:
1 Cor. 15:51-54:
“Listen I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep but we will all be changed – in a flash in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable have been clothed with imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”
1 Thess. 4:16-17:
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
In the two Scriptures Paul reveals the mystery of the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51). A mystery in Scripture is a truth that was previously hidden from the knowledge of man and which is now revealed. The two Scriptures combined together give a clear picture of the events that make up the rapture.
The rapture begins with Jesus descending from heaven to the clouds above the earth. Then, at the sound of a trumpet, a loud command is given, calling those who believe in Him as their Lord and saviour to join Him in the air above the earth. Paul makes it clear that the rapture is for the Church only when he writes “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). Jesus is only returning for the Church, the Bride of Christ. The saints of the Old Testament could not enter heaven until the price for their redemption was paid for by Jesus on the cross, and their bodily resurrection will only take place when everyone is resurrected just prior to the Great White Throne of Judgement, “some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). The rapture occurs in a flash, the human eye will not be able to capture the event. It will occur “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51). One moment the person will be on earth the next they will have vanished.
The first to arise at the call are all the saints who have died since the crucifixion of Jesus. As their corrupted bodies are raised from the grave they are changed into immortal bodies. Then those believers in Jesus who are alive at the time of the rapture are raised from the earth to heaven, escaping death, and their bodies are changed from mortal to immortal bodies that will live for eternity. As these believers do not die, but are translated into the presence of God, death has had no hold on them and they will truly be able to say “Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting?”
Paul clearly teaches that the raptured saints will receive heavenly bodies, much the same as the resurrected body of Jesus; this is the primary purpose of the rapture. In our eternal bodies we will be able to think about being at some destination and appear there (Luke 24:31; John 20:19). We will be able to pass through solid objects (John 20:19, 26). Although we will not require food as an energy resource, we will be able to eat (Luke 24:41-43). These are just some of the marvels our immortal bodies will be able to perform.
The resurrected saints then, are raised in immortal bodies and will be gathered to be with the Lord in the air. In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul compares the union of husband and wife to that of Christ and the Church. This union attains fulfilment at the rapture, as the Bride of Christ will journey with Jesus to heaven where the marriage supper of the Lamb will take place “and so [they] will be with the Lord forever.”
The certainty of the rapture is made clear by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 when he writes “we believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep (have died) in him.” Paul is assuring the Thessalonians that the belief in the rapture was just as certain as their belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, Paul is elevating the rapture to a very important doctrinal position. The Church needs to take cognizance of the significance of the rapture in Scripture.
Concerning the Coming of our Lord Jesus: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2
“1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not 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”.
The second letter to the Thessalonians is written by Paul to deal with a crisis started by a forged letter supposedly written by Paul, which stated that the suffering and persecution the Thessalonians were facing was because they were already in the Day of the Lord. This contradicted what Paul had taught them in his first letter regarding a pre-Tribulation rapture and had left the Thessalonians shaken and troubled. So, Paul writes his second letter to them to assure them that they are not in the Day of the Lord and he ensures that they know that the letter is from him by including his signature (2 Thess. 3:17). Paul deals with the deception of the forged letter at the start of Chapter 2, by referring to “the coming of our Lord Jesus” coinciding with “our being gathered to Him” – the rapture. Paul is clearly making a distinction between Jesus coming for His Bride (1 Thess. 4:16-18) and His coming with His Church (Rev. 19:14). Also, the fact that Paul starts his explanation with the promise of the rapture must have an important bearing on whether the Day of the Lord has already occurred. Paul is informing the Thessalonians of the chronological order of the Day of the Lord, emphasising that since the rapture had not yet occurred; they could not be in the Day of the Lord. Paul is therefore teaching a pre-Tribulation rapture.
The Man of Lawlessness: 2 Thessalonians 2:3
Paul, to ensure that the Thessalonians would not be deceived by false teachings regarding the Day of the Lord, proceeds to give an extremely important revelation concerning the last days, and the Antichrist.
“3 Let 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.”
An important word that needs to be interpreted correctly to derive the full meaning of verse 3, is the Greek word apostasía: The four main ways that the different Bible translation interpret the word are:
Rebellion: New International Version; New Living Translation; English Standard Version; Berean Study Bible; Contemporary English Version; Douay-Rheims Bible; Good News Translation; International Standard Version; NET Bible; New Heart English Bible.
Apostacy: Berean Literal Bible; New American Standard Bible; NASB 1997; Amplified Bible; Christian Standard Bible; Holman Christian Standard Bible; Weymouth New Testament.
Falling away: King James Bible; New King James Version; American Standard Version; English Revised Version; Young’s Literal Translation.
Revolt: Aramaic Bible in Plain English; GOD’S WORD® Translation.
Billy Graham writes that “Most people think of an apostate as a person who has denied the theology of his faith. But the Biblical teaching about apostasy goes far deeper than that. The ‘falling away’ mentioned by Paul to the church at Thessalonica indicates that apostasy affected every area of life. The word is so strong and so emphatic that it suggests a complete breakdown of morals, ethics and spirituality” (1). All four words used to translate apostasía refer to a falling away from the faith, with an apostate, rebellious, counterfeit Christianity becoming prominent in the last days, which would form the platform for the Antichrist’s rise to power.
Paul’s warning of the apostacy in the latter days is not the only warning in Scripture, in the last series on Matthew 24 (part 1) the warnings by Jesus of deception in the last days was covered in detail, including evidence of the apostate Ecumenical Church; other warnings in Scripture are:
- 1 Timothy 4:1-2:
“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, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared”.
- 2 Timothy 4:3-4:
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths”.
- Revelation 3:14-22: The seven Churches of Revelation were not only seven churches at the time the book of Revelation was written, but they also correspond to seven periods of Church history. All seven churches have existed through the two-thousand-year history of the church, but in turn, through the passage of time, each church has become the dominant type of church for that age. We are now in the last “Church age,” which is Laodicea, the wealthy church that believes they are rich, but are told by Jesus that they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”. The last Church stage the dominant “Church” of the age is in complete apostacy, with Jesus outside of the church knocking on the door. In support of this insight is the fact that Laodicea comes from two Geek words Lao Dictaomi, meaning “people’s opinions” – apostacy is caused by man’s opinions replacing God’s word.
The repeated warnings by Paul of the apostacy of the last days point to more than a mere “falling away” from The Faith as the King James translation would suggest, which conjures up an image of people doing secular activities on a Sunday, rather than attending church. The context of the Scripture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 being connected to the rise of the Antichrist to power, emphasizes that there is more than an intellectual decision being made by people, but a philosophical change away from God towards self, that is driven by pride, and which results in moral corruption, and abandonment of Biblical values.
In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, & 7, Paul lists the moral degradation of mankind in the last days, which will be reflected in the apostacy of the Last Days Church:
- For men will be lovers of themselves.
- Lovers of money.
- Disobedient to parents.
- Without self-control.
- Despisers of good.
- Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
- Having a form of godliness but denying its power.
- Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
After reading this detailed list, one would be able to say that the list is of the immoral actions of man throughout history, not just a warning of the moral decay of the Last Days. That would be very true, however, it must be noted that Paul is writing about the Church! God has given Paul this insight for the Church to take a long look at ourselves, it is those that proclaim that they are representatives of the Church that are the subject God has put under scrutiny in these verses.
There is a problem in many Evangelical Churches today where the focus is on “pastoring” the flock. Don’t get me wrong, having people with pastoral giftings is vital for the Church, the problem is that troubles arise in the Church when it is not matched by Church discipline. Love of others is essential in any church, but just as in a family where there is no discipline, and the focus is on only providing love, this results in spoilt children, or in this case congregants. Paul uses the metaphor of believers in the army of the Lord – any army needs discipline. Church leaders are to keep an eye out for the following ways apostacy can be entering their church:
- When people twist Scripture or pervert the truth to fit an agenda. They want to be allowed to do what they want.
- The individual’s lifestyle is contrary to Christian morals and values. Couples living together outside of marriage is a common example.
- A focus on worldly events more than the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
- Pride is the enemy of the Church, and is the root cause of all the problems listed above. Individuals filled with pride will continually elevate themselves above others, and expect the Church to give them special consideration.
Examples of Apostate Christianity in the 21st Century are:
- The Prosperity Gospel, preaching faith in faith, rather than faith in God.
- The Social Gospel, where alleviation of poverty supersedes evangelisation and saving the lost. They teach that Jesus will return when there is no longer poverty in the world.
- The Post-modernist Gospel, with a focus on the individual designing the religion that best suits them.
- The hyper Charismatic and Pentecostal apostate movements, where the centre of attention is on experiencing the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit should never replace Jesus as the focus of the Church. Jesus came to serve, now the Holy Spirit has replaced him, and serves by pointing mankind to Jesus.
- Liberation Theology, which has an ideology of relieving “the oppressed” by whatever means, including the purchase and supply of weapons to radicals. Closely related to the Social Gospel.
- Orthodoxy, where salvation is through the tradition of the church.
- Liberal theology, where man is in charge of his destiny, and God must adjust to the progressive development of humanity.
- The Love Gospel – the accepting of differences as long as we all love Jesus (ecumenicalism). And, there is no such thing as a wrathful God who judges sin.
- Cults such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s witness and Christian Scientists.
So, at the start of chapter 2, Paul explains that the rapture will not occur until there is an apostacy (rebellion) in the Church, which allows for the rise of the Antichrist (man of lawlessness). The words Paul uses to describe the Antichrist are very revealing:
- “The man of lawlessness,” connects the Antichrist with the apostate religion. The Antichrist will reject the Word of God, replacing God’s wisdom with man’s philosophies. The Antichrist needs the apostate faith as a platform to build on.
- “The son of destruction,” or the “son of perdition (KJV),” is a term used for only one other man in Scripture – Judas. Son of perdition means that Satan has possessed the individual and is controlling their actions. So, it was Satan who drove Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:27), and once the betrayal was complete, Satan left Judas. Then the gravity of his actions convicted Judas, and being filled with remorse, he committed suicide (Matthew 27:5).
- (1) Billy Graham, Todays Apostacy. https://decisionmagazine.com/todays-apostasy/. 03/10/21.
The Antichrist Exalts Himself: 2 Thessalonians 2:4-5
“4 Who 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. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”
Three and a half years into the Tribulation the Antichrist will stop the Temple worship, and proclaim himself to be god. In doing so he will claim superiority to all religions and erect a statute of himself in the Temple requiring that all worship him and his idol (Rev. 13:14-15). Daniel and Jesus refer to the idol as the “abomination of desolation” (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15), as the presence of the idol in the Temple desecrates the Temple.
Several Scripture passages record the Antichrist exalting himself, the first two are both from Daniel, a book that does much to reveal the character and actions of the false messiah:
“He (the Antichrist) shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25).
“He (the Antichrist) will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods.” (Daniel 11: 36).
Then from Isaiah, referring to Lucifer who possesses the Antichrist:
“You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon; I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High'” (Isaiah 14:13-14).
Revelation also refers to the Antichrist’s self-exaltation, he is revealed as “the beast that comes out of the sea.”
“The beast [rising out of the sea] was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven” (Revelation 13:5-6).
This Antichrist will exercise complete authority for a short period of time. During this period of rule, he will exalt himself above God, blaspheming God through action and word. “The man of lawlessness,” will do what he pleases, and oppress and persecute God’s people. Then his end shall come.
Paul concludes the revelation by reminding the Thessalonians that he taught them about the Antichrist and his rebellion to God. So, they should have known that as the Antichrist had not risen to power, they could not be in the Tribulation. Paul is amazed at how easily the Thessalonian’s have been deceived, which emphasizes for us living in the Last Days, just how important it is for the Church to study End Times prophecy.
The Mystery of “Iniquity”: 2 Thessalonians 2:7a.
“For the mystery of lawlessness (iniquity [KJV]) is already at work”
Scripture reveals to us that Lucifer desired to make himself like “the Most High,” which in Hebrew is El Elyon, and means “God Most High.” In other words, Lucifer wanted to be above God, to replace God’s will with his will! Lucifer a created being was no match for the Almighty Creator, and was cast out of heaven – the light bearing, anointed cherub became Satan, the adversary, the fallen angel who still desired to impose his will.
Paul is making an extremely important point about the Antichrist, when he calls the Antichrist the “Man of Sin,” describing the character of the man, Paul then refers to the work of the spirit of the Antichrist as the “Mystery of Iniquity” (KJV). Following this Paul then emphasizes that, this evil was already at work in Paul’s day, preparing the way for Satan’s counterfeit messiah to claim world dominance. The iniquity that Paul is referring to is the imposition of Satan’s will through the Antichrist, “the seed of the serpent” (Genesis 3:15). So, the “Mystery of Iniquity”, or the spirit of the Antichrist, has been at work since the Garden of Eden. The “Mystery of Iniquity” can be seen at work right through Biblical history, and is a continual battle where the will of Satan is in opposition to the will of God, the deceptions of Satan are aimed at deposing the authority of the Word of God. Satan’s desire is that mankind worship Him, and Biblical prophecy points to that occurring when Satan, through the work of the Antichrist unifies all cultures into a one-world-government under his authority – reversing the judgement of God at the Tower of Babel. The “Mystery of Godliness” is God manifest in the flesh – Jesus – and, the “Mystery of Iniquity” is Satan manifest in the flesh, within the body of the Antichrist. The “Mystery of Iniquity” is already at work in that man’s wisdom and philosophies are being mixed in with God’s Word, contaminating and corrupting the Holy Scriptures, which will eventually develop into the apostacy – the “falling away” from the Truth, which is the deception that the Antichrist will need in his rise to power.
The Holy Spirit is the Restraining Force: 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8
“5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming”.
Paul clearly states in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 that the Tribulation period will only start with the rise of the Antichrist, “the man of sin… the son of perdition” (KJV). In verse 5, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he had already told them this when he was with them, implying that he should not have to remind them. He goes on to say in verse 6 that there is a force holding the spirit of the Antichrist back, inhibiting Satan’s work, “so that [the Antichrist] may be revealed at the proper time” (2:6). The “proper time” will be when the full number of Gentile believers that God has ordained for salvation by grace has been attained, and that the Church is complete, i.e. “the full number of Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25).
So, the Holy Spirit will restrain the works of Satan until the number ordained by God for His Church is attained, then with the rapture of the Church, the Holy Spirit will no longer hinder the work of Satan. The “lawless one” will then be revealed, “whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of His coming”.
2 Thessalonians 2:7 answers a very important question, “what must happen before the Antichrist is able to come to power?” Paul writes: “But the one who now holds it back will continue to do so until he is taken out the way”. Now, only the Holy Spirit can globally hinder the works of Satan, preventing the dominance of evil and rebellion against God. It is the dominance of evil, the rebellion of mankind against God that will be required for the Antichrist to establish himself and be accepted as the world leader. Note that verse 7 states “taken out the way,” not “taken away”. The Holy Spirit is omnipresent, He is everywhere. The Holy Spirit will continue His divine work, but not as a Restrainer of the evil one through the prayers of the Church, as the Church is no longer on earth.
Further evidence that it is the Holy Spirit Paul is referring to as the one who “is taken out the way,” is that Paul refers to the force that holds back by the neuter “what” in 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and the masculine “he” in verse 7, which could only mean that Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit.
The work of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the Church will come to an end:
Please note that Paul is not stating that the presence of the Holy Spirit will be removed from earth, the Holy Spirit will still be involved with the leading of people to salvation, and it is only the hindering of Satan’s plans that ceases. How is this possible? Only with the translation of the Church from earth to heaven. The Bible describes the Church as “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13) and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). With the removal of the Church from the earth the world has lost its salt and its light, moral decay and darkness will prevail. The work of the Church includes the Holy Spirit – they are bound together in the cause of bringing seasoning and light to the world. If the Church is raptured, the Holy Spirit is effectively taken out of the way, and the work of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the Church will come to an end.
The Gates of Hell Will Not Prevail
To give further clarity to the reality of the Church hindering the ability of the Antichrist to set up his world dominating authority, we can take a look at Matthew 16:18. In this Scripture Jesus speaks of the victory the Church will have over Satan during the Church period, when Jesus announces that the gates of hell will not overcome the Church. In Biblical times the gates of a city were where courts were held and disputes settled (Deut. 25:7; Ruth 4:1). Because Kings would sit at the gate to perform their official duties and meet with the elders of the city, the gate was synonymous with planning and authority. So, the “gates of hell” spoken of by Jesus, would be understood by the disciples to mean that the plans of Satan would not succeed. Thus, Satan would not be able to successfully implement a one-world-religion in rebellion against God, with the Church still on earth. These plans, Jesus clearly stated, would not succeed! How is it possible then, that Satan through the Antichrist is able to prevail during the Tribulation period if the Church is present? The answer is clearly, that the Antichrist would not be able to establish his demonic authority until after the Church is raptured.
The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist
To further emphasise the power of a praying Church we need to look at the statement made by Jesus concerning John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11
“Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
John the Baptist was a man of immense strength of character, and the greatest Old Testament prophet, as he was instrumental in preparing the way for Jesus; yet, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he, because of our position in Jesus. John The Baptist lived under the Old Covenant, The Church is under the New Covenant, therefore Believers have a better knowledge of Jesus as their saviour, and also have privileges that are far superior. John was born of woman, but the Church is born of the Holy Spirit and receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Church now has Jesus as our intercessor in heaven sitting at the right hand of God (Rom. 8:34). Therefore, the Church has tremendous authority and power in prayer, we are able to come boldly before the throne of Grace and have our petitions heard, and we have our Lord and Saviour interceding on our behalf. The “gates of hell” will surely not prevail against such authority, which directly indicates that the Antichrist will not be able to attain the complete authority required for his move to world dominance.
The Power of Prayer at Work – Dunkirk
The evacuation of the British and French armies from the shores of Dunkirk during the Second World War is an excellent example of the power of prayer to hinder Satan’s plans. With the British and French forces surrounded by the Nazi army, all seemed lost. The only escape route was across the notoriously rough waters of the English Channel. The churches in Britain were filled with people who went to pray for their soldiers trapped in France. The result was that during the time of the evacuation from May 26 to June 3, 1940 the waters of the channel were described as a “mill pond”. Even small craft were able to cross the channel to pick up soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, allowing for 333 224 soldiers to be rescued. The rescue of the allied forces was further aided by low cloud, which hindered the much-vaunted German Luftwaffe in their ability to strafe the soldiers on the beaches with machine gun fire, and bomb the rescue vessels. This hindering of Hitler’s plans continued into the Battle of Britain (August, 1940), with the Luftwaffe commanded by Herman Göring repeatedly making tactical errors, which lead to the Germans losing the Battle of Britain. Hitler had to cancel “Operation Sea Lion,” the planned invasion of Britain by the Nazi army. Britain at that time was the only obstacle preventing Nazi Germany from establishing their 1 000-year Reich. Hitler, who is a historical type of the Antichrist, was prevented from fulfilling his goals by the prayers of Christians in Britain and her colonies. How much more would the Antichrist be hindered from achieving his goals by a praying Church?
The Antichrist Persecution of the Saints
“18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, 19 as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. 20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:18-20).
Amos 5:18-20 warns that the tribulations of the Day of the Lord will exceed anything that has gone before. Jeremiah confirms this when he says “how awful will that day be! None will be like it” (Jer. 30:7). Scripture is clear that the saints of God will also suffer during this time, being targeted for persecution by the Antichrist.
Daniel 7:25 records that the Antichrist will “speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,” while Revelation 13:7 confirms the prophecy of Daniel, the apostle John writes that, “(the Antichrist) was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them”. The persecution of believers will exceed any persecution that has gone before, persecution by the Roman Emperors and the inquisition included. With three and a half years of the absolute slaughter of believers, there would be precious few people left to rapture at the return of Jesus! In fact, Jesus warns of this in Matthew 24:22, when he says if those days are not shortened by His return there would be no one left alive. So, how does the rampant success of the work of Satan through the Antichrist, match with the promise made by Jesus that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church? The evident answer is that it does not! The only possible explanation is that the Church is not present during the Tribulation.
The Coming of the Lawless One: 2 Thessalonians 2: 9-12
“9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness”.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, Paul is assuring the Church at Thessalonica that they are not in the Day of the Lord because its purpose is to deceive, and bring to destruction all those who rejected the “Truth” – Jesus. Since the Thessalonians have already received and believed the “Truth”, Paul assures them that the Tribulation is not for them.
It is important to note that in 2 Thessalonians 2 God’s wrath (judgements) start with the appearance of the Antichrist, and involve God allowing Satan to deceive the world with counterfeit miracles of Jesus (2 Thess. 2:9). The rejection of Jesus as their saviour, causes the hard-hearted to accept the deception and believe the lie that the Antichrist is god (2 Thess. 2:11). In rejecting the Truth, the world will be open to every sort of evil lies and deception put forward by the Antichrist, with the backing and authority of Satan (2 Thess. 2:9).
A Reprobate Mind
The bone of contention between the pre-Tribulation and pre-Wrath theories is about when the wrath of God actually begins. The pre-Wrath theory has the rapture only taking place in the middle of the Tribulation, just prior to the Trumpet Judgements. The Church will, therefore, according to the pre-Wrath theory, experience the initial persecutions of the mark of the beast, where those who reject the mark will be executed. However, the Church will be mercifully removed from the earth at the rapture, which will occur just prior to God unleashing his wrath judgements (the Trumpet and Bowl judgements).
The pre-Wrath theorists do not believe the wrath of God is expressed in the rise of the Antichrist. However, Paul in his letter to the Romans clearly warns that “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men, who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18). Paul is emphasizing that an attribute of God is his wrath against sinful man, so Paul in his letter, is warning the Romans of God’s righteous anger towards man for his rejection of Him. Man has refused God’s love, rejected God’s grace, rebelled against God’s law and has sought a life apart from God, where man is only responsible to man. Mankind in the world today, has reached a stage in his sinful rebellion where he does not withhold anything from himself that he desires. God is a Holy God, and therefore He must hold ungodliness and unrighteousness accountable.
Paul’s account in Rom. 1:18-32 exposes the degenerate society that the population of Rome had become, and reveals how the wrath of God will be directed against a sinful people. In rapid succession Paul repeats one of the most tragic statements in the Bible – “God gave (the Romans) over” to a reprobate mind!
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie….” (Rom. 1:24-25).
“For this reason, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with woman and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committing indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (Rom. 1:26-27).
“Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom. 1:28; emphasis added).
Signs of a Reprobate Mind
Traditional definitions of a reprobate mind state that it is a person who has rejected God because of their own worthlessness. I would say that Paul describes the mental state succinctly in his second letter to Timothy when he writes, “these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith”. The reprobate mind is corrupted, and follows the lies of Satan. Pride is the root of all sin, and a reprobate mind is self-centred, the person puts their philosophy, their desires and wants ahead of the commands of God.
Clarence L. Haynes Jr in the website crosswalk.com (1), gives five warning signs of someone with a reprobate mind:
1. Suppressing truth with wickedness.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18).
This person has knowledge of the truth but chooses to reject it by their wicked actions.
2. Wilfully rejecting God.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Romans 1:21).
The person with a reprobate mind is aware of God’s existence; they just choose to operate as if he doesn’t exist.
(I would add that because God’s Word does not have an influence on their behaviour, convicting them of sin, their rebellion inevitable results in the person losing the ability to tell right from wrong).
3. Offering redirected worship.
“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).
This person has switched their object of affection. In their foolishness, they choose to worship the things they see which are created, instead of the one who made them, who is the Creator.
4. Having no limits or restrictions on sinful behaviour.
“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (Romans 1:29-31).
The person who possesses a reprobate mind has taken the restrictions off their sinful boundaries. Nothing is off-limits.
(I would add that having their consciences seared, they call “evil” good and “good” evil, and that their sin snowballs, becoming more excessive and more perverse).
5. Demonstrating no desire for change.
“Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).
This person not only will hold on to and continue in their wicked behaviour, they will also encourage others to follow suit. In fact, they will applaud those who follow after them in their degradation.
(1) Clarence L. Haynes Jr., https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/5-warning-signs-of-someone-with-a-reprobate-mind.html. 04/10/21.
God gives the world over to their rebellion
11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (NIV).
To understand the full extent of God handing mankind over to their own rebellious desires, one needs to comprehend that God is giving man what he wants, but the consequences for those that chose rebellion against His Word will not only be an eternity in hell, but also the wrath of God’s judgement during the Tribulation.
The apostle John warns of the great tragedy that faces all those who succumb to the seduction of the Antichrist and bear his mark on their body, recording that they will “drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.” (Rev. 14:10). The first seal of the seven sealed scroll is the rise of the Antichrist, which will result in the destruction of both body and soul in hell for those foolish enough to worship him, a fate far worse than death. Therefore, the rapture cannot be, as the pre-wrath theorists believe, in the middle of the Great Tribulation. The Antichrist is most definitely an expression of the wrath of God, so the rapture must take place before the opening of the first seal – the rise of the Antichrist.
The Tribulation period is then clearly a time of judgement on the people of the world. God will not include the Church in this judgement, as He is a righteous God. The judgement on the world is for unrighteousness. God does not judge those who have been made righteous through the atoning blood of Jesus, with the unrighteous, therefore, the Church must be raptured before the Tribulation period.
Paul writes that during the Tribulation, God will send the world a powerful delusion (2 Thess. 2:11). This “delusion” will be the false messiah, the Antichrist. His appearance on the world stage as a world leader will be cemented by his confirming a covenant with many for seven years (Dan. 9:27), the signing of a peace treaty, which will allow the Jews to rebuild their Temple, and will also raise the Antichrist from a position of being a world leader, to the position of the world leader. This world leadership is the powerful delusion sent by God, which Paul warns of in 2 Thessalonians 2:11. The delusion will consist of:
- The rejection of the Truth – Jesus – which will result in the world accepting the lie – the Antichrist.
- God will allow Satan to deceive the world with counterfeit miracles being performed by the Antichrist and the False Prophet.
The final result will be that the world will be open to every sort of evil and “delight in wickedness.” (2 Thess. 2:12).
A Comforting Prayer-Wish: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
“13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”. “15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word”.
Paul concludes the chapter with a pray-wish for the congregation at Thessalonica, they were going through a time of hardship, and had been deceived into believing they were in the Tribulation. Paul has been very clear in a detailed explanation, that they were mistaken. So, Paul turns to deal with the reality of the circumstances, they were not in the Tribulation, but they were dealing with tribulation, and Paul now looks to advise and comfort them. He does this by:
- Reminding them that they are a chosen people, God has a plan and purpose for their lives (13b).
- They are saved through sanctification, God has brough hardships, trials and testing into their lives to mould their characters and strengthen their faith in Him. The walk of a believers requires a progressive development into the image of Jesus. The Thessalonians needed to understand that “Being on a spiritual path does not prevent you from facing the darkness, but it teaches you how to use the darkness as a tool to grow [unknown author]” (13b).
- Their strength was a belief in the Truth. The Thessalonians needed to be eternally minded, they had assurance of salvation, an eternity in heaven. Paul wrote to the Philippians saying, “for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” and that statement rings true for the Thessalonians. They had a belief in the truth which would be their strength in all circumstances (13b).
- Their strength in the “truth” is emphasised by the reminder from Paul that their calling was through the Gospel of Truth, the revelation of Jesus as the saviour of the world (14a).
- By “obtain(ing) the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the Thessalonians will acquire everything that Jesus provides as the Son of God seated on the throne of Grace at the right hand of the Father (14b).
- There is a direct contrast between the start of the second letter to the Thessalonians, where it is revealed that they were shaken and alarmed by false teaching that had entered the Church, and Paul’s conclusion to chapter two, where he admonishes them to stand firm. The Thessalonians are standing on the solid foundation of Jesus, they have a firm footing. The traditions referred to by Paul are the process of discipleship of a believer into full maturity within the Church, they are traditions implemented by God for the development of a believer, not man-made traditions that focus on pomp and ceremony (15).
- Paul then reminds the Thessalonians that they are under the love of God, and have the sure and certain knowledge of an eternity in heaven with God, a knowledge that should be of great comfort (16).
- The final words that Paul has in conclusion, is that the Thessalonians are to be comforted by the knowledge that God’s hand is upon each one of their lives. Therefore, by seeking His will for them, they will be able to fulfill the plan and purpose for their lives, doing “every good work” that comes their way, and speaking the words of Truth to every person who comes their way (17).
Paul words of comfort to the Thessalonians, ring true for all believers: That the Thessalonians’ focus must be on Jesus who is faithful and true, the Almighty Saviour who is seated on the right hand of God. He is able to lead His Children through all circumstances, and fulfill the plan and purpose He has for their lives, before calling them to eternity with Him. SO WHY WORRY!