Predicting the Rapture? (2 Thessalonians 2:1)

In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul addresses a misunderstanding about the return of the Lord and “our gathering” to him (2:1). The church is unsettled and alarmed over a report appearing to come from Paul himself claiming the Day of the Lord had already happened. It is possible this rumor refers to Caligula’s order to erect an image of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem, but this is not at all certain.

Simpsons Rapture

Whatever the case, their concern is no small thing. To be unsettled is the verb σαλεύω and is often used literally to described an earthquake or the movement of the sea. Here it is figurative for the disturbance that the Thessalonians are experiencing. They are not only shaken but also “alarmed” (θροέω).  This is rare word in biblical literature, although in classical Greek it has connotation of being frightened or “crying out in surprise. The only place the word appears in the New Testament is in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:6/Mark 13:7).  In a very similar context to 2 Thessalonians, Jesus warns the disciples not to be alarmed by “wars and rumors of wars” or other alleged “signs” the end is near.

The word for the coming of the Lord is παρουσία, the most common word for the return of Christ. The noun simply means “presence” or “arrival” and is used in a variety of ways. It can refer to the arrival of a human (Paul in 2 Cor 7:6), but it is also used for the visit of a person of high ranking, such as a king (3 Macc 3:17). This use usually included flattery, tributes, delicacies, transportation, and gifts of golden wreaths or money. If a god was active in history helping a human that presence of the god is called a παρουσία. Josephus uses the word to describe God’s presence in helping Israel (Antiq. 3.80). The word is used often in connection with sacred events where the presence of a god is assumed.

Paul uses this word not only to refer to the presence of Jesus, but also of the Man of Lawlessness (the Anti-Christ and has his own anti-parousia). The word can be stretched to cover all of the events associated with the eschatological age, similar to the “day of the Lord” in the Hebrew Bible. The second word, “gathering” is ἐπισυναγωγή, is quite rare in the New Testament, used only here and in Hebrews 10:25 where it refers to the gathering together of believers for worship. It is likely Paul is referring to the Rapture, using similar terminology to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

There are a number of Old Testament passages that teach that Israel will be re-gathered prior to the Messianic kingdom. For example, in Isa 43:4-7 God gathers the children of Zion from the east, west, north, and south, a clear reference to Jews living in the Diaspora. When the eschatological age begins, God will gather his elect (the chosen) from the four winds and bring them back to Zion. (Compare this to LXX Isa 52:12, God is the “gatherer of Israel.” See also Isa 56:8; Jer 31:8. Ezek 20:34; 34:16, Ps 106:47.)

This noun is used in the Second Temple Period for the gathering of Israel at the beginning of the eschatological age. In 2 Macc 2:7 the secret place where the Ark is hidden will not be revealed until “God gathers his people again” (using the verb συνάγω and the noun ἐπισυναγωγή). The word also appears in T.Naph 8:3 where it describes the gathering of the righteous out of the nations at the beginning of the eschatological age. Similarly, T.Ash 7:7 the Lord will gather Israel on account of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Homer RaptureThe idea of Israel being re-gathered is the point of Jesus’ words in Matt 23:37 / Luke 13:34. Jesus contrasts God’s desire to gather Israel together under his wings with their rejection of him as the Messiah. A bit later in the Gospels Jesus uses the noun to describe the gather of the elect from the four winds when Messiah judges the world (Matt 24:31). In fact, in Matthew there is a loud trumpet call that draws the elect from the four corners of the world. The parallel is not precise, however, since Jesus is referring to the gathering of Jews in dispersion together just prior to the establishment of the kingdom. Paul is addressing a Gentile congregation

It is better, therefore, to see Paul’s use of the word as an extension of the Jewish idea of a gathering together prior to the coming of Messiah. Prior to the Day of the Lord there will be a “gathering” (described more fully in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Even though Paul’s description of this gathering is unique in Jewish literature, he is using apocalyptic imagery to describe the “end of the age.”

One application of this line of thinking should be to de-emphasize the tendency among (mostly conservative) Christians to predict the date of the Rapture or to claim that a given even fulfills prophecy, or to declare some world figure is the antichrist. Although there is an attraction to these sorts of religious conspiracy theories, both Jesus and Paul would say “do not be alarmed” at these non-signs of the end.

7 thoughts on “Predicting the Rapture? (2 Thessalonians 2:1)

  1. 2 Thess 2: 1, really shows that the Visible Coming (Parousia) of Christ and the so-called “rapture” or “gathering together to Him” are connected under one Greek article…Now we ask you brothers, with regard (PERI Gr. prep.) to the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him.” So, we know that Christ simply cannot come before that great day or time of the rebellion or apostasy comes first… “Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction.” (2 Thess. 2: 3)

    Indeed the Church will see the Antichrist!

    • Note, the translation of the NET Bible here… “Now regarding the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to be with him (our gathering with him).” (2 Thess. 2:1) … and verse three: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, (the one destined for destruction.)”

      • And then the force of verse 8, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will consume with the breath of his mouth, and will destroy him by the manifestation/appearance of His coming.”

        Indeed Christ, “the Lord Jesus”, will consume the Antichrist, at HIS Coming-Arrival! (Parousia)

  2. Of course the question comes, in what way are they “connected”? And can there be a kind of time lag between them (seven years), i.e. The beginning of the Coming of Christ, with the “Rapture” first, then the outward Visible Second Coming. Does the Bible really teach such?

  3. This post is very intriguing and interesting, as most apocalyptic discussions are. That being said, apocalyptic discussions that deal with the rapture are heavily debated based on who’s perspective is being described. When reading 2 Thessalonians, it is very clear that Paul views the Thessalonians as disturbed, affected, and concerned about this claim that the day of the Lord has already come (2 Thess. 2:2). Moreover, it is interesting that Paul does not name or seem to know who would have claimed to the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord had come. It makes one wonder: was it one prominent figure that told the Thessalonians this information about the day of the Lord or was it a group of people? Ultimately, Paul seems concerned about the Thessalonians, who he cares for deeply because of their previous ministry work and experience together, and how they are going to receive and act on this false information regarding the day of the Lord. Because of this, Paul reinforces his teachings throughout 2 Thessalonians, especially in chapter 2, seems to be personally afflicted by this because the opposition is taking a shot at his presentation of the gospel and his teachings. Paul begs the Thessalonians to stand firm in his teachings, as an attempt to promote the legitimacy of his teachings. It must have been difficult for Paul to not be able to address these issues in person and spend time with the Thessalonians, but he pours his heart/desires into this letter. It is important to understand this idea of how Paul is affected by all of this. In today’s society, when people speak out against our beliefs or what we do/teach as a living, people get easily offended. I think Paul does an excellent job or responding to the opposition of his teachings with rational thought and dedication to his teachings that are centered around Christ. He does not respond emotionally, which I think is a good sign in this letter, when considering the background.

  4. There has been a movement that heavily leans towards the Rapture which has taken place over the last 100 or so years. The danger of interpreting a passage based on an individual’s presumptions in their theology is that passages, such as this being a prime example, can have theology read into it that the original author in no way had in mind when writing a particular passage.
    Understanding that the under lying context surrounding this passage is to give the Thessalonian believers encouragement regarding the future. It is clear that some were concerned about the coming of the Lord and it was causing problems within the church regarding when the Lord would come and by what means he would do so. Paul gives the reminder to them to keep their eyes open and on Christ so that they will not become distracted simply focusing on the coming of the Lord. To read such an eschatological event as the Rapture into a passage such as this is to read something into God’s word that neither Paul nor his original readers would have read into the passage.
    We need to carefully remember that Paul is not giving a detailed timeline with every even occurring in the end times, but rather a guideline to protect the church from those who desire its destruction and demise. For us to read modern theology into this passage without proper consideration for the original language and context is very dangerous and can often lead down a road of making presumptions about passages prior to proper understanding of them.

  5. It’s a part of our human nature to want an answer for everything, this includes wanting to know when “the world will end” or when Christ returns… Countless people have attempted to predict the end of the world or Christ’s return. However, the Bible is very clear in that no one, not even the angels, know when Christ will return: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). There are so many more verses that state this very thing: Matthew 24:36, Matthew 24:42, Matthew 25:13, Luke 12:46, and many more. The fact of the matter is, it is not relevant nor crucial to our salvation to know, and until he does return, we should live as if today is our last, glorifying him in all we do. One thing I have always found interesting is how the people of Paul’s time thought that Christ would return in their lifetime, yet here we are some 2000 years, still waiting for his return. In this post it is said “Jesus warns the disciples not to be alarmed by “wars and rumors of wars” or other alleged “signs” the end is near.” Which was very true of the time of the disciples and Paul, yet it can also be quite fitting of our time right now. One thing to notice about this though is this statement can really point to any time in history, so does it really aid us?

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