This article will begin a series of posts concerning the timing of the Rapture, the Day of the LORD and other events that will occur within the span of the Seven Years. There are some different opinions concerning the order of events, and it is the goal here to lay out the order Biblically, and with humility, understanding that the picture the Bible gives of this time frame is complex, and with room for kindhearted discussion. From an overall perspective when looking at these events it is important to take to heart the reasons that Jesus told us of these events - so that people would believe and be saved when they come to pass as He foretold, so that we know that God will not allow injustice to go unpunished, so that we can have comfort that one day all the pain will come to an end, and so that humanity will see Jesus for who He is - as both the humble, suffering Savior and the conquering King and creator of the world. He is coming back to set it all in order again like the beautiful place of peace that it was designed to be, and when we place our trust in Him, we can be assured that we will get to experience it for eternity.
The Day of the LORD
When trying to determine the timing of the Rapture during the Seven Years, it makes sense to begin where Paul began when he was clearing up the timeline for his readers. Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles - a word which means the ‘nations’. Jesus had first gone to His own people, the Jews, and so His first followers, who became the founders of the Christian church, were Jewish. But Jesus specifically chose Paul while he was on the road to Damascus, to be His appointed missionary to begin to reach the rest of the world. Read Acts 8-9 to hear about Paul (Saul’s) incredible conversion. He wrote much of the New Testament, and one of his most linear explanations of the timing of the Rapture, appears in the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Paul’s point-for-point discussion of the Rapture’s timing appears in 2 Thessalonians 2, beginning with an event that is connected with the Rapture called the ‘Day of the LORD’ which is described in many places throughout scripture (Joel 1-3; Ezekiel 30; Isaiah 2, 13, 34, 60-61; Obadiah 1; Zephaniah 1:7-18; Amos 5:18-20; Zechariah 12-14; Malachi 4:1-6; Matthew 24:29-31, 25:31-46; Acts 2:20; 2 Peter 3:1-11; Revelation 6:12-16, 8,9,11, 14. 16-22).
The Day of the LORD was a prophesied time when God would come to earth, first in judgment, and then to set things strait again. The phrase “Day of the LORD” spoke both of a specific day, and also of a time period. It was foreshadowed in history many times, when God would visit the earth in judgment. But like many events of prophecy, there have been many cycles of foreshadowing and partial fulfillments before the final epic event of time occurs. (See the post ‘Time Gap in Daniel’s Prophecy’ for an explanation of the cyclical and repeated nature of prophetic fulfillment).
The Rapture Before the Day of the LORD
The Thessalonians were a persecuted church who were confused by a letter they received from someone claiming to be Paul. They thought that they had missed the Rapture and were experiencing the Day of the LORD’s wrath. They knew from Paul’s previous teachings that right before this period of judgment, that Jesus would rescue His followers, but this letter indicated to them that they were experiencing this horrific time that the Bible foretold. Like most people of the first century, they believed Jesus would come back in their lifetime. But time had progressed, they were enduring hard times and great persecution, and people had died. And the impostor had sent them a letter telling them the Day of the LORD had already begun. Paul wanted to set the timeline strait for them. He confirmed that before the Day of the LORD came, the Rapture would occur. He then reminded them of two events they were to look for as precursors, so that they could watch for these signs, to know that Jesus was indeed coming once these events took place. (More on these two precursors in Rapture post 3). It is important to understand that Paul did not comfort them with promises that they would escape persecution, but rather that they would escape the events of the wrath of God that would come against the Antichrist and those in the world who follow him. This specific ‘wrath’ in the context of the Thessalonian letters is synonymous with the Day of the LORD. His comfort to them was also that on the day Jesus will rescue His followers, He will also bring with Him those believers who have already died, and all will be reunited.
If the imposter’s letter were true, this would mean that they had missed the Rapture and were suffering God’s wrath! So Paul began to set the timeline strait in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 clearly stating that the Rapture rescue will occur directly preceding, or simultaneous, to judgment falling on the Day of the LORD. In this chapter, Paul described the Rapture as a 2 Part event at the onset of the Day of the LORD.
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to Him, we ask you, brothers, not to be easily disconcerted or alarmed by any spirit or message or letter seeming to be from us, alleging that the Day of the Lord has already come.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2
These two verses are almost written out like an addition problem:
PART 1 COMING: “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”
+ PART 2 GATHERING: “our being gathered together to Him“
= Events at the onset of the Day of the LORD
The Day of the LORD = God's "Wrath"
Paul was reminding them of this timing that he had already laid out in his first letter to them where he explained why they must be rescued before the Day of the LORD’s judgment begins. He had expressed important truths about their salvation that were to encourage them. In chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians, he identified the Day of the LORD as the day when sudden destruction will come on those who are ‘in darkness’ (unbelievers). But in contrast, those who are ‘in the light’ (believers in Jesus), would be ‘saved’ from this wrath. He was assuring them that they did not miss the Rapture, and in fact, that they could not miss the Rapture, and be judged by God. Believers in Jesus have been forgiven by God of all their sins because God judged Jesus instead of us when He died on the cross. Our slates are forever wiped clean before God. So believers in Jesus are in the light and will escape the wrath of God in all its forms. In these letters, the context of this particular aspect of God’s wrath that believers will escape is the Day of the LORD.
“Now about the times and seasons, brothers, we do not need to write to you. For you are fully aware that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and security,” destruction will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” “But you, brothers, are not in the darkness so that this day should overtake you like a thief. For you are all sons of the light and sons of the day; we do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not sleep as the others do, but let us remain awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night; and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of our hope of salvation. For God has not appointed us to suffer wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9
Reading down through the argument Paul gives in chapter 5, it is seen that he connected the ‘Day of the LORD’ with ‘wrath’ in his concluding statement of the paragraph. From 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and from 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, we know that this specific ‘wrath’ is the Day of the LORD, and is not to be experienced by believers. The followers of Christ will escape this ‘wrath’. (It is important to note the word ‘wrath’ in connection here, because this specific word comes up in other important scriptures about the Seven Years, and will help in the placement of events along the timeline of the Seven Years).
“For God has not appointed us to suffer wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9
“For they themselves report what kind of welcome you gave us, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.” 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
A point to note from these verses are the nature of the events themselves that make it seem that the Rapture occurs at the very last moment, giving weight to the idea that the rescue happens just in time, before judgment begins. The ideas of a surprising judgment for the unaware unbeliever and ‘snatching’ away for the watchful believer are described in a sudden fashion, so a combined idea emerges, that the Rapture might occur on the Day of the LORD, if not directly preceding it.
“While people are saying, “Peace and security,” destruction will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”But you, brothers, are not in the darkness so that this day should overtake you like a thief.”
1 Thessalonians 5:9 uses the word ‘salvation’, and 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 describes Jesus as the ‘deliverer’ or ‘savior’ from the wrath. Because of the context of these chapters, we know the wrath being discussed here is not the wrath of hell (though Jesus does save those who believe in Him from the destination of hell as part of saving from His overall wrath). The ‘salvation’ that believers will experience on, or right before, that initial Day of the LORD judgment, is the Rapture.
The Rapture = "Salvation" from the Day of the LORD's Wrath
Chapter 5 continues the thoughts of chapter 4, and the two chapters are connected in theme by the phrase, “now concerning the times and the seasons...” Just preceding Paul’s discussion of the surprise of the Day, he was talking specifically about the most famous of Rapture passages in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. The direct connection of these two chapters shows that the ‘salvation’ Paul is specifically referencing in chapter 5, is the Rapture he was just describing in chapter 4. And in reading through the description of the Rapture in Chapter 4, it is clear that this is the ‘coming and gathering’ that he speaks of in his second letter to them.
“Now concerning the times and seasons, brothers, we do not need to write to you. For you are fully aware that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the [PART 1: COMING] coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and [PART 2: GATHERING] the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
The Promise of the Rapture Gives Believers Comfort
In addition, the conclusion of the paragraph containing the details of the Rapture in Chapter 4, and the conclusion of the paragraph concerning sudden destruction in chapter 5, each contain comfort to these believers because they will escape and be united with believers who have died before. These words of comfort in both chapters show that they are a continued thought - that the Rapture described in chapter 4 is the ‘salvation’ described in chapter 5. Paul’s goal in writing both these letters, and in laying out the timeline of events, is to provide comfort to this little church in Thessalonica (and to all in later centuries who would read and believe) who were and are going through such hard times. Someday, Jesus will return to take us home. Someday, those who hurt others and God, but have not repented asked forgiveness, will receive justice. (In fact, these comforts are main themes in Jesus’ teachings on the same Seven Years in the Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - and in the book of Revelation written by the Apostle John). Knowing that believers will not undergo God's Wrath gives us comfort.
“Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
“For God has not appointed us to suffer wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage and build one another up, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11