The return of the king — a question of priority: A reading of two passages in Paul’s letters to the people of Thessalonica
The apostle Paul wrote two letters to the followers of Yeshua in Thessalonica. In each letter he included a passage with the purpose of sharing his understanding, based on Scripture and personal revelation, of the historical context for the return of Messiah to earth, in particular the necessary antecedents of his return and the circumstances under which all his people, living and dead, will be united with him.
Most people in conservative Christian circles hold to a reading of Scripture which allows for a rapture-to-heaven of “the church” just prior to the distressful period of Antichrist’s rule on earth, a rule which characterizes the end of the era and is only brought to an end by the coming of our king. This belief in a “pre-tribulation rapture” has been successfully and recently [in the last century] taught to the church by a series of sponsors calling themselves “premillennial dispensationalists.” A careful reading of the Scripture, however, disallows the flight of the church just prior to the climactic events at the end of the age, as, I believe, the following analysis will demonstrate.
Part I, a reading of I Thessalonians 4.13-17
In this text Paul appears to respond to questions concerning the possibility that, at the time of Yeshua’s return to earth to gather his people, somehow those who have passed away might be left out of the great reunion. Then, if not left out, under what circumstances would the deceased patriarchs and predecessors join in the reunion?
In chapter eight of his letter to the Roman church, Paul expressed the principle that nothing, not even death, can separate us from our king. In that vein he now assures the congregation in Thessalonica that the souls of those who are deceased /”fallen asleep” in Christ will return to earth with their Messiah. His phrase, that “the dead in Christ will rise first” is descriptive of the resurrection event in which our bodies, at the sound of the trumpet, are made incorruptible and restored to union with our souls. As Paul wrote to the congregation at Corinth:
“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 imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. I Corinthians 15.51-53
We know then that the great promise to Abraham will not be realized on behalf of the living without the explicit bodily presence of Abraham and all the saints in the company of God. Here is the full passage from I Thessalonians:
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have not hope. We believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” Thessalonians 4.13-17
The last mentioned “encouragement” is plainly this instruction of Paul, answering the first mentioned doubts, indicating that those who are “fallen asleep” in Christ shall come fully to life and join Yeshua and all who are still alive in the final great “Day of the Lord,” so guaranteeing that we will not enter into the great promise without the presence of the patriarchs and all who have gone before us. It seems that we who belong to Christ and are yet alive at the time of his coming may also receive the body of immortality at the time of the return of our king. Are we not all to unite with him as made equal by his grace and mercy upon us all?
“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Romans 8. 23,24
There are those who wish to make a great deal out of the curious statement that we shall join Yeshua and all our compatriots in the sky, who declare that the account of an aerial reunion indicates we are at that instant being gathered to be transported/”raptured” back up to heaven, there to remain, just as our king is returning to earth for battle against Antichrist.
The Greek text says plainly that we who yet survive [oi zwntes oi perileipomenoi] will be seized up hastily with them [ama sun autois arpagesometha] in the clouds [en nephelais] for a great ritual encounter/greeting/presentation of our welcome before our God in the air [eis apantesin tou kuriou eis aera]. “Apantesin” is formed out of the prefix apo, meaning “from” and the verb antaw meaning “to come opposite to, to meet face to face.” In union, the verb apantaw is used to indicate “presenting oneself in arms ready for battle, meeting in open court” and other incidental meaning which cluster around the image of removing oneself from one condition to go out and formally present oneself before another person or circumstance.
According to Erik Petersonthe Greek apantaw, here used by Paul, was very frequently used to describe the Greek formal reception in which a people would go outside the walls of their city to greet an arriving king or potentate, escorting him then into the city, where he would sit in honor and entertain the honor of judgment in certain matters of justice. The use of this word in this context by Paul would then suggest the subjects of the kingdom going out from the walls of the world to greet their king as he makes his bodily return to earth, escorting him to the gates of Jerusalem, and presenting themselves ready for battle.
The “rapture-to-heaven” reading of Paul’s account becomes a reading in which those who are alive abandon their king and savior just as he returns to earth with the saints of heaven to bring justice to the world. How unfortunate to be on the way out just as our king is on his way in with the troops of heaven!
“Then I saw heaven open wide – and there was a white horse! His rider is faithful and true, yea, just are his judgments and his warfare; his eyes are a flame of fire, on his head are many diadems, he bears a written name which none knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood [his name is called THE LOGOS OF GOD] and the troops of heaven follow him on white horses, arrayed in pure white linen. A sharp sword issues from his lips, wherewith to smite the nations; he will shepherd them with an iron flail, and trample the winepress of the passion of the wrath of God Almighty. Revelation 19.11-15
In the rapture-to-heaven reading what happens to Paul’s principle that nothing can separate us from Christ? Would we willingly part from our king in his grave hour of conquest and quit the battle which is meant to guarantee our ultimate victory?
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’” Romans 8.35,36
It should be sad indeed to be found irrelevant or unworthy on the day of battle! Revelation describes the host of the saints who come with Jesus. It even describes them as they appear in the sky. They are not here for a visit. They are here for battle, and the faithful on earth have prepared the way for them by their witness, their martyrdom:
“Then I saw heaven open wide— and there was a white horse! His rider is faithful and true, yea, just are his judgments and his warfare; his eyes are a flame of fire, on his head are many diadems, he bears a written name which none know but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood [his name is called THE LOGOS OF GOD], and the troops of heaven follow him on white horses, arrayed in pure white linen…” Revelation 19.11-14
Part II. A reading of II Thessalonians 2.1-10
Those who read the passage in I Thessalonians as rapture-to-heaven seem also to think that it suggests that “the church” will be on earth in reasonably large numbers and through rapture will be spared from the persecution and martyrdom described in Scripture as definitive of the end of the age. This martyrdom will, for them, be the privilege of the Jews, since, according to their astute mentors Israel has the terrestrial [Abrahamic] promise and the church has the” heavenly” [Catholic] promise.
So the test question remains, Does Scripture indicate that Christ comes for anyone prior to the prophesied years of distress at the end of the era? The answer to this question is provided in the passage in II Thessalonians.
Paul opens by raising the possibility that someone might claim that the moment of the return of our Messiah has already come, that he is therefore somewhere in the world, known to some, while others are ignorant of his coming. Therefore there is the question, Is there some clear and knowable event or turn of history connected with his second coming, by which we may all know that he is soon to be among us? From Matthew we know what Yeshua told his disciples. First he described to them the entire litany of persecutions, desecration of the temple, false Christs, apostasy, sun darkened, moon blighted, stars falling, and then only the appearance of our king:
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Matthew 24.30,31
Jesus was telling them that from earth [the four winds] and from heaven [from one end to the other] the faithful will be gathered subsequent to the appearance of the Son of Man “in power and glory.” But Paul has more to add, describing preliminary events which serve to alert us to the coming of Yeshua. Paul makes it clear that our king does not come to gather anyone prior to the prophesied years of distress at the end of the era. This also is in agreement with Christ’s words recorded in Matthew 24:
“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible…For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24.22-24,27
Yeshua does not say that because of the great distress the elect will be rescued and taken away to heaven. Rather he says that, because of the great distress of that time, its duration will be abbreviated. There would be no reason to shorten that time for the sake of the elect if the elect were not still on earth.
Now, in reading the passage in II Thessalonians, we see that Paul has information which allows us to posit correctly the relative time of the return of our king. Paul gives us a roadmark: that there is no return of Christ to earth until the “man of lawlessness,” steps out of the shadows and reveals himself openly, daring to present himself as god above all gods, bringing evil and suffering to all of mankind:
“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 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. 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. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.” II Thessalonians 2.1-10
Paul is in agreement with Daniel, that deception in the world, and suffering and martyrdom for the people of God, must precede the return of our king. There is no reason to imagine that we should somehow escape. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me they will persecute you also.” Paul wrote to the congregation at Philippi, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him…” Daniel wrote of the end of the era:
“After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom and all rulers will worship and obey him. Daniel 7.24-27
In other words, the one who sets himself above God, the lawless one, must first appear. The saints must suffer “for a time, times, and half a time,” and then the reign of terror will be brought to an end by the power of the courts of heaven, and the earth will fall under the rule of Yeshua and his people, so ushering in the long awaited fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise.
Again Daniel writes:
In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue, will arise. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy the mighty men and the holy people. He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power. Daniel 8.23-25
There is one people of God. There is one kingdom of God. The era will end in distress and will have become the great moment of witness of the holy people before the hostility of a blind world. But all will be known to the courts of heaven, and the faithfulness of every child of God will have the utmost importance. At the end of suffering and our witness to the truth, Yeshua will return in power and glory to establish justice, and the courts of heaven and all children of God will together sing his praise.
There is no such thing as “two Days of the Lord” in all of Scripture. There is no place for imagining that our king will come once to carry away those fortunate enough to know him and have gentile church roots, and then that he will come again, later, after many trials, to an abused Jewish remnant on earth, and finally determine victory. Nothing could be more cynical. Nor could the adoption of any belief have more to indicate the faithlessness and heartlessness of the apostate church. Zechariah says that on the great day of the Lord when our king comes to fight the enemy he has “all the holy ones with him.” Yes, this is the day of union of all the kingdom of God, and every single person who has been set aside for God will be with him on that day.
“A day of the Lord is coming…I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured…Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley…Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost. It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime – a day known to the Lord. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem…The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name …Jerusalem will be raised up and remain in its place…It will be inhabited; never again will it be destroyed. Jerusalem will be secure…Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Zechariah 14.1-16 excerpts
No mention of “the heavenlies” or the transportation of Gentiles to some “more ethereal” domain. There is one promise to history, and that is God’s promise to Abraham. There is one Day of the Lord, which comes at the end of the witness which lies before us.
III. Boiling frogs
Christ said, “Will I find faith when I return?”
The prevailing conviction in the organized conservative church is that there will be a rapture of the saints to heaven in advance of the agony of the end of the age. These people have never read Thessalonians carefully, nor have they studied the book of Revelation.
If only Jews get to stand for their king in the final showdown, then I want a DNA transplant. But actually I have read my Bible and I have no doubt that we are at this moment All here for the beginnings of distress and the final battle. Unfortunately vast numbers of Christians are asleep and are not ready for battle, because they do not recognize that the battle has already begun. They take comfort in their expectation of rescue before the great apostasy begins. Not recognizing the ubiquitous force and extreme deceit of the enemy, they support the very enemy with their silence.
People everywhere support our present government, barely pestering it with fuzzy little criticisms, not knowing that our nation has now long been sold from stem to stern to the satanic agenda of globalism, the same globalism which is the foundation of the Antichrist kingdom.
Obama is accused by Mr. Giuliani of not loving America as presidents did in the past. Of course! Obama is not an agent of American national interest! He is by necessity an agent of the global agenda, which is a one world government to be succored and deceived by a nascent one world religion, which is precisely the satanic one world antichrist system which shall soon crush the spirit of mankind in the name of our safety and security.
Christians sit in silence as all rights of privacy are removed from our lives. Christians everywhere applaud the efforts of our government to crush radical Islam, not aware that for decades, even centuries, both Islam and the West have been equally devoted to a hidden agenda directing the whole world toward the global society. The wars are artificial, and the chief artificer is Satan himself. ISIS and Al Qaeda are enemies contrived by the world powers and fed by the injustice which they themselves design, all in order to give themselves “reason” to undertake aggression “on behalf of the safety of us, their people.” May we all renounce their perverse murders in our name!
The Popes have abandoned every semblance of Christian faith. John Paul and Benedict both abandoned the divine origins of man in favor of evolution. And now Francis has abandoned every tenet of Christian faith, making himself the paid whore of every government and creed on earth.
I meet nominal Christians frequently who proudly tell me that they just went to a concert of Katy Perry or AC/DC or tell me how much they enjoyed the half time show at the super bowl or the latest viewing of the Voice, when all these platforms are given over to their commitment to the overt adoration of Satan. Yes, our children are being carried off to hell by the Pied Pipers of Hollywood.
So Christians smugly wait for the rapture and go to church every Sunday and congratulate themselves on their faith and their righteousness and their good fortune to belong to a God who blesses them with wealth and protects them from evil, not seeing that at this very moment they are being called to give up their security and take a stand in their faith. The courts of heaven are watching, and we are not supposed to be asleep. The battle is well underway and Satan is scoring deadly blows against the people of God. Satan’s children worship him and they are openly and consciously working to destroy the visible vestiges of the kingdom of God.
The denizens of the churches, absorbed in self-congratulation, are frogs floating in a cauldron of warming water. The fire is lit. It is not going to go out until the story is over. The temperature of the water increases bit by bit, and the frogs never recognize the gravity of their plight, never remove themselves until it is too late. They wait for the rapture, but instead they will float helplessly as their brothers go into battle. comes.
The fire will be put out in the end. Victory will belong to the people of God. We will rise up to meet our king in the air, perhaps through the dynamic of being made imperishable, perhaps simply through the uplifting power of his Spirit, perhaps through the impetus of no other power than the purest joy. And our king will reign among us forever in Jerusalem.
Lawrence S. Jones
 6. Erik Peterson, “Die Einholung des Kyrios,” ZST 1 (1930) 682-702. as quoted by Michael R. Cosby in “Hellenistic Formal Receptions and Paul’s Use of Apantesis in I Thessalonians 4.17’