It’s incomprehensible to me how certain Christians can read Paul’s Thessalonian letters and come away with anything except a pre-Tribulation Rapture interpretation. In the second chapter of the second letter, Paul tells the church that the things of which he will speak next will not happen until the advent of one very important event. He says in 2 Thessalonians 2:1:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him
False teachers had been infiltrating the church and distressing the believers into thinking that the Tribulation had already begun. Paul reassures them that there is a critical first event before this occurs. Yes, Jesus Christ is coming. At that time those in Christ will be gathered to him. This refers to an assembling of those who believe. Paul says: “You haven’t missed that seminal event. The false teachers saying the Day of the Lord has come are incorrect.”
What is the Day of the Lord? This is often misconstrued. Post-Trib Rapture adherents relegate the term strictly to the 2nd coming of Jesus on the single day that He returns to earth at the Armageddon conflict. But, a survey of Old Testament usage indicates that it refers to the entire period of time associated with the seven years of the Tribulation.
Well-regarded Bible prophecy expert Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, in his comprehensive book The Footsteps of the Messiah (https://www.amazon.com/dp/195105959X/), discusses this with the following comment:
The term the Day of Jehovah is the most common term in the Old Testament for the Tribulation. It is a period of time that begins with the signing of the Seven-Year Covenant and ends with the Second Coming of Messiah exactly seven years later… a study of the term in every passage will show that it is never used in any context except that of the Tribulation.
What has to happen before the Tribulation, i.e. the Day of the Lord, begins? Pauls lays this out in 2 Thessalonians 2:3:
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…
The rebellion in this verse has been the topic of much discussion. Various translations also use falling away or apostasy. It is argued that earlier Bibles prior to King James, such as the 1599 Geneva Bible, show the translation of this Greek word differently and correctly. This version states:
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a departing first, and that that man of sin be disclosed, even the son of perdition.
As you can see, it speaks of a departing. That’s quite different than apostasy. Interpreted as a rebellion or falling away implies that there will be a massive turning from the truth of the Gospel, i.e. away from belief in God. If seen as a departure, it is considered as a description of the Rapture.
There are good arguments on both sides of this issue. I’m agnostic about it. If it means that a wholesale turning away from the Lord happens prior to the Rapture, I’m good with that, because we’re certainly seeing that in these latter days. If instead it means that the man of lawlessness can only be revealed once the Rapture occurs, that’s even better in my book.
Regardless of these two interpretations, something dramatic happens, and only then can the Antichrist come forth onto the world stage. There is a restraining force in play that keeps him hidden. It is God Himself who holds back lawlessness until the right time (2 Thessalonians 2:6).
The Restrainer, of course, is the Holy Spirit. The mystery of His restraint is that He indwells every believer. In addition, He is integral to and indwelling the true church of Jesus Christ in its ability for the saints to assemble. Paul states in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8:
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.
The restraint of the Holy Spirit remains until He is removed. Then, and only then, can Antichrist be made known. Is it the apostasy or the departure that enables this to occur? Yes. The apostasy inevitably leads to the Rapture. However one wants to define the term, the snatching away of believers by Christ in the clouds, and by extension, the removal of the church as a dwelling place for the Spirit on earth, must happen as the first move of God to allow all other events in the end times scenario.
This opens the door for Antichrist to demonstrate his charisma and power, and to draw the secular world to him. But, he is a deceiver and eventually indwelt by the father of lies. As such, mankind is deceived. Only by the grace of God do many have their eyes opened and refuse Antichrist’s charms and sorceries., thus turning to faith in Christ in the midst of this incredible darkness.
The bottom line for Paul in writing to this church was that the seminal event enabling the son of perdition to come to prominence, and thus initiate the 7-year Tribulation, was the Rapture of the true church. Nothing regarding the Day of the Lord could take place until the chaos of lawlessness could be unleashed. That only happens when the Holy Spirit ceases to restrain evil in the world.
For those who think we have to go through some or all of the Tribulation, the error is that these terrible seven years simply cannot even begin until the Rapture. That mysterious event is what triggers everything.
Just as Jesus declared and Paul echoed Him: “Don’t be deceived.”