Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A Study Of Paul's Teaching About The Rapture & Tribulation Period In 1 & 2 Thessalonians


  In our last post, here,,  we explored what Jesus had to teach on the tribulation period in His sermon on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. We focused upon how His teaching advanced our understanding of the Bible's overall teaching on the tribulation at the end of this age. We also made some remarks on why the rapture of the church does not appear in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, while commenting that He does introduce the rapture in His later institution of the Lord's Supper in John 14:1-3.

    As noted in a previous post, scholar Dr. Tim LaHaye has counted nearly fifty Old Testament passages and fifteen New Testament texts that refer to the Tribulation period. I recall reading of how other than Paul's letters to the Thessalonians, we see no other mention of the Tribulation period in the New Testament Epistles. This is very telling. 

    As the late John Walvoord once noted in a conference on the rapture and tribulation, the absence of mention of the tribulation period in the Epistles (save 1 and 2 Thessalonians of course) gives another argument for placing the rapture prior to the Tribulation period. 

    Thus what follows concerns Paul's teaching on the Tribulation in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. As will be discovered, the only reason He mentions this event is to contrast it with the rapture and to serve warning to those who may not yet be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.   

Paul's teaching on the Rapture & Tribulation period. 

    Jesus significantly advances our understanding of the Bible's overall teaching on the tribulation period. Whenever we come to the writings of the Apostle Paul, we find there are two main passages in his writings the deal with the Tribulation Period (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). In both passages, Paul discusses the tribulation period in light of the rapture of the church. 

    Unlike what we saw in Jesus' teaching on the tribulation, Paul treats the tribulation period in its relationship to the rapture of the church. We discover that the tribulation will follow the rapture. Paul's extensive knowledge of the Old Testament, as well as His careful distinctions about the church in the rapture, informs how He presents this subject of the triublation. The first of these passages, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, is worth outlining to see how it treats the Tribulation period:

I. The swiftness of God's wrath at the end of the tribulation will be avoided by believers 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

    The Apostle Paul undoubtedly is using this phrase "day of the Lord" in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

"Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape."

    In our last post, we briefly looked at the usage and appearance of the phrase "The day of the Lord". This term, as it describes the final outpouring of God's wrath on the earth, is spoken of in Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 2:12; Isaiah 10:3; Isaiah 13:9; Isaiah 34:2; Isaiah 34:8; Isaiah 61:2; Ezekiel 30:3; Amos 5:18; Zephaniah 1:7. 

    To grasp the nature of the Day of the Lord as revealed in Scripture, as well as to understand why the church won't have to endure it, gives us a strong argument for the rapture occuring before the tribulation period.

    The beginning of the Day of the Lord will begin at the same time as the rapture or shortly before it. As we saw in my recent posts on the rapture, the Lord's gathering of His church to Himself will occur with no preceding signs - meaning it will be "imminent" or will occur at anytime. The Day of the Lord (i.e. covering The Tribulation period, 2nd coming of Jesus to earth, His thousand year reign, see especially Joel 2-3) will begin in the same manner - suddenly and imminently. 

    Paul emphasizes this point of  "imminency" in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 (see the citation of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 above). Furthermore, in noting the timeframe of the Day of the Lord, I would argue that the "Day of the Lord" will cover the entire seven-year tribulation period, and not just a portion of it. 

II. The severity of wrath of the Great Tribulation (final 3 1/2 years) will be avoided by Christians in the church right now. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-9

    So we have seen that the "Day of the Lord", which will include the entire Tribulation period, will come swiftly, at anytime. The Apostle Paul appears to be working backwards from the end of the seven-year tribulation period to its mid-point. Whenever you compare Paul's presentation of the tribulation period to that of Jesus' in Matthew 24-25, you discover that this section of 1 Thessalonians 5:4-9 corresponds to Matthew 24:21-41. In terms of what we noted earlier, Jesus refers to the last 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation period as "The Great Tribulation". 

    So the question is: would Paul's readers (and us) have to worry about the severity of wrath in that final half of the future tribulation? Paul's answer is "no". Now with that said, Paul uses the truth of the coming tribulation to tell his readers to be on the "alert" and "on their guard". Like any church, the church at Thessalonica had a mixture of "true believers" and "make-believers". 

    For those people who think they are "o.k" with God and thus can live in ease, it is those people who need to be the most alarmed. Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 5, connected with his continuing discussion of the rapture from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, gives people a warning and a chance to escape the coming wrath by trusting in Christ as Savior, Lord, and Treasure (see 1 Thessalonians 5:9). Like Jesus before him, the Apostle Paul is referencing the coming Tribulation period, in terms of its severity, to warn unbelievers of what is coming.  

III. Solid encouragement to live for Jesus right now - 2 Thessalonians 2

    So, we have seen how the tribulation period or "Day of the Lord" will begin swiftly, without preceding signs, in lines with the rapture of the church. We then looked at the severity of this future era as a warning to unbelievers about the need to trust in Christ in this current age of grace. But now, Paul is going to pivot to some final words of encouragement. 

    In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 we saw Paul begin with the end of the Tribulation (the day of the Lord) and work his way back through the second half of the Tribulation period (called by Jesus the Great Tribulation) to underscore the swiftness and severity of judgment. We have seen as well that Paul offers strong encouragement that believer's will not have to experience such wrath and that they are to strive all they can for Jesus now. But what about Paul's teaching in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8? 

    2 Thessalonians speaks of the coming of Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him. The doctrine of the rapture is mentioned in 2:1-2, which states:

"Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come."
    Paul refers to that doctrine to comfort his readers in the face of rumors circulating that perhaps the Thessalonians had missed the rapture; or that the day of the Lord had come; or that they were somehow going to have to endure God's wrath after-all. From 2:2-12 we get an overview of the whole Tribulation period:

1. 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4 The increasing level of apostasy going on right now up until the Anti-Christ is first revealed at the beginning of the Tribulation.

2. 2 Thessalonians 2:5-11 The Spirit of God will remove His restraining influence and check on man's evil, and the Anti-Christ will have full liberty to increasingly and gradually exercise full dominion over this planet. One purpose of this period will be to judge unbelieving man's sin. A second main purpose for this period will be to prepare Israel for her coming Messiah at the end of this period. However, we gain a clear third purpose: destruction of Satan's man - the Anti-Christ.

    The encouragement Paul gives to his readers is that because of Jesus' catching away of His Church just before the "Day of the Lord" or Tribulation period, the Christian will not have to endure all that will transpire in that seven period of time. 


1. To say there will be seasons of trial or tribulations throughout the history of Christ's church or the individual lives of God's people cannot be disputed. In fact suffering and trials of all sorts is to be the norm for anyone wanting to be Godly in Christ Jesus. (Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12) However the testimony of scripture bears out the fact that the Tribulation period (the whole seven year period of time spoken of in Daniel and elsewhere) is unique in terms of its intensity and character and thus merits its own unique study and understanding.

2. The Book of Zephaniah is perhaps the fullest treatment on this phrase in the Old Testament, being that the entire book is dedicated specifically to describing it. Will this day encompass the entire Tribulation period? Or is this a phrase meant to describe the tail end of the Tribulation period? Zephaniah 1:1-3:11 describes how God will wage war against the nations who have assembled against Him, followed by the promised restoration of Israel and the redeemed in Zephaniah 3:12-20. When we tie in the Old Testament teaching on the tribulation and Jesus' instructions about it, we find out that "the Day of the Lord" will encompass the entire tribulation period. Paul's usage of this phrase contains this built-in assumption, which leads me to conclude the church will not be present in the tribulation period.