Question: I must admit to you that I’m still not 100-percent convinced of a pretrib rapture....There is one portion of Scripture that I am unable to avoid and have a difficult time reconciling to pretrib interpretation. It is 2 Thessalonians:2:1-3. It seems to be saying that the “man of sin” [Antichrist] will be revealed before we are gathered together to be with our Lord Jesus Christ in the Rapture. Please help me if you can.
Response: Verse 1 refers to “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (the Second Coming with His saints to rescue Israel and establish His kingdom) and “our gathering together unto him” (the Rapture, when He resurrects the dead saints and catches them up to heaven and with them those alive at that time). Verse 2 says, “That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.” The phrase “at hand” is an obvious error in the 1611 KJV, which has been corrected by a marginal note in current KJV editions to read “now present.” The NAS correctly translates it “has come” and the NIV as “has already come.” One need not be a Greek scholar (or even refer to the Greek text) to know which translation is correct. Simple logic is sufficient.
Logically, no one would be “shaken in mind or troubled” to be told that “the day of Christ is at hand”—whether one’s belief were pretrib, prewrath, midtrib, post-trib, or amillenial. But would someone be troubled to be told that it had “already come”? Yes. Who? Only those who believed that a pretrib rapture ushered in the “day of Christ.” Everyone else is expecting to see at least part of the day of Christ and to face the Antichrist. Realizing they must face this trial, their attitude would be, “The day of Christ is here, so let’s get on with it.” But obviously Paul had taught the Thessalonians that the Rapture came first. Therefore, if the day of Christ had come, they would be “shaken and troubled” that either they had been left behind or that Paul had been mistaken. We can only conclude that Paul had taught a pretrib rapture: “Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” (v 5).
Verse 3 must be read carefully: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition....” It specifically says that the falling away (apostasy) must come first. Indeed, the apostasy had already come in Paul’s day: “[A]ll they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (2 Tm 1:15); most of the epistles were written to correct error; and Paul warned that the apostasy would accelerate after his death: “[A]fter my departing shall grievous wolves enter in...not sparing the flock”(Acts:20:29). Shortly after Paul’s martyrdom Jude said that heretics had already “crept in unawares” and therefore it was essential (as it still is today) to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3-4). The only question is, “How much worse will the apostasy get before the Rapture?” There is no requirement of a certain level, however, thus nothing to hinder imminency.
Must the Antichrist be revealed before the Rapture? No, Paul does not say so, though many mistakenly read that into the verse. Paul, in fact, is saying that the day of Christ cannot come without the Antichrist being revealed in that day. Paul states clearly that the day of the Lord will not come without 1) the apostasy coming first, and 2) the man of sin being revealed. It is clear the apostasy must come first. It does not say, however, that the man of sin must be revealed first. The verse allows for two possible interpretations: 1) that the man of sin must be revealed before the day of the Lord; or 2) that he will be revealed in the day of the Lord. We are driven to the latter conclusion for a number of reasons, the major one being that if the Antichrist came first we would be looking for him, not for Christ, as Scripture indicates (Phil:3:20; 1 Thes:1:10; Ti 2:13).
Furthermore, Paul goes on to say that someone was preventing the revelation of the Antichrist when he wrote this epistle and would continue to do so until he would be “taken out of the way” (2 Thes:2:7-8). Only God could prevent Antichrist from being revealed, but God cannot be “taken out of the way” because He is omnipresent. There is only one way to reconcile this apparent contradiction, and that is with the rapture of the church. The Holy Spirit came upon, was with but could also leave, Old Testament believers. David prayed, “[T]ake not thy Holy Spirit from me” (Ps:51:11). Thus John tells us that “the Holy Ghost was not yet given: because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn:7:39). At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to indwell believers, never to leave them. It is this presence of God the Holy Spirit within His church which prevents the Antichrist from being revealed and which will be removed at the Rapture and not until then.