The rapture debate of 2 Thessalonians 2:1
By Merrill Olson
The phrase “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him” (v. 1) has been an issue of debate over the years regarding the Lord’s return.
There are those who believe that it teaches one event: the Second Coming. And, there are others who strongly emphasize that it refers to two separate ones: the Rapture and the Second Coming. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that some theological bias enters the picture in seeking to understand the meaning.
Yet, Paul never meant that there would be any confusion in seeking to know what he had written. Neither did the Holy Spirit that gave the inspired words of Scripture through His servant. Because the Thessalonians had been confronted with some erroneous teaching, Paul reminded them of the truth that he had taught them (v. 5).
Therefore, we, too, should be able to come to a clear comprehension of what the text is teaching in 2 Thessalonians 2 and especially verse 1.
The only way to do this is to go back to the preceding context in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10. Without doing so, there is no sure ground for any Biblical conclusion. These verses speak strongly as to what will happen in the Second Coming as the Lord comes “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8). As a result, the natural conclusion for the Thessalonians as to “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” meant His Second Coming. And within the context, that is what Paul means.
The next words in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 to consider are “our gathering together to Him.” For those who hold a post-tribulation view believe that the two phrases are, textually speaking, to one event. But, the problem is that Paul never taught the believers at Thessalonica that they would experience the “Day of the Lord” (v. 2). The “Day of the Lord” is an extended time of God’s wrath and judgment known as the “Great Tribulation” (Matt. 24:21; Dan. 12:1; 1 Thess. 5:1-11; 2 Thess. 2:1-12). Yet, there is no mention in the text that Paul taught the believers that they would be in it or to prepare them for it.
Why not? The implication is that he knew that the redeemed church would be gone because Jesus would come to rapture it out of this world before that time (John 14:1-3).
Regarding the words “our gathering together to Him,” the believers knew, also, what Paul had taught them in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Within the entire context of both 1 and 2 Thessalonians, this is the correlation that Paul intended when he used the phrase “our gathering together to Him.” As he sought to comfort them regarding their loved ones, so he wanted to reassure them of their own future.
The same truth holds truth today. “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
Merrill Olson served as a senior pastor for thirty-four years. He received a B.S. from Minnesota State University-Mankato, an M. Div. from Bethel Theological Seminary, and a D. Min. from Columbia Evangelical Seminary. He is currently involved as an interim pastor along with a teaching and writing ministry. His emphasis is on apologetics and training believers to defend their faith in Christ from God’s Word. He is well versed in Bible prophecy as it pertains to end times. He is a gifted speaker with the conviction that only by the Word of God can people experience inward transformation by the Holy Spirit. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for many years and resides in Minnesota.