According to Paul, an Apostle:
The Last Days and the
Gathering Together / Resurrection
of those who belong to Jesus Christ
© 2018 Terry L. Craig
Do you have a desire to know about the "last days"?
If you have a good translation* of the Bible, there is much you can learn about the Last Days. If you are willing to let Scripture interpret Scripture, you can learn a LOT. What people studying the accounts of the last days must AVOID is reading ideas into Bible verses (making a passage say something that isn't said, and must be supplied by an outside source). This is where errors abound.
Bible Gateway. I have linked many of the passages listed here to Bible Gateway so if you are doing this online, you can get right to reading what the Bible says and check the cross references. If you want to go even deeper and look up the words in the Greek and Hebrew, the Blue Letter Bible has the concordance linked right there in the text.
Key to understanding any Bible passage are DEFINITIONS of the words and terms used. What, according to the Bible, do the following terms mean? Resurrection, the Rapture, the Second Coming of Christ, the tribulation of the last days.
Since some will want to get right to the study, I have linked each word to its definition at the end of the article, and each definition has a link that will bring you back here.
The Promise of Resurrection for Those Who have Chosen Christ
The Bible says that even if a Christian dies before the return of Christ, his/her soul goes to be "with the Lord" and that, at the time of the return of the Lord, they (along with all believers who have died and those who are still alive on Earth) will be re-clothed with resurrection bodies (like Jesus has now—imperishable) and dwell with Him forever. Many Christians refer to this moment of being re-clothed as "the Rapture."
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-17 NRSV
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The Sequence of Events of the Last Days, According to Paul the Apostle:
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Before undertaking this study, I'd ask that you be willing to let the the Bible itself interpret what is said. I urge all believers to be the discerning people that God calls them to be, and to study what the Bible says about this for themselves.
If possible, please copy/print out the following passage
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 6 And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, 10 and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, 12 so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.
Now highlight the following words (I used Pink):
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.--End quote
Note that, in context--according to Paul--the following terms:
- that day
ALL refer to the same event or time period. All of them refer to "that day" when we are gathered together with the Lord. (The term "that day" is cross referenced by Bible scholars to the following verses:
Isaiah 2:12, Joel 1:15, 1Corinthians 3:13, 1Corintians 1:8; 2Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2Timothy 1:12, 18; 2Timothy 4:8. (To see the text for all of these verses in a separate window, click HERE)
Now please read again what Paul says in verse 3 and highlight in a second color as follows: (I used green)
3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction.
According to Paul, the "coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together with" him won't happen "UNLESS" the "rebellion" comes "first" and the "lawless one, the one destined for destruction" (a.k.a."the Antichrist") is revealed by taking a place in the temple, defiling it, and claiming to be a god above all other gods. According to the book of Daniel (and Jesus, who quotes Daniel's prophecies specifically when giving a list of events in the Last Days), this doesn't happen till the middle of the tribulation period.
Many will ignore this verse or play word gymnastics with what Paul says (and what Jesus says, and what Daniel says) and move on to the next verses in 2 Thessalonians 2.
5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 6 And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed.
These two verses (6-7) are some of the verses people use to promote the idea that Jesus will come and rapture the church prior to the "Great Tribulation." After recognizing that the "him" in vs. 6 refers to "the lawless one" (the Antichrist) from vs. 3, they ADDED the idea that "what now restrains" him is the Holy Spirit, saying that when the Holy Spirit is removed from Earth (at their assumed time of the rapture--before the start of the tribulation), then the Antichrist can appear and wreak havoc on earth during the great tribulation described in the book of Revelation. Events regarding the Last Days appearance of the (ultimate, final) Antichrist are referenced by Jesus and Daniel in end time prophecy.
PROBLEMS with the idea that the Holy Spirit is removed from Earth prior to the Great Tribulation:
1) The Holy Spirit isn't specifically mentioned in this passage.
2) Daniel's prophecy about the Antichrist committing the Abomination that makes Desolate places the this event at the middle of the tribulation period, not prior to the start of it. (Please note that Jesus specifically references this event--the Abomination--and says it will take place before he comes to gather his people in his discourse on the signs of the last days in Matthew and Mark.) Paul also makes clear references to the Antichrist and the Abomination here. (Read the article that compares the Gospel passages where Jesus speaks of the Last Days, the Antichrist, and Jesus' return for his people.)
3) The premise put forth in the Left Behind book series (and many pre-tribulation rapture teachings) is that those who are "left behind" after the rapture will then realize they need to repent and accept Jesus as Lord. But the presence of the Holy Spirit is essential to salvation, so if the Holy Spirit is gone, no one can get saved! And, consider this; the book of Revelation is filled with references to believers who are in the Great Tribulation and come out of it, so the theory put forth regarding the removal of the Holy Spirit from the earth before the tribulation period doesn't work.
Some of those dedicated to the notion of a pre-tribulation rapture eventually realized if the Holy Spirit was gone, those "left behind" couldn't get saved. So then they said that the Church is "what is now restraining" the Antichrist, and when the Church is Raptured away, the Antichrist can appear. This ignores the fact that the Church isn't tasked with restraining the Antichrist (whom Jesus himself will defeat). Also in this passage, the "one who restrains" the Antichrist is referred to as "he" -- something that isn't done regarding the Church (the Bride of Christ), elsewhere in Scripture.
As further support for the Church being absent for the entire tribulation period, some cite the fact that the word "church" doesn't appear after the 3rd chapter of the Book of Revelation. MUCH has been made about the letters to the different churches in the beginning chapters of the book of Revelation—some believe each of the letters to churches recorded there represents an "age" of the church. According to this theory, all the church ages would have come and gone before the rest of the book of Revelation takes place. As evidence, they cite the absence of the word "church" elsewhere in the book of Revelation. Some take the Lord's promise to the Philadelphia Church in Revelation 3:10 as proof that Jesus will take the church before the "Great Tribulation" period of the last days. Here is the verse:
"Because you have kept my message of endurance, I will keep you safe in the time of trial that is going to come to the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth."
Problems with using the letters in the book of Revelation to support a pre-tribulation rapture:
- If each church to whom a letter was written represents an "age" of the church, the Philadelphia Church isn't the final church! This letter would refer to the generation or age before the final one!
- Note the promise isn't to take the people of this church "out of the world," it is to "keep you safe in the time of trial that is going to come to the whole world . . ."
- Note this promise is NOT made to the last church (Laodicea) in the list of letters.
- While the word "church" doesn't appear after Revelation 3, there are multitudes of references to believers who are on the earth throughout the the book of Revelation. I'd like to remind readers that, according to the Lord, believers are the church regardless of the term used to describe them. Believers are mentioned as being here on earth throughout the book of Revelation.
- The churches to whom the letters were addressed were actual fellowships in physical locations who received, heard, and understood the letters—so, while the "church age" theory may also be true in some way, this is an assumption which cannot be proven until eternity.
I invite readers to at least temporarily set aside forming an opinion on the "letters to the churches" or any other interpretations of the book of Revelation until they have read the last-days teachings of Jesus in the gospels and the other writings of Paul (since Paul also wrote specifically regarding the Last Days and the resurrection). Once you have read what is clearly said by Jesus and Paul, you can read the book of Revelation and the references and symbols will make more sense.
Always keep in mind that Jesus often used symbols and parables, but also told the disciples what they meant. Jesus isn't double-minded—He never told a parable or story in public then privately said it meant something totally different. The same goes for Paul. There is no "secret" teaching that contradicts what they openly taught. The "deeper" meaning of a teaching, parable, or symbol won't contradict what is plainly said. Paul's words here are consistent with what Jesus said when asked about the Last Days.
Let's read Paul's words regarding the rapture in vs. 3 again:
Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction.
What is NOT Promised by Paul (or Jesus, or Peter, or John): Exemption from Tribulation
Now I know that some of you reading this have been told and believed that "the Rapture" will take place before the "great tribulation," described by Jesus as including the days of the world's greatest suffering. I've heard many an altar call that invites those who would "avoid the great tribulation" to get saved now. While it does make for a dramatic presentation in a sermon, believers should remind themselves that any teaching that must be superimposed on Bible text in order to be "seen" is, at best, unproven. When a theory contradicts what is plainly said in the Bible, there is a problem with the theory, not the Bible.
What Jesus DOES promise believers is that HE is with us in all things, that those who believe on HIM will be raised up on "that day," and that we will not suffer his wrath.
In summary, let us read Paul's passage once again:
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.-- 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, NRSV
And let us also read the end of that chapter...
For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. 2 Thess. 2:14-17
If you have questions or comments you can email Terry through the Contact link here on the site.
Other Articles on the End Times:
Here is the latest in a series of articles on the Last Days. People often study and talk about this topic--but few take the time to read what the Lord actually said on the "Last Days."
Why did people in the Early Church think the rapture might happen any time? It probably isn't for the reasons you've been told.
Using an informed approach regarding technology.
Many are getting the sinking feeling that things aren't really going to get better. What exactly can you or I do about it? What is guiding our plans for the future? Is it fear or faith?
Christians need to reconsider their dogmatic commitments to End Time theories.
© 2018 Terry L. Craig
Read about Terry's End Time novel trilogy: the Fellowship of the Mystery
Please note that the resurrection is not "reincarnation" (being physically born over and over again). Resurrection is a single event in which those who belong to Jesus Christ (whether living or dead) are suddenly changed, see Jesus face to face, and are made like Him. Many Scriptures speak of the resurrection (among them is a verse from Job, thought to be the oldest book of the Bible). Here are some of the verses: If you click on the link HERE, all of the text for each verse listed below will display at BibleGateway.com.
Job 19:26, Isaiah 26:19, Daniel 12:1-3, Matthew 27:53, Mark 16 (whole chapter), Luke 20:35-36, John 5:25-29, John 11:23-25, Acts 1:22, Acts 2:26, Acts 2:31, Acts 4:2, Acts 4:33, Acts 13:33, Acts 17:18, Acts 17:32, Acts 23:6, Acts 24:15, Acts 24:21,Romans 1:4, Romans 5:10, Romans 6:5, 1 Corinthians 15 (whole chapter), Philippians 3:10-11, Colossians 3:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 2 Timothy 1:10, 2 Timothy 2:18, Hebrews 6:2, 11:35, 1 Peter 1:3, 3:21, Revelation 20:5-6
There are two groups of people mentioned by Jesus as being resurrected (John 5:28-29) and two resurrections mentioned in the book of Revelation. The "first resurrection" (Rev. 20:4-6) is for those who belong to Jesus and they will enter into eternity. The second is for those who will stand before him to be judged for what they have done. [back to beginning of lesson]
The event some Christians call "The Rapture" is the "first resurrection" (of those who belong to Jesus Christ). The term "the rapture" isn't in the Bible—it’s a term that people decided to use to describe the event (since it means ecstasy, delight, bliss, joy, etc.) and for those in the first resurrection, it will be a time of rapture. J
The "Second Coming" of Christ
This is a Scriptural term, and for some, it describes the resurrection of those who belong to Jesus.
"Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." Hebrews 9:28—NIV [See also Matt. 16:27]. [back to beginning of lesson]
The tribulation, also referred to as the Great Tribulation
People tend to think that "the tribulation" and "the great tribulation" are synonymous. They are not. "The Tribulation" is a period of 7 years prior to the end of the world that Daniel the prophet wrote about and Jesus references Daniel specifically when discussing the Last Days. According to Jesus, the "great tribulation" is the second HALF of the 7 years (a 3 1/2 year period). Jesus says the "great tribulation" will be the worst days in the history of the world. Dan 12:1; Matt 24:21; Mark 13:19 [back to beginning of lesson]
The Day of the Lord
The time of the Lord's return, a time of woe for the world. 1Cor 1:8, Am 5:18; 1Cor 5:5; Php 1:6, 10; 2:16; 1Th 5:2 [back to article]
What this man does is stand in the holy place, desecrate it, and proclaim himself to be above all gods or anything else worshiped. Jesus references this event in Matt.24:15-28 and Mark 13:14-27--this event, as described by both the prophet Daniel and Jesus, has not yet taken place. (What Jesus said about the last days is in an article here.) [back to article]
* A "translation" of the Bible differs from a "paraphrase" version. A translation is rendered when scholars evaluate the original Hebrew or Greek text and—as faithfully as possible—render it into the English language as closely as they can, word for word, so it is a more "literal" rendering of Scripture. A paraphrase version is a "dynamic translation" where concepts are translated into modern terminology—tending to be less "literal" but meant to capture the meaning of the original language. According to Tyndale: [https://www.tyndale.com/stories/literal-translation-vs-paraphrase-of-the-bible]
Even the most “literal” translations necessarily provide aids to the reader in the translation because certain concepts in the original languages would be nonsensical to most English readers. Likewise, even those Bibles that tend more toward the “paraphrase” side of things are often quite literal for passages where the literal rendering gives a clear meaning in English. [Back to top of page]
Bible quotations taken from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.