The Thessalonians and the Thief


6th in the series. Starts here.

An examination of the analogy of the thief as used by Christ, Paul and Peter and how the analogy can be used to deduce that the time between the Rapture and the final battle is much less than seven years

My study of prophetic timelines for the end of days has repeatedly shown the Church enduring the Tribulation and the Rapture happening as Christ returns to the earth. It is at His Return that Christ also defeats the Antichrist in the final battle at Armageddon [Rev 19:11-21]. Pre-Tribulationists believe the Church will be raptured before the Tribulation begins. They view Christ’s Second Coming as two actions separated by at least the seven year time span of the Tribulation, claiming His return in the clouds to gather His elect [1Th 4:17] is different from His Return to the earth for the final battle against the Antichrist [Rev 19:11-21]. Since Christ spoke of His Return in a singular manner (i.e. coming not comings), I suspect this is an attempt to rationalize the Pre-Trib view with Christ’s clear announcement of His one and only Second Coming [Mat 24:37].

The considerations:

  • Christ speaks of His Return as one event
  • Pre-Tribulationists stretch this single event over the seven-year time span of the Tribulation

Question: Does Scripture teach a seven-year gap between the Rapture and the final battle?

We will examine this next using Christ’s analogy of the thief.

SCRIPTURE TELLS US THE AMOUNT OF TIME BETWEEN THE RAPTURE AND THE FINAL BATTLE

I humbly submit to you that the Pre-Tribulation view of seven years of separation between the Rapture and the final battle is not found in Scripture. Does the Bible tell us how much time there is between the Rapture and the final battle? Yes, it does, but the answer may not be what you are expecting.

Christ’s analogy of the thief. Christ is teaching His disciples about this during what is now called the Olivet Discourse [Mat 24-25]. He gives an analogy of His Coming as being like a thief [Mat 24:43, Luke 12:39]. He describes the Rapture as taking place at this time [Mat 24:40-41]. This is the analogy we will focus on for this study.

Paul’s use of the analogy. Christ uses the analogy of His Coming, which includes the Rapture, as being like a thief during the Olivet Discourse. Paul then describes the Second Coming like a thief just as Christ did.

Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 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. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.

[1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 NASB]

Paul is indeed describing the Rapture as happening at Christ’s Second Coming.

Peter’s use of the analogy. Peter also uses the same language when describing His Second Coming. He says it will be like a thief.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

[2 Peter 3:10 NASB]

The Day of the Lord is Christ’s Return. The phrase like a thief is referencing Christ’s Second Coming, which includes the Rapture. Peter, also, is describing the Rapture as happening at Christ’s Second Coming.

I could reasonably argue that the use of this analogy about Christ’s Second Coming and they way the passages read in context means Christ will gather His elect upon His return and then make war on the Antichrist quickly, not 7 years later. However, for the Pre-Tribber, neither of these verses completely disproves the view considering they believe this is one event with a seven-year length. So, let’s again look to Christ on His Return to see if perhaps we can solve the issue.

Christ’s use of the analogy. Chapter 16 in the Book of Revelation describes the bowls of God’s Wrath being poured out upon the earth. In verses 13 and 14, the Antichrist sends out his demons to gather his forces for battle against Christ. After that, the 7th bowl is poured out and a loud voice declares It is done. We know from Scripture that this is when Christ makes war on the Antichrist [Revelation 19:11-21].

I want to bring your attention to verse 15. Right in the middle of all the intense action in this section, seemingly out-of-place, Christ speaks and announces His Second Coming. He uses the analogy of the thief, the same analogy He used in the Olivet Discourse about His Coming, which includes the Rapture. It’s the same language Paul used and the same language Peter used which I’ve shown above. He says,

(“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”)

[Revelation 16:15 NASB]

Christ is actually repeating the same analogy He used when He taught His Disciples about the gathering of the Saints to Himself during the Olivet Discourse.

“But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.

[Matthew 24:43 NASB] see also Luke 12:39

We also find Christ using the analogy of the thief at the beginning of the Book of Revelation.

‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.

[Revelation 3:3 NASB]

Paul and Peter both use the same imagery of the thief as Christ does when He describes His Second Coming, which includes the Rapture.

Seven years of separation? As I’ve stated above, Pre-Tribulationists agree that Christ’s Return for His Saints and His return to the earth for the final battle are one event. However, they stretch this single event over the seven-year time span of the Tribulation. I submit to you that Scripture actually does define the time that passes between Christ’s gathering of His Saints and the final battle, and it is much shorter than seven years. Consider the context of Revelation 16:15.

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.”

[Revelation 16:12-17 NASB]

Scripture suggests the Rapture happens during the 6th bowl judgment.

Christ’s Return in the clouds to gather His elect and His return to the earth for the final battle against the Antichrist is indeed a single event. The amount of time that passes between the Rapture and the beginning of the final battle seems to be the amount of time it takes for the Antichrist’s forces to finish assembling at Armageddon. Sometime in between, the Lord’s feet touch down on Mt. Olive [Zechariah 14:4]. This is His Return to the earth. We can’t get any more specific than this. Since this is at the end of the seven-year Tribulation (just as He says in Matthew 24:29), the time involved is much, much less. According to Scripture, the Antichrist sends for his army. Christ appears and gathers the elect. The Antichrist’s armies finish gathering at Armageddon. Christ defeats the Antichrist in the final battle. It is done.

Is there additional Scripture to support the Rapture taking place during the 6th bowl? Yes!

The 7th trumpet unleashes the seven bowls. A great earthquake and a hailstorm are described in the text about the 7th trumpet and also in the text about the 7th bowl. I believe both texts are describing the same event and that the 7th trumpet is an overview of the seven bowls, which are more detailed, increased in intensity and shorter in duration.

Compare the 7th trumpet…

And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

[Revelation 11:19 NASB]

with the 7th bowl…

Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, *came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague *was extremely severe.

[Revelation 16:17-21 NASB]

By this we can know that both Jesus and Paul were indeed referencing the 7th trumpet when they taught about the Rapture.

“And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

[Matthew 24:31 NASB]

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

[1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NASB]

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

[1 Thessalonians 4:16 NASB]

We are not after exact times, only proper timing.

Are there seven years between the Rapture and the final battle? I don’t believe so. Scripture seems clear that upon Christ’s return, He will gather His Saints and defeat the Antichrist on the battlefield at the last trumpet, the 7th trumpet. If there’s any time at all between the two, it will be the time it takes for the Antichrist to finish gathering His armies, which will be much, much less than seven years.

THIEVERY EVERYWHERE

The day will not be as a thief to those of us who know Christ. It is here I am compelled to clear up a common misconception among Christians. I have interacted with many Christians who believe that Christ’s Return will be like a thief even to those of us who know Him. They have often used this verse as a discouragement from studying the timeline of events concerning Christ’s Return, even though He gave us the timeline is His Word in many places.

If you just read on a little further in the same passage about the thief, what they have concluded is not true. I think it’s of vital importance to know that we, like the Thessalonians, are sons of light. The day will not be as a thief to us who are alive and spiritually diligent until He returns. This is incredibly encouraging! Check it out.

Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 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. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.

[1 Thessalonians 5:1-10 NASB]

Christ’s is the Commander of God’s Wrath and His Return is part of that. However, it will only be God’s Wrath to those who do not know Christ. I see no reason for Christ to encourage us in this way and to tell us to remain spiritually diligent until He comes if there won’t be any Saints on the earth at His Return.

© P2ALM 2011

Next in the series.

Categories: The Rapture, The Timeline of the EndTags: , , , , , , , , , ,

5 comments

  1. When speaking of Pre-Trib theology, you mention, “the seven-year time span of the Tribulation.” I think we would be wise to point out that seven years is the time span of “their” Tribulation, not the Scripture’s. The seventieth week begins with a covenant, and there is no indication that tribulation begins until the middle of that week. The Great Tribulation is 3 1/2 years (cut short), and any other tribulation is that which is common to man throughout the history of the world. When we use their terminology, we grant credence to their error.

    • The idea of a 7-year Tribulation period isn’t unique to pre-trib theology. Daniel 9:27 lays out one remaining week of years when the Antichrist will rule or, at least, begin it with his first act which will be to make a covenant with many people and then interrupt the week of years in the middle with the AoD in Jerusalem. This is the entire Tribulation. I regard Mat 24:4-26 (Mark 13:5-23 & Luke 21:8-24) as defining the Tribulation with Jesus’ warning in Mat 24:15 (Mark 13:14-21 & Luke 21:20-24) as being the start of the last 3.5 years. I attempted to mesh these chapters together here: The Olivet Discourse & Luke 17: Timeline of the Last Days

      Now, I agree with you. There is always tribulation. I would also say, in a sense, the Tribulation has already started when we consider that the religion of the coming Antichrist -Islam- is, at this moment, beheading and murdering Christians (and anyone) right now in the Middle East who do not pledge thought and deed to it [Rev 20:4, Rev 13:16]. It’s just that the Bible defines a 7-year period as THE Tribulation because it will be even worse when the A/C is directing it.

      • Note who Is Paul referring to when he says “them”. He doesn’t say “us.”

        Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 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. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.

        [1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 NASB]

        • By “them” Paul is referring to unbelievers.

          • Yes, it is. The “gathering together” aka rapture, is a Pauline doctrine, which is the ministry of the risen, glorified Lord Jesus Christ. This is the one of the revelation of the mystery doctrines. It must be hard to see because many don’t see it. Is so sad.
            Jesus didn’t talk about it until he revealed it to Paul. Thus you won’t find it in the gospels or revelation. One of the other mysteries in the revelation of the mystery doctrines is that the Lord’s body, the church he is building in grace, are for reconciling the heavenly places. Whereas Israel, is his chosen people who will be saved, for all his words are true to Israel. They will be the holy people in the coming Kingdom., on earth.

            Acts is a book that shows the diminishing of Israel and their fall for a time. Romans 9-11 explain it clearly. Then Paul is saved, and made apostle to the Gentiles, beginning the body of Christ. 1 Tim. 1:12-16. But when this body is full then the Lord will finish the Kingdom prophesies.

            There are different time frames regarding Jacobs trouble, the day of the Lord etc… we, the body will know I think because we are watching but we are to always be watching, patiently waiting for him to come.
            If you don’t yet see 2 programs here, that is why you lump it all together.
            There is Prophecy and there is the Revelation of the Mystery. 2 people’s to reconcile both earth and heaven, which in the fullness of times will be brought together!
            Eph. 1:10 KJV That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on the earth; in him:

            Note heaven and earth just like in Gen. 1:1.

            Thank you 🙂

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