3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)
2 Thessalonians 1:3-12
Will There Be a Rapture Before the Second Coming?
The language used of Jesus’ return 2 Thessalonians 1 has impacted my personal understanding of Jesus’ return, helping me adjust my eschatology to fit with God’s Word.
Let me explain!
I want to focus on the Ground of Paul’s statement in verse 5. In verses 6-10, he is supporting his statement that the Thessalonians’ perseverance in faith and love, even in the midst of persecution, is evidence that God will count them worthy to enter his kingdom. Why does he say this? Because God, who is just, will surely flip the tables one day: he will afflict the afflicters, and relieve the afflicted (v. 6-7a).
When will he do this? This Temporal arc, verses 7b-10d, is at the heart of my point from this text: God will perform both actions of 6b and 7a “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.” This is the Second Coming!
What is the Manner of Jesus’ coming? This can’t be the Rapture, as dispensationalism describes it, because Jesus will not inflict “vengeance” on unbelievers at that coming, according to that teaching.
And the timing of that vengeance is also crucial; what does the Temporal arc of verse 10 say about when “those who do not obey the gospel” are going to “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction”? They will suffer “when he comes on that day”—that is, at the same time as the Second Coming (v. 10a).
So this coming of Jesus is a time when believers will experience relief from persecution, and when unbelievers will experience the affliction of eternal punishment in Hell.
Now, this explanation fits in Dispensationalism if this return of Jesus takes place after the Rapture. But it is striking that Paul describes the rescue of believers as happening at the same time as the punishment of unbelievers. Would not the rescue for believers happen first at the Rapture?
This passage is not determinative of the issue on its own, but the underlying expectation of a single Second Coming of Jesus should impact our study of other passages, such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 5:1-10, and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 and 15:50-58.