Excerpted from the Message “Not Wrath But Rapture” by Dr. H. A. Ironside
First Thessalonians is the earliest of Paul’s letters that the Spirit of God preserved for the edification of the church. In this letter the second coming of Christ was presented as the imminent hope of the saints. No one can read the latter part of chapter 4 thoughtfully without seeing that the Spirit of God intended the church to live in the daily expectation of our Lord’s return. No one can possibly live in the daily expectation of the coming of the Son of man as set forth in the synoptic gospels unless he knows that he is in the very closing days of the great tribulation. Consequently, the hope of the Lord’s return set forth in Thessalonians must of necessity be a different thing to the expectation of His coming to set up His kingdom, and careful consideration of the passage referred to only serves to make this clearer. It is the Lord’s coming for His saints whereas the other is His coming with them.
In chapter 1 in this epistle, Paul spoke of the conversion of the Thessalonians, and the testimony they were giving to the world outside, and he said: “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come”. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
The last clause, it is generally conceded, does not exactly represent what the apostle wrote.
The Revised Standard Version translates it, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
J.N. Darby rendered it, “Jesus, our Deliverer from the coming wrath,”
Dr. Young was very explicit: he translated it, “Jesus who is rescuing us from the anger that is coming.”
The point is that it is not simply that we are looking for our Lord as the One Who has delivered us from eternal wrath, but we look for him as the one who is coming to snatch us away from the wrath that is soon to fall on earth. This agrees with the promise in Revelation3:10. And it is in this way that the church will be kept from that hour of trial. Before the judgment’s fall the Lord Jesus will descend from heaven with a shout, the dead in Christ will be raised, and the living saints changed, and we shall be snatched away, caught up to be with Him before the indignation is poured out on this guilty scene.
Turn now to 2 Thessalonians 2. As we read it carefully, let us bear in mind what has already been before us. In order to see the viewpoint both of the apostle himself and of those to whom he was writing at that particular time, it will be well to consider certain facts that may be clearly deduced from a careful study of the entire letter. It is evident that the coming of the Lord had a large place in the hearts and minds of these particular saints. Some among them had become unbalanced on the subject, and were teaching that they were already entering into the time of great tribulation. They believed that the day of the Lord was practically upon them. They were endeavoring to substantiate this teaching by the use of a forged letter purporting to come from the apostle Paul, and the advocates of this system declared that the Spirit had revealed these things to them. Therefore the saints were becoming unsettled, losing the blessedness of the hope of the Lord’s return for His own. They feared they were already entering the great tribulation, and that the next event would be the coming of the Son of man.
Notice carefully 2 Thessalonians 2:1&2; “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him. 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 Revised Standard Version reads, “To the effect that the day of the Lord is just at hand.” The best manuscript authority authenticates this. The day of Christ is not the same thing as the day of the Lord. The day of Christ refers to the time when believers will stand in their glorified bodies at Christ’s judgment seat. But the day of the Lord is the time when His judgments will be poured out on the earth, and He will descend and take the kingdom. The apostle reminded these believers of what he had already written in his previous epistle. They were not to look for the day of the Lord but for the return of our Savior to deliver them from the coming wrath. So he pleaded with them in view of these facts, that “by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and by our gathering together unto Him,” we are not to be troubled or distressed, no matter what assertions others might make in regard to the day of trouble being already on us. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him must take place before that time of distress can begin. This is exactly what we insist on today, we who do not believe that the church will go through the great tribulation. Our daily expectation is the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him. This must precede the judgments. The day of the Lord cannot begin until after it takes place.
This will prepare us to understand what follows: “Let no man deceive you by any means for that day shall not come except there come a falling away [the apostasy] first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) The “day” is the day of trial and distress that we have been occupied with, but it will not come until the apostasy is fully manifest. There cannot be complete apostasy so long as the church of God is in this world. No matter how much there may be in the way of unfaithfulness to Christ and His truth, our Lord has declared, “Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) As long as the church is in the word, it is being led in His triumph. There may be individual apostates, but there cannot be complete apostasy.
But when the church has been caught up to be with Christ, then the apostasy in all its fullness will arrive. Out of that condition of things the son of perdition will arise, “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped: so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:4) This is the sinister character whose awful features are dimly seen in both Testaments as one of the dominant actors in the last days. The man of sin will be an absolutely self-deified atheist. He will recognize no God but himself. His rise to power is evidently linked with the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, spoken of by Daniel and referred to by our Lord as the true starting point of the great tribulation.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:6-10 we are told of one who hinders this full manifestation of evil until the set time appointed of God.
And now ye know what withholdeth [hinders] that he might be revealed in His [own] time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only He who now letteth [hinders] will let [hinder] until He be taken out of the way. And then shall that “Wicked” [one] be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming. Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders. And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
There has been a great deal of controversy about this passage. Some claim that the hinderer is Satan who has his place in the heavens until after the rapture of the church, and then he shall be taken out of the way. Others insist that this hinderer is orderly government, and as long as orderly government prevails these things cannot take place. Some of the early fathers thought the hinderer was the Roman Empire, and that Paul dared not put on paper just what was in his mind lest he expose Christians to the charge of plotting the downfall of the existing private information which he had given to the Thessalonians when he was with them that had to do with this subject. But let us remember that this letter, like every other epistle in the New Testament, was written not for the local believers only to whom it was addressed but for all Christians during the entire dispensation. Therefore verse 6 is addressed to believers everywhere, who ought to be capable of understanding it, if they are at all familiar with their Bibles. “Ye know what withholdeth that he [that is, the man of sin] might be revealed in his [own] time.” Every Christian should be able to answer as he reads these words of scripture, “Yes I do know who it is that hindereth the full manifestation of iniquity. There is only one answer possible and that is, of course, The Holy Spirit.”
What Christian is there who would think of any other hindering power in such a connection? In both Testaments this is the very province and work of the Spirit of God. He causeth the wrath of man to praise him and the remainder of wrath he doth restrain (Psalm 76:10). “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him “(Isaiah 59:19). He is working in the church at the present time, convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Moreover, His presence in the church continues as long as that church is here, for our Lord promises, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16) How then will he ever be taken out of the war? This will only occur by the fulfillment of 1 Thessalonians 4, with the return of the Lord and our being caught up to meet him in the air. This is the tremendous event that will clear the way for that time of trouble from which the church of God is to be kept.
Words of Grace for Strength
How thankful we should be, that as members of the Body of Christ, we will be Raptured before the time of Tribulation. As wicked and godless as this world is today, it is beyond comprehension how absolutely evil it will be once the influence of God, through His Holy Spirit, is removed. Satan’s influence in the world grows more evident every day. Christians are suffering persecution in greater measure on an almost daily basis, and I believe the True Church, His Remnant Church in these Last Days, will suffer for our Savior. Yet, we will only face a portion of the wrath of Satan as he attempts to destroy the influence of God in this age. We are promised that we will not face the wrath of God which will be poured out on the earth during the Tribulation.
This is not a health and wealth view of life as a Christian. This is not a prosperity gospel. This is the correct interpretation of Scripture that recognizes the completely fallen and sinful state of the world, but also the love of Christ for His Bride, His Remnant Church. Wrath and judgment is coming to the world in which we will not partake. Trial and tribulation is here today in which some of the body are His already suffering, more may be every day, and all might someday face a portion of it.
But the Lord Jesus is coming back, and He is coming first for us. He suffered on this earth, and so may all of us. Yet He is coming one day and it will be a glorious time for His Church, followed by wrath and judgment upon the world, followed by His rule and reign in the Millennial Kingdom.
Take heart, stand firm and await Him. Wait eagerly, anxiously, patiently, obediently. Wait, because…
Jesus is coming soon!