In recent years, numerous arguments have been advanced to supposedly prove that the Church, the Body of Christ, will go through the “great tribulation” before being “caught up” to be with the Lord.
The present trend of events is, of course, causing many sincere believers to fear that this will be the case, but we place our confidence in the Word of God alone and we are amply confirmed in our belief that the Rapture of the Church will take place before the tribulation period begins, and that the members of the Body of Christ will thus escape the sufferings that the tribulation saints will be called upon to endure.
Our purpose in writing this article is not to defend or to attack anyone, but simply to consider whether arguments for a post-tribulation Rapture are valid.
NOT ONE SCRIPTURE?
Some who hold to the post-trib Rapture position say that there is not one verse of Scripture which explicitly affirms the Rapture of the Church before the tribulation.
But why need there be? There is not one verse of Scripture which explicitly affirms that our Lord was baptized before His temptation by the devil, or that He was crowned with thorns before He was crucified, or that baptism with water is no longer included in God’s program for believers, or that God is a Trinity. Yet there is abundant Scriptural proof for all these and they are accepted as the truth of the Word of God.
Years ago we printed an article entitled First the Departure, in which we dealt at length with a passage of Scripture which does explicitly affirm that the Rapture will precede the tribulation. In this article we gave conclusive evidence that the words hee apostasia in II Thessalonians 2:3 should have been rendered “the departure” rather than “a falling away” and that the passage thus reads:
“Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day [the day of the Lord]1 shall not come except the departure come first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
The preceding verses and the preceding letter written by Paul to these same people all bear witness that “the departure” referred to is the departure of believers to go and be with Christ.
We are quite taken aback to see how lightly some have disposed of the evidence we advanced for this rendering of II Thessalonians 2:3. We have given Scriptural proof after proof that the word apostasia does not mean departure from the truth, but simply departure, and that the original passage in question certainly does not use the words “a falling away” but rather “the departure.”
To all this our post-tribulational brethren reply by simply stating authoritatively and dogmatically that the word apostasia means a departure from the truth.
Lest some of our readers believe that apostasia means a departure from the truth, we offer again what we believe to be conclusive Scriptural proof that the words “a falling away,” in II Thessalonians 2:3, should have been rendered “the departure” and that the Greek word apostasia does not contain ideas of revolt or rebellion as does our English word apostasy.
APOSTASIA AND APOSTASY
Actually the Greek noun apostasia occurs in only one other passage in the New Testament, namely Acts 21:21, where Paul is informed of the report that he has taught “all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses.”
We suggest that “depart” here would be a closer synonym to the rendering “forsake” than would the word “apostatize.” To forsake is not exactly to revolt or rebel against, and this is the meaning of apostasy. Furthermore, in this case we are explicitly informed that these Jews were being urged to forsake or depart from Moses, indicating that the word apostasia by itself does not mean “a departure from the truth” but simply “a departure.”
But some people have evidently overlooked the root verb from which the noun apostasia is derived. This verb, aphisteemi, occurs 15 times in the New Testament and its meaning is easy to determine from those passages in which it is used. So that there may be no mistake, we present here a list of every New Testament use of this verb:
Luke 2:37—”departed not from the temple.”
Luke 4:13—”the devil…departed from Him.”
Luke 8:13—”in time of temptation fall away.”
Luke 13:27—”depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity.”
Acts 5:37—”drew away much people after him.”
Acts 5:38—”refrain from these men.”
Acts 12:10—”the angel departed from him.”
Acts 15:38—”who departed from them from Pamphylia.”
Acts 19:9—”he departed from them.”
Acts 22:29—”they departed from him.”
II Cor. 12:8—”I besought the Lord…that it might depart.”
I Tim. 4:1—”some shall depart from the faith.”
I Tim. 6:5—”from such withdraw thyself.”
II Tim. 2:19—”depart from iniquity.”
Heb. 3:12—”in departing from the living God.”
The reader should observe carefully that in 11 out of these 15 occurrences the verb in question is rendered depart, departed, or departing.
Only three of the 15 are concerned with departure from the truth. In two of these it is clearly stated that the departure is “from the faith” (I Tim. 4:1) and “from the living God” (Heb. 3:12) while the third clearly implies a departure, or “falling away,” from that which was “for a while believed,” leaving the meaning of the verb aphisteemi in each case simply depart. And these are the only three passages of the above fifteen where departure from the truth is even involved.
In the other twelve the meaning of the word itself is again simply that of departure—nothing more.
In Luke 4:13 we read that the devil “departed” from Christ. In Acts 12:10 an angel “departs” from Peter. In Acts 15:38 we read how a man had “departed” from Paul and Barnabas. In II Corinthians 12:8 we read of Paul’s thrice-repeated prayer that a thorn might “depart,” or be removed, from his flesh. And so with all the others.
Indeed, in two of the 15 cases above the very opposite of apostasy or departure from the truth is involved.
In I Timothy 6:5 Timothy is told to depart (“withdraw thyself”) from men who are “destitute of the truth,” while in II Timothy 2:19 all who “name the name of Christ” are exhorted to “depart from iniquity.”
If one carefully considers these fifteen occurrences of the root verb of the noun apostasia, he would surely not declare with finality that the meaning of apostasia is “apostasy” or “a departure from the truth.”
THE AUTHORIZED VERSION AND ITS PREDECESSORS
Before leaving this subject we would call attention to Mr. Kenneth S. Wuest’s rendering of II Thessalonians 2:3 in his Expanded Translation of the Greek New Testament. It reads as follows:
“Do not begin to allow anyone to lead you astray in any way, because that day shall not come except the aforementioned departure [of the Church to heaven] comes first and the man of lawlessness is disclosed [in his true identity], the son of perdition.”
Now however Mr. Wuest’s translation of the New Testament may be appraised, we doubt that in thus rendering the verse he was trying to establish some private theory as to the timing of the Rapture. He was just trying to produce a good English translation of what the Greek actually says, and he proves this in his preface to II Thessalonians, parts of which we quote below.
“If apostasia and aphisteemi meant what our word `apostasy’ and `apostatize’ mean, why did Paul when using aphisteemi in I Timothy 4:1 feel the need of adding the qualifying phrase, `from the faith’ to complete the meaning of aphisteemi in that instance of its use?…The word apostasia, therefore, in its original and pure meaning, unadulterated by the addition of other ideas imposed upon it by the contexts in which it has been used, means `a departure.'”
In explaining why the Authorized Version failed to retain the rendering “a departure,” which they found in the five versions which preceded A. V., Mr. Wuest points out a mistake contained in all six versions. Says Mr. Wuest:
“The fatal mistake the translators made was in failing to take into consideration the definite article before the word apostasia which appears in the Greek text of Eberhard Nestle, in that of his son, Erwin Nestle, and in that of Westcott and Hort. A. T. Robertson in his monumental work, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, asserts that the translators of the A. V., under the influence of the Vulgate, dealt with the Greek article in a loose and inaccurate way (p. 756). He goes on to say that the vital thing is to look at the matter in hand from the Greek angle and find a reason for the use of the article in any given instance. The use of the article here is classified by Dana and Mantey in their Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament as that of denoting previous reference. In this usage the article is used to point out an object the identity of which is defined by some previous reference made to it in the context (p. 141). The word `previous’ is all-important here. The translators of the A. V. looked for the definition of the word in the subsequent context, whereas the Greek article points here to a previous context, namely, to the coming of the Lord Jesus into the air and the gathering together of the saints to Him and their consequent ascent to heaven. Thus, instead of speaking of a departure of men from the true Faith, Paul is referring to the departure of the saints to heaven. It is this departure of the Church which is preventing the coming of the day of the Lord and the disclosure of the man of lawlessness in his true identity.”
Dr. E. Schuyler English, too, has made a comprehensive study of the Rapture in relation to the tribulation and has written a book on the subject entitled Re-thinking the Rapture. In it he deals at length with the meaning of apostasia and its verb root, aphisteemi and goes on to say:
“The day of the Lord will not come, then, until the man of sin be revealed. And before he is revealed, there must be `the departure.’ Departure from what or to what? It must have been something concerning which the Thessalonian believers were informed, else the definite article would hardly have been employed, and without any qualifying description with the noun.2 Why do we assume that this departure must be from the faith? It has been shown that, in its verb form, the word frequently signified separation other than religious revolt. Have we not based our interpretation upon what may quite possibly be an inappropriate rendition of the Greek noun? And since the definite article suggests strongly that the departure was something with which the Thessalonians were familiar, why do we think of the departure as apostasy? There is nothing in either of the Thessalonian epistles, to this point, about the great apostasy. To submit that, while the apostle did not write to this church about the apostasy he must have talked to them about it, is pure conjecture.
“Again, how would the Thessalonians, or Christians in any century since, be qualified to recognize the apostasy when it should come, assuming, simply for the sake of this inquiry, that the Church might be on earth when it does come? There has been apostasy from God, rebellion against Him, since time began. And if it be proposed that the man of sin, sitting in the temple of God and showing Himself to be God, is the apostasy, we must ask ourselves a question: Is this act, on the part of the man of sin, apostasy, a falling away, or is it blasphemous denial by one who never at any time acknowledged God?
“There is a departure concerning which the Thessalonians had been instructed by letter. This is not conjecture but fact: it is the Rapture of the Church, described in I Thessalonians 4:13-17. It was on account of the confusion in the minds of these young Christians, in the matter of events associated with the coming of the Lord, that this epistle was written—for some had sought to deceive them, as by spirit (claiming, perhaps, some new revelation from God), or by word (possibly a misinterpretation of something Paul said), or by letter as from Paul, telling the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord was already present. And how could the apostle set their minds at rest? He could assure them, `by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him,’ that the day of the Lord will not come `except there come the departure, the Rapture, first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.’ The day of the Lord was not present; for they themselves, members of Christ’s mystical Body, were still on earth. The Rapture had not already taken place, they being left behind; for the man of sin was not revealed.
“This interpretation corresponds perfectly in sequence, with that in verses 7 and 8, if the restraining power is, as we believe to be the case, the Holy Spirit. The Church departs, and the man of sin is revealed (vs. 3); the Holy Spirit, the restrainer, is taken out of the way, `and then shall that wicked one be revealed’ (vss. 7,8).”
1. The word apostasia and its root verb, aphisteemi, do not, used by themselves, mean “apostasy” and “apostatize.” They mean “departure” and “depart,” nothing more.
2. II Thessalonians 2:3 states in the Greek, that the day of the Lord will not come “except the departure come first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
3. The term “the departure,” with the definite article, denotes previous reference.
4. Paul had written to the Thessalonians in his previous letter about the departure of the members of Christ’s Body from this earth (I Thes. 4:16,17) and had even dissociated this from the prophesied “day of the Lord” with the “But” of I Thessalonians 5:1. He had also referred to this “departure” in the phrase “our gathering together unto Him,” in II Thessalonians 2:1. Indeed, this was the basis for his appeal to the Thessalonians not to be “shaken” or “troubled” by those who would make them think that “the day of the Lord” was at hand. He had also “told” them about “these things” while he was yet with them (II Thes. 2:5).
5. “The man of sin” must also be manifested before the “day of the Lord” can come (II Thes. 2:3,4) and he cannot be manifested until “the departure” takes place “first.”
6. Thus, in addition to many clear proofs that the Rapture of the Body will precede the great tribulation we also have a passage which “explicitly affirms” this.
“Wherefore comfort one another…” (I Thes. 4:18).
“Be not soon shaken in mind, or…troubled…” (II Thes. 2:2).
“Let no man deceive you by any means…” (II Thes. 2:3).
- I Thessalonians 2:2 properly reads the “day of the Lord” not the “day of Christ.”
- “Such a noted scholar as Dr. George Milligan, in his commentary on the Greek Text (Macmillan, New York), although holding to the traditional translation of apostasia, states that the use of the definite article proves [that the apostasia referred to is one] regarding which the apostle’s readers were already fully informed.”