Q386 : Does 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 Preclude a Pretribulational Rapture?

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Q386 : Does 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 Preclude a Pretribulational Rapture?

Hi Tony,

Greetings to you in Christ.

I have a very important question on 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 passage which poses a serious challenge for pretribulationism. I just wanted to bring it to your attention and to know what you think about it. This question has not been addressed at SpiritandTruth.orga.

In the passage, Paul says God will recompense trouble to the persecutors of the Thessalonian church, and recompense REST to the Thessalonian believers when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire (i.e., at the Second Coming). This statement appears to contradict a pretribulation rapture theology. If the rapture is pretribulational, why would the Thessalonian believers have to wait until the Second Coming (at the end of the Tribulation) before they can obtain relief from their afflictions and persecutions? If there is a pretribulation rapture, one would expect the Thessalonians to obtain relief from their persecutions at the pretribulation rapture, not at the Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation. So, this passage poses a huge problem for pretribulationism. I'd like to know what you think about it.

I have seen a few explanations given by pretribulation scholars attempting to harmonize this passage with a pretribulation rapture, but I don't find them convincing at all. For example, some scholars say the "rest" in this passage refers to millennial kingdom rest. But the Greek word translated "rest" in this passage is "anesis" which means "relaxation or a loosening" following a strain/tension. According to the Lindell and Scott Greek Lexicon, anesis is the opposite of “thlipsis” (affliction). Also, Paul's juxtaposition of "anesis" and "afflicted/affliction" in this passage shows the contrast between the two words and strongly suggests that the 'anesis' in verse 7 is a reference to relief from affliction.

So, the anesis in 2 Thess. 1:7 must be a reference to relief from the afflictions and persecutions the Thessalonians were suffering. It is not a reference to the rewards and blessings of the millennial kingdom. Anesis from affliction occurs first, followed by the blessings of the millennial kingdom. And this "anesis" (relief) should occur by removing the believers from the source of affliction or destroying the source of affliction. The idea that believers will receive anesis when they enter the millennial kingdom is not a compelling argument at all. If the rapture is pretribulational, the believers should obtain anesis (relief) via a pre-tribulation rapture. But Paul says this anesis will come at the Second Coming of Christ (at the end of the Tribulation). It is difficult to reconcile this statement with a pretribulation rapture. What do you think?

Another explanation I have seen is that the anesis in this passage refers to rest following the vindication of the believers by the judgment and punishment of their persecutors. Again, this is not very convincing for the simple reason that the anesis in this passage refers to relief from the afflictions that the believers were suffering in Thessalonica.

So, this passage seems to pose a huge problem for pretribulationism. In my opinion, this passage poses the greatest challenge for pretribulationism. It would be nice to know what you think about the passage.

Keep up the good work you're doing.


Links Mentioned Above
a - See http://spiritandtruth.org.
A386 : by Tony Garland

I share your view that the passage is speaking about the second coming, when God will “repay with tribulation those who trouble you” . . . “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God.” The structure of the passage is retributive: the tribulation which the Thessalonians saints are presently experiencing will be accounted for when God metes out tribulation to those who were their persecutors.

I also agree that rest (ἄνεσις [anesis]) is a reference to relief from the afflictions and persecutions the Thessalonians were then suffering. Even so, it must be noted, that ἄνεσις [anesis] does not necessarily refer to physical rest or relaxation: “I had no rest (ἄνεσις [anesis]) in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother...” (2Cor. 2:13). It can be used, “figuratively; (a) refreshment, rest, relief from tension (2C 7:5)”1. So it does not necessarily follow that the rest spoken of in 2Th. 2:6 must refer to removal of the Thessalonian believers from their present physical afflictions.

I do not believe this passage is speaking of the rapture. But neither do I find it difficult to reconcile with a pretribulation rapture. I say this because, within the book of Thessalonians — as is the case with a number of epistles — Paul, by the inspiration of the Spirit, is writing to different audiences. These audiences are in different categories.

Not knowing the actual time of the rapture, Paul writes in such a way as to comfort both those who will be taken at the rapture as well as those who will not (for example, in 1Th. 4:15). Historically, the number of believers who die prior to the rapture will be the vast majority. Paul is also writing to a much broader audience than just the saints in the church at Thessalonica in his day. His epistles are intended for wider consumption, both geographically and historically (e.g., “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” [Col. 4:16]).

When reading Paul, we need to keep this four-fold division of audience in mind: those who will die prior to the rapture vs. those who will be living at the rapture; the direct recipients of his letter in his generation vs. believers-in-general who read the epistle down through history as intended recipients of the truths related.

If the rapture were the only rest or hope being offered to believers experiencing tribulation, then the majority of believers living throughout history are left without any real hope—they will not be among those rescued from present-day afflictions at the rapture. Thankfully, such is not the case: God guarantees that justice will ultimately be served. I believe this is the sense in which Paul is offering rest to his readers: no matter how things appear now, justice will prevail — but patience is required: it won’t work out historically until the second coming.

As history worked out, every one of the initial reader’s of Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica has passed: far in advance of the rapture. If the only hope Paul offered the church was being taken in the rapture, then his readers died clinging to a vain hope — the promise of the rapture did not remove them from the tribulation they experienced. Instead, Paul is also communicating a hope which applies to the broader audience of believers who will not experience the rapture: that the injustice and suffering they experience will be set right when Jesus returns in judgment at the Second Coming.

I view this passage as answering the same question expressed by the martyr’s revealed in the fifth seal of Revelation 6: “How long, O Lord holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10).

In summary, I believe 2Th. 1 does not concern the rapture. Neither does it have anything to say concerning the timing of the rapture which is not here in view. On the other hand, 2Th. 2 does concern the rapture. The transition in subject matter is made clear by the word which leads off 1Th. 2:1 (δε [de], translated “now” by most versions) — Paul has shifted gears to talk about something different than the Second Coming: the topic of the previous chapter.

Something else to consider: any other view of the timing of the rapture than the pretribulational view denies the doctrine of imminencya. Therefore, when seeking to understand a chapter such a 2Th. 1, our tentative conclusions need to be balanced against the overwhelming number of passages indicating that Christ can come for His Church at any moment: there are no preconditions remaining to be fulfilled such as the beginning of the Tribulation.


Endnotes:

1.Ref-0380, 55


Sources:

Ref-0380Friberg, T., Friberg, B., & Miller, N. F. Vol. 4: Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament library. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).


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