Monday, May 20, 2019

The Timing of the Snatching Away in Relation to the 70th Week (Part One)


Among the many prophecies concerning Israel and her expectation, the prophecy of the “70 weeks” (Daniel 9:24-27) is, arguably, one of the most important prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Starting with verse 20, we read the following in the New English Translation:

20 While I was still speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and presenting my request before the Lord my God concerning his holy mountain— 21 yes, while I was still praying, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen previously in a vision, was approaching me in my state of extreme weariness, around the time of the evening offering. 22 He spoke with me, instructing me as follows: “Daniel, I have now come to impart understanding to you. 23 At the beginning of your requests a message went out, and I have come to convey it to you, for you are of great value in God’s sight. Therefore consider the message and understand the vision:

24 “Seventy weeks have been determined
concerning your people and your holy city
to put an end to rebellion,
to bring sin to completion,
to atone for iniquity,
to bring in perpetual righteousness,
to seal up the prophetic vision,
and to anoint a most holy place.
25 So know and understand:
From the issuing of the command to restore and rebuild
Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince arrives,
there will be a period of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.
It will again be built, with plaza and moat,
but in distressful times.
26 Now after the sixty-two weeks,
an anointed one will be cut off and have nothing.
As for the city and the sanctuary,
the people of the coming prince will destroy them.
But his end will come speedily like a flood.
Until the end of the war that has been decreed
there will be destruction.
27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one week.
But in the middle of that week
he will bring sacrifices and offerings to a halt.
On the wing of abominations will come one who destroys,
until the decreed end is poured out on the one who destroys.”

Since an in-depth examination of this prophecy (as well as a defense of the interpretation of the prophecy to which I hold) would be outside the scope of this article, I will be presupposing the correctness of the interpretation of the prophecy to which I hold (and will be assuming that those reading already accept – or are at least sympathetic toward – this particular interpretation).[1] According to this view, the “weeks” referred to in the prophecy are seven-year periods (or “weeks of years”), and there is an unspecified interval of time between the first 69 weeks (or 483 years) and the final 70th week (or last 7 years). The first 69 weeks (i.e., “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks”) ended either at the time of Christ’s baptism or at the time of his “triumphal entry.” The final, 70th week, on the other hand, is yet to begin. The commencement of the final prophetic week will coincide with the time when the “coming prince” (which I believe to be the future world dictator referred to by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:3 as “the man of lawlessness”) makes “a firm covenant with many for one week,” or – as the Concordant Version has it – becomes “master of a covenant with many for one seven.”

Now, among those who accept this interpretation of the 70 weeks prophecy, some believe that the final 70th week will begin (or at least could begin) before the occurrence of the event referred to by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 (i.e., the snatching away or “rapture” of the body of Christ). Some, for example, believe that the snatching away will occur at – or just before – the midpoint of the 70th week. Others (who subscribe to the so-called “pre-wrath” position) believe that it will occur near the middle of the second half of the week. Still others believe that it will not occur until the very end of the 70th week, when Christ returns to earth. What I will be arguing in this study is that the so-called “pre-tribulation” (or, as I prefer, “pre-70th week”) view of when the snatching away will occur is correct. In fact, if the conclusion at which I arrived in my previous study (“Before the Pangs Begin”) is correct, then one could say that a case for a pre-70th week snatching away has already begun to be made. How so?

The consistently ordered sequence of events described in each account of Christ’s “Olivet discourse” reveals a future period of time that will have a beginning, middle and end, and which can thus be divided into two halves. The first half of this future period of time will be characterized by those events referred to as “the beginning of pangs” (Matt. 24:8). However, echoing prophecies found in passages such as Jer. 30:5-7 and Daniel 12:1, Christ spoke of the second half of this time period as being characterized by unparalleled distress and affliction (Matt. 24:21-22) and “indignation” being upon the Jewish people (Luke 21:23). When we compare Christ words from his Olivet Discourse with the above verses from Jeremiah and Daniel, a reasonable conclusion to draw would be that they are all referring to the same future time period.

The key to determining when the time of “great affliction” described in Matt. 24:21 and Mark 13:19 will take place is that it will commence around the time of the occurrence of what Christ called the “abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15-22; Mark 13:14). As can be inferred from other related verses, this crisis event will involve a certain wicked world ruler putting an end to temple sacrifices, sitting in the temple of God, and setting up an image in the temple to be worshiped (Dan. 9:27; 11:36-37; Rev. 13:4-8, 11-17; 2 Th. 2:3-4). And from Daniel 9:24-27 (cf. Dan. 12:11), we know that this temple-desecrating act of the “man of lawlessness” (as Paul calls him) will occur near the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week. That is, this pivotal event will mark the 3 ½ year division of this future seven-year period.

Here, then, is what I take to be the most accurate chronology of events, based on a harmonization of the synoptic gospel accounts:

1. Jewish believers in Christ will begin to be afflicted, and this affliction will involve their being killed, hated by “all the nations,” given up into the synagogues and jails, being led off to kings and governors on account of Christ’s name, being given up (and even put to death) by parents, brothers, relatives and friends.

2. Many false christs will arise and be deceiving many, and the saints “shall be about to be hearing battles, and tidings of battles.”

3. “Nation will be roused against nation and kingdom against kingdom, there shall be famines, quakes and pestilences in places, along with fearful sights besides great signs also from heaven.”

4. Jerusalem will be “surrounded by encampments” and “the abomination of desolation” will be “standing in the holy place” (which will be the sign that Jerusalem’s “desolation is near,” and that those Israelites living in Judea must flee into the mountains in order to escape what’s about to happen).

5. The time of “great affliction” will begin, and Jerusalem shall begin to “be trodden by the nations, until the eras of the nations may be fulfilled” (which, we discover from Rev. 11:2, will last forty-two months – i.e., the second half of the 70th week).

We can therefore conclude that the unparalleled time of “great affliction” refers to the second half of the 70th week, and is thus 3 ½ years in duration. But if that’s the case, then it seems plausible to believe that the “beginning of pangs” that will be leading up to the midpoint of the 70th week will coincide with the first half of the 70th week. And since – as argued in my previous study – the snatching away is going to occur before the start of those events that constitute the “beginning of pangs,” a pre-70th week snatching away logically follows. So, for those who consider this compelling evidence for a pre-70th week snatching away, then the rest of this article can simply be considered further evidence for this position.

Now, what I think proponents of each of the positions referred to above would probably agree on is that the “seventy weeks” (or 490 years) referred to in Daniel 9:24-27 directly concern Daniel’s people (Israel) and their “holy city” (Jerusalem). This fact is, after all, explicitly stated at the beginning of the prophecy. But does it follow from this fact that the body of Christ will not be on the earth at any time during the 70th week? For some, the fact that the 70th week has been determined for Israel and Jerusalem – in conjunction with the fact that the body of Christ didn’t come into existence until sometime after the 69th week ended – is enough reason to believe that the snatching away of the body of Christ will take place before the 70th week begins. While I do believe that this consideration points us in the right direction, I don’t think it suffices as an independent argument for a “pre-70th week” snatching away. However, I also believe that there is more that can be said in defense of this position.

Daniel’s 70th Week in 2 Thess. 2:1-8

In 2 Thess. 2:1-8, Paul wrote:

“Now we are asking you, brethren, for the sake of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to Him, that you be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be alarmed, either through spirit, or through word, or through an epistle as through us, as that the day of the Lord is present. No one should be deluding you by any method, for should not the apostasy be coming first and the man of lawlessness be unveiled, the son of destruction, who is opposing and lifting himself up over everyone termed a god or an object of veneration, so that he is seated in the temple of God, demonstrating that he himself is God? Do you not remember that, still being with you, I told you these things?

And now you are aware what is detaining, for him to be unveiled in his own era. For the secret of lawlessness is already operating. Only when the present detainer may be coming to be out of the midst, then will be unveiled the lawless one (whom the Lord Jesus will dispatch with the spirit of His mouth and will discard by the advent of His presence)…”

From this passage we find that Paul did not want the Thessalonians to think that the day of the Lord was “present” (i.e., that it had arrived), and believed it necessary to warn them against falling for this deception. Although the KJV has “the day of Christ” in v. 2, the oldest and most reliable manuscripts all have “the day of the Lord,” and most English translations have made this correction. Evidently, the belief that the day of the Lord was present – and that the saints to whom Paul wrote were going through it – was contrary to what he’d previously taught them. That being on the earth during the day of the Lord was contrary to what Paul had previously taught them is further indicated by the fact that, as a result of believing that the day of the Lord was present, the Thessalonians would have   become “quickly shaken from their mind” and “alarmed” (which are both negative reactions, and contrary to the peace of mind/consolation that they would enjoy by keeping in mind what Paul had revealed to them concerning their expectation; see 1 Thess. 4:18 and 5:11).

Moreover, the “presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to Him” seems to be a rather obvious reference to the event that Paul had described in greater detail in his previous letter to these believers – i.e., Christ’s descent from heaven to the atmosphere above the earth, and our being snatched away to meet him there (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Since it was “for the sake of” (or “concerning”) this future event that Paul didn’t want the saints to whom he wrote to be deceived into thinking that “the day of the Lord” was present, we can reasonably conclude that what Paul had taught them concerning the snatching away was contrary to the false report that the day of the Lord was present. If that’s the case, then it would follow that the truth concerning the snatching away is a truth which, if kept in mind by the Thessalonian believers, would’ve helped keep them from being deluded into thinking that the day of the Lord was present. But the only way this could be the case is if the snatching away is to occur before the day of the Lord arrives. And – as argued in my previous study – there is compelling evidence that Paul had previously taught the Thessalonian believers that the snatching away will, in fact, precede the arrival of the day of the Lord.

It’s also worth noting that the only way the Thessalonians could have believed (or could’ve been in danger of believing) that the day of the Lord was already present was if they had been taught (1) that the day of the Lord would be an extended period of time rather than a literal 24-hour day involving the eon-concluding coming of Christ to the earth with all his holy messengers, and (2) that the day of the Lord would be characterized – either in part or in its entirety – by the persecution of believers in Christ during this time (since we know that the believers to whom Paul wrote were, at the time, undergoing persecution; see 2 Thess. 1:4-6; cf. 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14). If the understanding of the Thessalonians regarding the day of the Lord was that it was the actual day of Christ’s return to the earth to destroy the enemies of Israel, then it is highly unlikely that these believers could’ve been deceived into thinking that this day was already present. It just doesn’t seem reasonable to believe that these saints could seriously be in danger of believing that the eon-concluding events associated with Christ’s return to the earth (as described in, for example, Matthew 24:29-31 and Zech. 14:3-4) had taken place, and that the kingdom of God had been (or was soon to be) established on the earth. 

Due to the implausibility of such a scenario, it follows that the day of the Lord which Paul did not want them thinking was “present” was not the climactic day of Christ’s return to earth, when this present wicked eon will finally be brought to an end. It was, instead, the day of the Lord in its broader and more complete sense that they had in mind, and concerning which Paul wrote. The day of the Lord which the Thessalonians believed – or were in danger of believing – was present was, evidently, a relatively longer period of time which (as they likely learned from Paul while he was with them) would be characterized by the large-scale persecution of believers in Christ who will be alive on the earth at the time. Significantly, the persecution of believers in Christ is also said to be characteristic of the time period of which Christ spoke in his Olivet Discourse (see Matt. 24:9-10 and Luke 21:12-19).

Now, in this passage we find Paul referring to two events which, upon taking place, would indicate that the day of the Lord was present: the coming of “the apostasy” and the unveiling of the “man of lawlessness.” It was the non-occurrence of these two events which Paul understood as evidence that the day of the Lord was not yet present, and he thus referred to these events as a way of assuring the Thessalonian believers that they were not going through this period of judgment. It is only after these events have occurred that those on the earth will have reason to believe that the day of the Lord is, in fact, present.

Some understand Paul to have been saying that the apostasy and unveiling of the man of lawlessness will take place before the day of the Lord arrives. However, had Paul believed this, then he could’ve used the Greek term pro (“before”) in verse 3 to more clearly communicate this idea.[2] Instead, Paul used the term prōton (“first”). In light of the meaning of this term, it’s more likely that Paul understood the apostasy to be the event with which the day of the Lord will begin.[3] That is, when Paul said that the apostasy should be coming “first,” the idea being expressed is that this event will initiate the day of the Lord, and will thus be the first event to occur during the day of the Lord (rather than being a precursor to it). This is in accord with the fact that the erroneous view that Paul was trying to correct was that the day of the Lord was “present.” It is with the occurrence of “the apostasy” that the day of the Lord will begin to be “present,” and its non-occurrence is evidence that the day of the Lord isn’t yet present.

That the unveiling of the man of lawlessness is what will initiate the day of the Lord is something that I believe can also be inferred from what we’re told in Revelation 6:1-2. As argued in part two of my last study, the event associated with the opening of the first seal and the unleashing of the first horseman will likely be God’s “raising up” the man of lawlessness to a powerful political position on the world stage by giving him some great diplomatic victory that will enable him to engage in further “conquering” (I’ll have more to say about what I think this “great diplomatic victory” will involve shortly).

But what is “the apostasy” (hē apostasia) with which the day of the Lord will begin, and how will the man of lawlessness be “unveiled?” Although I think that these two events are actually inseparably related (with “the apostasy” actually being the event through which the man of lawlessness is “unveiled”), I’m going to consider them separately, beginning with the apostasy. According to my understanding of the apostasy, it’s going to be a single future event involving rebellion against, and disloyalty to, God. In A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (p. 97), Arndt and Gingrich define apostasia as meaning “rebellion, abandonment.” Liddell and Scott provide four categories of usage, the first of which is “rebellion” or “apostasy” (we’re also told that the term is especially so used in a religious sense as “rebellion against God”). Apparently the dominant idea behind the term was that of rebellion (whether political, religious or both). In the only other verse in which the term is used in the New Testament scriptures, it refers to a forsaking or abandonment of the teachings of Moses by the Jews (Acts 21:21).

We also know that in the Septuagint or "LXX" (i.e., the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) the word was used to denote rebellion against and disloyalty to God (Josh. 22:22; 2 Chron. 10:19; 29:19 [cf. 28:19, where the verb form is used]; 33:10; Jer. 2:19). This is how the term was consistently used in extra-biblical Jewish works as well (e.g., 1 Macc. 2:15; 2 Esdras 5:1-12). Significantly, in the LXX translation of Isaiah 30:1, we find a cognate of the term apostasia used (i.e., the adjective apostatai). Keeping in mind that this term was used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew term translated “rebellious” in v. 1, here is how Isaiah 30:1-5 reads in the HCSB:

Woe to the rebellious children!
This is the Lord’s declaration.
They carry out a plan, but not Mine;
they make an alliance,
but against My will,
piling sin on top of sin.
They set out to go down to Egypt
without asking My advice,
in order to seek shelter under Pharaoh’s protection
and take refuge in Egypt’s shadow.
But Pharaoh’s protection will become your shame,
and refuge in Egypt’s shadow your disgrace.
For though his princes are at Zoan
and his messengers reach as far as Hanes,
everyone will be ashamed
because of a people who can’t help.
They are of no benefit, they are no help;
they are good for nothing but shame and reproach.

The use of the adjective apostatai indicates that, by making an alliance with Egypt, Israel was guilty of forsaking and rebelling against God (which, again, is what the use of the noun apostasia was often used to express). The context of this chapter revolves around Israel’s failure to seek Yahweh, and the resulting rebellion of making an alliance with Egypt for her protection. From this passage we see that Israel’s apostasy can be just as much political in nature as religious (and considering the “theocratic” nature of Israel, there will always been a great deal of overlap between the political realm and the religious realm).

Another key passage from the Old Testament that can help us better understand what “the apostasy” of 2 Thess. 2:3 most likely refers to is Jeremiah 2:19. The context in which this verse is found is similar to that of Isaiah 30, and concerns the fact that Israel was apostatizing from God by entering into alliances with foreign powers rather than relying on God alone. Concerning Israel, we read that God declared as follows: “…my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). From verse 19, it’s clear that this figurative imagery refers to Israel’s relying on foreign, Gentile powers rather than on God (v. 18). Therefore, God tells Israel in v. 19, Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God; the fear of me is not in you, declares the Lord God of hosts.” In the LXX, the term translated “apostasy” in v. 19 is the same term translated “apostasy” in 2 Thess. 2:3 (apostasia). By seeking to build political alliances with Gentile rulers (instead of trusting in Yahweh), Israel was engaged in an act of rebellion that, to God, constituted “apostasy.”

Given the term’s background usage in the Old Testament/LXX and extra-biblical Jewish works (with which Paul would’ve likely been familiar), it’s likely that “the apostasy” to which Paul referred in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 will be an event involving the nation of Israel. Specifically, I believe it will be an event in which Israel rebels against God by entering into a political alliance with one or more Gentile nations, and puts their trust in a certain political leader (rather than in God) to provide them with “peace and security.” The exact nature of this political/religious apostasy of which Israel will be guilty will become clearer when we consider how, exactly, the man of lawlessness is going to be unveiled.

In an earlier article (which I posted on my blog back in 2016), I suggested that the man of lawlessness would be unveiled near the midpoint of the 70th week (when, in accord with Paul’s words in v. 4, he sits down in the temple of God as if he were God). However, I’ve since come to believe that this view is mistaken, and that the blasphemous conduct of the lawless one that we find referred to by Paul in this passage need not be understood as indicating when he will be “unveiled.” Rather, the information provided by Paul was simply Paul’s way of further identifying who, exactly, the lawless one is. That is, Paul’s reference to the blasphemous activity of the man of lawlessness in the temple can be understood as serving to make the particular person he had in view more easily identifiable to his readers (both in a prophetic sense, and by more clearly highlighting his lawless nature).

Moreover, had Paul wanted to teach that the man of lawlessness’ blasphemous action in the temple was when he was unveiled, he would’ve likely used some sort of timing indicator, such as “thereupon” (1 Cor. 15:7, 1 Thess. 4:17), “then” (1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 2:8), “at” (Acts 2:1), “as soon as” (1 Cor. 11:34) or “whenever” (Rom. 11:27). In fact, Paul used just such a timing indicator in 2 Thess. 2:7-8 (“when” in v. 7 and “then” in v. 8). Thus, the timing of the lawless one’s unveiling should be understood in connection with the removal of the “present detainer” rather than in connection with the lawless one’s actions in the temple (I’ll have more to say concerning the identity of the “present detainer” – and what it means for it to be taken “out of the midst” – toward the end of this article).

But if the man of lawlessness is not going to be unveiled in the middle of the 70th week, then at what time should we understand his unveiling as taking place? Well, let’s consider the following question: By virtue of what could the lawless one’s blasphemous actions in the temple be understood as constituting his “unveiling?” Answer: the only way this event could be understood as constituting his unveiling is if it fulfilled a prophecy concerning him. But what’s true of this event would be equally true of any event in which the man of lawlessness will be involved. That is, the only way in which a particular event involving the man of lawlessness could possibly qualify as the event through which he is “unveiled” is that it fulfills a prophecy concerning him (for the only things that can be known about the man of lawlessness and his future actions beforehand are those things found in prophecy).

Thus, in order for his identity to be made known (i.e., in order for him to be “unveiled”), he would have to do something that fulfills a certain prophecy that’s written concerning him. And this simple fact is why his blasphemous actions in the temple in the middle of the 70th week can’t be the event by which the lawless one will be unveiled. For his actions at this time won’t be the first prophetically significant actions in which the man of lawlessness will be involved, or the fulfillment of the first prophecy concerning him. The first prophetic event that will be fulfilled by the man of lawlessness is recorded in Daniel 9:27: He will confirm a covenant with many for one week.

Although the man of lawlessness will undoubtedly be a political figure before the prophesied part of his political career begins, it is with this covenant-confirming event that he will begin fulfilling all of the prophecies concerning him. Thus, it is through the fulfillment of this prophetic event that the man of lawlessness will be “unveiled.” Does this mean that the world will recognize him for who he is when this event takes place? No. Although I have little doubt that some will recognize the identity of the man of lawlessness when the covenant is confirmed at the beginning of the 70th week, all that is required for this event to qualify as the “unveiling” of the man of lawlessness is that he be made identifiable according to his prophetic identification.

But how does “the apostasy” relate to the unveiling of the man of lawlessness? As will likely have become evident to the reader by this point, I believe that the apostasy will be the very event through which the man of lawlessness will be unveiled, and that it will take place when (in accord with the words of Dan. 9:27) “many“– i.e., many in Israel – enter into a covenant with this political figure at the beginning of that 70th week. When this covenant goes into effect, it will be believed that “peace and security” for Israel and the surrounding nations (and thus a solution to the Middle East dilemma) has finally been achieved. However, we know that the peace thought to have been secured will not last long, and that nation will soon begin rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Matt. 24:7).

The removal of peace from the earth will, of course, be followed by other “pangs” as well. And as the first 3 ½ years of the 70th week draw to a close, the man of lawlessness will, apparently, begin to demand worship from the people with whom he entered into a covenant (as well as from the rest the world). However, when it becomes clear that he’s not going to get the worship that he demands from Israel, he will seek to exterminate God’s covenant people. And thus it will come to be that, through the instrumentality of the very man with whom Israel rebelliously entered into a covenant for the sake of peace and security, God will punish the nation of Israel for her apostasy, and the prophesied time of “great affliction” and “season of distress for Jacob” will begin (Jeremiah 30:5-7; Daniel 12:1; Matt. 24:15-22).

When we understand the apostasy and unveiling of the man of lawlessness as a reference to the event with which the 70th week will begin, the eschatological truths on which Paul puts an emphasis in 2 Thess. 2:3-8 take on a new significance, and indicate that, when Paul wrote what he did in these verses, he had Daniel 9:27 on the forefront of his mind. Consider the following comparison of Daniel 9:27 and excerpts from 2 Thess. 2:3-8:

Beginning of the 70th Week

“He will confirm a covenant with many for one week.”

“…the apostasy be coming first and the man of lawlessness be unveiled…”

Middle of the 70th Week

“But in the middle of that week he will bring sacrifices and offerings to a halt.
On the wing of abominations will come one who destroys…”

“…who is opposing and lifting himself up over everyone termed a god or an object of veneration, so that he is seated in the temple of God, demonstrating that he himself is God?”

End of the 70th Week

“…until the decreed end is poured out on the one who destroys.”

“…whom the Lord Jesus will dispatch with the spirit of His mouth and will discard by the advent of His presence…”

Moreover, since the unveiling of the man of lawlessness is a key event which will indicate that “the day of the Lord is present” (2 Thess. 2:2-3) – and since those in the body of Christ will not be present on the earth when the day of the Lord arrives – it follows that those in the body of Christ are not going to be present on the earth when the 70th week begins. Consider the following argument:

1. The body of Christ is going to be snatched away before the day of the Lord begins.
2. The day of the Lord will commence when the man of lawlessness is unveiled.
3. The unveiling of the man of lawlessness is what begins the 70th week.
4. The body of Christ is going to be snatched away before the 70th week begins.

Thus, it follows that the man of lawlessness cannot be unveiled until after the body of Christ has been snatched away from the earth. That is, as long the body of Christ is present on the earth, the unveiling of the man of lawlessness (and thus the start of the 70th week) will remain a future event.

In accord with this conclusion, what I now want to argue is that the most likely candidate for the “present detainer” referred to by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:6-8 (and which Paul believed was preventing the man of lawlessness from being unveiled) is, in fact, the body of Christ.

The identity of “the present detainer”

In 2 Thess. 2:1-8 we read:

“Now we are asking you, brethren, for the sake of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to Him, that you be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be alarmed, either through spirit, or through word, or through an epistle as through us, as that the day of the Lord is present.  No one should be deluding you by any method, for should not the apostasy be coming first and the man of lawlessness be unveiled, the son of destruction, who is opposing and lifting himself up over everyone termed a god or an object of veneration, so that he is seated in the temple of God, demonstrating that he himself is God? Do you not remember that, still being with you, I told you these things?

“And now you are aware what is detainingfor him to be unveiled in his own era. For the secret of lawlessness is already operating. Only when the present detainer may be coming to be out of the midst, then will be unveiled the lawless one…”

Among those who subscribe to the view I’ve been defending concerning the timing of the snatching away, the most popular view concerning the identity of “the present detainer” of the above passage seems to be that it’s the holy spirit of God. One reason many find this view appealing is that the present detainer must be such that it (or “he”) has been “detraining” the unveiling of the man of lawlessness for nearly 2,000 years. However, I believe this view to be untenable in light of the fact that God’s spirit is going to be just as present and active on the earth after the man of lawlessness has been unveiled as it is before this event occurs. We know, for example, that the holy spirit is going to be active in and among believing Jews during the first 3 ½ years of the 70th week (see, for example, Mark 13:11; cf. Matt. 24:9). And the very fact that there will be people being saved at all during the first 3 ½ years presupposes the presence and activity of God’s spirit on the earth during this time.

Some have tried to argue that the “present detainer” is actually a reference to Satan (who’s referred to by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:9). According to this position – which, as far as I know, was first defended by eminent biblical scholar, E.W. Bullinger – that which is being “detained” (or “held fast”) is Satan’s position in heaven (with Satan being referred to as the “present detainer” because he is “detaining,” or “holding fast to,” his heavenly position). This view further maintains that Satan’s future ejection from heaven by the archangel Michael (as prophesied in Rev. 12:7-9) will be the fulfillment of the detainer’s “coming to be out of the midst.” It is therefore the casting out of Satan from heaven which is thought to be the event that will result in the man of lawlessness being “unveiled.”

I believe this position is problematic for a few reasons. First, the view is inconsistent (and, I believe, needlessly complicated) in its affirmation of what, exactly, is being detained, and how it’s being detained. According to this view, there are actually two distinct things being detained or “held fast,” and two distinct ways in which they’re both being detained or “held fast.” The first “what” being detained is thought to be the beast/Antichrist, and that which is detaining it (or “holding it fast”) is the “pit of the abyss” (or “well of the submerged chaos”) that we find referred to in Rev. 9:1, 11:7 and 17:8. The second “what” being detained is thought to be Satan’s position in heaven, and that which is detaining it (or “holding it fast”) is thought to be Satan himself. Reading all of these details in between the lines of what Paul wrote simply over-complicates the passage, and relies too heavily on information that is far removed from the immediate context of 2 Thess. 2:1-7.

In addition to these considerations, another problem with this view is chronological in nature. After Satan is cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-12), the events in which he is going to be involved are events that will be taking place near the midpoint of the 70th week (vv. 13-17; cf. v. 6). However, as we’ve seen, the man of lawlessness is going to be unveiled at the beginning of the 70th week, through the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Daniel 9:27. And even if we assume that the events described in Revelation 9 will immediately follow Satan’s ejection from heaven, it’s unlikely that these events (which are associated with the calamity resulting from the fifth angel sounding his trumpet) will be occurring at the start of the 70th week.

In contrast with the above interpretation, I believe that there is only one thing (or rather, one event) that Paul had in mind as being “detained” – i.e., the unveiling of the man of lawlessness. Since that which is preventing the man of lawlessness from being “unveiled in his own era” is that which, in v. 6, is said to be “detaining,” it would make far more sense (and be far simpler) to understand what’s being detained as the unveiling of the man of lawlessness. And if that’s the case, then consistency would demand that what’s being detained by the “present detainer” of v. 7 is also the unveiling of the man of lawlessness. This view has the advantage of being both simple and contextually-informed. There is simply no need to inject into these verses two different detainers and two different things being detained. One “detainer” and one thing/event being detained by the detainer is enough to make sense of everything Paul wrote here.

When seeking to determine the identity of the “present detainer,” one’s view must take into account the fact that Paul used two different gender cases and pronouns for the Greek term katecho (which is neuter in v. 6 and masculine in v. 7). However, rather than understanding Paul to have been referring to two separate “detainers” (as Bullinger apparently did), I believe that the “detainer” that Paul had in view in these verses is such that it could be described as both “what is detaining” (neuter) and as “the present detainer” (masculine). And if that’s the case, then it actually reveals a great deal about what Paul likely had in mind here. Although Paul wasn’t referring to a single individual person, he was referring to something that could be personified. But what? What is it that, by “coming to be out of the midst,” will allow for the man of lawlessness to be unveiled? 

Some seem to think that, by failing to explicitly identify the “present detainer” in verses 6-8, Paul was being enigmatic when he made reference to it. But a more plausible view is that Paul believed the identity of the present detainer was obvious from what he’d already said in verses 1-6, and that he expected the recipients of his letter to know what he was referring to based on the context and flow of his argument up to that point. So is there something mentioned in the immediate context that can be referred to as “coming to be out of the midst” at some future time? Absolutely. Paul’s introductory words in v. 1, above, are part of the immediate context of verses 6-7, and should inform our understanding of everything that follows. With these words Paul was, of course, referring to the snatching away of the body of Christ. And as I’ve tried to make clear by the use of multiple colors above, I believe that the company of saints to which Paul was referring by his use of the word “our” in v. 1 (i.e., the body of Christ) is, in fact, the “present detainer,” and that the words “coming to be out of the midst” refer to the snatching away of the body of Christ to meet Christ in the air (our “assembling to Him”). This becomes even more evident when we understand “the midst” to be the general location where the man of lawlessness is going to be unveiled (i.e., the earth), for it is from this very place that the body of Christ is going to be removed when we are snatched away to meet Christ.

Significantly, the Greek word for “body” (soma) is neuter in gender. And insofar as the gender of the verb katecho in v. 6 matches the gender of the term “body,” the body of Christ can be understood as a plausible candidate for the “what” that is detaining the unveiling of the man of lawlessness. But what about the masculine gender case in v. 7? This, too, corresponds well with the body of Christ. Christ is, of course a man (1 Tim. 2:5), and the collective “body” of which he is the head could appropriately be referred to in masculine terms. In fact, Paul does just this in Ephesians 4:12-13, where we read the following: “…toward the adjusting of the saints for the work of dispensing, for the upbuilding of the body of Christ, unto the end that we should all attain to the unity of the faith and of the realization of the son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ…”

Thus we see that Paul’s use of the neuter and masculine gender in 2 Thess. 2:6-7 is perfectly consistent with the identity of the detainer being the company of saints that Paul referred to as the body of Christ. And if the body of Christ is the “present detainer,” then the implication of Paul’s words in 2 Thess. 2:6-7 is that our very presence on the earth is proof that the day of the Lord cannot be present. When the body of Christ is taken “out of the midst” via the snatching away, God can resume Israel’s prophetic program by unveiling the man of lawlessness and initiating the 70th week.

I’ll close this section with the following argument:

1. The reason Paul didn’t explicitly identify the “present detainer” in 2 Thess. 2:6-7 is because he believed its identity was obvious from what he’d already said in verses 1-6 (and not because he was simply being enigmatic).
2. If the identity of the “present detainer” can be determined from what Paul wrote in verses 1-6, then the present detainer should be understood as a reference to the body of Christ (with its “coming to be out of the midst” referring to snatching away).
3. The present detainer is the body of Christ, and its “coming to be out of the midst” will occur at the time of the snatching away (i.e., when “our assembling to [Christ]” occurs, as referred to in 2 Thess. 2:1).



[1] For an introduction to this important prophecy (and a defense of the interpretation presupposed in this article), there are a number of online articles that may prove helpful to the reader. See, for example, http://www.khouse.org/articles/2004/552/ and
https://gracethrufaith.com/end-times-prophecy/the-70-weeks-of-daniel/For a more in-depth treatment of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy, I highly recommend Sir Robert Anderson’s groundbreaking book on the subject, The Coming Prince. Another resource I’ve found helpful is the following online study by End-Time Pilgrim, which is based on Anderson’s work (scroll down just a little ways for the table of contents; it appears on the left side of the page and provides links to all 11 pages of the study).

[2] For some examples of Paul’s use of this term, see Romans 16:7; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 4:5; Galatians 1:17; 2:12; 3:23; Eph. 1:4; 2 Timothy 4:21; Titus 1:2.

[3] For a good defense of this view, I highly recommend the following article by Steve McAvoy: “THE DAY OF THE LORD AND CERTAIN SO-CALLED ‘PRECURSORS’” (https://www.pre-trib.org/pretribfiles/pdfs/McAvoy-TheDayOfTheLordAndCertainSo-CalledPrecursors.pdf).

11 comments:

  1. Hello

    Martin did a video about jubilee cycles/70 week I believe him and his guest
    Were saying you can count the jubilees to the end of the age.
    I believe they said we are living in the very last years of the last jubilee before
    The 1000 year kingdom on earth.

    Just wondering what are your thoughts on this?

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    1. Hey Starvoyager, thanks for commenting. I haven't given this subject nearly as much thought as Martin, Matthew and others. But insofar as I understand the position being articulated in the video to which you're referring, it seems pretty plausible to me. In any event, I'm convinced that the 70th week is prophetically imminent, and that the snatching away is more imminent than what's to come for Israel.

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    2. Hi Aaron, you wrote: "...it seems pretty plausible to me." Would you share some reasons you find the message in Martin Zender's video with Matthew Holland plausible? Do you find the Genesis chronology in the Masoretic Text plausible?

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    3. Hi Paul,

      As I remarked to Starvoyager, I haven't given the subject presented in the video as much thought as Martin and Matthew (and it's unlikely that I'll be writing an article on the subject any time soon!). As far as my reasons for finding the position articulated in the video plausible, I don't have any reasons that are independent of the information presented in the video itself. When I said that it seems plausible to me, what I had in mind was simply that (1) the position doesn't strike me as implausible/incredible, and (2) it seems to harmonize well with certain presentations of the so-called "7,000-year plan" that I've read elsewhere (and which have also struck me as having a certain degree of plausibility). Thus, the position shared in the video is one which I'm okay with tentatively holding to until presented with information that contradicts or undermines it. As far as the plausibility of the Genesis chronology in the Masoretic Text, this is another subject that I haven't studied in-depth (although I did read an online article on the Masoretic Text vs. the LXX text a few months ago that I found interesting (https://torahapologetics.weebly.com/apologetics--daily-life/january-22nd-2016). Apart from being presented with compelling evidence that it should be considered implausible (or that the LXX chronology is more likely correct), it's simply a position to which I hold by default.

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  2. One of you all time best Aaron. Finally I understand this passage for 2 Timothy about the detainer etc. Especially the apostasy finally makes sense ! I had too much religious baggage to understand it cleary but now thanks to you dear brother I have been successfully deprogrammed ! ;) Can't wait for you other stuff. I will share this knowledge with our other 2 brothers from Poland. The small ecclesia of 3 from Poland greets you dear bro ! Take care and ,as always, love from above and grace from God our Father and our Lord Christ Jesus !

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    1. Your encouraging comment is very much appreciated, Bart! I'm so glad you found my article helpful, and I hope the other two saints you mentioned find it helpful as well. Take care, brother!

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  3. Thought about your article last night as I laid in bed. What if the key passage there is " for him to be unveiled IN HIS OWN ERA" ? Now is the era when God is conciliated to the world. There is going to have to be a change of eras before the lawless can be unveiled The event that indicates the change of eras is the snatching away where God removes His ambassadors of His present attitude of peace and conciliation. In an absolute sense it is God Who is the detainer by His attitude of conciliation. Once He has a change of attitude the era will change from conciliation to indignation. Looking forward to part 2.

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    1. I think the expression “in his own era” could very well be understood as implying that the man of lawlessness is going to be unveiled in an era that follows what Paul called “a most acceptable era” in 2 Cor. 6:2 (and will thus take place after the snatching away of the body of Christ). On the other hand, one could possibly raise the objection that, in 1 Tim. 4:1, it’s implied that this present administration will coincide with multiple “eras” (in fact, it was this very consideration that made me hesitant to develop an independent argument based on this phrase in my article). However, in response to this objection, it could be said that each of these “subsequent eras” referred to by Paul are still eras that will precede the unveiling of the man of lawlessness, and are thus distinct from his “own era.” That is, one could understand “his own era” as Paul’s way of contrasting ANY of the “eras” that belong to the time when the body of Christ is on the earth (and before we come to be “out of the midst”). In any case, I definitely see this expression as “pointing toward” the conclusion at which I arrived concerning the timing of the snatching away in relation to the 70th week!

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  4. 10-4. Thank you for your reply. I failed to consider or even think of 1 Timothy 4:1. That's why I asked you the question, because you are much smarter than I.

    Thanks

    Miles

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    1. Hey Miles,

      Give yourself some more credit! I've actually spent a good chunk of time pondering the very thoughts you articulated in your comment. I hope you didn't interpret my response as being in any way dismissive of what you said, because I definitely think the words "in his own era" deserve some careful consideration. A lot of people would just gloss over these words, but YOU saw the possible significance in them, and how they might tie in with something else Paul said (and, I must emphasize, I DO think they serve to support the overall view I've been trying to defend). As far as me being "much smarter" than you, I strongly doubt that's the case, based on your thoughtful question/comment and the way you articulated it. In fact, I really don't think my IQ is that high...God has just made me completely obsessed with trying to understand Scripture and figure things out, and has given me the ability to communicate what I'm learning through writing. I'm very average (and in some cases below average) at a lot of other things that many people would expect "smart people" to be good at!

      Anyway, I truly appreciate you taking the time to read my article, and for the thoughtful comment. I'm hoping to have part 2 completed and posted soon (but also hoping that the snatching away takes place before that happens!). Take care brother.

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  5. Amen brother ! I hope the snatching away happens first too :). You are gracious and kind and I look forward to meeting you on the other side.

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