"For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (I Thessalonians 5:9).
What a wonderful promise! And yet, it is this very promise, in this very verse that has led to perhaps the greatest misunderstanding concerning the timing of the events leading up to and surrounding Jesus' return. We must remember that Paul is saying in this chapter that there is a difference between the knowledge and understanding of those who are in Christ and those who are not. Just prior to Jesus' return there will be some who are saying, "Peace and safety," and destruction will come upon them suddenly. As in the days of Noah, they will not escape as God pours out His wrath.
But there are others - those who believe, for whom this day and this time of God's appointed wrath cannot come soon enough. We will see why at a later time. Paul writes, "But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness" (I Thessalonians 5:4-5). He then explains how believers should live, not carousing around in the darkness, but living as children of the light, with self-control and faith and love and hope. Then he comes to verse 9: "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."
When God pours out His wrath upon the earth, believers will not be on the earth. In the verses immediately preceding I Thessalonians 5, Paul speaks of the Lord's return at the sounding of the trumpet: "For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever" (I Thessalonians 4:13-17).
The event described in these verses has been called the "rapture," the "catching up," or "gathering together" of God's people, those known by God and chosen by Him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:3). All who believe have been delivered from God's wrath by the blood of Christ shed once for all on the cross. God cannot and will not punish those who believe for the sins that Jesus paid for on the cross. Indeed, the only unforgivable sin is unbelief. Through ignorance and by an act of the sinful will, all people lie under the curse of sin, and there is but one escape: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ - the evidence of the new birth, which is itself the gift of God through His Word and Spirit (John 1:12-13).
Many believe that the next prophetic event to take place in God's end-time scenario is the rapture. These have been taught and have believed that the rapture will come just prior to the appearance of the anti-christ. They believe that following the rapture of believers there will be a terrible time of tribulation (God's wrath), upon the earth. But while it is true that God's wrath will come upon the earth, there are events that precede His wrath being poured out and so also, events that precede the rapture. Jesus cannot and will not rapture His Church today, or even tomorrow, or even next week, or even next year. To do so would be to deny His Word. God's Word is truth from beginning to end and as we saw yesterday, we must read and study all of God's Word in its context - the entire Bible - and believe all that it teaches us.
The rapture WILL, indeed, precede the pouring out of God's wrath, for believers are not appointed to suffer the Father's wrath. As Paul says in verses 9-10, "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, BUT to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep (alive or dead - physically), we may live together with Him." The question is not whether the rapture will occur before God's wrath comes upon the earth, but rather, what IS God's wrath and WHEN does God send His wrath upon unbelieving mankind? These are important questions and God gives us the answers!
As all these things unfold around us, there has never been a time in human history when it has been more important to study God's Word and to know what God says - for ourselves and for others. Life is filled with uncertainties that could bring fear and doubt and anxiety, but knowing what lies ahead and standing on God's promises brings the "hope of salvation as a helmet" that guards our minds from being deceived and misled. With good reason Paul tells believers, "Therefore encourage each other with these words" (I Thessalonians 4:18); and, "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing" (I Thessalonians 5:11).