In this episode I addressed another prophecy that undermines pretribulational imminence doctrine.
Now when they are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would.(1 Thess 5:3–4)
In this passage the apostle Paul teaches that the thief-like return of the Lord will result in sudden destruction for the ungodly. He summarizes the perception of unbelievers when they will exclaim “peace and security.” During the Antichrist’s great tribulation, the world will experience peace and security for those who are loyal to him. Hence, Paul prophesies that the world will be saying, “There is peace and security” before Jesus returns to mete out his day of the Lord’s wrath upon the wicked. The world will be oblivious to the impending wrath, uttering this slogan before the day of the Lord occurs. Accordingly, this event will happen before the rapture, because the rapture and the day of the Lord’s wrath are back-to-back events; consequently, the prophesy of the world proclaiming “peace and security” renders imminence invalid. Therefore, this is just another prophesied event in a long series of intervening events that will happen before the rapture—rendering the pretrib teaching of imminence contradictory in light of this biblical evidence.
I want to make a couple more comments on this passage. The peace and safety will be illusory, a false security for unbelievers, because eventually unforeseen calamity will come upon them just as unexpected labor pains come upon a pregnant woman (cf. Matt 24:37–39). Paul’s analogy of labor pains is drawn from a day-of-the-Lord passage in Isaiah.
Wail, for the Lord’s day of judgment is near; it comes with all the destructive power of the sovereign judge. For this reason all hands hang limp, every human heart loses its courage. They panic—cramps and pain seize hold of them like those of a woman who is straining to give birth. They look at one another in astonishment; their faces are flushed red. Look, the Lord’s day of judgment is coming; it is a day of cruelty and savage, raging anger, destroying the earth and annihilating its sinners. Indeed the stars in the sky and their constellations no longer give out their light; the sun is darkened as soon as it rises, and the moon does not shine. (Isa 13:6–10; see also Isa 26:17–21)
We should be careful not to confuse Paul’s use of the birth pangs analogy with Jesus’ purpose in using the same phrasing in the Olivet Discourse (“All these things are the beginning of birth pains,” Matt 24:8). Paul uses the phrase in a completely different application. Jesus applies the birth pangs metaphor to particular events before the Antichrist’s great tribulation, while Paul applies it to the situation of the onset of the day of the Lord’s wrath after the great tribulation.
Next, since destruction will come suddenly like labor pangs, Paul says the ungodly “will surely not escape.” Here we see a parallel with Luke, who also uses this “escape” language in the same context as the Lord’s return.
But be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness [cf. 1 Thess 5:6–8] and the worries of this life, and that day close down upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will overtake all who live on the face of the whole earth [cf. 1 Thess 5:2–4]. But stay alert at all times [cf. 1 Thess 5:6], praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that must happen [cf. 1 Thess 5:3, 8], and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:34–36)
Furthering the parallel, Luke’s “escape” language is found in the context of the celestial disturbances as well (21:25–28). This parallel is strengthened when we consider that both the celestial disturbances and this same “escape” language are found during the sixth seal as the ungodly seek to escape the inescapable (Rev 6:12–17).
One further mention should be Isaiah 26:17–21, which references both “birth pangs” and uses “escape” language, followed by a depiction of the resurrection of God’s people escaping from his wrath:
As when a pregnant woman gets ready to deliver and strains and cries out because of her labor pains, so were we because of you, O Lord. We were pregnant, we strained, we gave birth, as it were, to wind. We cannot produce deliverance on the earth; people to populate the world are not born. Your dead will come back to life; your corpses will rise up. Wake up and shout joyfully, you who live in the ground! For you will grow like plants drenched with the morning dew, and the earth will bring forth its dead spirits. Go, my people! Enter your inner rooms! Close your doors behind you! Hide for a little while, until his angry judgment is over! For look, the LORD is coming out of the place where he lives, to punish the sin of those who live on the earth. The earth will display the blood shed on it; it will no longer cover up its slain. (cf. Isa 13:6–10; Joel 2:30–32; Amos 9:1ff)
Returning to Paul’s passage, his reassurance to the Thessalonians implies that they were anxious that they might not escape the day of the Lord. To reassure them, Paul contrasts the ungodly, who will not escape because Christ is coming back as a thief for them, with believers who are obedient-vigilant and “not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would.” Incidentally, this reassuring promise undermines the pretribulational notion that Jesus is secretly coming back as a thief for his church. The metaphor of darkness refers to being apart from Christ and opposed to God. Conversely, not being in darkness refers to the morality of a child of God; thus by their nature, believers should be spiritually vigilant and prepared.
In summary, my main point in this passage is to highlight that the church will be here to witness the ungodly exclaiming that they are experiencing peace and safety. This prophecy that Paul mentions undermines imminence because it will happen before, not after, the rapture.
 Some pretrib teachers have objected that this prophecy contradicts prewrath because they ask why would the world be saying “peace and security” during the day of the Lord’s wrath. Not only is this objection a misrepresentation of prewrath but it also misrepresents Paul’s explicit words. Paul is not saying that they will be saying “peace and security” during the day of the Lord. They will be saying this before the day of the Lord’s wrath happens. Or more specifically, Paul is teaching that they will be saying this “when they are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction comes on them.” They will be oblivious to the coming judgment of God. This is consistent with Jesus’s teaching on the same topic when he invokes the Noahic illustration when the generation of Noah was oblivious to the coming flood judgment (Matt 24:37–39). Paul’s prophecy of what the wicked will be saying makes sense in a prewrath framework. In the first half of the seven-year period, there will be wars and major disasters. It will be a chaotic time in the world at large. This is why Jesus cautions believers that it is the beginning of birth pangs, and that we are to “make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matt 24:6). The unrevealed Antichrist during the first half will be positioning himself politically to become a world major power. During this time, there will be no sense of peace and security. Only until the Antichrist is revealed at the midpoint and into the second half will the world under the Antichrist bring stability (see Rev 13). Thus, it makes sense that the world will be saying “peace and security” during the Antichrist’s great tribulation before God’s eschatological. To be sure, this peace and security is a facade, a delusion from giving allegiance to the Antichrist. They do not realize that their so-called “peace and security” will be, as Paul teaches, divinely interrupted with the day of the Lord’s wrath.