Every time I discuss the so-called “rapture” with someone they take me to 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, but I don’t see the concept there. In v. 15 I find the “appearing/coming of the Lord” (τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ κυρίου). When we consider other Pauline themes of the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s reign I don’t see why this should be about anything other than Christ appearing to inaugurate his earthly reign. Also, in vv. 16-17 I find the saints meeting the Lord in the air to forever be with him (οὕτως πάντοτε σὺν κυρίῳ ἐσόμεθα). This is a far cry from going somewhere other than earth with Jesus though.
If we find Paul coherent than why would he speak of the resurrection in similar language in 1 Corinthians 15.50-58 with the emphasis being on resurrection –a very physical, earthly act or why would he connect the resurrection event to the renewal of the cosmos in Romans 8.18-25? It seems more likely that the “appearing” of Christ in 1 Thessalonians 4 has overtones of Daniel 7.13-14 where the Son of Man comes the judge the nations of the earth. This would fit quite well with the references from 1 Corinthians and Romans that I noted.
If we are read 1 Thessalonians 4.17 as saying we will remain in the sky with the Lord then this seems to leave little room for the future of the cosmos as Paul envisioned them and it doesn’t allow for an earthly reign of Christ unless we do hermeneutical gymnastics where the saints go with Jesus into heaven (something the text does not say) so they can be with him there temporarily (this is often proposed by borrowing outside Paul and then infusing interpretations of Paul back into what he said) in order the return again to earth.
I don’t see it.
Note: If by “rapture” you mean something vague like being caught up in the air then I don’t necessarily disagree with you. It is obvious Paul uses such language, whether figurative or literal is the debate. My contention is against a “rapture” where humans disappear from earth.
I’m with you on this one, Brian. One thing I would add concerns Paul’s use of ἀπάντησις in verse 17. When that word is used, it most often refers to a person or group going somewhere to meet someone AND THEN RETURNING to their previous location. This is clearly the meaning in the other two NT uses of the word (Matt 25:6 and Acts 28:15). This supports your claim that the people who go to meet Jesus in the air will then accompany him back to Earth. I think that’s what Paul is trying to convey in that passage.
Of course humans disappear from the earth everyday; I don’t see that as a problem. But I do agree that the rapture, pace I Thess 4, seems conspicuously absent relative to how it is articulated by pre-trib dispensationalists.
As an added bonus (or annoyance; I’ll let you decide), in nearly every other case when the term α͑ρπάζω is used (i.e. LXX, GNT, Greek literature), it emphasizes the speed at which the action occurs (particularly in robbery situations); it hardly ever has ‘directional’ value–μετατίθημι does a better job with the directional stuff. This emphasis on speed comports well with the 1 Cor 15.52 image of, ε͗ν ρ͑ιπῇ ο͗φθαλμοῦ (i.e. über-fast), and the robbery nuance jives with Paul’s immediate description, η͑μέρα κυρίου ω͑ς κλέπτης ε͗ν νυκτὶ ου͑τως ε͗ρχεται (1 Th 5.2).
Brian, within the Pauline themes of resurrection there is a parallel which gets mixed. The problem here is that people emphasising resurrection confuse the threads of the parallel; they don’t seem to understand resurrection biblically. When [1 Thess 4:16] says ” … the dead in Christ will rise first” people assume this is talking about bodily resurrection (as though that’s the only type). If it is not talking bodily resurrection this verse is being misunderstood.
[1 Cor 15:50] says ” … flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God …” (emphases on ‘flesh and blood’ – CANNOT), later going on to say (in [1 Cor 15:50]) “… but we shall all be changed..”
Clearly [1 Cor 15:50] is not talking about ‘flesh and blood’. But notice the parallel illustrated by comparing [Hebrews 9:27-28] to [1 Cor 15:31].
The verse [Heb 9:27-28] says: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
However, Paul says “… I die every day!” [1 Cor 15:31]
If we are appointed to die ONCE, how can Paul be TRUE in saying he dies DAILY? Clearly, the Hebrews verse is talking about ‘flesh and blood’ death, but Paul is talking about ‘spiritual’ death which is sense Jesus’ commands “… take up his cross DAILY and follow me” [Luke 9:23-24] (also [Mat 10:38]). This is essentially a commandment to ‘die DAILY’ (spiritually); the cross being an instrument of death (Also see [Rom 8:4-13][Gal 5:16][Gal 2:20]).
Therefore within Pauline themes of resurrection, there are actually TWO deaths; first the spiritual death (which sees our sinful nature give way to the creation of sons of God [Rom 8:17]), and second, the physical death (spoke of in Hebrews). Likewise, if Paul recognizes two DEATHS, he also recognizes two RESURRECTIONS? Therefore when we see [1 Thess 4:16] say ” … the dead in Christ will rise first” we have to ask ourselves what resurrection is Paul talking about, bodily or spiritual? This is certainly clear in [1 Cor 15:53] which speaks of a perishable body and an imperishable one.
If [1 Thess 4:16] is talking about spiritual resurrection, the dead in Christ rising HAS ALREADY HAPPENED, but people, though they have eyes just don’t see. When was the first resurrection?”
Paul had not died physically when he wrote this:
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” [Rom 6:4]
He goes onto to say “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” [Rom 6:5] which is where Paul himself recognizes the parallel. Paul is saying if we have been spiritually resurrected in Christ, we can have faith we will be bodily resurrected in Christ. This is [Hebrews 11:1] type faith in action; we can be convinced our ‘spiritual’ resurrection is evidence there will be a bodily one.
Every time someone is baptised in Christ they undergo resurrection. So the rising spoken of in [1 Thess 4:16] has happened, is happening, and will happen again.
Thank you for the additional insight! I had not done a broader word study, but I am glad to see it supports what I proposed.
I am sure you know I mean “disappearing” like alien-abduction to space, not cessation of life.
That is an interesting observation as well! If we build on Tim’s point about a coming-and-going do you think this highlights a speedy greeting-and-return?
I am inclined to read 1 Thess. 4 as being about a bodily resurrection for the dead and a bodily transformation for the living.
@Brian, do you see (from [1 Thess 4:3]) that Paul’s argument is about our ‘sanctification’ which is a process that happens to the living? If so, the question is “Is all of [1 Thess 4] about sanctification?” I believe that it is. If so, there is a question about whether ‘those who are asleep’ in [1 Thess 4:13] means ‘physically dead’ or ‘spiritually dead’.
Paul’s comment in [1 Thess 4:15] makes little sense unless he is still talking about ‘sanctification’ since it doesn’t matter (to the living) when the dead are raised, but it does matter to the living whether or not those who have laboured in the Lord the longest receive the same due as those who haven’t [Matt 20:12]. In saying “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” [1 Thess 4:15] why would anyone believe that with the coming of the Lord, the dead would precede the living?
Unless He is saying that the shepherd will regather the entire flock, both the sanctified and the un-sanctified, those who have laboured and those have yet to labour, who are all physically alive but not necessarily spiritually alive, the concern that is being addressed in [1 Thess 4:15] is impossible to understand. In saying “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” [1 Thess 4:16], Paul is saying God will continue to call to those who have not yet awoken in Christ.
Therefore, in saying to his brothers [1 Thess 4:1]: “Then we who are alive (but still spiritually dead), who are left (because Christ has already drawn some to Himself), will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” He is saying that even those who are now spiritually dead will eventually be called to Christ as those who have already been.
This is why his words are encouragement (for the spiritually dead): “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” [1 Thess 4:18]. His words are for the living who will be saved, not those who are perishing.
It’s hard to see how else verses such as [1 Thess 4:15] and [1 Thess 4:18] can be resolved unless the entire argument is about sanctification, which would make the argument about ‘spiritual’ death and resurrection since those who are physically dead are dead already, and salvation is not good news for those who are perishing [1 Cor 1:18].
I see your argument, but I don’t find it convincing. This passage reads quite simply as comforting living saints who want to know about the future state of those who have died. Paul places them at the general resurrection.
@Brian fair enough.
I don’t find it convincing that Paul places it at the general resurrection.
People frequently see resurrection in Paul’s writings (and assume physical resurrection (without warrant)) even though Paul treats baptism clearly as death and resurrection, albeit spiritual.
Even so, if you’re not convinced, you’re not convinced.
Me again. Most certainly, however I have a feeling it would upset other interpretations about the ‘events’ of the last days. Specifically, it would seem to create problems for standard Dispensational views on tribulation and the millennial reign.
@Andrew: good afternoon. I’m not so sure we can argue for a dual-meaing of sleep–i.e. ‘physically’ dead and ‘spiritually’ dead–in this passage. In the light of the context, specifically the issue that Paul is addressing, the most natural reading for 4.13 (and by extension 4.15) is physical death.
‘Sleep’ is a common metaphor for death, both in the OT and the NT. So why use ‘sleep’? Because sleep is a temporary state, whereas ‘death’ (for a Gentile audience like the Thessalonians) is permanent–hence, when one of their own dies, their normal view of death causes grief because there is no hope for the dead. To borrow slightly from Tom Wright: everyone knew dead people don’t rise.
But believers in Christ are to see death differently, and they are to see it differently partly because ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep’ (1 Cor 15.20). The other part has to do with the fact that with Christ being raise from the dead, the power of death has been defeated (cf. 1 Cor 15.52d-57), thus there is no reason to fear; there is, however every reason to hope.
“I don’t find it convincing that Paul places it at the general resurrection.” (Andrew T)
He says the dead will rise first then everyone left will be caught up — and you don’t find it convincing that he places it at the general resurrection? Perhaps you are smoking crack.
@carl, thanks. I understand your argument, and expect Brian’s support for it uses the same rational.
We likely won’t come to agreement, but even though, I am familiar with it and understand the rational, I still reject it on a number of grounds (each of which could likely be a debate in their own right):
1. Speaking of biblical resurrection, or even Pauline resurrection typically ignores the fact that our first resurrection is our baptism which has already happened in the case of believers. Thus, whatever the context, the dominant presupposition, when speaking of resurrection, is that “It hasn’t happened yet., which I believe is false and unbiblical. Consider prophetic fulfilment; bodily resurrection hasn’t happened yet so a futurist perspective is still legitimate, however a futurist view of spiritual resurrection for believers is absurd, since believers have already been baptised. Thus the distinction needs to be clearly made between physical and spiritual.
If our baptism means we’ve been buried with Christ [Rom 6:4][Col 2:12] it also means our sanctification is a result of spiritual resurrection since we are partaking of Christ’s resurrection according to the Spirit of holiness, (says [Romans 1:4]).
However, [1 Thess 4] isn’t the only chapter that benefits from such a view point, [1 Cor 15] also does. Specifically, look at [1 Cor 15:29] with the view Paul is talking about the spiritual dead, not the physical dead; we know this precisely BECAUSE Paul says immediately afterwards “I die every day” we know he’s not talking of physical death. If we were to look at [1 Cor 15] and see ‘physically dead’ rather the ‘spiritually dead’ we’d miss Paul’s point.
2. Moreover, to an audience familiar with the original scripture, sleep did not ALWAYS mean physical death, but could. Look at [Psa 44:23] speaking to a living audience. Also, [Prov 6:4-11] shows that being spiritually lazy is akin to being sleepy. Finally, Jeremiah’s sleep of [Jer 51:37-39], though perpetual, is also not death, but spiritual death.
The presupposition that ‘sleep’ means death is another relatively modern one, and must be justified to be asserted as true.
3. Finally, and this is not germane to the arguments above, but I believe ‘gentile’ to be a theologically loaded word. Generally, it is neither precise, nor correct in its usage. Its usage is generally dubious at best. If I am speaking of non-Israelites, I will say “non-Israelite”. Also, the underlying Greek word took on new theological meaning (in Rome) which was not intended by the author. There are many instances when the Greek word ‘ethnos’ has been translated ‘gentile’ but meant Israel (good examples being Paul’s argument about Israel to Israelites [Rom 9:30][Rom 11:11-13][Rom 11:25][Rom 15:9] etc.
*[Romans 15:10] citing scripture to Israel about Israel ([Rom 15:9] says “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” citing [1 Chron 16:31][Deut 32:43] again [Zeph 3:17].
*[Romans 15:12] cites [Isa 11:10] and twice translates ‘ethos’ incorrectly.
Therefore although it may be historically debatable whether Paul was writing Thessalonians who were Israelites, or not, exegetically the use of ‘gentile’ (Greek ethnos) doesn’t mean anything. Moreover, when Paul calls his audience ‘brothers’ ἀδελφός (adelphos G80), as he does in [1 Thess 4:1]) he’s generally speaking to his kinsmen.
I think whether or not agreement is reached, this thread has been fruitful.
@rayjacobs, I may be smoking crack, but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. This is why your false method reasoning has a name – ad hominem.
If the coming/catching-up on the clouds in 1 Thess 4 is an allusion to the Son of Man-imagery, could the ‘meeting the Lord in the air,’ be a play on the cloud metaphor associated with the Son of Man so that a literal flying up into the atmosphere is not Paul’s intention(s)?
I did, Brian, just being a smart alek. 😉
@Ivan: Possible…I think that is the interpretation N.T. Wright has proposed.
Brian, thanks for your insight. I think part of the reason so many go with a Rapture is because of Xian pop culture eschatology, and because of the view that they say the L-rd will return with his “saints” (KJV) which is more accurately translated “holy ones”, which could, by way of this translation be optionally considred a euphemism for the angels. What say you? My A/G credentials require me to tread lightly here.
I think the first misunderstanding is 1 Thess 4:1 is an event that happens before the 1000 year rule of Yahshua. This event comes right before the Earth is regenerated and is the time of the Great White Judgement. Right before this gathering Gog is deceived by satan and brings many nations aganst Abraham’s nation but the nations are defeated by the power of the Elohim and are uttery destroyed physically and satan finally receives the punishment reserved for him. Before the 1000 years Israel is gathered from the grave and the 4 winds where they were scattered to the land promised to Abraham to be Priest and Kings to the other nations with David as their Most High earthly King while Yahshua takes over as King of Kings while the Elohim rest their Sabbath. If Israel would of recognized their Messiah this would of come about in 70AD but since one of the signs of Jonah was that the Elohim can repent on warnings and promises when these were conditional upon heading His Words even though the Elohim knew Nineveh would repent and the jews would reject but Yahshua was still obligated as a prophet to warn them of the possibility but still did not know if Israel would repent and be gathered and reunited into promised land to Abraham. Only the Elohim knew that. So whether the apostles were to see Yahshua coming into his power and glory from the right hand to the throne this doesnt mean it had to happen in that age but could happen in the 1st resurrection and Paul vision of the dead rising first and the living being caught into the air could be because Paul being a part of the 1st resurrection will still be alive at the end of the 1000 years.
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