This place in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 has been the subject of debate in eschatological circles. For futurists and dispensationalists this is one of the most relied places when it comes to the theory and teaching of the rapture.
As always context is king. Quoting scriptures is not enough to teach sound doctrine. Understanding the original audience and the context is paramount to interpreting the meaning. We have been separated from the original audience by thousands of years, by culture, history and language. By comparing Scripture with Scripture, we can get a good idea of the authors original intent which will lead us to accuracy of interpretation.
It was invented by John Nelson Darby in 1830 but was made popular in America by theScofield Reference Bible and following elaborate End Time event charts published by Clarence Larkin. By the twentieth century, the “physical rapture” of the Church became a dominant eschatological view in Charismatic circles. It is barely 200 years since it has been propagated as none in the early church history taught in this direction.
Since Israel became a nation in 1948 many endtime prophecies have been built on her being the calendar for events to conclude the end of the world. As many prophets declared that the generation that saw her return to the land would be the terminal one. Edgar C. Whisenant wrote a book,88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988. After having sold Six million copies of his work he caused quite a stir in the Christian community with several having to resign their jobs and some sold their homes.
Just like many who have written books, movies and other materials we have seen a plethora of failed prophecies of Jesus returning to snatch saints from the earth physically.
We must first understand that when Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, he was writing to Thessalonian Christians who lived in the first century. This same people where undergoing severe persecution from their Jewish brethren and the Roman community for their faith. They were expecting the return of the Lord in their time and knew that their present persecution was an indicator of his soon return in their time.
This is how Paul starts;
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and[a]steadfastness of hope [b]in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, 4 knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; 5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we [c]proved to be among you for your sake. 6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a [d]reception we had[e]with you, and how you turned to God from [f]idols to serve [g]a living and true God,10 and to wait for His Son from [h]heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from THE WRATH to come. (1 Thessalonians 1)
He then in continues;
14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same SUFFERINGS at the hands of your own COUNTRYMEN, even as they did from THE JEWS, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and [q]drove us out. [r]They are not pleasing to God, [s]but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But WRATH has come upon them [t]to the utmost. (1 Thessalonians 2)
He sends Timothy to them to encourage them in their trying moments;
2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and ENCOURAGE YOU AS TO YOUR FAITH,3 so that no one would be [a]disturbed by these AFFLICTIONS; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4 For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to SUFFER AFFLICTION; [b]and so it came to pass, [c]as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to [d]find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain.” (1 Thessalonians 3)
Jesus spoke about this in Luke 21
“16 But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17 and you will be hated by all because of My name. 18 Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your [k]lives.”
Then he proceeds to give them hope;
“13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep [k]in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4)
So who are those who sleep in Jesus? They are those who lost their lives on earth for their faith. He describes them as asleep because he knew of the promise of resurrection at the return of the Lord Jesus when he came in judgment over that Old covenant age. They would wake up to life immortality and they would be raised incorruptible while those alive physically being changed spiritually would go from their physical body to their celestial body after death on earth and not be kept in hades.
Paul taught that the resurrection was “about to happen” in his day:
Acts 24:15 (NKJV)
“I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be (mello -about to be) a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.
The resurrection of the dead was to fulfil the promise made to their fathers which they eagerly expected. That was their hope.
Acts 26:6-8 (NKJV)
“And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. 7 “To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. 8 “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?
When was this expected? You can see it from the language and tenses he uses;
1 Thessalonians 2:19 (NKJV)
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?
2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 (NKJV)
since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us….
This return was to fulfil simultaneously fulfil some events that would clearly mark the end of that former age. The resurrection being made at the arrival of God’s kingdom at the expense of that former temple being burnt down.
The Thessalonians believers will be given rest from their enemies when the Lord returns in His second coming. If this did not happen in their lifetime, then Paul gave them false hope in deceit. Moreover there is no way a rapture fits in this discourse.
Now let’s consider three important Greek words in 1 Thessalonians 4:17:
1. HARPAZO – “Caught up”
2. APANTESIS – “meet”
3. AER – “air”,
The word HARPAZO does not necessarily mean physical removal. It can mean “to seize on, claim for one’s self.” The other time we see this word was by Paul himself in 2 Corinthians 12:2-6 when he tells how he caught up to the third heaven. The experience is not quite clear as it unfolded by he could only explain it as a trance and not as a physical relocation.
2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (NKJV)
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago; whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows; such a one was caught up (harpazo) to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man; whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows; 4 how he was caught up (harpazo) into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
The word APANTESIS is a technical term which was used in the ancient world to speak of a king or royal dignitary that was making a visit to a given city. As he drew near to the city for his coming the citizens of that city, being watchful for him, would, when his entourage was sighted, leave their city and go out to “Meet” (Apantesis) him. They would then escort him back to their city. The city was the destination of the dignitary. He was not coming take them away from their city.
This is why the word Parousa and Apantesis have been indentified closely with regards to return of the Lord Jesus. The king was not coming to remove the city. He was coming to visit them. As noted by scholars the Parousa and Apantesis are often companion words in the koine (common) Greek langage of Paul’s world.
The word AER is same that Paul uses when he said in Ephesians 2:2 “according to the prince of the power of the air”. It is obvious he is not referring to the air we breathe but a spiritual realm or position.
What Paul was describing was the return of the Lord as king in his kingdom here on earth which we would see the believers alive elevated in glory and the dead in Christ resurrect from the low pits of hades. He was coming to be with his saints to indwell them which will see him destroy the adversaries who have tried to rejected his place.
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”
This is same motif we see in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-10, as the virgins went out to “meet” the bridegroom and escort him back to the wedding banquet.
Paul spoke about Jesus coming to be with his saints. The king, was coming back with his kingdom, to dwell within his new covenant people, and they in turn would dwell within him and the new Jerusalem heavenly city, which was the church the bride of Christ. This is why it took place in their air because it was a spiritual conquest that had physical impact and implications in that generation onward.
For us to see the fulfillment of this outside that generation would be to put Paul in deceit in trying to comfort the church in their tribulation. As he said in the last verse;
“Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
What is the rapture? Charles Meek
Parousa and Apantesis – Thracia Gharst. http://apostolicpreterist.com/