I may have misled you. I am not going to argue for or against the rapture. There are many faithful Christians that believe in the rapture, and many faithful believers that don't. This post is about 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which is stemming from a long dialogue I recently had with a fellow believer. Also, this is meant to be a snapshot, not a book (some say my other posts are long :-p) Here is the passage:
- "Then we who are alive, who are left, 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." (1 Th 4:17)
I don't think 1 Thess. 4:17 is a good passage to argue for the rapture, and here is why...
A. The word rapture does not occur in Scripture, but the idea for it came from a Greek word found in this passage. The word is "harpzazo," which has the definition of "to snatch away" or "take suddenly." This seems to fit the current idea of the rapture, but it is surprising that the idea of the rapture was never found in Church history until the 18th century at the earliest. The term "rapture" was not coined until the 19th century, and the idea was not prevalent in America until the early 20th century. The rapture is a very NEW idea in the life of the Church.
B. Context must help us here!! Much of 1 Thessalonians is concerned with the coming of Jesus because many believers are concerned that some saints are dying and Jesus has not returned. Paul is comforting, encouraging, and exhorting these believers. Paul addresses this in several places, most poignant in 4:13:
- "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." (1 Th 4:13)
At the end of chapter four, Paul caps his encouragement by setting the scene of a glorious battle coming to an end! 1 Thess. 4:16 (the passage just before the one in question) says:
- "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first." (1 Th 4:16)
The use of trumpet in battle is well attested. It was a tool used for communication, and when a victory had been won, a trumpet was blown (usually a particular pattern) to alert all the troops that they can cease fighting for the battle has been won. We see the trumpet used in 1 Corinthians 15:51-2:
- "Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed."
In 1 Thess. 4:16-17, Jesus Christ himself will descend, come again, in brilliant victory, and his cry of command will serve as the cease fire trumpet! The battle will be over. The victorious King will come to reign with his people.
C. What does this battle imagery have to do with being "snatched away?" Better questions might be, "Why are they snatched up into the air?" or "When will this snatching be?" It says these saints who are alive will be snatched up to meet Christ in the air. Paul incorporates an idea that his audience would be familiar with, and one that modern eyes will NOT be familiar with.
When government officials, warriors, battle leaders, or any kind of dignitary visited a city, the citizens would go out to meet the person and escort them into the city. We see this clearly used in texts outside of Scripture.
- Cicero gives descriptions of Julius Caesars' visits in Italy (49 BC) saying, "Just imagine what [going out to meet and escort him in the city] he is receiving from the towns, and what honors are paid to him." (Cicero's letters to Atticus 8.16.2)
- Five years later, Cicero says of Octavian, "The municipalities are showing the boy remarkable favor.... Wonderful [going out to meet and escort him in the city] and encouragement." (Cicero's letters to Atticus 16.11.6)
As for biblical passages, we see the term used in a few places:
- Matthew 25:6 is the passage about the bride going out to meet the bridegroom so that she may escort him into the banqueting hall.
- Acts 28:15 depicts faithful believers from Rome who heard that Paul was journeying to Rome. Those believers traveled a far distance along the Appian Way to meet Paul and escort him the rest of the way to Rome.
In conclusion, I believe 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is depicting the coming back of Christ at the end of time. This does not depict a snatching of believers out of the earth, but rather a victorious King finally taking place in a world he has redeemed and renewed. The saints that are caught up in the air are meeting this victorious Jesus Christ and escorting him into the world he created and has then set right.