What Is "The Rapture"?
By Jonathan Mitchell
A Study on 1 Thes. 4:13-18
The following is a verse-by-verse commentary on this passage, where recent tradition has interpreted vss. 14-17 as referring to "the rapture," an aspect of what tradition has termed "the second coming" of Christ. Here you will find a different reading of this text. The Greek text has been translated by the author in an expanded and amplified rendering, offering multiple meanings of many Greek terms and alternate renderings of clauses and phrases, where these fit the context.
The following section of the letter turns from practical advice of daily living to concerns about the dead, and their relationship to the eschatological expectations that those in Thessalonica were entertaining.
13. Now then, we are not wanting (or: willing, intending) you to continue ignorant, brothers, concerning the folks who are from time to time falling asleep [other MSS: those having been put to sleep (= passed away; died), and continuing made to be sleeping], to the intent that you may not continuously be made to be sad or sorrowful according as even (or: just like also) the rest (the ones remaining or left), the folks continuously having no expectation (or: hope).
So first of all, there should be no sadness or sorrow about folks who are from time to time dying. Their attitude and world-view should not be that of either the Jewish world or that of the pagans - those who were without an expectation about those who died. Things have changed; Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15); we have been placed into Christ and are a part of the second humanity (1 Cor. 15:45-47); there is a new creation.
14. For you see, since (or: if) we habitually believe that Jesus died and then arose (or: stood up again), thus (in this manner) also, through Jesus, God will be leading together with Him the folks being made to sleep.
Note Paul's emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus as the basis of our faith. He stood up again. And we see that when Jesus is on the move (the purpose of standing up again), in this same manner these dead folks are lead together with Him, by God. So the question is: when, where and how does this happen? Paul addresses this in the following verses. But let us also consider what he said in 2 Cor. 1:9b, "the God Who is continually (habitually; periodically; repeatedly; or: presently) awakening and raising up the dead ones!" The Greek verb in this clause is in the present tense of continual or repeated action, as seen in this translation.
15. For this we are continuously saying to you in a word of the Lord (or: in the Lord's Word; in a message which is [the] Lord; or: in union with an idea from [our] Owner), that we, the presently living (or: the ones continuing to live) - the folks presently continuing to be left around unto the presence of the Lord (or: into the midst of the Lord's [= Christ's or Yahweh's] presence) - can by no means advance before (precede; have advantage over; outstrip) the folks being made to sleep,
Thus, they can be assured about these dead folks that those then presently living who, "in a word from the Lord," were to be continuing to be left around unto "the presence of the Lord" would by no means precede or have advantage over those that were presently dead. The question is then, what is meant by "the presence of the Lord"? Vs. 16 gives an indication:
16. because the Lord [= Yahweh or Christ] Himself will descend from [the] atmosphere (or: heaven) within the midst of (or: in union with) a shout of command, within the midst of [the] Chief Agent's (or: an original messenger's; or: a chief and ruling agent's; or: [the] beginning messenger's) voice, and within the midst of (or: in union with) God's trumpet [note: figure of a message or a directive for action], and the dead people within Christ (or: in union with [the] Anointed One) will raise themselves up (or: will stand up again) first (or: in first place).
"The presence (Greek: par-ousia - 'being alongside') of the Lord" in this context means an eschatological event which Paul describes in apocalyptic images. First of all we need to consider the word "heaven" which also means "the atmosphere of the earth." Recall that we are presently seated in heavenly places, or atmospheric spheres (Eph. 2:6). If we take the meaning of ouranos as "atmosphere," the implication is that this realm and sphere is right here, and even touches the earth. Consider that vs. 17 refers to this place as being in "the midst of air," the realm of "clouds." I suggest that the idea of "descending" is a relative term that signifies God's specific intervention and involvement in the life of the "earth realm," as compared to the life in the spirit.
His descending is within the midst of, and in union with,
"a shout of command, within the midst of [the] Chief, or a Ruling Agent's, voice."
This Ruling Agent would either be Christ Himself, or it would be someone, or a composite group, that is at this time speaking for Him, in His Name and authority, and He descends to us within that voice. He goes on to describe this as God's "trumpet," which is a figure of a message. So His message comes, and Christ is encountered within that message. The result is the dead folks raise themselves up (the voice of the verb is "middle"), or, will stand up again, and this speaks of resurrection.
Here we enter another much debated topic. Jesus said,
"I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).
Paul made other significant statements:
"Thus you folks, also, be constantly accounting (logically considering; reckoning) yourselves to exist being dead ones, indeed, by the failure to hit the target (or: in the Sin; to the deviation), yet ones continuously living by God (in God; for God; to God; with God), within Christ Jesus, our Owner" (Rom. 6:11).
So we are to logically consider ourselves to exist being dead, which would put us in the category of those in vs. 16, above, who were then "sleeping," and yet at the same time continuously living by and in God (having been joined to Christ in His death and resurrection - Rom. 6:4-5),
"even us, being continuously dead ones by (or: in; to; for) the stumblings aside (wrong steps; offences) He made alive together by (or: joins us in common life with and in; [p46, B: within; in union with]) the Christ - by Grace and joyous favor you continually exist, being folks having been delivered (rescued and saved, so that you are now safe; made whole)! - and He jointly roused and raised (or: suddenly awakens and raises) [us] up, and caused [us] to sit (or: seats [us]) together within the things situated upon [thus, above] the heavens (or: in union with the full, perfected heavenlies; or, although neuter: among those comprising the complete and perfected heavenlies; among the ones [residing] upon the atmospheres; in union with the celestials) within and in union with Christ Jesus," (Eph. 2:5-6).
We should also keep in mind that in Christ, the bearer of the New Being, there is a new creation,
"Consequently, since someone [is] within Christ (or: if anyone [is] in union with [the] Anointed One), [there is] a new creation (or: [it is] a framing and founding of a different kind; [he or she is] an act of creation having a fresh character and a new quality): the original things (the beginning [situations]; the archaic and primitive [arrangements]) passed by (or: went to the side). Consider! New things have come into existence (have been birthed; or: It has become new things; or: He has been birthed and now exists being ones of a different kind, character and quality)." (2 Cor. 5:17)
17. Thereupon (or: After that; As a next step) we, the presently living folks, the ones presently continuing to be left around, will - at the same time, together with them - be seized and snatched away within clouds (or: carried off by force, in union with clouds,) into the midst of [the] air (the air that we breathe in; the mist; the haze; the atmosphere around us; [note: this would be in the earth's lower atmosphere, the place where there is air]) - into the Lord's meeting ([Christ's or Yahweh's] encounter). And thus (in this way and such a manner) shall we always be (or: exist at all times) together with [the] Lord [= Christ or Yahweh].
Paul here is speaking of an event that those then living, "we," would experience: being "seized and snatched away within clouds into the midst of [the] air." Much of Christianity believes this to be a future event, and some have considered Paul to have been misguided to have expected it to happen in the then near future. But others, among them those of the preterist paradigm, believe that this happened when the Lord returned to Jerusalem in judgment, both through the agency of the Romans and in a literal "snatching away" and resurrection during the period of AD 66-70.
It should be noted that Paul did not say that the Lord would take everyone off to heaven, but that they would be with Him "in [the] air." Thus would they be in our atmosphere - close enough to touch. That, of course, is putting a literal spin on the interpretation of his words. A figurative interpretation - since he spoke in apocalyptic terms of a shout, the blowing of a trumpet, and descending - would speak of the joining of the heavens and the earth in the realm of spirit, and thus catching folks up into realm of spirit, similar to the descending of the New Jerusalem as symbolically pictured in Rev. 21:2, and its existence upon earth in ch. 22. This, of course, was a figurative description of the Lamb's wife (21:9), the bride of Christ, God's tabernacle (= His temple, His body) dwelling with humanity (21:3).
I should also point out that this same word "seized and snatched away" is used in Matt. 11:12 in the context of the reign of the heavens, where I render it as "grasping it and drawing it up,"
"Now from the days of John the Immerser until right now, the reign of the heavens (or: sovereign rule of the kingdom of the atmospheres) is itself continuously pressing (or: is progressively pressing and forcing itself) forward with urgency, and those urging and pressing forward [toward the goal] are constantly grasping it and drawing it up [to themselves]."
18. So that (or: Consequently) you must constantly call each other alongside to give relief, encouragement and comfort, as a paraclete, within these words (or: thoughts; reasons).
This would have been a real comfort to them, and so it can be to us, since He is repeatedly coming to us and walking among us (pictured as lampstands, among which He constantly walks: Rev. 1:20 and 2:1). Note that the One who constantly, or repeatedly, walks among us speaks with "a great voice (or: = a loud sound), as of a trumpet..." (Rev. 1:10).
I trust that with this reading of the text you will find no basis here for the recent tradition called "the rapture."
[an excerpt from, Peter, Paul and Jacob, comments on First Peter, Philippians, Colossians, First Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians, First Timothy, Second Timothy, Titus and Jacob (James), Harper Brown Publishing, 2012]
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