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Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Part 4: The Rapture of the Saints?
So far in our presentations of Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians we have seen Paul express to his readers that their acceptance and conduct in the Gospel of Christ was itself an assurance that they were indeed the elect of God. We took that opportunity to discuss some of the history establishing that these Thessalonians, like the other recipients of Paul’s epistles, had descended from the Israelites of the Old Testament. Then where Paul had discussed the persecutions which the Christians of both Judaea and Thessalonika as well as the other Christian assemblies had undergone, we took an opportunity to demonstrate that the historicity of the early persecutions of Christians, in the days of Claudius and Nero, was an established historical fact.
Following that, we took the opportunity to demonstrate how Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians which he gives in chapters 3 and 4 of the epistle represented the core of something which in another context we may call Positive Christianity. Doing this, we demonstrated that Paul’s exhortations in Christ had certainly represented ideas which are fully amenable to the preservation of our race and of our White Christian nations. Doing this we also hope to have demonstrated that the things which Paul had advised were things which only Jews, who are the eternal enemies of Christ, could possibly oppose. Therefore by opposing true Christianity one is actually taking sides with the devil, and by attacking true Christians one is doing the handiwork of the Jews, something which the pagans of the first centuries of the Christian era had also done.
[I did make one minor error in my presentation last week, which I have since corrected. Just finishing presentations of the prison epistles of Philippians, Ephesians and Colossians I must have forgotten my place, and at one point made a comment which imagined Paul to be in Rome here. But here in his writing of Thessalonians Paul is in Corinth, and would not be in Rome for several years. So I apologize for the error.]
Now in the middle of 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, we are up to the point in Paul’s epistle which contains the famous so-called Rapture passage, which is really a rather enigmatic description by Paul of some of the things that Christians can expect of the Second Advent of Christ. And in reality it has nothing to do with any so-called Rapture, as we hope to demonstrate. First, however, we will address some of the claims of the Rapture cult adherents themselves, and refute them as well.
From what we understand, not all of the mainstream denominational sects of Churchianity actually believe in a rapture. But many of them do, and some of those which do are among the largest and most popular of the denominational sects. Rapture beliefs take various forms, such as a pre-tribulation rapture, a post-tribulation rapture, and even a so-called secret rapture. Several decades ago there was published a series of 16 popular novels, which was generally known as the Left Behind series. All together these novels sold over 65 million copies, and were probably read much more avidly than the Bible itself. This series also spawned an industry of sequels by other writers, several movies, and at least one series of video games. Written under the guise of Christianity these novels and the associated media which they encouraged are themselves fully characteristic of Mystery Babylon, and are a part of the problem rather than helping anyone to understand the ultimate solution.
We are not going to discuss the many different views of the so-called Rapture, mainly because we are certain from our own study of Scripture that there is absolutely so such thing as a Rapture. So, since none of the beliefs in a Rapture have any merit, there is no point in discussing any of them in particular. And because of the prevailing views of such a Rapture, we must say that it is difficult to discuss them without also addressing the folly of what we would call Futurism, where instead we must hold to the correct historicist view of the fulfillment of prophetic Scripture. In fact, in all of their confusion over the Rapture, many Rapture proponents even imagine that there are two Second Comings, because they cannot reconcile their imagined Rapture with the coming of Christ for the destruction of the wicked.
In several of his writings, including his Watchman’s Teaching Letter #131 for March of 2009, our dear friend Clifton Emahiser explained that John Nelson Darby, an influential 19th century Christian Writer of the so-called Plymouth Brethren, was generally given credit for the modern concepts of both Futurism and the pre-tribulation Rapture. But Clifton also went on to show that Futurism existed before that, as that method of prophetic interpretation was found in the writings of the somewhat earlier Jesuit priest Emmanuel Lacunza. But more recently, we have also shown that some of the ideas used by those in support of Futurism also appeared in various prophetic interpretations made by the early Christian writers called the Ante-Nicene Fathers. However while they saw a period of tribulation by an Antichrist in their own future, they certainly did not develop some of the heresies manifest in the later Futurism of Darby and the modern evangelicals.
Some of the advocates of a pre-tribulation rapture also claim to have found support for such a belief in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, particularly in the writings of the 2nd century bishop Irenaeus and the 3rd century Cyprian. But an examination of the passages which they cite from those writers demonstrate that once their context is fully understood, they certainly do not support any so-called Rapture. They also cite a work which presumably belonged to the Nicene-era 4th century writer, Ephraim the Syrian. However an examination of that work shows it to be spurious, from a later collection of writing attributed to a so-called “Pseudo-Ephraim”, and neither does it support their rapture. So we shall begin by disassembling the claims of these dissemblers.
First we shall discuss the passage from Irenaeus which the Rapture enthusiasts misuse in order to support their position:
From Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5 chapter 29, speaking of the Antichrist:
In the previous books I have set forth the causes for which God permitted these things to be made, and have pointed out that all such have been created for the benefit of that human nature which is saved, ripening for immortality that which is [possessed] of its own free will and its own power, and preparing and rendering it more adapted for eternal subjection to God. And therefore the creation is suited to [the wants of] man; for man was not made for its sake, but creation for the sake of man. Those nations however, who did not of themselves raise up their eyes unto heaven, nor returned thanks to their Maker, nor wished to behold the light of truth, but who were like blind mice concealed in the depths of ignorance, the word justly reckons “as waste water from a sink, and as the turning-weight of a balance—in fact, as nothing;” so far useful and serviceable to the just, as stubble conduces towards the growth of the wheat, and its straw, by means of combustion, serves for working gold. And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, “There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.” For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption.
The Rapture enthusiasts usually only quote the end of this passage, and where Irenaeus says “caught up”, they find support for their pre-tribulation Rapture. But that is not necessarily the case. Here in this passage Irenaeus also writes of “the last contest of the righteous”, which the righteous would obviously avoid if they were somehow to be raptured away. Did Irenaeus really mean that the Church would be taken into heaven? Or did he mean that the Church – meaning the body of Christ since there is no Roman Catholic Church or any other organized denomination in the 2nd century – would be “caught up” by being lifted out of the mean position in which it was to be found? The answer is in the very next chapter, but the Rapture enthusiasts evidently do not read that far:
From Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5 chapter 30, speaking of the second beast in the Revelation of Jesus Christ:
But he [meaning Christ, through John] indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is: the name, however, is suppressed, because it is not worthy of being proclaimed by the Holy Spirit. For if it had been declared by Him, he (Antichrist) might perhaps continue for a long period. But now as “he was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the abyss, and goes into perdition,”as one who has no existence; so neither has his name been declared, for the name of that which does not exist is not proclaimed. But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that “many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
So Irenaeus envisioned a kingdom for the righteous on earth, not in heaven, with Christ coming from the clouds to destroy the wicked and bring in that kingdom, in that manner fulfilling the promise to Abraham. The people taking part in the Kingdom would not come from the clouds of heaven, but from the east and the west. Therefore the passage from that same work which immediately precedes this one cannot be used to promote a pre-tribulation rapture as Irenaeus must have had something very different in mind when he used the words translated as “caught up”. Especially since this confrontation of the Antichrist is described as the “last contest of the righteous” in that same place. [Strike One for the Rapture.]
The next passage which the Rapture enthusiasts misuse is from Cyprian, from his treatise titled On the Mortality. But the part of the passage they employ is very small, usually only where it says “Lo, the world is changing and passing away, and witnesses to its ruin not now by its age, but by the end of things. And do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an earlier departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent?” Quoting those few sentences to advance their Rapture hypothesis, we have seen writers who even neglect to give the name of the treatise from which it comes. Rather, they focus only on the words “do you not congratulate yourself, that by an earlier departure you are taken away”, but he really speaks of their death. Cyprian is speaking of being taken away by mortality, and not by some magic Rapture. So here we shall prove the context of Cyprian’s statement by citing a fuller portion of the work:
From Cyprian, Treatise 7, On the Mortality, chapters 24 and 25:
24. It is for him to wish to remain long in the world whom the world delights, whom this life, flattering and deceiving, invites by the enticements of earthly pleasure. Again, since the world hates the Christian, why do you love that which hates you? and why do you not rather follow Christ, who both redeemed you and loves you? John in his epistle cries and says, exhorting that we should not follow carnal desires and love the world. “Love not the world,” says he, “neither the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the lust of the world. And the world shall pass away, and the lust thereof; but he who doeth the will of God abideth for ever, even as God abideth for ever.” Rather, beloved brethren, with a sound mind, with a firm faith, with a robust virtue, let us be prepared for the whole will of God: laying aside the fear of death, let us think on the immortality which follows. By this let us show ourselves to be what we believe, that we do not grieve over the departure of those dear to us, and that when the day of our summons shall arrive, we come without delay and without resistance to the Lord when He Himself calls us.
25. And this, as it ought always to be done by God’s servants, much more ought to be done now—now that the world is collapsing and is oppressed with the tempests of mischievous ills; in order that we who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. If in your dwelling the walls were shaking with age, the roofs above you were trembling, and the house, now worn out and wearied, were threatening an immediate destruction to its structure crumbling with age, would you not with all speed depart? If, when you were on a voyage, an angry and raging tempest, by the waves violently aroused, foretold the coming shipwreck, would you not quickly seek the harbour? Lo, the world is changing and passing away, and witnesses to its ruin not now by its age, but by the end of things. And do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an earlier departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent?
Writing in the time of the decline of the Roman empire, which Irenaeus also properly imagined Daniel to have prophesied, Cyprian in his own time saw that “now ... the world is collapsing”, and spoke of the fear of death, rather than any Rapture, which took men in an early departure. The departure of which Cyprian speaks is likened to an aging and crumbling dwelling, in a metaphor of the aging process of men. So this passage in Cyprian does not support any imagined version of the so-called Rapture. In fact, elsewhere Cyprian had taught precisely the opposite:
From Cyprian, in his Epistle 55, To the People of Thibaris, an exhortation to martyrdom, where he clearly refutes the so-called rapture in his description of the battles which Christians are to face:
1. Cyprian to the people abiding at Thibaris, greeting. I had indeed thought, beloved brethren, and prayerfully desired-if the state of things and the condition of the times permitted, in conformity with what you frequently desired—myself to come to you; and being present with you, then to strengthen the brotherhood with such moderate powers of exhortation as I possess. But since I am detained by such urgent affairs, that I have not the power to travel far from this place, and to be long absent from the people over whom by divine mercy I am placed, I have written in the meantime this letter, to be to you in my stead. For as, by the condescension of the Lord instructing me, I am very often instigated and warned, I ought to bring unto your conscience also the anxiety of my warning. For you ought to know and to believe, and hold it for certain, that the day of affliction has begun to hang over our heads, and the end of the world and the time of Antichrist to draw near, so that we must all stand prepared for the battle; nor consider anything but the glory of life eternal, and the crown of the confession of the Lord; and not regard those things which are coming as being such as were those which have passed away. A severer and a fiercer fight is now threatening, for which the soldiers of Christ ought to prepare themselves with uncorrupted faith and robust courage, considering that they drink the cup of Christ’s blood daily [in reference to Christian communion with one’s brethren], for the reason that they themselves also may be able to shed their blood for Christ [to die for their brethren]. [This is certainly the same as the “last contest of the righteous” spoken of by Irenaeus.] For this is to wish to be found with Christ, to imitate that which Christ both taught and did, according to the Apostle John, who said, “He that saith he abideth in Christ, ought himself also so to walk even as He walked.” Moreover, the blessed Apostle Paul exhorts and teaches, saying, “We are God’s children; but if children, then heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”
2. Which things must all now be considered by us, that no one may desire anything from the world that is now dying, but may follow Christ, who both lives for ever, and quickens His servants, who are established in the faith of His name. For there comes the time, beloved brethren, which our Lord long ago foretold and taught us was approaching, saying, “The time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things they will do unto you, because they have not known the Father nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.” Nor let any one wonder that we are harassed with constant persecutions, and continually tried with increasing afflictions, when the Lord before predicted that these things would happen in the last times, and has instructed us for the warfare by the teaching and exhortation of His words. Peter also, His apostle, has taught that persecutions occur for the sake of our being proved, and that we also should, by the example of righteous men who have gone before us, be joined to the love of God by death and sufferings. For he wrote in his epistle, and said, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is thing happened unto you; but as often as ye partake in Christ’s sufferings, rejoice in all things, that when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached in the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the name of the majesty and power of the Lord resteth on you, which indeed on their part is blasphemed, but on our part is glorified.” Now the apostles taught us those things which they themselves also learnt from the Lord’s precepts and the heavenly commands, the Lord Himself thus strengthening us, and saying, “There is no man that hath left house, or land, or parents, or brethren, or sisters, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive sevenfold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” And again He says, “Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and shall separate you from their company, and shall cast you out, and shall reproach your name as evil for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy; for, behold your reward is great in heaven.”
These writings of Irenaeus and Cyprian show that they were not escapists, who believed that Christians would be raptured away in order to avoid the trials of this world. Rather, speaking of the “last contest of the righteous”, as we saw in Irenaeus, or here of Christians who “must all stand prepared for the battle”, they believed that Christians would fight, and would ultimately be victorious over the forces of evil in the world.
So Cyprian, imagining the end of the age with the inevitable collapse of Rome, as Irenaeus also had imagined, taught Christians to stand and fight, to be tried in the fires, and to die for Christ as Irenaeus also envisioned the “last contest of the righteous”. [Strike Two for the Rapture.] Cyprian did not teach that Christians would avoid all such things with some sort of pre-tribulation rapture, and the Rapture enthusiasts who abuse a single passage from Cyprian’s writings to advance their agenda are nothing less than dishonest liars. Just like they pick-and-choose passages from Scripture to support their hare-brained and evil agendas, they pick-and-choose similar passages from early Christian writers, which are also obviously taken out-of-context and misused. [For an example of such dishonest Rapture enthusiasts, see the article at the website beginningandend.com titled What Did Ancient Church Fathers Believe About The Rapture?, which is only one source making such claims.]
There is one other presumably ancient writing which the Rapture enthusiasts use to uphold their claims, and that is a treatise called On The Last Times attributed to the 4th century Christian writer Ephraim (or sometimes Ephrem or even Ephraem) the Syrian, who is also known as Ephraim of Nisibis and who was one of the most respected writers of early Syrian Christianity. The passage in question is purported to say: “For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.” But once again the Rapture enthusiasts who quote this passage fail to make a full disclosure. Many of them fail to admit that it is widely held that this work does not belong to Ephraim the Syrian at all, but was actually one example of a plethora of later literature which is known to have been forged and rather purposely attributed to the popular writer. While the dating of this piece of Pseudo-Ephraim literature varies from the fourth to the sixth centuries, it is reasonable that it was written before the Islamic conquest of Syria. However not even the passage in question explicitly supports the Rapture as it is imagined by the Rapture enthusiasts. In the end, since we have fully discredited their claims in reference to the other citations they make from Irenaeus and Cyprian, this is all which they have left to cling to.
But they do not even have this. The passage from Pseudo-Ephraim which seems to support their Rapture theory comes from a translation of a Latin manuscript. The corresponding passage from the Syrian manuscript which has been translated by John C. Reeves at the University of North Carolina reads quite differently, and it says: “Pronouncing the good fortune of the deceased Who had avoided the calamity: ‘Blessed are you for you were borne away (to the grave) And hence you escaped from the afflictions!” This is the same thing that Irenaeus and Cyprian were addressing, and which Paul addressed in his epistles in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 and 1 Corinthians chapter 15: those who would die before the time o fhte end and the return of Christ. Paul said that they would not be behind those who lived until the end, and here the early Christian writers actually say the are blessed, for not having to suffer through to the end. But this has nothing to do with any rapture.
Then later in that same treatise, where we readily find that it does not support a Rapture at all, we read: “In his Gospel when He said: ‘Those days will be shortened For the sake of the elect and the saints.’ And when he has harassed the whole of creation, (When) the Son of Destruction (has bent it) to his will, Enoch and Elijah will be sent That they might persuade the Evil One. With a gentle question The saints will come before him, In order to expose the Son of Destruction Before the assemblies surrounding him: ‘If you are indeed God, Tell us what we ask of you: Where is the place that you have hidden The elders Elijah and Enoch?’ The Evil One will respond and say To the saints at that time: ‘When I wish (it), they are in the height(s), Or again should I choose, they are within the sea; For I have authority over habitations, Since there is no other god apart from me And I can make anything On earth (and) also in heaven!’”
While we do not agree with the postulations of Pseudo-Ephraim concerning the Two Witnesses of Revelation chapter 11 and the presumed Antichrist, its writer clearly made a depiction of the saints being on earth at the time of the end simultaneous with the rule of an imagined antichrist, or Evil One. That supports the Syriac version of the manuscript over the Latin version which the Rapture cult advances to fit its agenda, in relation to departure in death enabling one to avoid the trials of life. So in the end we see that the Rapture enthusiasts do not have any support from any early Christian writers for their hare-brained and anti-Scriptural teachings. [The Rapture has just struck out. And the bullpen of early Christians who may be taken out-of-context in order to continue the game is empty.] Indeed, the first promoter of a pre-tribulation Rapture may well be the popular John Nelson Darby, who seems to have simply invented it, although there are competing claims for slightly earlier churchmen.
Other early and notable Christian writers present ideas in their prophetic interpretations which refute the concept of a Rapture, such as Lactantius in The Divine Institutes, Book 7, and Victorinus in his commentary on the Apocalypse for chapters 6 and 7. We may expand on this presentation in the near future, to present a fuller refutation of the claims of the Rapture cult.
For now, however, we shall commence with our presentation of Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians, and an exposition of the Scripture most commonly abused by Rapture enthusiasts to advance their ridiculous claims. This next section of 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 is the only passage they have in order to support those claims, outside of minor support which they claim is found in part of 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the opening verses of John chapter 14, and perhaps the warnings of Christ in Matthew chapter 24 where He said “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left”, which are repeated in Luke chapter 17. But none of these passages actually describe any presumed Rapture.
Here it must also be noted, that Paul of Tarsus is actually making addenda to his epistle, where he is answering certain questions that the Thessalonians themselves had asked, which is evident where he began chapter 4 by saying “So for what remains, brethren,” and encouraging them and counseling them on their earthly walk in Christ. Paul counseled them to avoid certain sins, to work with their hands, and to be self-sufficient, having need of no one and walking decently compared with “those outside”.
Now here he changes the subject to discuss those who are already deceased, of whom the Thessalonians must have also been concerned, and he describes their fate at the promised Second Advent of the Christ:
13 Now we do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are falling asleep [D and the MT have “those having fallen asleep”; the text follows א, A, and B], in order that you would not be grieved, and just as the rest who have no expectation.
By mentioning “the rest who have no expectation”, where the Greek word ἐλπίς may have also been translated as hope, Paul is referring to any of the scattered children of Israel who had not had the opportunity of hearing the Gospel of Christ. The Thessalonians must have been concerned that there own dead kindred, not having had the opportunity to hear the Gospel, would not be preserved in Christ. This concern obviously comes from an ancient misunderstanding of the admonition to believe in Jesus and be saved, as we may read in Luke chapter 8 where Christ says of certain seed in the parable of the sower that “12 Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” Sadly, this misunderstanding of those words persists unto this very day.
Here Paul is reassuring the Thessalonians that all of the dead in Christ shall arise, whether or not they had heard the Gospel during their lifetimes. Preservation of the Adamic spirit and preservation in this life are two different subjects which Christians often confound. For instance, in Acts chapter 16, there is the jailer who sees the miraculous events surrounding the apostles, and he asks them “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Then we read: “31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” So if the jailer himself believes in Jesus, how can that assure the salvation of his house, meaning the people of his household? Because this salvation is not a reference to salvation of the spirit, something of which the jailer being a Roman pagan had no concept when he asked the original question. Rather, when a man follows Christ, he keeps His commandments, and keeping His commandments he departs from the ways of the sinful world, which is an assurance that he will not be destroyed in the judgment of God when it comes upon the world. The man being head of the household, has the authority to force the other members of his house to keep God’s law as well, and thus assure their preservation in this world. That is the salvation referenced in these verses.
However for the life to come, there is a greater assurance, and Paul himself had said in Romans chapter 11 that “30 Even as you were at one time disobedient to Yahweh, but now are shown mercy [speaking to scattered and alienated Israelites] due to their disobedience [speaking of the remnant Israelites in Judaea]; 31 in that manner these also are now in opposition to your mercy, so that they may have mercy shown to them. 32 Therefore Yahweh has enclosed all in disobedience, that He may show mercy to all.” So the mercy of Yahweh God is dispensed upon the children of Israel whether they believe Jesus or not. That is how Paul says in Romans chapter 4 that “the promise is to be certain to all of the offspring”. As the Scripture says in Isaiah chapter 45, “17 Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.” Then it also says “25 In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.”
This is the salvation of which Paul speaks here in 1 Thessalonians: salvation of the Spirit through which participation in the Resurrection of the dead is both possible and promised. In that manner this passage relates to what Paul would later write in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 where he says: “51 Behold I tell you a mystery, we shall not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed. 52 In an instant, in a dart of an eye, with the last trumpet; for it shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 This decay wants to be clothed in incorruptibility, and this mortal to be clothed in immortality. 54 And when this decay shall have put on incorruptibility, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then the word that has been written shall come to pass: ‘Death has been swallowed in victory.’ 55 ‘Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?’”
In this manner Paul continues:
14 For if we believe that Yahshua had died and rose up, in this manner Yahweh also through Yahshua will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.
And here we may see when the real Rapture happens: which is when we as individuals die and part from our physical bodies. It is for that reason Paul wrote that he was willing “to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, and earlier in that same chapter he said, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” It is they, the dead, who shall appear with Christ as He returns.
Resurrection is not through the physical body, as so many Roman Catholics and other relatively superstitious people believe. As Paul had explained a little earlier in 1 Corinthians chapter 15: “42 In this way also is the restoration of the dead. It is sown in decay, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in honor. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body; if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual. 45 And just as it is written, "The first man Adam came into a living soul," the last Adam into a life producing Spirit. 46 But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural, then the spiritual: 47 the first man from out of earth, of soil; the second man from out of heaven. 48 As he of soil, such as those also who are of soil; and as He in heaven, such as those also who are in heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of that of soil, we shall also bear the likeness of that of heaven.”
Christ brings the dead with Him when He returns, who are ostensibly of the heavenly bodies which Paul describes. This is the last trumpet where “the dead shall be raised incorruptible”, as Paul had also described it in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. This is found also in Jude, where the apostle quotes from the writings of Enoch and says “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints.” So how can the proponents of the Rapture cult assert that the living are going to be taken up into the heavens to see Jesus there? The error of this assertion is especially manifest when we see in Jude exactly what will happen when “the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints”, where it then says “15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” This does not sound like a party in heaven. Rather, it sounds like the Marriage Supper of the Lamb here on earth, just as it is described in Revelation chapter 19. Those in Christ still on earth take part in that judgment as well, as it says in Micah 4, “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion”, and as Paul had told the Corinthians in his second epistle to them, “And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.”The third witness establishing this fact is Revelation 18:6, where after the children of Israel are called to come out of Mystery Babylon which is fallen, they are also told to “6 Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.” Now, how could these things be fulfilled, if the children of God are off in space? But rather, God is coming here to earth, as Jesus Christ. This is what Irenaeus had perceived as the “last contest of the righteous”, for which Cyprian said Christians “must all stand prepared for the battle”.
However Paul’s message here is one of encouragement, so he delays any reference to the coming vengeance until later in the epistle, in chapter 5, while here he continues by saying:
15 For this we say to you by word of the Prince: that we, the living, those left remaining until the coming of the Prince, no way would come before those who have fallen asleep;
Or in other words, those Christians who have heard the Gospel are no better than all of the dead children of God who had not heard the Gospel while they lived in this world. So Paul told them here not to grieve over those who had died without this Christian expectation. Likewise he spoke of the dead who had not heard the gospel, again in 1 Corinthians chapter 15: “19 If only in this life have we had hope in Christ, we are the most pitiable of all mankind. 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruit of those who are sleeping. 21 Indeed since death is through a man, restoration of the dead is also through a man. 22 Just as in Adam all die, then in that manner in Christ all shall be produced alive. 23 But each in his own order: the first fruit, Christ; then those of the Anointed at His arrival. 24 Then the consummation, when He should hand over the kingdom to Yahweh who is also the Father; when He shall abolish all rule and all license and power. 25 Indeed it is necessary for Him to reign, until He should place all of the enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy abolished is death, 27 therefore ‘all are subjected under His feet.’ Now until it may be said that it is evident that all things have been subjected, (because outside of the subjecting of all things to Himself 28 and until all things are in subjection to Him,) then also the Son Himself will be subjected in the subjecting of all things to Himself, in order that Yahweh may be all things among all. 29 Otherwise what else would they who are immersing themselves on behalf of the dead be doing, if the dead are not raised at all? [And then Paul asks in surprise, knowing the futility of it:] Why are they even immersed on behalf of them?” Ostensibly, the Corinthians thought they had to be baptized on behalf of the dead, having the same concern for their dead kindred who had not heard the Gospel of Christ that the Thessalonians must have displayed in order to merit Paul’s answers here. Baptism on behalf of the dead is certainly not necessary, since the assurance is sound regardless of the actions of men. Paul continues to describe this resurrection:
16 because the Prince Himself with a command, by a chief messenger’s voice and with a trumpet of Yahweh shall descend from heaven, and those dead among the number of the Anointed [or literally the dead “in Christ”] shall rise up first.
The word ἀρχάγγελος (Strong’s # 743) is literally “chief messenger”, but typically transliterated as “archangel”; the word appears elsewhere in the New Testament only in Jude verse 9.
As Paul had written in 1 Corinthians chapter 15: “22 Just as in Adam all die, then in that manner in Christ all shall be produced alive. 23 But each in his own order: the first fruit, Christ; then those of the Anointed at His arrival.” So we read here that the “dead among the number of the Anointed shall rise up first.”
Evidently one does not have to hear the Gospel and believe in Jesus in this life in order to be saved, because here it is clearly stated that all of those who died even without ever hearing the Gospel shall be resurrected and shall not have any disadvantage compared to Christians who did hear the Gospel, as Paul says that “those left remaining until the coming of the Prince, no way would come before those who have fallen asleep”. Paul said this in reference to those who are dear to the Thessalonians but who were already dead at the time when the Thessalonians themselves had only just received the Gospel.
The admonitions to believe in Jesus and be saved had no bearing on the promise of eternal life. Rather, one reason which such admonitions were made was because believing Jesus means keeping His commandments, which in turn keeps one safe from the consequences of the sins of the world. But they were also made because such a belief was an assurance that one was one of the sheep, and not one of the wolves which could not be saved, so long as one lived consistently with the belief. For that reason Paul had said in reference to the Gospel, once again in 1 Corinthians chapter 15: “By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.” The Gospel message was meant to separate the wheat from the tares. So wherever we see those exhortations to the faith in Scripture, they must be understood in their own historical context, and not in the presumptuous context which is asserted by modern evangelicals.
Paul continues to describe the advent of the Christ and the resurrection of the dead, and he adds as his conclusion:
17 Then we, the living who are remaining, at once with them shall be carried off in clouds for a meeting with the Prince in air, and in that manner always with the Prince we shall be. 18 So encourage one another with these words.
And here Paul uses several metaphors of which the meanings may be argued, however we shall see that we do not have to interpret this passage as if it describes some sort of rapture. In fact, interpreting this passage to support a rapture defies many other Scriptures which refute the concept of a rapture. Furthermore, where Paul uses the same metaphors elsewhere, those passages also deny the validity of such an interpretation here.
First we shall examine the phrase “carried off in clouds”. The word rendered as “carried off” is a form of the verb ἀρπάζω (Strong’s # 726), where the King James Version has “caught up”. But the word means merely “to snatch away, carry off … to seize hastily, snatch up”, according to Liddell & Scott, and by itself it does not bear any indication of ascending to anywhere, as it is interpreted.
The Greek phrase ἐν νεφέλαις (νεφέλη, Strong’s # 3507) is literally “in clouds”, but there is no definite article indicating that Paul meant particular clouds, as the clouds, or the clouds of heaven in the sky. Rather, the word may metaphorically mean “in throngs”, referring to clouds of people, as Paul had used the related root word νέφος in Hebrews 12:1, referring to a “great cloud of witnesses”. Both νέφος and νεφέλη were used metaphorically to describe clouds of death, tears, sorrow, sleep, battle, and even blood. Therefore the reference to clouds here does not necessarily refer to clouds in the sky, in reference to any supernatural act. Rather, Paul could just as easily and much more naturally be describing a rapid movement of great numbers of people.
Next we must examine the phrase “in air”, εἰς ἀέρα (ἀήρ, Strong’s # 109), and again the definite article is missing, but using this term alone refutes the notion that Paul refers to the heavens. By itself, the phrase εἰς ἀέρα is most literally “into air”, but only in English does it suggest a supernatural act on the surface of the phrase. Paul was well acquainted with Greek literature, which is demonstrated often in his epistles where he quotes or takes allusions from classical Greek writers (i.e. Titus 1:12; Acts 17:28, 1 Corinthians 15:33). To the Greeks, the atmosphere was divided into three layers: ἀήρ was the lowest layer, the air around us, and was opposed to the αἰθήρ (“ether”), which was the upper atmosphere or “sky”, above which was οὐρανός (3772), or the “heaven”, or more properly in our modern dialect, the outer atmosphere or even what we call “space”. The word αἰθήρ does not appear in the New Testament. But the word ἀήρ is used by Paul elsewhere in Ephesians 2:2, and in 1 Corinthians 9:26 and 14:9. The word also appears in Acts 22:23, and in Revelation 9:2 and 16:17. Nowhere in the New Testament does the use of the word insist that it refers to the upper atmosphere of the planet. Wherever the reference is clear, it refers only to the air around us.
Every time in the New Testament we see the phrase “birds of the air” or “fowls of the air” the Greek word for air is οὐρανός, which is usually translated as heaven. So if the supposed “meeting with the Prince in air” referred to the place of the clouds in the sky, one would think that Paul would have used that same word which was used of the place of the birds of the sky, which is οὐρανός, rather than using the word for the air around us. For another example, where Paul had described a man who may have been out of his body, in the spiritual realm, that man was taken up into the third οὐρανός, or heaven, not into the air.
Where Paul used the same term for air in Ephesians 2:2 as he does here in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, we probably find the best insight into Paul’s purpose for using the word. There in Ephesians it is certain that Paul used the term for air to describe the physical world as opposed to the spiritual world, both of which were equally real in Paul’s rather enlightened perspective. Both Christ and Paul had referred to the enemies of Christ as the prince or princes of this world. In the Revelation we learn that the devil and his angels were cast out of heaven, and that there place was no longer found in heaven. Then in the Gospel the devil said to Christ that “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it”, referring to “all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4:5-6). Clearly, the devil and his angels are the princes of this world referred to in the Gospel. As the apostle John had warned in the closing verses of his first epistle, “19, We know that we are from of God and the whole Society lies in the power of the Evil One.”
Then in Ephesians chapter 2 Paul wrote concerning the past sins of his readers, who were also among the descendants of the ancient children of Israel, and he said to them “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience”. So here in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1, in verse 10, Paul had admonished his readers to “await His Son from the heavens,” referring to the second advent of Christ, and here he informs them that they will meet with Christ “in the air”, which is a reference to this physical world. Heaven is the realm of the birds of the sky, and the air is the realm of man, the lowest atmosphere in the cosmology of the Greeks.
So with this it should be entirely evident that 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 does not describe a rapture of any sort. Rather, the promise of resurrection is a return to this physical world. As Yahweh said in Ezekiel chapter 37: “19 Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand. 20 And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes. 21 And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: 22 And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all: 23 Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. 24 And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. 25 And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever. 26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. 27 My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 And the nations shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.”
The setting of the tabernacle, or sanctuary, among the gathered children of Israel is precisely what Paul of Tarsus is describing in poetic terms here in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. But the tabernacle is Christ Himself, as we learned in the Gospel in John chapter 2: “19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21 But he spake of the temple of his body.”
The Rapture theology attempts to set at nought the Word of God, for instance, as Christ instructed His disciples to pray that things be “on earth as they are in heaven”. So the rapture theology also makes God Himself impotent in the world. God has to give up on His Creation, only to rescue certain people from the wicked. Neither can it answer why the wicked are wicked. Therefore in rapture theology, God is a failure. However true Christians should know that God is no failure, and that ultimately they shall indeed have salvation – here on earth. That happens when the wicked are removed from the earth.