Reclaiming the 1st Thessalonians Rapture Narrative [ Part- 3]

Chapter 13 of Reclaiming The Rapture : Reclaiming the 1st Thessalonians Rapture Narrative (Chris Steinle)

What’s Up with “Caught Up”? 

There are no directional Greek words in verse 17. Neither do the English expressions below have anything to do with elevation. 

Act up Beat up Blown up Bottle up 
Brush up Buckle up Buff up Buy up 
Clean up Clogged up Close up Divide up 
Drum up Fed up Finish up Fix up 
Heat up Held up Lighten up Live it up 
Loosen up Making it up Plugged up Roll up 
Seal up Set up Sewn up Shake up 
Shut up Stack up Start up Stitch up 
Stopped up Straighten up Take up (space) Tidy up 
Tied up Tighten up Wake up Wash up 
Use up Wind up Wise up Wrap up 

So how did we end up with “caught up?” And, why bring it up? 

Many Greek words or prefixes could have been used to express the direction “up”; such as; ana, anabaino, egeiro, hupsoo, etc. Just as there is no harpázō, the verse lacks any root, prefix, or adverb for “up.” The fact that the Pre-Tribulation “rapture” theory was first popularized in the British Isles may well be directly “bound up” in the English translation of harpagaesometha. Indeed, the Pre-Tribulation doctrine was scarcely insinuated by the Greek-speaking Early Church, Byzantine Church, or later Eastern Orthodox Churches. The very use of the phrase “caught up” may have coloured the imagination of modern English theologians. 

The English translation of John 19:30b reads; And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. Once again, “up” is not found in the ancient Greek texts. “Paredoken”; Gr. παρέδωκεν, is the word translated into English as, “gave up.” But the Greek word παρέδωκεν, means; “delivered, given over, or handed over”. Yet English translations often contain the colloquialism “gave up.” 

Apparently, around the time of the King James era, the appendage, “up,” was popular in Great Britain, in the same way that “on” has been adopted for some of the idioms of today; e.g., hold on, right on, carry on, bring it on, full on, etc. 

Looking back to earlier English Bible translations provides evidence that harpagēsometha represents a disruption from the normal course, not a rescue from difficult circumstances. John Wycliffe’s translation (1382 – 1395) of First Thessalonians 4:17 reads as follows: 

Afterward we that lyuen, that ben left, schulen be rauyschid togidere with hem in cloudis, metinge Crist `in to the eir.69 (Note, the correct translation of those who have “ben left”, the survivors.) 

Wycliffe translated the Greek word, harpagēsometha (ἁρπαγησόμεθα), as “rauyschid.” Rauyschid is found one other time in the Wycliffe Bible. Acts 27:15 describes how Paul’s ship was obstructed by the wind as it left the port of Phoenix, Crete. The ship was prevented from rounding the island toward a safer winter harbor. 

Wycliffe: And whanne the schip was rauyschid, and myyte not enforse ayens the wynde . . .70 

NKJV: So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind . . . 

Notice that, according to the New King James Version, the ship was not “caught up,” nor did it escape from the storm. The ship was overcome by the wind and was prevented from sailing in the desired direction. In fact, it was apparently being blown backward. Being rauyschid marked the beginning of the shipwreck course to Malta. Recalling the chart showing the connection between God’s power, the resurrection, and the subduing of Christ’s enemies, being overcome or subdued is exactly what we would expect to encounter in the First Thessalonians rapture passage. 

Where Do We Go from Here? 

Verse 17: ἐν (en); in / into. There is no definite article, no “the.” Notice once again the accuracy of Wycliffe’s translation. “schulen be rauyschid togidere with hem in cloudis.” Not; in the cloudis. John Spencer has also commented on the absence of the definite article as well as the fact that “caught up” is missing from the original text. 

“Because in the original Greek there is no   definite   article before, “clouds,” the phrase can most literally be translated ‘seized in clouds.’”71 

Verse 17: νεφέλαις (nefelais); clouds. We shall be seized/plundered in clouds. Clouds are often mentioned in scripture during a transition between the physical and the spiritual states. Clouds were present during the transfiguration and the ascension; and Jesus will return in clouds. Clouds and dark smoke filled the Temple. These instances do not represent natural clouds or smoke, but a supernatural phenomenon. They are present during divine interventions between the heavenly and earthly realms. This transitional zone – this blur between two different dimensions – appears as clouds, vapor, or smoke. Once again, the only directional words in First Thessalonians 4:13-18 refer to the Lord descending and the dead rising. 

Verse 17: εἰς (eis); for / to 

Verse 17: ἀπάντησιν (apantaesin); from apantao72, to meet from different directions. To further support the resolve that Jesus is coming and not merely planning a fly-by, we need only study the word “meet.” Apantesin73 (meet). This word is used in Matthew 25:6, Acts 28:15, and here in First Thessalonians. In every instance it is used to describe a greeting party, not a departure. Let’s look at its usage in Matthew because of the striking similarity between Paul’s usage and its usage by our Lord Jesus. 

Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’. But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 

But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. Matt. 25:1-13 

This passage is often used to support the pre-tribulation rapture theory. But look at this meeting more closely. In verses one and six of Matthew Chapter 25, were the 10 virgins going out to be taken away by the Lord? Or, were they going out meet Him with the intention of escorting Him back to the bride? The answer is obvious. Their lanterns were lit specifically for the purpose of leading the bridegroom back to where the virgins had come from. 

Once again, the greeting nature of this word for “meet” is clarified in Acts 28:15. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. 

These believers from Italy were not going out to meet Paul with any thought of returning with him to Malta. Their meeting was nothing more than a greeting. Apantesin is also used several times in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament; I Sam. 9:14, I Chron. 12:17, Jer. 41:6. 

The reader who is thorough enough to investigate these Old Testament passages will only find further support that apantesin is a meeting and not a one-way departure. 

Paul has now given a sufficient description of Christ’s descent as the bodily Second Coming. Nothing in First Thessalonians Four says He’s returning back up into heaven at the time of this meeting. 

Verse 17: τοῦ Κυρίου (tou Kuriou); the Lord 

Verse 17: εἰς (eis); in / into 

Verse 17: ἀέρα (aera); air – the first heaven, above the ground. “In air” does not indicate that the glorified saints will be venturing beyond the atmosphere. The meeting in the air is nonspecific in terms of location. Paul could just as easily have used the word “heaven” or “heavens.” Meeting in air is yet one more indication that Christ has descended from heaven at the time of the rapture. We will meet the Lord somewhere in [the] air. This meeting is the same gathering mentioned by Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians. 

We shall be changed. We shall be robbed of our physical bodies plundered. 

We will not be taken away immediately, but something will first be taken from us. Something that has already been purchased and merely waits for its redemption. The purchased possession is our mortal bodies. 

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 

Therefore comfort one another with these words. I Thess. 4:18 

More about Paul’s comfort to the Thessalonians will be discussed in the chapter on Christ’s last enemy. The intent of this chapter has been to show that the rapture describes the transition in bodily form that will occur to enable the gathering of God’s people into the presence of Christ. 

The moment that we see Him as He is, we shall be like Him. The rapture is not God’s people going to heaven; it is God’s people becoming heavenly. 

Reclaiming the 1st Thessalonians Rapture Narrative [ Part- 2]

Chapter 13 of Reclaiming The Rapture : Reclaiming the 1st Thessalonians Rapture Narrative (Chris Steinle)

Translating the Rapture Verse 

First let’s examine the common Greek-to-English equivalent of each word or phrase so that we can start with the literal Greek meaning expressed by the original language. Commentary is inserted where English words are added, or where English translations depart from the literal Greek equivalent. (Greek words and phrases from Verse 17 are in bold) 

Verse 17: ἔπειτα ἡμεῖς (epeita haemeis); Then we. 

Verse 17: οἱ ζῶντες (hoi zontes); the ones alive. 

Verse 17: οἱ περιλειπόμενοι (hoi perileipomenoi); the ones left behind 

These “ones” are typically translated into English as; “the living survivors,” or “those alive and remaining.” 

The word commonly used in the New Testament for “remain” is the Greek word μένω (meno); to remain, abide. Therefore Paul’s choice to use a different word reflects a peculiar aspect about these living ones. 

Strong’s NT 4035: περιλείπω (peri-leipo

From peri and leipo; to leave all around, i.e. (passively) survive – remain. 

Greek; peri; about, around 

Greek; leipo; to be destitute, lack.60 

According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon: 

περιλείπω: present passive participle περιλειπόμενος (cf. περί, III. 2); to leave over; passive, to remain over, to survive: 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17. (Aristophanes, Plato, Euripides, Polybius, Herodian; 2 

Macc. 1:31.)61 

The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates begins its definition of perileipo by noting the Classical Greek meaning as; “those who survived, and therefore remained, or were left behind.”62 Specifically referring to First Thessalonians 4:17, Zodhiates translates οἱ περιλειπόμενοι (hoi perileipomenoi) as; the surviving ones. 

St. Paul described these ones remaining as a remnant of survivors who will not merely be alive and abiding, but they will be literally leftover or left about. 

Paul was echoing the ideas expressed in the fourth chapter of Isaiah. The Greek Septuagint uses the same root words as Paul used in First Thessalonians 4:17: 

και εσται το υπολειφθεν εν σιων και το καταλειφθεν εν ιερουσαλημ αγιοι κληθησονται παντες οι γραφεντες εις ζωην εν ιερουσαλημ (Isa. 4:2)63 

In that day the Branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious; and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and appealing for those of Israel who have escaped [death]. And it shall come to pass that he who is left (LXX; hupo-leiph-then) in Zion and remains (LXX; kata-leiph-then) in Jerusalem will be called holy – everyone who is recorded among the living [those left alive] in Jerusalem. Isa. 4:2, 3 

Verse 17: ἅμα (hama); together / at the same time, or simultaneously. 

Verse 17: σὺν αὐτοῖς (sun autois); with them. – The Spirit testifying that they should not be made perfect apart from us. Heb. 11:40 may apply here as to why we must be glorified together. The dead, together with the living, at the same time, will both experience the change described by the following verb. 

Harpagēsometha 

Verse 17: ἁρπαγησόμεθα (harpagēsometha) 

Paul used a word for rapture that is so unique in form that this exact word doesn’t occur anywhere else in the Greek New Testament or in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Yet the Pre- Tribulation rapture theory has pinned its hopes and built a media empire upon this one word. The internet is replete with images of being “caught up” – the English translation of the word “harpázō.” But there is a Greek word even closer to harpagēsometha than harpázō. The Greek word “harpagē” is so close to the word Paul used for “rapture” that it is actually part of the word, harpagēsometha. 

Harpázō, and harpagē are closely related; but do they mean the same thing? And more importantly, which one of these words expresses the meaning intended by Paul? 

The Greek stems of these words are; harpas (Gr. ἁρπασ), and harpag (Gr. ἁρπαγ). Using Latin characters, the only difference is the last letter of each stem – sigma (sometimes taking the phonetic forms z or dz). And gamma (g). These two words have slightly different definitions and are designated by Strong’s as; GS724 and GS726. 

GS724 harpagē har-pag-ay’ from 726; pillage (properly abstract):– extortion, ravening, spoiling.64 

GS726 726 harpázō har-pad’-zo from a derivative of 138; to seize (in various applications):–catch (away, up), pluck, pull, take (by forces).65 

Strong’s indicates that harpagē is derived from harpázō. And the origin of harpagēsometha has been attributed to both of these lexical entries. But, as can be seen above, the words do not mean the same thing. Nevertheless each of these two words can be shown to support the authors’ conclusions about the rapture and its timing. 

As stated by Strong’s above, harpázō is translated into English in a variety of ways. But whether the Greek word means; take away, carry off, catch up, tear up, rend, ravish, or seize, harpázō usually signifies the use of force. There are other Greek words commonly used to convey that someone or something has been taken, lifted up, or carried away. But harpázō implies that the object which is being taken will be, or has been, seized or violated by force. 

Force is precisely what we would expect to be present at the Lord’s second coming. The exceeding great power of God will forcefully subdue death, including the mortality of our lowly bodies, at the time of the resurrection/rapture. 

The rapture will occur at the time of Christ’s plundering of the devil’s power, which he continues to hold over death. When Jesus was accused of relying on the power of Beelzebub, He used the occasion to talk about the triumph of His kingdom (house) over the household of Satan. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder ἁρπάσαι (harpasai) his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder διαρπάσει (di-arpasei) his house. Matt. 12:29 (See also Mark 3:27.) 

Harpagē means; pillage, plunder, or spoil. Above in Matthew’s gospel, some English translators have rendered harpasai as “plunder.” Could there be any greater indicator that Christ has overcome His last enemy (death), than at the resurrection of the dead where death is swallowed up in victory? 

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. Heb. 2:14 (emphasis added) 

Harpagē conveys the same forceful aspect of harpázō, but actually fits the First Thessalonians rapture narrative better than harpázō. Based on the assumption that the purpose of the rapture is to remove the church from the planet, popular theologians have asserted that harpagēsometha is the first person plural future passive indicative of the word harpázō. [We] (first person plural) shall (future) be seized/caught/snatched (passive indicative). 

But if harpagēsometha is formed from harpázō, why does the stem contain the gamma ending? Why does it contain the very word, harpagē? This obvious harpagē connection has been conveniently explained away by asserting that the passive voice of “seized” somehow becomes equivalent to the word “plundered.” But changing “to seize” into “to be seized” does not make “seize” an interchangeable equivalent of the word “plunder.” The passive form of “to plunder” would be “to be plundered.” 

Dr. Spiros Zodhiates recognized that harpagēsometha is formed from the root word, harpagē. It is not merely the future passive indicative of harpázō. It is, in fact, the future indicative of harpagē

“724. ἁρπαγή harpagē; gen. harpagēs, from harpázō (726), to seize upon with force. Robbery, plundering. Zodhiates provides synonyms such as; skulon (4661), in the plural meaning spoils, arms stripped from an enemy; akrothinion (205), the top of a heap [of plunder], the choicest spoils of war.”66 (emphasis added) 

“To seize upon,” does not mean “seized.” Likewise, a person being robbed or plundered of their possessions is not an equivalent expression for taking the whole person away; whether they be caught up, taken away, or carried off. 

The authors agree with Zodhiates that Paul intended harpagēsometha to be the first person plural future indicative of harpagē rather than a derivative form of harpázō. As a verb, harpagē denotes the act of plundering, a forceful change of ownership. But unlike harpázō, harpagē does not involve the abduction of the person himself. The contrast between taking someone away, and taking something away from its owner, is paramount if you happen to be the person involved. That is why our analysis of harpagē must go so much deeper than the casual observance that harpagēsometha would seem to come from the word “harpázō.” 

The future passive indicative of harpázō would indeed be “shall be seized.” But the future passive indicative of harpagē is “shall be plundered.” English translators have bypassed the literal meaning of harpagēsometha simply because they have not understood how “plundered” fits into the rapture scenario. The pre-tribbers have missed the point that Paul was trying to communicate because it doesn’t fit into their own narrative. Paul used the word “plunder” because he was describing the transformation that will occur when mortality is overpowered at Christ’s appearing. Great force will be present at the time of the resurrection/rapture. 

Furthermore, if Paul had used a form of harpázō to mean “seized;” he would have been implying that the force of God will be released for the purpose of gathering the saints against their will. The notion that God’s people would resist drawing near to their Savior is reminiscent of the words of the Psalmist; 

Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you. Psa. 32:9 

Rather, Paul was acknowledging the power of God to transform our lowly bodies. Immediately after this forceful rapture the saints will peacefully, joyfully, meet the Lord in the air. 

The chart on the following pages shows the overall consistency with which harpázō and harpagē are used in the biblical texts. Because harpázō has almost become a household word among students of eschatology, examples of its use are presented first. Included are some exceptions where the words have been used interchangeably. 

There are dozens more examples of harpázō and diarpázō in the Greek Septuagint that could have been listed in the chart. But the chart is representative of the results of the larger study. 

An online article at PreceptAustin.org sites 34 uses of harpázō in the non-apocryphal Septuagint (LXX) (Gen. 37:33; Lev. 6:4; 19:13; Deut. 28:31; Jdg. 21:21, 23; 2 Sam. 23:21; Job 20:19; 24:2, 9, 

19; Ps. 7:2; 10:9; 22:13; 50:22; 69:4; 104:21; Isa. 10:2; Ezek 18:7, 

12, 16, 18; 19:3, 6; 22:25, 27; Hos. 5:14;6:1; Amos 1:11; 3:4; Mic. 

3:2; 5:8; Nah. 2:12) 

The article continues; “A number of the uses of harpázō in the LXX translate the Hebrew word meaning to tear (taraph; 2963) (as of beasts of prey, tear to pieces – Gen. 37:33, Ps. 7:2, 50:22, Hos. 5:14, 6:1) which brings out the violent aspect of harpázō .” The article concludes; “None of the LXX uses of harpázō convey the same sense of rapture as found here in 1 Thessalonians.”67 

Uses of Harpázō and Harpagē in the Bible and Apocrypha
English Translation
Verse Verses including the Gr. stem harpag snatch, take away, seize rob, spoil, plunder 
Leviticus 19:13 You shall not cheat your neighbor nor rob ἁρπάσεις (harpaseis) him.  
Deuteronomy 28:31 your donkey shall be violently taken away ἡρπασμένος 
(haerpasmenos) 
X
Judges 21:21 and every man catch ἁρπάσετε (harpasete) a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh.  X
Judith 16:9 Her sandal caught (fig. captured) ἥρπασεν (haerpasen) his eye  X
Matthew 13:19 the evil one comes and snatches ἁρπάζει (harpasei) away what was sown  X
Nahum 2:12a The lion caught ἥρπασεν (haerpasen) enough for his whelps X  
John 10:12 and the wolf snatches ἁρπάζει (harpasei) them  X
John 10:28 no one will snatch ἁρπάσει (harpasei) them out of My hand.  X
Acts 8:39,40 the Spirit of the Lord caught ἥρπασεν (haerpasen) Philip away  X 
Revelation 12:5 and her child was caught up ἡρπάσθη (hērpasthē) to God  X
Verse Verses including the Gr. stem harpag snatch, take away, seize rob, spoil, plunder 
Leviticus 6:2 If anyone lies … about a robbery ἁρπαγῆς (harpagēs 
Isaiah 3:14 the plunder ἁρπαγὴ (harpagē) of the poor is in your houses.  
Isaiah 42:22 This is a people despoiled and plundered διηρπασμένος (di- haerpasmenos)… For plunder ἅρπαγμα (harpagma), and no one says, “Restore!”  X X 
Isaiah 61:8 I hate robbery ἁρπάγματα (harpagmata) for burnt offering.  
Nahum 2:12b and his den with rapine ἁρπαγῆς (harpagēs).  
2 Corinthians 12:2-4 such a man was caught up ἁρπαγέντα (harpagenta) to the third … was caught up ἡρπάγη (hērpagē) into Paradise X X  
Matthew 23:25 outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of robbery ἁρπαγῆς (harpagēs) and self-indulgence  
Luke 11:39 but your inward part is full of robbery ἁρπαγῆς (harpagēs) and wickedness.  
Philippians 2:5,6 being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery ἁρπαγμὸν (harpagmon)  
Hebrews 10:34 and joyfully accepted the plundering ἁρπαγὴν (harpagēn) of your goods  

After reviewing the table above we can see that nearly without exception, harpázō is translated into English as “snatch”, “take away”, “seize”, etc.; and harpagē is translated as; “rob”, “spoil”, “plunder”, etc. Such consistent usage of the two words and their translations adds further support that harpagēsometha should be translated as “shall be robbed, spoiled or plundered.” 

John Jeffrey Dodson’s lexicon which harmonizes the work of Abbott-Smith, Berry, Souter, and Strong, gives the concise meaning of harpagē as; “the act of plundering, plunder, spoil.”68 

Based on the assumption that harpagēsometha is the future indicative of harpagē, what has, since the King James era, been translated as “caught up,” could justifiably be translated “plundered.” But would this translation make sense within the context of the verse? Yes! Using “plundered” in verse 17 of First Thessalonians Chapter Four brings out more detail and adds even more weight to Paul’s argument for the timing of the resurrection. 

The next thing to consider is why two of the exceptions in the table above were made when translating Paul’s use of harpagē into English. Paul may have used harpagē with the specific purpose of magnifying the ambiguity of whether, in fact, he had been taken in bodily form, or just caught away in a vision. 

A bolder position as to why harpagē has been translated as “caught up,” (as if it were the Greek word harpázō used in Revelation Chapter 12) is based on the possibility that the English translation has missed Paul’s intent; and that he meant “plundered” in all instances of harpagē. Paul, knowing that flesh and blood cannot enter into the real presence of God, may have used harpagē in recognition that his mortality would have needed to be transformed into a spiritual body; if indeed, Paul had actually been translated into a spiritual body. 

But to say that the English interpretation should vary from its typical meaning in First Thessalonians 4:17 simply because English interpreters have interpreted a previous verse as an anomaly, would base the translation of harpagē in First Thessalonians on circular reasoning. On the other hand, if “plunder” can be shown to work within the context of verse 17, then there is no need to rationalize why an atypical rendering of the word would yield a more accurate interpretation of the verse. 

As a technicality, we will find when we implement harpagē to First Thessalonians Four that “up” may be implied, but is not expressed in texts of either Second Corinthians 12:2-4 or First Thessalonians 4:17. More on this in a moment. 

Then we who are alive and remain shall be shall be plundered/robbed/spoiled. Our goods (our natural body, our mortality) will be plundered. The purchased possession spoken of Paul in Ephesians 1:14 will be redeemed. Instead of being snatched away, God will rob us of our soma psuchikon (the natural body) and further clothe us with our soma pneumatikon (spiritual body). This glorification process requires   the destruction, the plundering, of the old body. The saints are not being carried off at the instant of the “rapture.” The resurrected dead and those who are Christ’s at His coming will be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. 

The plundering is not the removal of the body, but the redemption of the body. Paul’s employment of this single Greek word does not establish, by itself, the foundation for an eschatological system. But there are enough examples of the customary Greek usage of harpadzo and harpagē to support the conclusion that harpagē, found in First Thessalonians 4:17, depicts the moment of change promised in First Corinthians 15:23, 50-58. Harpagēsometha supports the idea that those who are Christ’s at His coming will be transformed. This change will occur before both the living survivors and the resurrected saints are gathered to be with the Lord. 

The main purpose of First Thessalonians 4:13-18 is to present such a precise order of events at the time of the Lord’s return so as to comfort to the living. If Paul had used harpázō, he would have been skipping over the moment of the change. This would have blurred the precision of the discrete realities which he was hoping would comfort the bereaved. 

Reclaiming the 1st Thessalonians Rapture Narrative [Part-1]

Chapter 13 of Reclaiming The Rapture : Reclaiming the 1st Thessalonians Rapture Narrative [Part-1]

Paul stated in First Corinthians 15; 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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 1 Cor. 15:51, 52 This passage on the resurrection and “change” is the big sister to the rapture narrative found in First Thessalonians Chapter Four. 

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thess. 4:13-18. 

This passage is proof of the rapture. But the details of these verses have, unfortunately, been overlooked by Pre-Tribulation rapture theologians, authors, and movie-makers. 

In accordance with basic (inductive) Bible interpretation guidelines, the very first step in determining the meaning of this passage is to establish its single main theme. If these verses above were to be bound as a stand-alone booklet, what would it be called? What was Paul’s primary motive for conveying these thoughts? 

The first and last verses are focused on giving comfort to those who had lost their loved ones. The first verse also implies that the bereaved would be less grieved and more hopeful if they were more informed about the things that Paul is about to share with them. Paul didn’t want those who had lost their loved ones to think that they had perished and would miss out on the Lord’s return. It also brings to mind the remorse of Mary and Martha; “Lord, if you had been here, our brother Lazarus would not have died.” The overall objective of the Thessalonians citation is comfort. Comfort through education. An appropriate title might be something like, “Paul’s Words of Comfort to the Bereaved.” 

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 1 Thess. 4:13 

This verse takes the form of an “if – then” statement. “If” we believe that Jesus died and rose again; then (even so), or (thus) – “God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” The independent conditional statement is that “one believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus.” If we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, even so we should also believe what Jesus has promised to His followers; “because I live, you will live also.” John 5:25 says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” The dead will hear the voice of Jesus and rise. First Thessalonians 4:14 ties these two resurrections together. We believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus; and even so, we believe that God will raise those who have fallen asleep. 

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will  by no means precede those who are asleep. 1 Thess. 4:15 

“by the word of the Lord.” 

We have already demonstrated by citing numerous Scriptures (the word of the Lord) that the resurrection will precede the gathering. According to Paul’s statement, the resurrection of the dead must occur before the rapture of the living. Stated from the other perspective, the rapture cannot occur before the resurrection. 

“By no means” is formed by two negative Greek words. In English this would be a double negative. But in the Greek it has the meaning, “It absolutely won’t happen.” This fact, expressed in the Greek’s most emphatic negative expression, implies that the living cannot possibly experience the rapture at the Lord’s return in advance of the resurrection of the dead. 

The Coming of the Lord 

“Until the coming of the Lord.” 

Notice that it does not say, “Until a calling from the Lord.” This distinction will be amplified further in the next verse. 

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 1 Thess. 4:16 

This verse contains so many important elements that we need to examine each phrase individually. The first phrase identifies three different arguments which would persuade the Thessalonians that Paul was describing the second coming of Christ. 

“For the Lord Himself” 

There is an additional Greek word in the original texts. The Greek word – hoti51 (that) appears before “Himself.” The Online Interlinear translation of this verse captures the meaning of this phrase as, “For that same Lord.”52 Another good translation would be, “For that self-same Lord.” By using these words, anyone familiar with the Book of Acts would tend to associate them with “that same Jesus” from Luke’s record of the ascension in Acts 1:9-11. 

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” 

Because Paul has just mentioned “the coming of the Lord,” it would appear that Paul is deliberately calling to mind the mental image of the Lord’s bodily return. Although this may not provide conclusive evidence that this “coming” is the bodily second coming of Christ; please consider the next two phrases as further supporting evidence. 

“Will descend” 

The Lord – that same Lord, will descend; katabesetai53 (will descend). This exact word is used in Romans 10:7 asking the question, “Who will descend into the abyss?” Katabas54 is usually translated “come down,” as in the Gospel of John where Jesus referred to Himself as the one who “comes down from heaven,” and, “the bread that came down from heaven.” Paul first referred to this event as “the coming of the Lord” in verse 15. Verse 16 reinforces the fact that Jesus is “coming,” and that He’s “coming down” – “descending.” 

“From heaven” 

Here the operative word is “from.” This is a common word in the Greek pronounced “apa.”55 The point in examining this word is to differentiate what this preposition is not saying. It does not mean “in,” or “near,” or “around.” The Greek has other words that mean those things. Apa (from), conveys a separation between two positions. Just like its use in English, “from” generally implies departure and distance. An object was there, and now is here; the object came from its former position. 

This study seems mundane except that it is necessary in order to express the precision of the original Greek text. “From heaven” means that Jesus has distanced Himself from heaven. He was in heaven, and now he has separated Himself from heaven. He’s not merely coming in heaven, or descending in heaven. He’s going to descend from heaven. He’s not going to get up from His throne and walk a few steps – and call to the church. No. He is, once again, going to depart from His place in heaven and descend

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven.” 

What Paul has written affirms that the same Jesus who has ascended will also come down from heaven – “in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” “In like manner” means that the same processes will recur; except that they will occur in a reverse manner. When Jesus was taken up to heaven he ascended from the earth. When Jesus returns from heaven, he will descend to earth. When Jesus ascended into heaven he disappeared from sight. When Jesus descends He will reappear; and this is the blessed hope. Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Titus 2:13 

Let’s put this all together now. From verse 15: “the coming of the Lord.” From verse 16: “the self-same Lord,” “will come down,” “from heaven.” Let’s take a closer look at these observations about the station of Lord Jesus: 

  1. He is coming / will come down. 
  1. He is the same Lord. (Himself, or self-same) 
  1. He is descending. 

He is coming. He is no longer seated in heaven – He is not merely calling or commanding the saints to rise and join Him in heaven. He is coming. 

For the Lord Himself. Paul is not being redundant. Jesus is, “the self-same Lord.” Once again this points to a physical second coming, as foretold by the angels in the Book of Acts. As He ascended, He will descend. In what manner? In bodily form. 

He is Descending. Jesus cannot be sitting and descending at the same time. He is either sitting at the Father’s right hand or He is descending. Paul says He is descending. 

“With a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” 

The Bible describes a truly glorious appearing at Christ’s return – which every eye will witness. This celebration, once again, lends itself to the conclusion that Paul is describing the bodily return of Jesus. 

These verses are primarily given as counsel to the living regarding their dead. They’re going to burst forth from their graves. They’re not going to miss out on anything. So you don’t have to sorrow as those who have no hope. Isn’t it interesting that verse 17 (the part about the rapture) is presented in books and movies without a depiction of the resurrection of the dead? Images portray the saints as though they were ascending straight into heaven with no appearing of the Lord. In most cases there are no voices, no trumpets, and no descending Christ; and certainly no graphic imagery of the resurrection of the dead. The authors and screenwriters have studied these verses. They know exactly what they’re doing. But they don’t want the audience to think about the fact that the resurrection of the dead occurs first – even though that information is presented in the text three times. 

This concealment is most certainly made because the Bible places the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age, after the time of the Great Tribulation. People who are trying to force the idea of the Pre-Tribulation rapture of the church either can’t use this verse (which is the only verse in the English Bible that actually refers to this meeting in the air as the rapture); or, they must strip it of its context and show the rapture scene by itself. If they present the rapture verse in its context, it becomes obvious that it’s not a Pre- Tribulation rapture at all. It’s a rapture following the resurrection of the dead. 

And the dead in Christ will rise first 

The dead in Christ will include all who have died in faith. There is only one faith. Whether these who died in Christ were baptized in the name of the Trinity, baptized in the sea, or baptized into that Rock which was Christ; there is only one baptism. As stated earlier, and based on Paul’s qualification here, this resurrection immediately preceding the rapture appears to be what is called the resurrection of the righteous, also known as the resurrection of the just. 

Now we come to verse 17 of First  Thessalonians Four – the rapture verse. Here we will slow down and take a word-by-word approach based on our hypothesis that the rapture is comprised of three distinct events; the resurrection, the rapture, and the gathering. 

The precision of the Greek words used by Paul will allow us to examine the rapture sequence on the microscopic level. This will also provide the opportunity to apply all of the ontological concepts employed by Paul in his other epistles. 

There are no textual variants in verse 17 in any of the Greek texts from which major English Bible versions are translated. Each Greek letter of each word is consistent throughout the sea of ancient Greek manuscripts. The words are identical in the Byzantine, Alexandrian, Western, and majority text-types. The Greek words presented below are used as the base text in the King James56, New King James57, New International58, American Standard(s)59, and other modern paraphrased versions. The reader may be completely unfamiliar with the Greek language. Nevertheless, it is beneficial to view the 2,000 year-old Greek with one’s own eyes.