THE MOST MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLE VERSES EVER! Part 2. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
It looks like it's time for another Left Behind movie. This time there is a lot of production money backing the movie and the starring role goes to Nicolas Cage. But, it does have a lot in common with the original Left Behind movies, namely, that it is completely divorced from what the Bible teaches regarding a rapture.
The so called "rapture" of the church is described in only one passage of Scripture, First Thessalonians 4:16-17. Of course some would point to other Scriptures that promise protection from tribulation, but this is the only mention of Christians being taken from the earth. Any promise of protection from tribulation doesn't lend any sort of idea of Christians being taken from the earth. (see last post) So 1 Thessalonians 4 is the only place that actually mentions Christians being taken.
In the city of Thessalonica the Christians were worried. Their brothers and sisters in Christ were dying and those who remained alive were worried that when Jesus returned, their deceased loved ones would miss out on salvation because, well... they were dead.
Paul intends to fix their misunderstanding and give them hope so that they wouldn't worry about their deceased brothers and sisters in Christ.
So, with this in mind, Paul writes,
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as those who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. Encourage one another with these words.
So there you have it. The Thessalonians are worried that their dead brothers and sisters in Christ have missed out on salvation because they died before Christ returned and Paul responds by saying, actually, those who are dead in Christ will rise first, their salvation will come first. He says, "we who are alive will meet them in the air with the Lord." So, not only have they not missed out on their salvation, but they will be the ones who will be partakers of salvation first, they are those who will be with the Lord first and then we who are alive will join them in the clouds. Don't be sad for them, Paul says, be hopeful for them, they will end up with a glorified body before those who are still alive when Jesus returns.
Now, there are two important points that I want to make concerning this passage. If you are like me, and you probably are, you can't read this passage without thinking that Paul is referring to the rapture of the church as in the Left Behind, people disappearing, Kirk Cameron (or Nicolas Cage) sort of rapture. We've been so bombarded with this theory for so long that we can't see anything else in this passage. But, if you will suspend what you've been taught for a few minutes and allow this passage of Scripture to speak to you as it is and not as a confirmation of what you have been told to believe, then perhaps you may see what Paul is really saying.
Of foremost importance concerning this passage are the three things that accompany Jesus during his return. Paul distinctly says that Jesus will descend from heaven with:
A. A cry of command (some translations say a shout of command, I like shout better but go ahead and pick what suits yourself)
B. The voice of an archangel.
C. The sound of a trumpet.
When you watch the Left Behind movies or read the books, the one thing that is inexplicably (and conveniently) portrayed is a quiet, secret, silent, mysterious rapture of Christians. Notice that according to Paul's description it's not quiet. It's not secret, and it's not mysterious. In Paul's description, the people of the earth are not left wondering, "what happened to my loved ones?" There's a shout, a voice of an archangel and a trumpet blast. These three things are consistent with what the Bible depicts as the last day; as in the sun doesn't rise again sort of last day; as in the end of the world sort of last day; as in the judgment of God sort of last day; the "no more days after this" sort of last day.
Let's look at them a little closer.
A. A SHOUT OF COMMAND
Paul says, Jesus will return with a cry of command. This is consistent with what Jesus said in John 5:28-29
"An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment."
The shout of command is the shout that brings men out of their tombs. Of course here in 1 Thessalonians Paul doesn't mention the unbelievers coming from their tombs because he's only trying to comfort the Thessalonians regarding what will happen to their dead brothers and sisters in Christ. But according to Jesus in John 5, the day that the believers come from their tombs is the same day that the unbelievers come from their tombs, and head straight to judgment.
B. THE VOICE OF AN ARCHANGEL
Paul says that Jesus will return with the voice of an archangel. Again, this is consistent with the last day. In Matthew 24:30, Jesus says "then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he shall send fourth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
So again, we see that the angels are present with Jesus on the last day as he comes to gather his church. Also notice that Jesus says that ALL the tribes of the earth see Him. Like Paul says, "loud shout, voice of angel, and trumpet blast." It's not a secret rapture.
C. THE SOUND OF A TRUMPET
Paul says that Jesus will return with the sound of a trumpet. We've already seen in Matthew 24 that when Jesus returns with his angels, to gather his people, he will also return with a trumpet. But we can also look to 1 Corinthians 15:51-54
"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on inccoruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then sall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory."
Clearly, when the trumpet sounds, and the dead are raised, this is the last day, not a secret silent rapture.
So when Paul describes the resurrection of the dead believers and the changing of the living believers in 1 Thessalonians 4, he's describing the happenings of the last day. A shout of command brings people out of the grave, the voice of an archangel is sent out to gather God's people, and the sound of the trumpet declares the arrival of the King of Kings. Again, not a secret rapture of the church, but the last day.
I honestly don't know how anyone can read 1 Thessalonians 4 and walk away thinking that there is going to be some secret, silent, rapture of the church? I just don't get it... except,I do get it. I do understand, because I was told by men wiser and smarter than me that I should expect a silent and secret rapture of the church, so the many times that I read this passage I just continued believing what I was told to believe. But clearly, what is written here is not a secret rapture but the final day of Jesus' return when death is swallowed up in victory and we all have glorified bodies.
Now. That was my first point, and yes it was quite long. I'm sorry. My second point is much shorter and much better.
My second point is this:
Notice closely what Paul says about meeting Jesus in the clouds.
"Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord."
Paul gives us a huge clue by saying that we will "meet the Lord in the air." Greek is a fantastic
language. It has words that have very specific and precise meanings. The word that we translate into English as "meet" (apantesis) is one of those words. The Romans had popularized the word in reference to the return of a victorious commander entering the city. As the Commander returned home, some from the crowd would go out to "meet" him and accompany him into the city. Rome had popularized the term in the first century so that it strictly meant "to escort and accompany a dignitary."
When the delegation would "meet" the important individual coming to the city, the individual did not turn around and go back from where he came and take the delegation with him, but he would "meet" the delegation, be greeted by them, and they would all continue together to the city that he was planning on visiting. The best way to understand it therefore is to use the English word "welcome." We will welcome Him in the air, and we will accompany him to earth. Naturally, when a welcoming party goes out to welcome a visitor the visitor doesn't turn around and take the welcoming party back home with him, but the welcoming party turns around and heads back from where they came along with the visitor that they went out to welcome.
Just to show that "welcome" is a better English translation than "meet"let's look at the three times that the word apantesis is used in Scripture.
THE PARABLE OF THE WISE AND FOOLISH VIRGINS
1. "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. for when the foolish took their lamps, they
took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all become drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, "here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet
(apantesis) him. Then all those virgins rose 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, ""since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves." And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward other virgins came also saying, "Lord, lord, open to us" But he answered, "Truly, I say to you, I do not know you. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."
The virgins go to "meet" the bridegroom because he is on his way to the wedding supper and when they meet him, he does not turn around and go back home from where he came. He continues on to the wedding supper. That's what "apantesis" means, "to go out and welcome someone" before they reach their destination. Clearly, Jesus says that the virgins "go in with him" they don't go back with him. The bridegroom didn't travel all that way just to turn around and go home. The virgins "welcome" him and then go into the wedding supper.
PAUL ON HIS WAY TO ROME
The second time that this word is used is in Acts 28 when Paul is on his way to Rome. When some of the Roman Christians heard that Paul was on his way to Rome they went all the way out to the Forum of Appius to meet (apantesis) him. Now when they met him, Paul did not turn back around and take them back to where he came from. His destination was Rome and even though he took such great joy in the fact that some Christians had come so far from Rome to meet him, he still continued on his way. They welcomed Paul and they accompanied Paul for the rest of his journey to Rome, they most certainly didn't go back to Puteoli.
JESUS ON HIS WAY TO EARTH
The third use of apantesis is in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 when all the Christians apantesis him in the air. Now when we meet him in the air, he's not going to turn around and take us back to heaven, he's on his way somewhere. Where is Jesus going? Paul says that Jesus is "descending from heaven" and we will apatesis him in the air. Well, if he's descending from heaven, we can assume that his destination is earth. If Jesus turned around and took us back to heaven, then the word apantesis gets turned on its head and Paul's words lose their meaning. Clearly, we meet Jesus just as the wise virgins meet the bridegroom. We meet him before he arrives and then we continue on with him until he reaches the wedding supper. We apantesis him in the air.
Again, this is consistent with what the Bible teaches about the last day when Jesus returns. Paul says, "and so we shall forever be with the Lord." Where does Jesus plan to be for the rest of eternity? Earth. Just read Revelation 21.
"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more."
First Thessalonians 4 could not be clearer. This is not a description of a secret rapture of the church, this is a description of Jesus' return with a shout of command calling men from their graves, and angels gathering his people from the four corners of the earth, and the trumpet announcing that the King has come, and his people meeting him in the sky as he comes so that we may joyfully welcome him and accompany him to our world and partake in the marriage supper of the lamb where death and pain will be no more. Now you see why Paul ends his instruction with "Encourage one another with these words. "
The fact of the matter is, the Bible nowhere teaches anything like a rapture that you've been told to believe in.
You must be ready! Jesus will return suddenly and if you're caught in your sin you will be condemned and if you're caught serving Jesus Christ, you will live. It's all gonna happen in one single day and it will be suddenly. You must be ready.
THE SILENT RAPTURE?
Those who believe in a secret and silent rapture argue that the shout of command, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet blast will only be heard by Christians and thus it will be a silent rapture. But where did the silent rapture proponent get the idea that the rapture would be silent in the first place? You certainly don't get it from our passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Nor do you get it from the only other "rapture" passage in Scripture (Matthew 24:30-31, quoted above) where Jesus sends out his angels to "gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another." Even in that passage Jesus says that "all the tribes of the earth shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds."
So of the only two passages that could even remotely present an idea of a rapture (Matthew 24:30 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) we have a world wide vision of Jesus coming in the clouds, trumpet blaring, shouts command bringing the dead up from the grave and the booming voice of the archangel. Neither passage describes a silent rapture. So again, where would one get the idea of a silent rapture? One could only invent the idea.
So, if you start with the idea of a silent rapture and THEN you go to the Bible then you can figure out ways to make the idea fit the Scripture and you have to say things like, "only the believers will be able to hear the trumpet." But where does that idea come from? It certainly isn't in the Bible, but that idea is necessary to make the first idea (silent rapture) work. So if the idea of a silent rapture and and the idea that Christians only will be able to see and hear at Jesus' return didn't come from the Bible, then where did they come from? Well, no one is quite sure, but the fact that they didn't come from the Bible is enough for me to know that they can't be depended upon.
THE WORD ANATESIS (Meet)
Some others who promote the idea of a rapture argue that the word anatesis simply means to meet and doesn't mean "to welcome, or to escort." After all they say, "what's the point of going up in the air if we're coming back here? We might as well wait here till He gets here." Of course, that's one way to look at it, but then why did the Christian brothers in Rome go out to meet Paul so far away from the city? Why didn't they just wait there in Rome for Paul to show up? Or why did the virgins go out to meet the bridegroom why didn't they just wait for him to show up to the feast? The whole point of anatesis is the idea that there is a reception of a dignitary by a people who wish to welcome, accompany, and escort the victor as he returns to receive his glory. They go out to meet him in celebration and to accompany him to his destination. If we were returning to heaven with Jesus then Paul would have said that Jesus was coming to antatesis his people and escort them back to heaven. But Jesus isn't coming out to anatesis us, Paul says that we are going up to meet and escort him.
Clearly, 1 Thess. 4:16-17 teach a very dramatic, triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ into the world where his people meet and accompany him in his victory. Encourage one another with these words.