I know individuals who enjoy turning to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and reflecting on what’s popularly called the “rapture.” They insist this passage is about God taking His people away. Yet is that true? Is this what these verses are really concerned with?
While it’s true that in this section Paul talks about believers being caught up in the clouds to meet Jesus, there’s something more to this if you care to look. If you read this passage carefully, you’ll see that Paul isn’t talking about believers abandoning creation. What he’s really concerned about is our participation in Jesus’ earthly appearance and celebration.
So, if this text is referring to the Lord’s appearing rather than our departure, what is this “meeting the Lord in the air” in verse 17 all about?
It’s helpful to consider Paul’s word for “meeting” in this passage. It is the Greek word apantesis, which typically described the formal welcoming of a dignitary into a city. In other Greek literature, it was a term that described a great delegation that would travel to the outskirts of the city gates and beyond to receive the conquering king as he returned to the land.
I know that some won’t like what I’m writing in this blog post, but I think that each of us should consider the context and the grammatical-historical issues shaping a passage such as this. However uncomfortable it may be, we must learn to properly exegete and draw from the passage what’s actually there. It serves no one to insert something unfounded into these verses.
Getting back to my point. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 really isn’t about a departure, but a grand entrance. The apostle Paul really isn’t concerned about you and me leaving the earth. In all actuality, he wants us to know we’re going to be a part of a special entourage. We’re going to be included in a great “welcoming party” who joyfully receives the Lord as He bodily appears here on earth.
When I think about this passage and how often it’s misread, it grieves my heart. Paul wants us to know that God is going to gather the living and the dead together in the clouds to welcome the Lord into this earthly terrain. It is supposed to be a message of hope and engagement. Who would have thought this great assurance would turn into a personal exit strategy for so many?
I often think about the Christian church in North America and wonder when we’re going to stop trying to trying to disengage and find a way out? I pray that one day we finally stop trying to evacuate.
Author and speaker J.D. King is the director of the World Revival Network. King is also associate pastor of World Revival Church.