“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
This verse is given as “proof” of a pre-tribulation rapture. Of course, it says nothing about a tribulation, but it seems to be the only verse that even vaguely supports the eschatology of those who believe this.
The sensational idea we will be “caught up into the clouds” to be rescued from a great tribulation does not explain why the “dead in Christ” need to be rescued.
So what is this verse talking about? If we are not being snatched away to heaven, what is happening?
Apantesis, the Greek word translated “meet” in 1 Thessalonians 4, is, according to the Souter Lexicon, “almost technical for the arrival of a newly arrived official.”
The idea is to meet to honour and escort. In ancient times, when a king visited, the people would go out to meet him and escort him back to town.
Those welcoming the official would change direction after the meeting and then escort him back to the town from which they had come, not back to his place of origin (see Moulton, Greek Testament Grammar, Vol.1, p.14).
Apantesis is used four times in the Bible. In Matthew 25:1,6, Acts 28:15 and in 1 Thessalonians 4.
“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.” Matthew 25:1
“And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” Matthew 25:6
“And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.” Acts 28:15
Notice in Matthew, it is revealed that the virgins had been waiting for the bridegroom to appear. When He did, they met him and escorted him to the banquet hall. They did not go back with him to the place from which he came.
“And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.” Matthew 25:10
The bridegroom did not change directions, reverse course after the waiting virgins met him. Rather, he kept on coming in the original direction from which he started.
The ones who changed direction were the virgins. In Acts, the brethren came out and escorted Paul back to Rome. After they met him they did not return to Caesarea with Paul (which was his place of beginning for this trip).
Paul did not change directions after the waiting brothers met him; rather, he maintained his course to Rome. The ones who changed direction were those who met him.
The Lord’s coming is not our going. It is His coming! We will not be caught up to escape anything. We will be meeting him in the air to honour him in his coming and escort him back to earth.
No matter one’s eschatology, nothing can be proved from this verse other than that this is the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” Titus 2:13
It is the time of His glory and honour. “When he shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.” 2 Thessalonians 2:10
We are caught up to honour him and escort him to earth.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 meaning written by Dennis Regling.
Dennis is an Evangelist and founder of Piedmont Christian Ministries.