Articles, Michael Sullivan

WERE ENOCH AND ELIJAH “RAPTURED TO HEAVEN” AND DOES 1 THESSALONIANS 4:16-17 / JOHN 11:25-26 / MATTHEW 24:30-31 TEACH A PHYSICAL RESURRECTION OR “RAPTURE”?

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WERE ENOCH AND ELIJAH “RAPTURED TO HEAVEN” AND DOES 1 THESSALONIANS 4:16-17 / JOHN 11:25-26 / MATTHEW 24:30-31 TEACH A PHYSICAL RESURRECTION OR “RAPTURE”?

Introduction:

Even when I was a Futurist and believed in a physical resurrection at the end of world history, the alleged “taking” or alleged “rapture” of Enoch and Elijah’s physical body to be in God’s presence or be in the spiritual realm didn’t exactly fit my theology.  And then when I became a Full Preterist and saw that a spiritual resurrection for the dead was fulfilled in AD 70, a physical taking of Enoch and Elijah’s body to be in God’s presence or be in the spiritual realm prior to AD 70 still didn’t seem accurate.  So, when I first came across John Bray’s article many years ago, Were Elijah and Enoch Raptured to Heaven? where he defended the position that both Elijah and Enoch died – I read it with an open mind but didn’t do a deep dive into the subject.  I wish to elaborate on John’s good article on Elijah and Enoch and his sources (G. marsh Hibourne and Michael T. Wark).  While on the subject, I wanted to also develop 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 / Matthew 24:31 and John 11:25-26 and challenge those that think these texts also describe some kind of “rapture” off planet earth for believers either in AD 70 or at the end of world history.

While some Jewish tradition does support the idea that both Enoch and Elijah eventually died and were not “raptured,” much of Jewish tradition has Enoch ascending to heaven in a physical body to be at God’s side and is appointed guardian of all the celestial treasures and is made chief of the archangels.  He allegedly knows all secrets and mysteries and teaches and conducts souls to the place of joy.  He is known as “Prince of God’s Face,” “Prince of the Torah,” “Prince of Wisdom,” “Prince of Reason,” and “Prince of Glory.” And of course, he allegedly communicated God’s revelations to Moses.

As far as Elijah is concerned, in some Jewish tradition he too does not experience physical death but ascends to heaven and becomes half man half angel who cannot fly as fast as the other angels because he remains in a physical body.  What a drag (pun intended).

In Dispensational eschatology, Enoch and Elijah went to heaven and will appear back on earth as the two witnesses in Revelation 11 where they finally experience physical death but are raised after 3 days and then ascend back to heaven in their physical bodies.[1]  Even though these same Christians claim Jesus’ physical body after his resurrection was the “first” to have an “immortal body,” and that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom,” they apparently have no problem with Enoch and Elijah not experiencing physical death and being in heaven for thousands of years with physical bodies before Jesus shows up.  Some of them also reject Jesus’ teaching that John the Baptist was fulfilling the role Elijah and insist that Elijah will return to earth (again citing Rev. 11) before Jesus’ Second Coming can take place.

Since some of these same Christians believe Enoch and Elijah were “raptured” or taken to heaven in their physical bodies, they see these events as paving the way for Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 where Paul allegedly teaches Christ will one day “rapture” all the physical bodies of Christians off planet earth.  Even some so-called “Preterists” believe a physical “rapture” of Enoch and Elijah paves the way for an alleged physical “rapture” of the Church off the planet in AD 70.

Therefore, this article’s focus will be to examine if it is indeed true that Enoch and Elijah ascended to heaven without experiencing biological death, and then to take a deep dive into 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 to see if this passage teaches something similar.

The Testimony of the Bible on Ascending to Heaven and the Certainty of Physical Death   

In Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus, He indirectly shoots down these unbiblical Jewish and Christian traditions of Enoch and Elijah having allegedly ascended to heaven: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (Jn. 3:13).  And the author of Hebrews himself includes these heroes of faith and yet states clearly, “These all died in faith…” (Heb. 11:13), while pointing out it is appointed for man to see and experience one final death event before judgment (Heb. 9:27).  The Psalmist asks the rhetorical question,“What man can live and never see death?” (Ps. 89:48).  Solomon answers it very straightforwardly, “All go to one place.  All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” (Ecl. 3:20).

While some men and women died and were raised temporarily (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32-37; 2 Kings 13:20-21; Lk. 7:11-17; Mark 5:35-43; Jn. 11:38-44; Mt. 27:52-53; Acts 9:36-43; Acts 20:9-10), I believe the point of the author of Hebrews when he says that “it is appointed for man to die once…” (Heb. 9:27), is to simply point out that all of our days here on earth are numbered, set and appointed (cf. Job 14:1-6; Ps. 139:16) and therefore, we all have ONE FINAL day of death we must all pass through and which cannot be escaped (see previous passages cited such as Ecl. 3:20).  There is one final day and death experience that all men must pass before they must be judged and it cannot be reversed just as Christ’s one sacrifice was final and cannot be repeated.  Just as one eventual and final death is certain for all men, Christ’s one sacrifice and His one Second Coming event “in a very, very little while and would not be delayed” (Heb. 10:37) in AD 70 was appointed and certain to take place.

None of these inspired authors and teachers of God’s Word tell us that Enoch and Elijah were the “exceptions” to this Biblical rule of ascension and or experiencing biological death and returning to the dust of the earth.

What follows are two more probable explanations or interpretations that harmonize with these passages when it comes to Enoch and Elijah.

The Case of Enoch

Let’s begin with the passage in Genesis 5 and then we will move on to how the author of Hebrews interprets it.

“And Enoch walked with God: and he was not, for God took him.” (Gen. 5:24)

Let’s break this passage down a bit.

1). “And he was not” (Gen. 5:24)

While some emphasize that the rest of the individuals in Genesis 5 are described as “and he died” and this phrase is not used for Enoch, they assume the phrase “was not” means he was physically raptured off the earth to not experience biological death.  They seem to miss that the phrase to describe Enoch “was not” is also a phrase for biological death:

“he was not…I sought him, but he could not be found.” (Ps. 37:36)

And concerning Joseph thought to be dead or described thus,

“…the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.” (Gen. 42:13)

Those in the wilderness who ate mana are described as “and are not or simply “are dead” (Lam. 5:7; Jn. 6:58).

2). “…for God took him” (Gen. 5:24)

The Hebrew word here for “took” is laqach.  It and other similar Hebrew words are used to describe what God does to a person’s soul / spirit at physical death or what He will eventually do to his soul or spirit in the resurrection event.

John Bray following the research of G. Marsh Hilbourne and Michael T. Wark correctly observes some of the parallel language in the Wisdom of Solomon:

“In the Wisdom of Solomon (the Apocryphal book written before Christ) there is a chapter which tells how God removed certain righteous men (took them away) from the ungodly so that they would not be contaminated by their wickedness and deceit.  Here are several verses:

“But though the righteous be PREVENTED with DEATH, yet shall he be in rest.” (4:7).

Notice in the next verse the comparison to the New Testament saying about Enoch:

“He PLEASED God, and was beloved of him:  so that living among sinners he was TRANSLATED(4:10).  How was he translated?  Verse 7 spoke of his being taken by death.  In reading this, one could easily think the writer was writing about Enoch himself.

Yea, speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul” (4:11).

“For his soul PLEASED the Lord; therefore hasted he to take him away from among the wicked” (4:14).

This is sufficient to show how someone who pleased God could be translated in the sense of being removed from the land of the wicked so their own character would not be spoiled.”[2]

While a different Hebrew word is used here for “take,” the concept is the same here in Isaiah,

“…merciful men (that “walk with God” or “please” Him) are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come” (Isa. 57:1).

Or notice the good death God gives the repentant King of Judah,

“Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see the disaster that I will bring upon this place.” (2 Kings 22:20).

In the context of Genesis 5-6, Enoch died or was “taken away” by God to rest in Abraham’s bosom (awaiting the Messiah and the promise of eternal life) before he saw the extreme wickedness of man come upon the face of the earth preceding the flood. God “took” Enoch so that he would not see the extreme wickedness that was to come and then God having to pour out His wrath in the coming flood.

In the context of Genesis 5-6, Enoch died or was “taken away” by God to rest in Abraham’s bosom (awaiting the Messiah and the promise of eternal life) before he saw the extreme wickedness of man come upon the face of the earth preceding the flood.  God “took” Enoch before he saw this wickedness and God pour out His wrath in the coming flood.

The OT saints were promised that their souls / spirits would not always be confined to Sheol, Hades or Abraham’s bosom, but would one day experience (at the resurrection event) a “taking away” into God’s presence.

“But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will “take me,” “snatch me,” or “receive me.” (Ps. 49:15)

And while laqach is not used in the following passage, the same thought in conveyed,

“You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will “take me,” “snatch me” or “receive me” to glory” (Ps. 73:24).

It is important to point out briefly at this point that some Jewish and Christian views of the resurrection do not include the physical body to be involved in the general judgment / resurrection event which would take place at the “end of the age.” I will address this in more detail later and prove that this kind of resurrection was fulfilled at the end of the old covenant age in AD 70.  This being the case, one must wonder why God would take or ascend the physical bodies of Enoch and Elijah to be in His presence in heaven or in Abraham’s bosom, to then only “take” their soul / spirit out of Hades or Abraham’s bosom to be in His presence at the resurrection event in AD 70?

Let’s now turn our attention to how the author of Hebrews interprets Genesis 5:24.

“By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him:” (Heb. 11:5)

Again, let’s break our passage down into exegetical particulars.

1). “By faith Enoch was translated…” (Heb. 11:5)

John Bray writes,

“The other passage in Hebrews 11:5 is a little more difficult.  The essence of the passage is that because Enoch pleased God, God “translated” him, and because of this, he did not see death.

Keep in mind, nothing is said here either about his being “translated” into heaven, but just translated so he would not see death.

Here both words, “translated” and “translation,” are from the same Greek word metatillemi, which means to transport, transfer, exchange, change sides, carry over, etc.  There is nothing said about any of this being done to get him to Heaven.

One of the words from which this Greek word is derived actually means “place…in a passive or horizontal posture.”  If this is the meaning, then it would mean that God “took him” in death.  (I know!  It says he “should not see death.”  Keep reading.).”[3]

“So, Enoch was one who pleased God to this extent, that God translated (removed) him from the environment of those who did not please God.  God laid him down in rest in such a way that Enoch never saw death.  It was not that Enoch did not die, but, rather, he never “saw” death.  How God did this we do not know.  Perhaps Enoch died peacefully in sleep or in some way in which he never “saw” death.

But Enoch did die!  We know this because Hebrews 11:13 says so.  After mentioning the differerent heroes of faith, including Enoch, the writer said, “These ALL DIED in faith…”. So Enoch died, as it said.  His translation consisted of being transferred out of the land of wickedness and laid to rest where no harm could come to him.”[4]

2). “…that he should not see death…” (Heb. 11:5)

The inspiration and source for John L. Bray’s position on Enoch and Elijah–Hibourne and Wark write of this phrase,

“How shall we reconcile this seeming contradiction?  Did Enoch “not see death,” or did he die “in faith, not having received the promises”?  The solution is to realize that the statement is that he should not see death, not “that he should not die.”  It must mean that God mercifully took Enoch out of this life to spare him the infirmities of old age, or from the hands of the wicked, as the Wisdom of Solomon seems to indicate.

Another possibility is that Enoch did not “see” death, but instead, saw the future life in the Kingdom of God.  He knew his next conscious moment would be the resurrection from the dead.

“In any case, we must conclude that Enoch did die, that he died in faith, not having received the promises and that he shall receive the promises at the resurrection of the dead, along with the rest of the overcomers (Heb. 11:40).”[5]

The Second Possibility – of not seeing death

Let’s briefly explore these two “possibilities” starting with the last one.  In the OT the phrase to “not see death” can be the righteous faithfully looking towards inheriting eternal life in the resurrection:

“In the path/way [“I AM the WAY” – Jesus] of virtue is eternal life, And the treading of her way is no death.” (Prov. 12:28 ESV).

This is strikingly similar to Jesus’ teaching,

“If a man keep my sayings, He shall never see death” (Jn. 8:51; 11:26).

This second “possibility” fits well with the overall context and or theological point of Hebrews 11 in that all these died believing in the hope of a “better resurrection” or receiving a “heavenly land”—that is to be “perfected” with the living in the new covenant Messianic resurrection age to come (Heb. 11:35-40; Jn. 11:25-26).  After teaching that “If anyone keeps my Word, he will never see death” (Jn. 8:51), Jesus says of Abraham, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” (Jn. 8:56).

In the days of Messiah coming and eternal life being in the process of being received, we read in Colossians 1 that believers are “translated” with the goal of having a “walk” worthy of “pleasing” God (Cols. 1:10-13).  In other words, what Enoch saw through faith, the Colossians were experiencing and would at Christ’s Second Coming in AD 70.

The First Possibility – of not seeing death

The first position that Bray, Hibourne and Wark lean towards which is compatible with the Wisdom of Solomon, is that the phrase is referring Enoch’s death as being unique.  The Greek word here for “death” is thanatos.  In the ancient world, the Greeks understood Thanatos to be the god of a non-violent death.  His touch was gentle and comparable to his twin brother Hypnos (sleep).

To “not see death” simply could mean that Enoch’s faith and pleasing walk with God was rewarded by giving him a pleasant death.  That is, Enoch could have died in his sleep and did not experience a painful or diseased process of death and his soul / spirit was “taken” as such before seeing and experiencing all of the evil coming upon the world and God pouring out His wrath in the coming flood.

If this is what is being referred to then again these passages describing a good death for a godly man and what he would not “see” before being “taken” or “gathered” is relevant:

“…merciful men (that “walk with God” or “please” Him) are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come” (Isa. 57:1).

And,

“Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see the disaster that I will bring upon this place.” (2 Kings 22:20).

For Enoch to be prevented to “not see death” was to not see a certain or particular kind of death – one not in peace and one that would “see disaster.”

3). “…and was not found” (Heb. 11:5)

Again, this need not be a phrase that Enoch’s physical body ascended to heaven or that after God “took” Enoch’s soul / spirit that his physical body could not be found (as was the case with Moses), but rather this phrase was simply another way of communicating that Enoch did experience physical death, “he was not…I sought him, but he could not be found.” (Ps. 37:36).

4). because God had translated him [that is took his spirit or soul in a non-violent or non-diseased or painful death]:” (Heb. 11:5)

So, here is a summary of the more probable interpretations of Hebrews 11:5:

A).  By faith Enoch was translated [God “took” Enoch’s soul / spirit]

B).  that he should not see [experience a violent or diseased – Wisdom of Solomon] death

B).  and was not found [another biblical phrase for physical death]

A).  because God had translated [God “took Enoch’s soul / spirit] him.

Or a possible double meaning for “took” and the concept of death in that the first (A) – a spiritual taking emphasizing a view towards not seeing spiritual death or the second death in the coming resurrection event (B) a reference to biological death, and (A) in that God “took” him early in a non-violent physical death:

A).  By faith Enoch was translated [God “took” Enoch’s soul or converted him Cols. 1:13]

B).  that he should not see death [a view to not seeing spiritual death Jn. 8:51; Jn. 11:25-26]

B).  and was not found [another biblical phrase for physical death]

A).  because God had translated [God “took Enoch’s soul / spirit] him.

The author of Hebrews finishes or forms a chiasm with Genesis 5:24 and possibly providing a deeper meaning to the passage:

Genesis 5:24

A).  And Enoch WALKED WITH GOD:

B).  and HE WAS NOT;

C).  For God TOOK him.

Hebrews 11:5 — D).  By faith

C).  Enoch was TRANSLATED that he should not see death;

B).  and WAS NOT FOUND, because God had translated him:

A).  for before his translation he had this testimony, that HE PLEASED GOD.[6]

In my estimation, either of these exegetical “possibilities” or a combination of them, is more theologically sound and probable than adopting an understanding of Genesis 5:24 and Hebrews 11:5 which would contradict John 3:13 and Hebrews 11:13 – which the traditional interpretation does.

The Case of Elijah 

The first thing that the exegete should take notice of is the words of Obadiah to Elijah,

“And as soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of the LORD will carry you I know not where.” (1 Kings 18:12)

Clearly Elijah had a reputation of the Holy Spirit “carrying him” away and hiding him and it was known even by the other “prophets” (2 Kings 2:16).  And this is exactly what happens in our key passage:

“Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.” (2 Kings 2:1)

“And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lordwill take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” (2 Kings 2:3).

“And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.  And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.” (2 Kings 2:11-12).

“Whirlwind” or “Storm”?

“Whirlwind” is a bad translation, it should be “storm.”  The false gods Israel had been worshipping were known to be the sun, fire and storm gods.  God answers Elijah’s prayer to bring fire down to communicate that Israel’s covenant God is the one who really controls fire.  God answers Elijah’s prayer to not send rain because Israel’s God is the one who truly controls the storms and rain.

And so now here, once again Israel’s God is depicted as the true storm God who will carry / take Elijah up in the “storm” and “heaven” (that is in the sky heaven – not the heaven of the spiritual realm where God is).

Elijah is carried up into the sky/heaven by a storm and not the chariots of fire.  The chariots of fire only separate Elijah from Elisha (2 Kings 2:11).

The prophets want to go look for Elijah, because they know God has “carried him away” in the past.  But Elisha knows they will not find him, not because he somehow ascended into the spiritual heaven where God is, but because he knows God has taken him up in the sky/heaven and hidden him far from them.

Elisha takes over Elijah’s prophetic position over Israel while God takes and hides Elijah to eventually bring forth a word to the King of Judah – Jehoram, through a written letter.  This is not a letter written by Elijah from God’s presence in heaven (2 Chron. 21:12-15) – lol.

There is simply no exegetical evidence that Elijah did not experience biological death because he was taken to heaven to be in God’s presence.  The “heaven” is the sky where the “storm” was!  Elijah had a reputation of God “carrying” him off and hiding him to do His work and thus Elijah was taken in a storm and stayed hidden for 10 years before writing a prophetic letter of judgment upon Jehoram (the son of a King he had previously ministered).

Concluding Enoch & Elijah

Hebrews 11 discusses Enoch directly and Elijah indirectly (the “prophets” some of whom raised the dead v. 32ff.) as being included among those who “ALL died in faith” looking to the “better resurrection” or “heavenly land.”  They were NOT “raptured to heaven” in physical bodies looking for physical bathrooms and physical food for sustenance or somehow turned into half men and half angels!

The Jew did not separate the land and Jerusalem promises from the resurrection promises.  Therefore, if the “heavenly land” and “city” are spiritual in Hebrews 11 and the city was “about to come” (Heb. 13:14 Greek mello) in AD 70, the spiritual resurrection was also about to be fulfilled.  This and the overall context of Hebrews is to show that the spiritual “new covenant” things described as the “true” or “better” promises are superior to the physical and typological old covenant promises.  Thus, the “better resurrection” is a spiritual one and it was likewise “about to be” fulfilled as even Paul states – “there is about to be a resurrection of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15YLT).

John 11:25-26

A spiritual resurrection and reception of eternal life or physical/biological?

Since we have made the “possible” connection between Hebrews 11:5 with “seeing” through the eyes of faith a coming “better resurrection” or “never see death” in connection with John 8:51 and John 11:25-26, and some have egregiously taken “never see death” in John 11:26 as a physical or biological “rapture” in AD 70, we should spend some time on this passage.

In the gospel of John up to chapter 11, the physical typology of the feasts and physical sign miracles point to the deeper, spiritual, and eternal anti-type fulfillment or miracle performed within a person.  The point is to restore God’s presence back to man through the redemptive work of Christ by giving the gift of eternal life.  It is within these contexts that Jesus declares His “I AM” statements which are all spiritual (unless Jn. 11:25 be the exception to this rule).  It is during the context of the Feasts of Passover and Booths along with the miracles of feeding the 5,000 with bread and healing a blind man that Jesus utters:  “I AM the [spiritual] Bread/Water of life” (6:35), “I AM the [spiritual] Light of the world” (8:12; 9:5), “I AM the [spiritual] Door” (10:9), “I AM the [spiritual] Good Shepherd” (10:11) – who gives the spiritual blind spiritual sight and guidance into a [spiritual] Kingdom that will be realized “within them” at His Second Coming in AD 70 (18:36; cf. Lk. 17:20-37/Lk. 21:27-32).

Therefore, consistent with the context and teaching of Jesus thus far in John, Jesus waits 4 days to perform His physical sign miracle of resurrecting Lazarus, and to declare, “I AM the [spiritual] Resurrection and [spiritual] Life (11:25).  And every reference to “life” thus far in John’s gospel is referring to [spiritual] and not physical life (chapters 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 10).

It is important to point out that some Jews prior to the NT and during the time it was written, believed the resurrection event at the end of their present age (which was the old covenant age) would result in the dead being raised spiritually [their souls or spirits] from Hades or Abraham’s bosom into God’s presence to inherit eternal life.  This is the view of Jesus and the NT authors.  The believing dead and then the living were raised from the spiritual curse/death/separation that came through Adam to inherit “eternal life” or “never die” at Christ’s parousia in AD 70.  Since “eternal life” is equivalent to “never die” or “never see death,” this promise has nothing to do with not experiencing physical or biological death at an alleged physical “rapture” event either in AD 70 or at the end of world history.

Jewish Views on the Resurrection

Many Talmudic Zionists, Muslims and Dispensational Zionists simply assume that the only concept of the resurrection of the dead in the OT and during Jesus’ day was a biological fleshly one in which an alleged individual’s physical/ spiritual body would emerge from the literal grave at the end of time and thus be fitted for the afterlife in the new creation or some paradise on earth.  But this is simply not the case.

I like how Lester L. Grabbe points out that, during the Second Temple period, the interpretations of the resurrection in the OT were not all necessarily understood to refer to the physical body. They included the view that the resurrection involved only the souls/spirits of individuals being fit for God’s presence either at death, or only their souls were raised at a general judgment of the dead event.  He points out that there is no evidence that the physical view was any more dominant than the spiritual view.  While lengthy, I think his historical comments will be helpful before we begin an exegesis of the OT and NT resurrection texts and simply assume they are addressing a biological resurrection at the end of time when Jesus or Messiah comes:

“It is sometimes asserted that the resurrection of the body was the characteristic Jewish belief. This is not borne out by the data. A variety of beliefs seem to be attested about the same time in Israelite history. One of these was the resurrection of the body, but there is little reason to think that it was earlier or more characteristic of Jewish thinking than the immortality of the soul or resurrection of the spirit. And it is clear that some Jews still maintained the older belief in no afterlife. The Sadducees (see section 2.7) are one group who thought so; so did Ben Sira. Writing about 190 bce Ben Sira does not seem to think of any life beyond death, as interpreted by the vast majority of scholars. Therefore, it would be quite wrong to refer to any of these beliefs as ‘characteristically’ Jewish or the Jewish belief on the subject.”[7]

“The exact form of the resurrection is not always specified, but we should not expect it always to entail resurrection of the body. Sometimes only the resurrection of the spirit is in mind, as in Jubilees 23:20–22:

And at that time the Lord will heal his servants, and they shall be exalted and prosper greatly; and they shall drive out their adversaries. And the righteous shall see it and be thankful, and rejoice with joy for ever and ever; and they shall see all the punishments and curses that had been their lot falling on their enemies. And their bones shall rest in the earth, and their spirits shall have much joy; and they shall know that the Lord is one who executes judgement, and shows mercy to hundreds, and to tens of thousands, and to all that love him.

Belief in the immortality of the soul is known at least as early as the Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36). The souls of the various sorts of people are preserved in hollow places after death (1 Enoch 22):

And from there I went to another place, and he showed me in the west a large and high mountain, and a hard rock and four beautiful places, and inside it was deep and wide and very smooth . . . Then Raphael, one of the holy angels who was with me, answered me and said to me, These beautiful places are intended for this, that the spirits, the souls of the dead, might be gathered into them; for them they were created, that here they might gather all the souls of the sons of men. And these places they made where they will keep them until the day of their judgement and until their appointed time – and that appointed time will be long – until the great judgement comes upon them.

As the rest of the passage indicates, the souls of the dead are already experiencing reward and punishment in their intermediate state. In this case, the existence of the soul after death seems to be combined with the idea of a final judgement. This may imply a general resurrection, though this is not stated explicitly. In other sections of 1 Enoch, a resurrection is mentioned (46:6; 51:1; 90:33; 91:10; 92:3–4).

Other sources give no indication of a resurrection at all, only the immortal soul. A good example is Wisdom of Solomon which speaks of the soul (e.g., 3:1–9) but does not mention the resurrection. Whether Wisdom thinks the souls of all are immortal, or only those of the righteous, is debated. Many feel that immortality is not inherent in the soul itself but is a gift given only to the righteous.

The Testament of Abraham gives the clearest picture of how the souls are judged after death (Version A 11–14; Version B 9–11). The souls are brought before a throne on which Abel sits as judge. The one who presents the souls for judgement is Enoch, the scribe of righteousness (Version B only). The judged souls go either through the strait gate which leads to life (for the righteous) or the broad gate to destruction (for the sinners). Although there is a brief indication of belief in a general resurrection in the Testament of Abraham (Version B 7:16), judgement of each individual seems to take place immediately after death, and the emphasis is on this immediate judgement of the soul while the body rests in the grave.

On the other hand, the immortal souls and the resurrection may be combined, as in 2 Baruch 29–30:

[30:2] And it shall come to pass at that time that the treasuries will be opened in which is preserved the number of the souls of the righteous, and they will come out, and the multitude of souls will appear together in one single assembly; and those who are first will rejoice, and those who are last will not be cast down. For each one of them will know that the predetermined end of the times has come. But the souls of the wicked, when they see all this, will be the more discomforted. For they will know that their torment is upon them and that their perdition has arrived.[8]

Murray J. Harris after examining the intertestamental period of Judaism agrees:

“And there is the concept of the immortality of the soul or spirit that is gained at death or at the End [of the Mosaic age], with or without a resurrection of the [physical] body.”[9]

In Jewish tradition and exegesis there is also the view that the resurrection takes place 40 years after Messiah,

“Jewish writings stipulate that forty years after the coming of the Messiah there will be a resurrection of the dead, and all who are lying in dust will rise to new life.” (The 13 Principles and the Resurrection of the Dead) The Rebbe often quotes the Zohar to the effect that the Resurrection will take place 40 years after the advent of Mashiach. (See Igros Kodesh, Vol. II, p. 75; Sefer HaSichos 5752, Vol. I, p. 274. However, there are also other references in the sichos (e.g., Likkutei  Sichos, Vol. XXVII, p. 206; Sefer HaSichos 5733, Shabbos Parshas Balak, footnote 3).”[10]

The fact that the resurrection could be a resurrection of spirits out of Hades in the coming judgment and that it would be fulfilled 40 years after Messiah was cut-off or during His transitionary reign between their old covenant “this age” and the new covenant “age about to come” fits perfectly with the teachings of Jesus and the NT authors.  Let’s now turn our attention to Christian orthodoxy and see if such a spiritual resurrection in AD 70 can be seen in “rapture” or Second Coming passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and Matthew 24:30-31.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

A spiritual resurrection and “rapture” or a physical/biological one? 

Before we begin laying the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 let’s briefly make the connections with our previous passage in John 11:25-26:

Jn. 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 1 Thess. 4:16:  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.
Jn. 11:26: “and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 1 Thess. 4:17:  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.

There are even stronger connections between 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 with that of Matthew 24:30-31 and will be the subject for which we now turn.  But first we must develop the context and find the contextual flow and how 1 Thess. 4:16-17 harmonizes with the rest of 1-2 Thessalonians.

Laying the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

1 Thessalonians 1:10

“…for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

“Wait” with eager expectation 

The Thessalonians were to eagerly wait for Christ.  The definition of “wait” (Greek anaménō) has to do with an eager anxiousness coupled with a confident trust to complete a process.  In this case it involves confidence in trusting Christ’s promise to come and vindicate and rescue the first century Thessalonians.   

Dispensational Zionist pastor, John MacArthur, writes of this passage:

“…the immanency of the deliverance was something Paul felt could happen in their lifetimes.”[11]

Did Paul just “feel” that it could happen or did he write it as an inspired and authoritative apostle being ‘led into all truth,” trusting in the very words of Jesus Himself that He would return at the end of the old covenant age, in their generation, and in some of their lifetimes (Matt. 10:22-23; 16:27-28; 24:27-34)?!?

“From heaven”

The definition of “heaven” here can mean the literal sky and clouds where the birds fly, but in Pauline eschatology the term “from heaven” is primarily dealing with God’s heavenly dwelling where His presence is along with the angelic hosts.

To “rescue” the Thessalonians to Himself

The definition of rescue here is “rhýomai (from eryō, “draw to oneself“) – properly, draw or (pull) to oneself; to rescue (“snatch up”); to draw or rescue a person to and for the deliverer.  To draw or snatch from danger, rescue, deliver.” This is more with the meaning of drawing to one’s self rather than merely rescuing from someone or something.[12]

From the “coming wrath”

God laid a trap for the Jews who were persecuting the Thessalonians in that they went to Jerusalem for the feast days in and around AD 66/67 in order to experience His wrath.  Christians that did go to Jerusalem to fellowship with the Jerusalem Church in AD 66/67 fled the city and were rescued from this wrath.

Jews who especially sympathized with the Jewish revolt were persecuted throughout Rome during this period – 50,000 died in Egypt alone.  Christians were known for being peaceful law-abiding citizens contrary to their Zealot counterparts.

Paul’s doctrine on an imminent first century coming of Christ and wrath to be poured out upon their persecuting enemies is in line with Jesus’ teaching in Luke 21:20-23 and Matthew 23.  This is also the same “wrath” that was “about to come” upon the Pharisees, according to John the Baptist’s eschatology (Mt. 3:7-12 GNT). 

Partial Preterists, such as Gary DeMar, concede that the coming of Christ here in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 was fulfilled in AD 70.  But Gary fails to do any exegetical work to harmonize his Preterist interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 1:10 with his futurist creedal view of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.  In both passages, Christ comes “from heaven” to “snatch” or “catch” away His people to Himself.  On what exegetical grounds is the first passage apocalyptic while the latter passage is supposed to be a physical biological transformation?!?  Why would the Thessalonians think that these are two different comings of Christ “from heaven” to “snatch” or “catch” His people to Himself?   

1 Thessalonians 1:10 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17
1). First century audience – “you”, “us” 1). First century audience – “we.”
2). Eager expectation – imminence 2). “We who are still alive…” – imminent expectation
3). Christ comes “from heaven.” 3). Christ comes “from heaven”
4). Jesus’ resurrection is mentioned as a sign or event guaranteeing that the living would be rescued 4). Jesus’ resurrection is mentioned as a sign or event guaranteeing the dead in Christ would be raised and the living would be brought into God’s presence
5). “Snatches” from wrath but to Christ. 5). “Catches/snatches away” to Christ

 1 Thessalonians 2:14-20 

“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, forbidding us to speak to the nations that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always, but the anger did come (past tense) upon them – [even] to the end!  “…For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us.  For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:14-16, 19-20).

We learn several things about this passage in connection with chapter 1.

The “waiting process” of 1:10 is further clarified in chapter two as waiting for their Jewish persecutors to “fill up the measure of their sins” before Christ comes to execute this wrath.

The YLT and JFB catch something interesting about this wrath, in that it had already begun and is actually in the past tense – “forbidding us to speak to the nations that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always, but the anger did come (past tense) upon them – [even] to the end! (1 Thess. 2:16).

Speaking about the past tense here, JFB says:

“[This is] not merely partial wrath, but wrath to its full extent, “even to the finishing stroke” [Edmunds]. The past tense implies that the fullest visitation of wrath was already begun. Already in A.D. 48, a tumult had occurred at the Passover in Jerusalem, when about thirty thousand (according to some) were slain; a foretaste of the whole vengeance which speedily followed (Lu 19:43, 44; 21:24).”[13]

*Was this the event or perceived “Day of the Lord” judgment that the false teachers and prophets were saying had “already” been fulfilled in 2 Thessalonians 2?  1 & 2 Thessalonians were written between AD 50-52.  The Judaizers wanted a “Christianity” with the Mosaic Law to continue.  So they needed a “Day of the Lord” that did not involve doing away with the temple system.

This “wrath” would be fully realized at “the end” [or the wrath that would be poured out at “the time of the end” or end of the old covenant age (cf. Dan. 12:4; Mt. 13:3943; Mt. 24:3ff.)].  Paul is in perfect harmony with Jesus’ teaching:

Matthew 23-24 1 Thessalonians 1-2
1). Prediction of persecution, suffering & death 1). Present persecution & suffering
2). The Jews killed the prophets, Jesus predicts His death (cf. Lk. 17:25), and that of the deaths of the NT prophets He would send in that generation 2). The Jews killed Jesus & the prophets
3). Jesus pronounces seven “woes” upon the Jews 3). Paul says the Jewish persecutors are not pleasing to God
4). Jews sought to hinder Christ from “gathering” and preaching the gospel to Jerusalem’s “children” so that they could be saved 4). Jews sought to hinder Paul from preaching the gospel so that others might be saved
5). The Jews were “filling up the measure of their sin” 5) Paul says the Jews were “filling up the measure of their sins”
6). Christ was going to come:  (Gk. Parousia – implied from heaven) to deliver Christians and render wrath and judgment upon that first century Jewish audience and upon their temple – in their “this generation” 6). Christ was going to come:  (Gk. Parousia – from heaven) to deliver Christians and render wrath and judgment upon that first century Jewish audience
7) The coming of Christ in salvation and wrath takes place at “the end (Greek Telos) of the age” (of the old covenant age) 7). The coming of Christ in salvation and wrath upon persecutors takes place at “the end” (Greek Telos)
8) Judgment of living (those Pharisees) and dead (judging Cain for Abel’s blood) & gathering of all the elect at the trumpet call – in their “this generation” 8) Judgment of the living

1 Thessalonians 3:13 

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thess. 3:13).

“Blameless” or “spotless”

The Thessalonians would be blameless (or “spotless”) and holy at Christ’s Parousia.  Paul is using the eschatological marriage terminology here of blameless / holy –  without spot.  Keith Mathison writes of this passage in connection with the resurrection:

“Paul teaches that all believers will be resurrected at Christ’s second coming (1 Cor. 15:23).  He teaches that all believers will be presented as a spotless bride at that time (Eph. 5:25-27; cf. 1 Thess. 3:13).”[14]

However, as usual, Partial Preterists have a hard time agreeing what passages about the coming of the Lord were fulfilled in AD 70 and which ones are allegedly going to be fulfilled at the end of world history.  For example, unlike Mathison, Gary DeMar admits that 1 Thessalonians 3:10 was fulfilled in AD 70.  So, if 1 Thessalonians 3:10 is a wedding Parousia/resurrection text inseparably connected to 1 Corinthians 15:23, and yet 1 Thessalonians 3:10 was fulfilled in AD 70, then the Parousia of 1 Corinthians 15:23 was also fulfilled in AD 70 (A=B).

And as we saw earlier, if men like Mathison believe the coming of Christ and wedding or wedding feast of Matthew 8:10-12; 22:2-7; 25:1-13; Revelation 19-21 was fulfilled in AD 70, how does this coming of Christ and wedding motif get magically pushed thousands of years away into another wedding and coming of Christ?  Partial Preterists simply offer no explanation.    

Christ comes “with all his holy ones” (angels, people, or both)?

First view – Angels: The argument that Christ is coming with angels as His “holy ones” is in how the LXX of Zech. 14:5 is understood (from which this passage and Mt. 25:31 are derived).  Angelic beings is how the term is understood in the OT (ex. Job 5:1; 15:15; Ps. 89:5, 7; Dan. 8:13) and in the texts of the intertestamental period (e.g. 1 Enoch 1:9) depicting God’s angels as being present on the last day of judgment.

Although the key word “holy ones” is not used in 2 Thessalonians 1:7, but rather the noun form is used to say that Christ comes with His “powerful angels,” the concept is the same.

Second view – Saints/people: In 2 Thessalonians 1:10, Christ comes to be glorified “in” His “holy ones,” which are people “who have believed,” the passage states.

Third view – “all” here refers to both people & angels: Some commentators suggest that both are in view.  This is my view after looking at what the OT says, what the intertestamental period teaches, and finally what the NT teaches on the subject.

Let’s once again get the contextual flow of Paul’s teaching on the coming of the Lord in the previous chapters leading into 1 Thessalonians 4, which demonstrates that Paul only has one coming of the Lord in view here.  And if some Partial Preterists are willing to admit that the coming of Christ in 1 Thessalonians 1-3, and even in chapter 5, was fulfilled in AD 70, there is no exegetical evidence to support the idea that the coming of Christ in 1 Thessalonians 4 is a different coming.

1 Thessalonians 1:10—3:13 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17
1). First century audience – “you”, “us” 1). First century audience – “we”
2). Eager expectation – imminence 2). “We who are still alive…” – imminent expectation
3). Christ comes “from heaven” 3). Christ comes “from heaven”
4). Jesus’ resurrection is mentioned as a sign or event guaranteeing that the living would be rescued 4). Jesus’ resurrection is mentioned as a sign or event guaranteeing the dead in Christ would be raised and the living would be “caught” away into God’s presence
5). To be “snatched” away from wrath but to Christ 5). To be “caught” away to Christ
6). Christ comes (Greek Parousia) 6). Christ comes (Greek Parousia).
7). “The end” (Greek Telos) here is Daniel’s “time of the end,” or at the “end of the age” when the judgment and resurrection takes place (cf. Dan. 12:113; Mt. 13:39-43; Mt. 24:30-31; and 1 Cor. 15:24) 7). No one disputes that the resurrection here is the resurrection to take place at “the end” in Daniel 12:1-7 or “the end” (Greek Telos) in 1 Corinthians 15:24
8). Christ’s coming is described with wedding terminology; they were to be “spotless” or “blameless” and “holy” in coming into the presence of their coming Groom 8). Paul uses a well-known wedding term in which a bride would “meet” her groom
9). Christ comes with all His “holy ones” – that is, angels and the dead he raises in chapter 4 which constitute the rest of the bride 9). Christ comes with those dead saintsthat He raised out of Abraham’s bosom or Hades to go “meet” them so that they all could be “with the Lord forever

And since so many agree with us that Paul is simply following Jesus’ eschatology in Matthew 23-24 or Luke 21, let’s get a visual of these parallels:

1 Thessalonians 1:10—3:13 Matthew 23-24/Luke 21
1). First century audience “you”, “us” 1). First century audience “you”
2). Eagerly wait – imminence 2). “This generation” “near” “at the door”
3). Christ comes (Greek Parousia) 3). Christ comes (Greek Parousia).
4). Christ comes from heaven. 4). Christ comes on clouds.
5). To “snatch” from wrath to Christ 5). To “gather” to Christ
6). Delivers from wrath 6). Saves from wrath
7). Jews killed prophets and Jesus & currently persecuting Thessalonians 7). Jews killed prophets & will kill NT prophets Jesus sends (e.g. to Thessalonica)
8). Jews filling up the measure of their sin of blood guilt 8). Jews filling up the measure of their sin of blood guilt
9). Wrath poured out at “the end” (Greek Telos) 9). Wrath poured out at “the end” or “end of the age” (Greek Telos)

 

10).Christ comes with all His holy ones (including angels and the dead per chapter 4) – which constitute the rest of the bride 10). Christ comes and sends his angels to gather all the elect (dead and living)
11).Christ’s coming is described with wedding terminology – they were to be “spotless,” “blameless” and “holy” in order to come into the presence of their coming Groom 11). Christ’s coming is described with wedding terminology – “Here’s the bridegroom!  Come out and meet Him.”

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 

“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” (1 Thess. 4:15-17).

A day was approaching when Christ would deliver believers from their persecutions and pour out His wrath upon their persecutors (1 Thess. 1:10; cf. 2 Thess. 1:6–7). When that day came, the Lord descended from heaven with a word of command (or “a shout”), with an archangelic voice, and with a trumpet call of God; and the dead in Christ rose.  Then the living in Christ and the dead in Christ were simultaneously “caught up” in “clouds” to “a meeting of the Lord in the air.”

Since the cloud-covered mountain is not literal, but is heavenly, neither then was the meeting that took place in the heavenly mountain (i.e., in the clouds in the air) literal.

Therefore, the shout, voice, trumpet, mountain, cloud, and meeting of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 are all spiritual antitypes of the literal shout, voice, trumpet, mountain, cloud, and meeting of Exodus 19 and 20 (Heb. 12:18–22).

What we have then in 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 is the “rapturously” metaphorical language of a prophet who is speaking of antitypical, spiritual realities —the transcendent profundities of Christological glory in and among the saints in the consummation of the ages.  If this sounds

like an over-spiritualization, it shouldn’t. The Lord Jesus Himself was opposed to a literal removal of the church out of the world:

 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

The “rapture” passage is no more literal than the prophecy of Ezekiel 37:4–14.  In that passage, God caused a valley full of dry bones to come together.  He attached tendons to them and put skin on them. Then He caused the bodies to breathe and they stood on their feet as a vast army. The bones represented the house of Israel.  They were hopelessly cut off from the land, and were said to be in “graves.” As God had done for the dry bones, He was going to do for the house of Israel.

In the same way, in 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17, God raised up His church —the first fruits of the resurrection harvest— which was anxiously longing for the consummation of redemption and atonement.  As a mighty warrior, the Lord issued forth his shout of command and sounded the trumpet of God. Then His spiritual army arose by His power.  They met Him on His way to His temple to judge the enemies in His kingdom (Mal. 3:1). That is when God afflicted the persecutors of His church, when He gave His people relief and glorified Himself in them (2 Thess. 1:8–10).

Being revealed with Christ in glory (Col. 3:4) and becoming like Him and seeing Him in His Parousia (1 Jn. 3:2) had nothing to do with escaping physical death or with being literally caught up into the literal sky or with being biologically changed.  It had to do with God’s people, living and dead, being “gathered together” to become His eternal tabernacle, His spiritual body, the new man, the heavenly Mount Zion, and the New Jerusalem in the Spirit. “This mystery is great” (Eph. 5:32), and is therefore communicated in the accommodative “sign language” of prophetic metaphor.

Since our Lord came “with His saints” and destroyed the earthly temple in AD 70 (Heb. 9:8), the church of all ages lives and reigns in glory with Him forever (Rom. 6:8; 2 Cor. 13:4; 2 Tim. 2:11–12). Now whether we are alive or asleep, we “live together with Him” (1 Thess. 5:10).  This was not the case in the OT, when to die was to be cut off from the people of God.  As Paul says in Romans 14:8–9, “…whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” 

“According to the Lord’s own word” (4:15)

Reformed theologian G.K. Beale agrees with Full Preterism on two issues here.  First, he agrees that Paul is using recapitulation between 1 Thessalonians 4-5 (or that both chapters describe the same coming of Christ and eschatological event).  Secondly, he agrees with us that Paul is drawing from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24:

“…1 Thess. 4:15-17 describes generally the same end-time scenario as 1 Thess. 5:1-11.  Specifically, Paul narrates the resurrection at the end of the age and then recapitulates in chapter 5 by speaking about the timing of this event and about the judgment on unbelievers, which will also happen at the same time.  That both 4:15-18 and 5:1-11 explain the same events is discernible from observing that both passages actually form one continuous depiction of the same narrative in Matthew 24,…”[15]

As I have previously demonstrated in my previous books, Jesus used recapitulation in Matthew 24-25.  In Matthew 24:30-31, Jesus’ coming is describing the gathering or resurrection of believers.  In Matthew 25:31-46, His coming includes a judgment (and thus resurrection) for the unbelieving dead as well.  So, it should not surprise us that Paul is using recapitulation here to connect 1 Thessalonians 4-5.  In 4:16-17 the emphasis on His coming is the resurrection of believers.  In chapter 5 His coming includes the judgment for unbelievers.  One has to be blind not to notice what Beale and Full Preterists see:

“…both passages [1 Thess. 4-5] actually form one continuous depiction of the same narrative in Matthew 24…”[16]

And yet one has to be equally blind not to notice that Jesus’ places this coming in His generation, and this is why Paul is teaching that Christ would come in the lifetime of his contemporaries.

Beale goes on to connect 1 Thessalonians 4-5 with Matthew 24:

“Other significant parallels include: the use of the word Parousia for Christ’s coming; reference to Christ’s advent as “that day” (Mt. 24:36) or “the day of the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:2); and a description of someone coming to “meet” another (eis apantesin autou, virgins coming out to “meet” the bridegroom in Mt. 25:6; eis apantesin tou kyriou, believers “meeting” the Lord in 1 Thess. 4:17; see further Waterman 1975).”[17]

Once again, the eschatological time of the wedding creates problems for Pretribulational Zionists or Partial Preterists.  How many eschatological weddings are there?

In the Reformed Study Bible edited by Partial Preterists R.C. Sproul and Keith Mathison, we learn this of the connections between Matthew 24:30-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:

“But the language of Matt. 24:31 is parallel to passages like 13:41; 16:27; and 25:31 [passages which Postmillennialists such as Mathison and DeMar say were fulfilled in AD 70], as well as to passages such as 1 Cor. 15:52 and 1 Thess. 4:14-17.  The passage most naturally refers to the Second Coming.”

This is more than a bit odd since R.C. Sproul and Keith Mathison believe and teach that the coming of Christ in Matthew 24:27-30 (and Matthew 25:31) was spiritually fulfilled in AD 70 – and yet we learn in their own Study Bible that these passages “most naturally refer to the Second Coming”!

John Murray, appealing to the “analogy of faith” principle of interpretation in examining Matthew 24:30-31, also connects it to the same event as Paul teaches us here:

“There is ample allusion to the sound of the trumpet and to the ministry of angels elsewhere in the New Testament in connection with Christ’s advent (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16).  Hence verse 31 can most readily be taken to refer to the gathering of the elect at the resurrection.”[18]

Let’s once again get the visual of what Beale, Murray and The Reformation Bible are seeing that we do too:

If A (Matthew 24) is = B (1 Thessalonians 4)
Christ returns from heaven 24:30 4:16
With voice of arch angel 24:31 4:16
With trumpet of God 24:31 4:16
Caught/gathered together with/to Christ 24:31 4:17
“Meet” the Lord in the clouds 24:30 & 25:6 4:17
Exact time unknown 24:36 5:1-2
Christ comes as a thief 24:43 5:2
Unbelievers caught off guard 24:37-39 5:3
Time of birth pangs 24:8 5:3
Believers not deceived 24:43 5:4-5
Believers to be watchful 24:42 5:6
Exhorted to sobriety 24:49 5:7
Son/sunlight shining from east to west / Sons of the Day 24:27, 36, & 38 5:4-8
And if B (1 Thessalonians 4) is = to C (1 Corinthians 15)
The sleeping to be raised 4:13-14 15:12-18
The living to be caught/changed 4:15-17 15:51-52
Christ’s coming (Greek: Parousia) 4:15 15:23
At the sound of the trumpet 4:16 15:52
Encouraged to stand firm 4:18 15:58
Same contemporary “we” 4:15-17 15:51-52
Then A (Matthew 24 & Parallels) is = to C (1 Corinthians 15)
Christ to come (Greek: Parousia) 24:27 15:23
His people to be gathered/changed 24:31 15:52
To come with the sound of a trumpet 24:31 15:52
To be “the end” (Greek telos, the goal) 24:3, 14 15:24
Kingdom consummation (goal reached) Luke 21:30-32 15:24
All prophecy fulfilled at this point Luke 21:22 15:54-55
Victory over the Mosaic Law/temple Mt. 24:1 15:55-56
Same contemporary “you” or “we” Mt. 24:2ff 15:51-52

 

Two or More Things that are Equal to Another Thing are Also Equal to Each Other

Matthew 24 1 Thessalonians 4 1 Corinthians 15
At His coming (24:27-31) At His coming (4:16) At His coming (15:23)
At the trumpet (24:31) At the trumpet (4:16) At the trumpet (15:52)
Dead raised, all gathered (24:31) Dead raised (4:16) Dead raised (15:35-44)
All living gathered (24:31) Living caught to Him (4:17) Status of living changed (15:51)

We readily and clearly can see that Paul is following Jesus’ teaching in the Olivet Discourse, but we can also see and agree with the Partial Preterist that the coming of Christ and gathering of the elect are spiritual events fulfilled in Jesus’ contemporary “this generation.”

A recent new development with “Orthodox” Partial Preterism

Gary DeMar and James Jordan of American Vision are now teaching this is not a mere post AD 70 evangelism, but a resurrection event of OT and NT souls being raised out of Abraham’s bosom or Hades into God’s presence in AD 70. In a recent debate with Michael Brown Gary applied this to the souls of the OT dead being raised into God’s presence in AD 70.  James Jordan while teaching Daniel 12:2 is a resurrection of souls for the OT worthies in AD 70, now applies Matthew 24:30-31 to the resurrection of the NT martyrs in AD 70. Jordan writes,

“Further confirmation of this interpretation is to be found, I believe, in the phrases that follow in verse 31. There we see messengers gathering the elect not from their graves (which is how the Last Judgment scenes read), nor from all over the earth (which is how an evangelistic passage would read), but from all over the heavens. They are gathered from the four winds, not from the four corners of the earth. They are gathered from the ends of heaven, not from the ends of the earth (cf. Deut. 4:32; Psa. 19:6; Jer. 49:36).

This language might be taken as a general reference to the whole earthly world, except for the fact that it fits so very well with what we find, again, in Revelation. The dead saints “under the altar” are in “paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom,” a location symbolically equivalent to the firmament heavens that are right below the throne-heavens (Rev. 6:9-11). It is these elect, and their newly-massacred brethren who come out of the Great Tribulation, who are gathered before the Throne in Revelation 15.”[19]

He goes on to summarize,

“Let us summarize Matthew 24:29-31. Immediately after the great affliction, the great persecution and martyrdom of the apostolic church, the world will be changed from the Old to the New Creation. No longer will sun and moon determine liturgy and worship; the former covenant with its lunar liturgy will be broken forever. No longer will angelic stars and heavenly powers govern humanity, for in Jesus, mankind has at last come of age. No longer will angels rule the world. They will vacate their heavenly thrones.

At that time, the promised sign will be given, a sign that shows that Jesus, a man, is truly enthroned in heaven. That sign is the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The Jews will mourn over Jerusalem, and they will realize that the Church, which they had hoped to destroy, has now ascended to the Ancient of Days and has been given the Kingdom promised in Daniel 7. Those saints have been gathered by the angels in connection with the seventh and last trumpet described in the book of Revelation, their souls gathered from all the heavenly places in Paradise where they had been waiting for this day. The saints are gathered before the Throne in the highest heavens, and shortly will sit down on thrones with their Lord and Master. They will be the new stars and moon and will sit where the angels formerly sat in heaven.”[20]

Some brief thoughts on Jordan’s comments:

1).  Since in his commentary on Daniel 12:2-3, 13 (see his comments later in this article) he includes Daniel’s soul being raised from Abraham’s bosom in AD 70, there is a larger group of souls raised than just the martyrs.  I would have liked to see him harmonize those two teachings not just going to Revelation and dealing with the martyrs.

Jordan tries to make a distinction from this spiritual resurrection in AD 70 from an alleged future physical one based on the absence of “graves” which he (without evidence) says must be a future to us “general resurrection.” And although “graves” is not mentioned, from the “dust” (figuratively) is in Dan. 12:2 and here in Mt. 24:31 the description of the same spiritual resurrection is described as from the “four winds” of “heaven.”  Jordan has not proven this isn’t a description of the “general resurrection.”  Especially if he says the resurrection of Daniel 12 was fulfilled spiritually in AD 70 and yet Daniel 12 IS the resurrection from the “graves” of John 5:19-29! This and a resurrection from the “graves” can be a corporate and spiritual resurrection as described in Ezekiel 37:12. Even Gentry (below in this article) sees the resurrection of Daniel 12:2-3 being a spiritual and corporate resurrection for Israel and the Church in AD 70 and uses the resurrection of Ezekiel 37 as support. So if a spiritual and corporate resurrection can be from “the dust” and or out from “the graves,” then a spiritual and corporate resurrection from the “graves,” the “dust” and from the “four winds of heaven” can refer to the general resurrection in AD 70. Again, a combination of Jordan’s writings have the OT worthies (the dead) and the NT martyrs (those who have died “in Christ”) being spiritually raised together at Christ’s Parousia in AD 70 — that IS the Full Preterist view of the resurrection and that of the NT.

2).  And his position and that of DeMar begs the question – if the OT dead and those who have died in Christ were raised spiritually from Abraham’s bosom into God’s presence to inherit eternal life at Christ’s Parousia in AD 70, then why isn’t this the same Parousia and resurrection we see described by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 which is simply Paul’s version of Mt. 24:30-31?  Partial Preterist Milton Terry and men like Mike Bull at least have connected the two and see the same AD 70 time frame of fulfillment, while Jordan and DeMar don’t attempt any explanation or harmonization as we have.

As I point out in my exposition of 1 Corinthians 15, the Corinthians had a hard time reconciling how the OT dead would be raised with those who had died “in Christ,” since they died before or outside the new covenant or being “in Christ.” In a similar way some Jews denied resurrection for those who did not die in or were not buried “in the land.”  Dispensationalists likewise have a hard time seeing how the two groups can be raised together.  Paul has to point out that they are all a part of ONE body that was in the process of “being raised” from Adamic “the death” which was in the process of “being destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26 WUESTNT).  The two groups needed each other and could not be made “perfect” without each other (Heb. 11:40).  I would have loved Jordan to try and harmonize how the OT dead and the NT saints were raised out of Abraham’s bosom in AD 70 and yet somehow this wasn’t the general resurrection?  Especially since the judgment and resurrection of the dead of Daniel 12 is the judgment and resurrection of the dead found in John 5 and is the end of the millennium judgment and resurrection of the dead of Revelation 20:5-15.  However, in a recent podcast Gary DeMar made slight connection with Daniel 12:2, 7, 13 (which he sees as spiritually fulfilled in AD 70) and the end of the millennium resurrection of Revelation 20 and stated,

“I am more and more inclined to believe that all of the book of Revelation, in its entirety, is fulfilled.”[21]

This would obviously include the resurrection of the dead and judgment of Satan in Revelation 20:5-15.

3). And if the first century Church “judged the angels” (1 Cor. 6:3) or “crushed Satan shortly” “under their feet” (Rms. 16:20/Gen. 3:15) in AD 70 and have taken their place in rulership over the nations with Christ, then the angels and Satan were judged at Christ’s coming in AD 70 per Matthew 25:31-46.

4). Jordan and DeMar are still teaching that the destruction of Jerusalem was a sign of the ascension, and that Christ was ruling from heaven. This is possible, but I agree more with F.F. Bruce in that John in Revelation 1:7-17 and Matthew in Matthew 24:30 is following the OG LXX which reads the Son of Man comes upon the clouds both as the Son of man AND “…AS the Ancient of Days” and not “up to the Ancient of Days.” After all John describes Jesus coming upon the clouds as both the Son of Man and then immediately describes Him as the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 (Rev. 1:7-17). And K&D correctly point out Christ is coming downward on the clouds in judging the little horn and the nations. If the point is that Christ is coming “up to the Ancient of Days,” then it would be after he had come down in judgment in His Parousia of AD 70 to deliver the Kingdom (the raised souls of the OT and NT saints – again the resurrection event) to the Father (1 Cor. 15:23-24 / Dan. 7:13-27). Either way, Jesus and the NT authors interpret Daniel 7:13 as the Second Coming event and not the ascension.

5).  The reformed creeds are at least correct in teaching there is only one end of the age judgment and resurrection for the “quick and the dead,” so the resurrection of dead souls for the OT and NT saints into God’s presence to inherit eternal life at Christ’s Parousia in AD 70 is not “a” resurrection, but “THE” resurrection event.

The role of angels in gathering or transporting the soul/spirit of man 

In the OT we learn that men such as Abraham were “gathered to his people” at death. More information is given by Jesus in how this process took place. According to Jesus, the angels assist in the gathering or transportation of the soul at death. In Luke 16 (prior to AD 70) we learn the angels “carry” (Lk. 16:22) the souls of the righteous to Abraham’s bosom. Jesus here in Luke 16 is endorsing 1 Enoch 22 in its teaching of:

  • a “gulf” or “separation” (1 En. 22:9-10, 12, 22/Lk. 16:26) of the believing dead from the wicked.
  • There is “water” on the righteous side (1 En. 22:10/Lk. 16:24).
  • There is “fire” and “torment” for the wicked to experience (1 En. 22:22/Lk. 16:24-25, 28).

Just as Peter and Jude appeal to 1 Enoch so does Jesus. It doesn’t mean they endorse everything 1 Enoch teaches, just the sections they quote from or refer to.

Therefore, the believing thief on the cross and his soul/spirit was carried by the angels that very day to be with Christ on the good side of Abraham’s bosom in “Paradise” to hear some good preaching on a an imminent judgment for the dead and the Watchers or salvation for the righteous (Lk. 23:43; 1 Pet. 3:18-20) to be fulfilled by AD 70.

Therefore, if angels assist the soul/spirit of man from his earthly body to the good side of Abraham’s bosom or “Paradise,” then it is consistent for Jesus to teach their involvement in the “gathering” of these souls out of Abraham’s bosom into God’s presence at His Parousia in AD 70.

  • “…WE who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord…” (v. 16) 

If I were to say, “We who live long enough to see the year 2030,” there is no reason to think that I would be assuming that I myself would be among the living in 2030.  My only assumption would be that some of us today would be alive in 2030.  In the same way, Paul’s words imply only that he knew that some of his contemporaries would still be alive when Christ returned, as Christ Himself promised would be the case in Matthew 16:27–28; 24:34.

According to Partial Preterists such as Gary DeMar, all of Paul’s “we,” “you,” and “our” statements in 1 and 2 Thessalonians refer to Paul’s own first-century audience and address Christ’s coming in AD 70—except for the statements in 1 Thessalonians 4 (“the rapture”).  These men magically decide that “we” in 1 Thessalonians 4 means something other than what it means everywhere else in 1 and 2 Thessalonians.  Suddenly in chapter 4, “we” includes Christians who potentially will not be alive for a million years from today.  Now let us move on from arbitrary constructs of Partial Preterism to a biblical look at “the rapture” passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17.

  • “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven…” (v. 16)

How had God described His “coming down from heaven” to “reveal Himself” (2 Thess. 2:7) and “rescue” (1 Thess. 1:10) His people being persecuted in the past?  Notice how David describes God coming down from heaven to rescue him from his enemies:

“In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.  The earth trembled and quaked (literally?), and the foundations of the mountains shook (literally?); they trembled because he was angry.  Smoke rose from his nostrils (literally?); consuming fire came from his mouth (remember 2 Thess. 1:7 – Jesus is “revealed from heaven in blazing fire…”), burning coals blazed out of it.  He parted the heavens and came down (literally?); dark clouds were under his feet.  He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind.  He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him— the dark rain clouds of the sky.  Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced (literally?), with hailstones and bolts of lightning.  The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded (a literal voice?).  He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them.  The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare (literally?) at your rebuke, LORD, at the blast of breath from your nostrils.  He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.  He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me” (Ps. 18:6-17).

Christ is coming here in 1 Thessalonains 4:16-17 as God had come from heaven and on the clouds in the OT, as we discussed in our exegesis of the Olivet Discourse.  If the Church is willing to admit that the coming of Christ in Matthew 24-25 was fulfilled spiritually with Jesus, describing His coming using common apocalyptic language of the prophets, and the Church is willing to admit that Paul’s teaching of Christ’s coming here in 1 Thessalonians 4-5 is the same event as described by Jesus in Matthew 24-25, THEN it is no stretch to understand that Paul likewise is using common apocalyptic language of the prophets and that 1 Thessalonians 4-5 was also fulfilled in AD 70 just as Matthew 24-25 was.

In fact, NT Wright comes very close to admitting that all of the language of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is common apocalyptic language:

“Unfortunately it [the language of 1 Thess. 4:16] is also a highly contentious passage, being used with astonishing literalness in popular fundamentalism and critical scholarship alike to suggest that Paul envisaged Christians flying around in mid-air on clouds.  The multiple apocalyptic resonances of the passage on the one hand, and its glorious mixed metaphors on the other, make this interpretation highly unlikely.[22]

We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Wright in that Paul is using common apocalyptic language.  Yet it is not figurative language of a physical resurrection at the end of world history, but rather figurative language of a spiritual resurrection by which souls are raised out of Hades into God’s presence, and of God’s presence “meeting” the living within their hearts while on earth (cf. Lk. 17:20-37).  If it is agreed by the Partial Preterist that the language of Jesus in Matthew 24:30-31 is describing Christ’s non-literal coming, on non-literal clouds, with a non-literal trumpet sound, and that the “gathering” is an inward resurrection of giving eternal life that the gospel produces (no biological change), while others correctly see Matthew 24:30-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 to be the same event, then we suggest the “catching away” for the living is not into physical clouds (as Wright admits), but is God producing the consummative giving of His presence and of eternal life to His saints while here on earth.

OT Echo to 1 Thessalonians 4:16

Other than the trumpet gathering and resurrection of Isaiah 27:12-13 (which I have addressed already), G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson connect this coming of the Lord “from heaven” with Isaiah 2:10-12’s “in that day”, “Day of the Lord” judgment:

“The main clause of 1 Thess. 4:16, “because the Lord himself will come down from heaven,” recalls…the prophetic literature of the OT that envisions “the day of the Lord,” when God will come to judge the wicked and save the righteous (Isa. 2:10–12;…).”[23]

But they also connect 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 with Isaiah 2, which reads: 

“This (in context – giving the Thessalonians relief from their Jewish persecutors) will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out (excommunicated [from the heavenly temple] as they had done to the Christians) from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”[24]

On this passage, Beale and Carson write,

“…eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” This description clearly echoes the triple refrain of Isa. 2:10, 19, 21, where on the day of the Lord the wicked are commanded to hide themselves behind rocks and in caves “from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might whenever he will rise to terrify the earth.”[25]

So, since both 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 fulfill the coming of the Lord “from heaven” in the judgment found in Isaiah 2, let me remind the reader that Jesus appeals to this same OT passage and understands it to be fulfilled by AD 70:

“And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him.  But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us” (from Isa. 2:19 and Hos. 10:8) (Lk. 23:27-30).

There’s a consensus among the commentators that this passage was fulfilled in God’s judgment upon Jerusalem in AD 70.  We have found plenty of exegetical evidence that Paul too identifies the Lord coming in the judgment of Isaiah 2 to be fulfilled by AD 70.  As we saw earlier, even John in Revelation 6:15-17 appeals to the coming of the Lord in His wrath in Isaiah 2 to be fulfilled “in a very little while” to avenge the first century martyrs in AD 70 (cf. Rev. 6:11-17).

“…with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first.” (v. 16)

As pointed out early, there is definitely a chronological order, with the dead rising first and then the gathering, catching away or change for the living taking place second.  Even Jesus addresses the dead first in John 11: 

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die [OT worthies like Abraham or Daniel, along with those who recently died prior to AD 70], yet shall he live [be raised out of Abraham’s bosom or Hades to inherit God’s presence and eternal life], and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die [that is not that they would never see biological death, but rather inherit God’s “within” kingdom and presence of eternal life]. Do you believe this (John 11:25-26)?”

We agree with the scholarship of G.K. Beale who correctly understands the gathering of the elect at the end of the age in Matthew 24:3, 30-31 in his commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians as the resurrection event:

“Paul’s particular combination of references from Matthew 24 shows that he interprets the whole of the Matthean text as referring to woes preceding the final coming of Christ (and though Matthew does not explicitly mention the idea of resurrection, he implies it in the phrase “gather his elect” in 24:31, which implies the gathering of all believers, both living and dead).”[26]

However, this creates a “thorny problem” for Beale when he begins leaning in the direction of a Partial Preterism in a more recent work where he writes:

“…it is likely better to see [Matt. 24:30]…fulfilled not at the very end of history but rather in AD 70 at the destruction of Jerusalem, in which the Son of Man’s coming would be understood as an invisible coming in judgment, using the Roman armies as his agent.”[27]

Beale admits, at least indirectly, that holding to both of these views he has defended creates a “thorny problem” for him that deserves “further study” to resolve.  I gave him a copy of our second edition of HD and told him we did the “further study” and our exegesis of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 solves the “thorny problem” that he has created for himself.  But Beale’s “thorny problem” is simply a microcosm of the problem that the Futurist Church has as a whole.

“Gathered up” (Greek Harpazo) (v. 17)

The NCV translates harpazo as “gathered up,” thus giving it a theological and parallel connection to the eschatological gathering of Matthew 13:39-43, Matthew 24:30-31 & 2 Thessalonians 2:1.  Other translations render it “snatched away” or “will be seized.”

Harpazo means to “take one’s plunder openly and violently, catch or snatch away.” Sometimes it is addressing someone being pulled, snatched away or rescued by someone from an enemy.  But is 1 Thessalonians 4:17 discussing an inward spiritual rescuing into Christ’s glory cloud presence, or an outward and upward catching away into physical clouds in the sky and a biological change?

Here are some very clear uses of harpazo being an inward spiritual event:

1). Matthew 12:29 – Satan was “bound” and Christ was “carrying away” (harpazo) his plunder, which were people that were rightfully His who were held captive by Satan and demons.  But how was He doing this?  It was by casting out demons (an inward spiritual reality), and in some cases actually giving faith to these individuals to follow him (again an inward spiritual reality).

2). Matthew 11:12 – “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing (Christ casting out demons openly and publicly taking Satan’s plunder), and (in return) the forceful men (believers) lay hold of it” (harpazo – through faith, vigor, power, and determination in light of present persecution – such as in the case of John).  People were violently laying hold of the kingdom through having faith (a spiritual and inward reality).

3). Matthew 13:19 – In the parable of the sower, the wicked one comes and snatches away (harpazo) what was sown in his heart (again, an inner spiritual reality).

4). John 10:12 – The wolf (Pharisees, sons of Satan) sought to snatch (harpazo) and scatter the sheep/ people of Israel. How did the Pharisees seek to “snatch” and “scatter” the Jews from following Jesus?  The first phase involved seeking to deceive them in their hearts and minds (an inward snatching) by convincing them that He was not the Christ by perverting the Scriptures and accusing Him of having a demon, etc.  The second phase was a physical excommunication or scattering of Christians from their synagogues.

5). John 10:28-29 – Anyone who has faith in Jesus cannot be “snatched” (harpazo) out of the Father’s hand.  That is, he cannot be influenced (snatched inwardly) in his or her mind and heart to leave God.  Like Peter, “Where else can we go, Lord? You alone have the words to eternal life.”  The gift of faith is spiritually preserved in the heart and soul of the believer.  He cannot be deceived to the point of committing the sin unto death (1 Jn. 3:9). Again, this is an inner spiritual reality of the heart/mind/soul of man.

6). Acts 8:39 – This simply means that the Holy Spirit directed Philip in His heart and mind (inwardly) to go elsewhere, and the Eunuch did not see him again.  There’s nothing in the text to support the idea that Philip was “raptured” into the atmosphere and was then instantly dropped off miles and miles away from where he was.  But even if this were the case (as we covered with Elijah being caught up in the storm), it is not an example of being raptured to heaven or into the spiritual realm with a physical body!

The eschatological “already” of the inward kingdom gathering and catching away was spiritual, and the eschatological “gathering” and “catching away” in the kingdom at Christ’s return would also be a spiritual event in AD 70.  As we noted in our exegesis of Luke 17:20-37/Lk. 21:27-32, Jesus said when that the kingdom would come at His return (to gather all His elect Mt. 24:31), it would be an experience to occur “within” an individual and not something that could be seen with the physical eyes.

The inward realm of redemption or catching away is further evident from a study of the next two words, “clouds” and “air.”

  • “…in the clouds…” (v. 17)

As I have demonstrated thus far in our study of Christ coming on the clouds in the Olivet Discourse and God coming on the clouds in the OT, this is common apocalyptic language and not referring to physical clouds we see in the sky.

  • To “meet” the Lord… (v. 17)

This Greek word, to “meet,” is wedding language and is only used twice in the NT – here and also in the wedding motif that Jesus develops in Matthew 25:1-13 (which Partial Preterists correctly teach was fulfilled spiritually in AD 70).

In Jewish betrothals and weddings, the groomsmen would go ahead of the groom and blow a trumpet at a time the virgin and her bridesmaids were not expecting.  Once at the virgin’s father’s house, it was customary for the groom to consummate his marriage sexually there before taking her to his father’s house where they would continue consummating the union for seven days and having the wedding feast.

This Greek word for “meet” was also often used of a king or dignitary coming to make his home in a city which his empire or kingdom had conquered or was about to conquer.  On the news of the imminent coming of the king or dignitary, at the sound of a trumpet the members of the city would go out of the city and “meet” him and escort him back to their home/town.  The king’s presence was established WHERE the people already lived. Again, the imagery does not support a literal “rapture” of people off of planet earth, but rather of God coming to rule and reign in the hearts of His people where they are – living on planet earth.

  • “…in the air” (v. 17)

But what of this meeting the Lord in the “air” (Greek eros)?  The Strong’s Greek Dictionary defines it as: “From ‘aemi,” to breath unconsciously, to respire.  By analogy, to blow.  The air, particularly the lower and denser air as distinguished from the higher and rarer air.”

So the point is that this is the air “in” or “within” us.

The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains lists Eph 2:2, 1 Thess. 4:17, and Rev 16:17 in its definition of eros as meaning “the space inhabited and controlled by [spiritual] powers.”

The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament says of the “air” in Ephesians 2:2 – “…Jewish conceptions, according to which, among other things, the air is the abode of demons.”

Ephesians 2 refers to Satan as the “prince and power of the AER.”  He dwelt in the spiritual realm which extended to the souls of men.  The war we see Christ and Satan fighting in the NT is for the spiritual condition of men – within their hearts and minds.  Paul goes on to say that Satan “now works in the children of disobedience.”  And consistently Jesus defines His kingdom as something that He is setting up “in” and “within” men, and transforming them into His image spiritually.

Prior to AD 70, Satan used his demonic legions to “possess” individuals within the realm of their minds and the spiritual realm of their being.  Satan used the old covenant Mosaic law to blind their spiritual eyes, hearts and minds in the realm of the “air” – within their souls, hearts, and minds to produce an arrogant and zealous selfrighteousness which apart from Christ could only lead to utter despair (cf. 2 Cor. 3; Gal. 4:17-18; Rom. 7).  Christ “bound the strong man” and was raising and delivering Christians from the darkness and death of this spiritual kingdom realm into His own realm (cf. Eph. 2:1-10).  Christ snatched away His beloved and spoke peace and joy into the “air” of her heart, soul, and mind when He said, “It is finished” (Rev. 16:17/Heb. 9-10/1 Cor. 15)!

The powers of Satan, demons, the condemnation of the law, and the spiritual death Adam brought upon men were all conquered by Christ at His Parousia in AD 70 for those who put their faith in Him.

Had Paul meant to clearly communicate that believers would physically fly off the planet into the sky and atmosphere above, he would have used the Greek word “ouranos,” which clearly states this as its meaning.

The picture of the “rapture” is that Christ came down from heaven in / on a cloud to earth where He gathered the living into His presence, “within” us where we function as His Most Holy Place dwelling and throne through which He rules the nations.  This is what we also see in Revelation where the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth and God establishes His presence within His Church here.

Let me give further evidence not only that there will not be an end-of-world-history physical rapture of Christians off the planet, but likewise there was not a biological rapture or change of the living in AD 70.

1). Paul could have easily rebuked the false teachers and Christians that were tempted to believe the Lord had “already come” (2 Thess. 2:2) by simply saying, “Aren’t you still here and the dead still in their graves? Obviously, He has not come!”  But since Paul did not hold to the physical rapture view or a literal resurrection attended by Christ’s Parousia, he did not argue this way.  Obviously, Paul understood the Lord’s coming to be a spiritual and unseen event as our Lord taught (Lk. 17:20-37/21:27-32), which was consistent with the “Day of the Lord” language of the prophets in the OT.

2). The coming of Christ in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is the coming of the Lord in Isaiah 66:5, 15, where Isaiah describes Christian survivors (66:19) who are found alive on planet earth continuing to preach the gospel in the new creation / new covenant age.

3). As we have seen in our exegesis of Mark 8:38-9:1, the Greek is different than Matthew 16:27-28 and actually teaches that those who were alive to witness Christ’s coming would be able to look back (while still alive on earth) on the historical events of Him coming in power and great glory in the destruction of Jerusalem and thus know that He and His kingdom had “already come.”

4). After Christ and the Father come and make their home (dwelling – mone – John 14:2, 23) within the believer, they were told, “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe” (14:29).  If they were literally raptured, I don’t think they would need to be reminded or exhorted to believe that it had been fulfilled!  These words make more sense if it was a spiritual fulfillment that could not be seen with the physical eyes, and therefore it would take faith to believe that the Father and the Son had set up their presence within them.

5). Jesus of course directly promised to not remove the Church off of planet earth (John 17:15).  Church history tells us that Christians were not raptured, but that they instead fled to Pella (in modern day Jordan).  Historically, Pella is one of the first known Christian churches.  Church history tells us that the Apostle John was still alive during Domitian’s reign in the mid-AD 90’s and that Timothy, Titus, and Luke lived beyond AD 70.

There is simply no exegetical evidence of a physical rapture at Christ’s coming in AD 70 or some imagined one at the end of world history.  The physical rapture view is probably one of the greatest scams perpetrated upon the Church.  It makes the sleeping giant of the Evangelical Church numb to getting involved in our culture and politics because they expect things to simply get worse so that they can get “raptured” just before it gets really bad.  After all, “you don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.”  We MUST get involved in our politics and be the salt and light of this great country and that of the world!

Conclusion

We have examined the so-called “rapture to heaven” doctrine of Enoch and Elijah and found that what God says of all men applied to them as well in that neither of them “ascended to heaven” (Jn. 3:13) and that both indeed died – “these ALL died in faith…” (Heb. 11:13) and experienced one final death before their judgment and or reward (Heb. 9:26).

It was important to take a deep dive into 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and its parallel teachings of Christ in John 11:25-26 and Matthew 24:30-31 since so many see these texts as allegedly dealing with some king of physical or biological resurrection for the dead and or a physical and biological change or disappearance of the living off the planet either in AD 70 or at the so-called “end of time.”  In examining these passages, I hopefully demonstrated to the reader that a spiritual resurrection of the dead and an internal reception of God’s presence or reciveing “eternal life” / “never die” was fulfilled in AD 70.  At this time the dead were raised out of Hades or Abraham’s bosom to inherit eternal life and God’s presence and the living also inherited eternal life and God’s presence and the Kingdom was manifested “within” them at Christ’s coming in AD 70 (cf. Lk. 17:20-37/Lk. 21:27-32; Jn. 14:2-3; 23; Cols. 1:27; 1 Cor. 15:28; Rev. 21:3; 22:7-10, 20).

[1] See my Substack article series on the book of Revelation and in particular my exegesis of Revelation 11 which disproves the theory that Enoch and Elijah are the two witnesses.  See Part 5:  https://michaelsullivan.substack.com/p/revelation-fulfilled-by-ad-70-part-48a

[2] John L. Bray, Were Elijah and Enoch Raptured to Heaven?, June 5, 2000 (Newsletter)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] G. Marsh Hilbourne, Michael T. Wark, Thou Shalt Surely Die, p. 33, electronic version: https://archive.org/details/ThouShaltSurelyDie/page/n31/mode/2up

[6] Observation made by Joel Mullen.

[7] Lester L. Grabbe, An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, the Maccabees, Hillel, and Jesus, (T&T Clark Publishing, 2010), see pages 9396

[8] Ibid.

[9] Murray J. Harris, FROM GRAVE to GLORY RESURRECTION IN THE NEW TESTAMENT Including a Response to Norman L. Geisler, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 70

[10] (Historical          Jewish     Sources,      https://preteristarchives.org/historical-jewish-sources/?fbclid=

IwAR2OszDkXKqp8Z-qv0RFId1hjS6_tDT7hoysllAAjdGQpUOTi03OmHx67Nc

[11] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1843

[12] (Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers).

[13] Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, free online, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/ 1_thessalonians/2-16.htm

[14] Mathison, Postmillennialism, Ibid., 177

[15] G.K. Beale, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series 1–2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove, IL:

Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 136, emphasis added

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid, 136–137

[18] John Murray, Ibid., 391, emphasis MJS

[19] James B. Jordan MATTHEW 23-25 A LITERARY, HISTORICAL, AND THEOLOGICAL COMMENTARY, (Powder Springs, GA: The American Vision Inc., – this book is currently at the printer to be published), p. 180.  Please properly ask Gary and AV for permission to quote this as I have – especially since it is an unpublished work.

[20] Ibid., p. 181

[21] Gary DeMar, Revelation 20, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-gary-demar-podcast/id1500969161?i=1000565638837

[22] N.T. Wright, THE RESURRECTION OF THE SON OF GOD Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3 (Minneapolis, MN: 2003), 215, emphasis MJS

[23] Weima, J. A. D. (2007). 1-2 Thessalonians. In Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos), 880, emphasis MJS

[24] Ibid., emphasis MJS

[25] Ibid., 885, emphasis MJS

[26] Beale, Ibid., 1-2 Thessalonians, 138, emphasis MJS

[27] Beale, Ibid., A New Testament Biblical Theology the Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, 369

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