Thursday, March 27, 2008

Greek Exegesis of the Rapture Passages, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Dr. Mal Couch


The Scripture in 1 Thessalonians most clearly shows a distinction between the Rapture and the second coming judgment of the Lord when He returns to earth to reign and rule. Chapter four verses 13-18 describes the Rapture, while chapter five verses 1-11 describes the Day of the Lord, the unleashing of His wrath upon the earth, and the culmination of His literal coming to the earth as the son of David and Israel's Messiah!

1 Thessalonians 4:13

WE WOULD NOT HAVE YOU … (ou thelomen) "I am not presently going to have you ignorant about this subject." Paul draws attention to a subject by using his standard phrase "we would not have…" Alford describes this as "Paul's common formula of transition to the imparting of weighty information." And that will be a more full revelation about the miracle of the taking away of the church before the terrible seven year tribulation begins.

HAVE YOU CONTINUE IN IGNORANCE, BROTHERS. This is a Present Tense and expresses the right-now and on-going condition of being ignorant (unknowing). By saying "brothers" Paul shows both his affection and his identification with those to whom he is writing. He wants his readers to understand that as believers they all stand together in anticipation of the Lord's coming for the church. This is not about His coming down upon the earth to reign in Jerusalem. That will be the later millennial reign of one thousand years after the seven year tribulation.

CONCERNING THE ONES BEING PUT TO SLEEP. Those asleep are believers in Christ who have died. Their bodies were placed in the grave but their souls and spirits went home to heaven, to glory. The Passive Voice in Greek shows that they were not putting themselves to sleep but rather they were being put to sleep (by the Lord)! This is a common expression to denote physical death.

"Sleep" is a metaphor for the temporary condition of Christians who now await the future bodily resurrection (Gaebelein, The Expositor's Bible Commentary) Apparently there was concern on the part of the Thessalonians that in some way this physical death would prevent the believers who had already died from experiencing the fullness of the Lord's return.

THAT YOU MIGHT NOT GRIEVE AS ALSO THE REST, THE ONES IN NO WAY RIGHT NOW HAVING HOPE. "That you might not be made to grieve." (Present Passive Subjunctive) Paul tells believers that, if they grieve, it is because they allow grief to overtake them, thereby acting as the unsaved who look upon death as final destruction. (Calvin, Commentary) Paul is correcting this erroneous thinking. He tells Christians of the blessed assurance of resurrection glory with the Lord Jesus Christ. This church was plainly distressed at the thought of separation from their departed brethren and had partially lost sight of the elements of the Christian hope—reunion with them and fellowship with the Lord. (Vincent, Word Studies)

1 Thessalonians 4:14

FOR IF WE ARE BELIEVING RIGHT NOW. This statement is a substantiation of the idea set forth in the preceding verse. It assumes that the death and resurrection of Christ is true. There is no doubt! Unbelief does injury to Christ by holding Him to be something less than He is. (Calvin) Paul uses the Conditional if (ei) here in a grammatical twist because he thinks his statement is far beyond any controversy.

THAT JESUS DIED AND HE STOOD UP. Paul proves his use of the Condition (ei) in stating a fact that has already been accomplished. The verbs DIED and STOOD UP are both in the Aorist Tense. This is the tense most often used to identify an action as having been accomplished in the past with emphasis on the fact that it is firmly established. Jesus died and the on-going result is that He did not stay dead! He stood up or rose up with the on-going result being—He is presently alive!

Jesus died while bearing all the sins and guilt of humanity. Because there is no longer dread in death for Him, there is no long dread in death for His own; for them it is simply sleep!

LIKEWISE ALSO, THE ONES WHO WERE PUT TO SLEEP THROUGH JESUS, THE GOD WILL LEAD TOGETHER WITH HIM. Jesus is the connecting link for those that sleep and their resurrection. The ones who were put to sleep (Passive Voice), God will through Jesus lead them to be together with Him. This verse is crucial to all believers and their understanding of the relationship between themselves and Jesus Christ. All who are IN Jesus (Positionally) have the assurance of overcoming death and living with Him in a resurrected body; it is a finished transaction!

The body, because of the fact that it is judged for sin, must "sleep" for a time until Christ comes to give all believers a new, sin-free "new" body that is eternal. Verses 16-17 address the calling forth of the old body to be changed into a resurrection body that is fit for heaven, and then later for the kingdom of God here on earth. Scripture calls the believer a "fellow heir with Christ" (Rom. 8:16-17), and as such, God the Father will do for him what He has done for His Son. God promises all believers that He will LEAD, BRING them to Himself through (by means of) His Son (Rom. 6:5).

1 Thessalonians 4:15

FOR THIS I AM SAYING TO YOU BY WORD (LOGOS, AUTHORITY) FROM THE LORD. Paul bypasses his own authority in this matter and states that it is by the Lord's authority that he is speaking. There are no clues here as to when Paul received this revelation from the Lord. Yet Scripture tells us that there were even many things that Jesus said and did that were not written down (John 21:25). But more than likely Christ did not say much more about the Rapture, however, after His ascension, and when He came to Paul, He did in a revelatory way give more details of this doctrine specifically to the apostle.

THAT WE THE ONES LIVING. This is one of the verses, among many, that show the dispensationalists and pre-tribulational rapturists are absolutely correct and that others who deny this doctrine cannot read their Bible very well! "The Living" (zao) is a Present Active Participle. "Those living right now may experience the event of the Rapture!" This proves the doctrine of the eminency of the Rapture. It could have happened to Paul because he uses the collective pronoun "we" in the passage, and it could have come upon all the living saints at any moment.

The anti-dispensationalists, like Hank Hanegraaff, have the right to be wrong. Someday they will learn the truth of the Bible first-hand!

Remember, they do not deny the doctrine of the Rapture textually but from some psycho agenda deep in their soul. They just "hate" dispensationalists, and, they simply do not like the doctrine of the Rapture!

THE ONES HAVING BEEN LEFT UNTIL THE COMING OF THE LORD. All the believers still alive when this happens will be called alongside the Lord when He comes. "Who have been left" is in Greek a Present Passive Participle and it identifies the condition of these believers (being Paul then and us today) being in a state of waiting. The Present Action goes on until the limit of the designation by the preposition eis/unto or until. The Passive Voice indicates this event is not under the believer's jurisdiction. The time is appointed by God the Father.

IN NO WAY SHOULD WE PRECEDE (OR GO BEFORE) THE ONES WHO HAVE BEEN PUT TO SLEEP. The force of the double negative ou me is an extra emphatic THIS WILL NOT BE! Those who have gone before will be instantly given a new resurrected body within a split second before we are transformed and receive ours! This is for church saints only, for those IN CHRIST, IN JESUS. This is not said of Old Testament or of tribulation saints. They will have been saved by Christ's sacrifice but the church age, the dispensation of the church, is something unique. And the Rapture is only concerning the church. It is the getting out of the way the believers IN CHRIST just before the horrible Wrath of God falls upon the world!

1 Thessalonians 4:16

BECAUSE THE LORD HIMSELF BY COMMAND. The Conjunction because is used to strengthen the more general declaration given in the previous verse. (Vincent) The Lord Himself is going to attend to the reunion of the living and dead saints. It will be accomplished by His command. The use of the Pronoun Himself confirms that "He will He Himself" come and summon us before Him. (Alford) The root word for command means He orders, He is Commander to His troops. Here it could be considered a loud authoritative cry uttered in the thick of great excitement by One who has the authority and the right to exercise that authority. Christ is coming as Conqueror. (Reinecker, Robertson)

WITH THE VOICE OF THE ARCHANGEL AND WITH TRUMPET OF GOD. An article is used with Archangel but not with trumpet. The Archangel commands the host of the angelic world. Does this mean that Christ will come with this kind of authority or does the verse mean that it is the Archangel Gabriel himself who announces the arrival of Christ to take His own home? There is more than one trumpet in Scripture. Some wrongly try to associate the trumpet here with certain ones in the book of Revelation. Those trumpets have nothing to do with the church. And besides, most are war trumpets calling for more wrath to fall upon the earth. The trumpet here in Thessalonians is a harvest trumpet calling the workers, the servants, home from the field.

WILL DESCEND FROM HEAVEN. Now Christ comes down from heaven—to reign and rule? No. His feet do not touch the earth, instead He takes the resurrected home into the sky as well as the living who are instantly transformed and follow them into glory. THIS IS NOT HIS SECOND COMING!

Then THE DEAD IN CHRIST will themselves rise up first. This is the Church saints who souls and spirits are in heaven, not Israel! Those in the body of Christ who come down from heaven with Him to received their new bodies!

1 Thessalonians 4:17

WE, THE ONES REMAINING. Again, the living saints will follow behind those who have been resurrected.

THE SAME TIME, TOGETHER WITH THEM. The dead in Christ will rise up, the living in Christ will join them. Some foolish interpreters have two Raptures, one for those who are more holy, and then others who will come after they have been purged during the tribulation. But this is a one-time event that includes all the saints at once not in a two-step process!

SHALL BE SNATCHED INTO THE CLOUDS INTO THE MEETING PLACE OF THE LORD IN THE AIR. The Latin word Rapturo is used in the English to translate the Greek word harpazo. This word means to jerk, snatch away, as a thief would snatch suddenly a purse. The thought is a sudden swoop by a force that cannot be opposed. (Morris)

Believers are going to meet the Lord which implies He is not calling them to Himself but that He is coming to meet them in an appointed place in the air. The word "meeting" had a technical meaning in the Hellenistic world in relation to the visits of dignitaries.

Dispensationalists are smart. We understand the difference between up and down! We go UP to meet Him in the clouds. After the tribulation He comes DOWN to reign on the earth!

THUS TOGETHER WE SHALL OURSELVES BE TOGETHER WITH THE LORD. This is a blessed but simple idea. All church saints now will be gathered before Him in their eternal new bodies. We are gathered into heaven until the time of the seven year wrath is over. We then return will Him to co-reign though the nation of Israel will be the key people during the millennial kingdom.

1 Thessalonians 4:18

LIKEWISE BE COMFORTING ONE ANOTHER BY THE WORDS, THESE. This takes us back to the concerns expressed by the Thessalonian believers who wondered about the souls of their departed loved ones. And, they wanted to understand the order of the resurrection for those departed. When would they be raised?

Many argue the doctrine of the Rapture is not a practical truth, but just the opposite. It should bring comfort to all who wonder about the future. Almost all the Rapture passages end with a practical application such as this verse.