Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Anticipating Christ’s Return: Alarming, Confusing, or Comforting? (Part 2)

     When the Lord returns and the dead in Christ rise first (1 Thess. 4:16), what happens next? The description continues: “then we the living ones remaining will be carried off together with them in the clouds for a meeting of the Lord into the air, and so always we will be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).1 On the question of whether or not Paul and his companions expected to be alive at the Lord’s return, see Did Paul Believe?; for a response to the rapturist interpretation of this text, see No Room for the Rapture.
     It has been suggested that the employment of the term hárpazō (to “carry off” or “snatch away”) is an intentional play on words, seeing that secular writers often spoke of life being “snatched away” by death or fate.2 The present text, therefore, “may be cleverly inverting a common use of harpazō in referring to death: rather than the expected picture of death or fate ‘snatching away’ to hades those who are living, the living ‘will be snatched up’ so that they do not face the last enemy, death” (J. Weima, Thessalonians 332). A. J. Malherbe states further, “The dead in Christ will rise, and their separation from those who were left is overcome as, ironically, they are snatched up together with them” (Thessalonians 276).
     The ascension will be “in [en] the clouds for [eis] a meeting of the Lord into [eis] the air …” The scriptures do not teach that Jesus will ever step foot on this physical earth again.3 The phrases “in the clouds” and “into the air” – the perceived space between the earthly and heavenly realms – parallel the Lord’s ascension and promised return (Acts 1:9-11). “Clouds” in biblical literature often accompany or signify divine presence4 and thus serve as a fitting arena for such “a meeting.” In the next letter to the Thessalonians this theme continues, “… concerning the coming [parousía] of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him” (2 Thess. 2:1).
     All who are in Christ, both living and deceased, “always will be with the Lord.” The natural world is not our permanent home (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10-11; Rev. 20:11). God’s faithful ones are to live with him eternally in the heavenly realm (see 1 Thess. 1:10; cf. Matt. 5:12, 16, 34; 6:19-21). There is a rest spoken of that is yet in the future—something promised that remains to be fully realized (Heb. 3:7–4:11). When Jesus journeyed ahead to prepare a place for his disciples (John 14:2-3), he went beyond the “veil” and penetrated the holiest place to dwell in the presence of God (Heb. 6:19-20; 9:12). This is none other than “heaven itself” (Heb. 9:24). Accordingly, we now have the confident expectation of entering the very same place (Heb. 6:18-19; 10:19-20, 34). It is heaven wherein our names are registered (Heb. 12:23) and in which we have citizenship (Phil. 3:20), reward (Matt. 5:12), hope (Col. 1:5), and an inheritance (1 Pet. 1:3-4). Unlike Israel’s inheritance of a temporal rest, ours is everlasting (Heb. 9:15).
Encouraging Words
     Here is the stated purpose of the foregoing discourse: “Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). The aim is not to satisfy curiosity about the particulars of the Lord’s coming, but to provide reassurance about the future of departed loved ones. “The question is, is it any encouragement to us? It can only fail to appear relevant if we approach the passage with a false attitude and with false questions…. If, however, we are to look beneath the traditional superstructure of eschatological imagery, we arrive at the conviction which was uppermost in the apostle’s mind, and which was indeed our Lord’s own concern to show (John xiv.), that those who die in Christ live in Christ …” (W. Neil, Thessalonians 107).
     The most extensive single account in the NT of Christ’s future return (1 Thess. 4:13–5:11) does not attempt to answer all the questions we might have about specific aspects of the event, nor was it intended to spark fanciful interpretations and unending speculations. It is a message of comfort, hope, and reassurance. Let us, therefore, take it no further than its original intent and be encouraged by it.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 See, e.g., Plutarch, Consolatio ad Apollonium 113C; Lucian, Of Funerals 13; Seneca, On Consolation to Polybius 2.1-8; Cicero, de Divinatione 2.25.
     3 Some premillennialists cite Zech. 14:4, “And in that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives …” But applying this text to the second coming of Christ is to ignore its symbolic (apocalyptic) nature and its fulfillment in less than six centuries after the prophecy was made, not long after Christ’s first advent. This is the same “day of the Lord” spoken of by Joel (1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14), fulfilled in the NT (Acts 2:16-21); and Malachi (4:1-6), fulfilled in the NT (Luke 1:16-17; Matt. 3:1 ff.). See K. L. Moore, “The Day of the Lord,” Moore Perspective (1 Feb. 2014) <Link>.
     4 Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19-20, 24; 16:10; 19:16-17; Lev. 16:2; Num. 9:15-22; 10:11-12; 1 Kgs. 8:10-12; 2 Chron. 5:13-14; 6:1; Neh. 9:12, 19; Psa. 97:2; Isa. 19:1; Ezek. 1:4-28; Dan. 7:13; Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34-35; 1 Cor. 10:1-2. As a symbol of divine judgment, see Isa. 19:1; Jer. 4:13; Psa. 68:4, 34; 104:3; Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7; 14:14-16.

Image credit:

No comments:

Post a Comment