Chapter 10: The Reality of His Coming
by Brian Currie, N. Ireland.
A casual reader of the Bible would come to the conclusion that three comings of the Lord Jesus are taught therein. Two are taught in the Old Testament and all three are taught in the New. The O.T. teaches His coming in humility and glory, and the New teaches these two but also reveals the third, which is not taught in the Old, and that is His coming secretly. One of these is past, His coming in humility, whereas the others are yet in the future. As we read somewhat more closely, it is to be noted that while we define two future comings, strictly speaking this is all one coming but in two distinct phases. These are considered below.
As early as Genesis chapter 3, when sin had entered the world of men, God said to the serpent, v.15, "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Here is the first, albeit veiled, reference to the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus, and that in that Incarnation no man would be involved. This raises a seemingly insurmountable problem until the answer is given in Isa.7.14, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." The place is clearly stated in Micah 5.2, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."
After the centuries had rolled their course these prophecies were fulfilled. Many Scriptures could be cited to prove this but the following will suffice. Lk.1.35, "And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Jn.3.16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Gal.4.4, "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law." 1 Jn.4.9,10,14 "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins … And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."
The humility of His coming is emphasised in Phil.2.6-8 where it is recorded concerning the Lord Jesus, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
There are very many Old Testament Scriptures that clearly indicate that Christ will come again in glory and establish His righteous reign on earth. Isa.9.6,7, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this." Dan.7.13,14, "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." Ps.145.11-13, "They shall speak of the glory of Thy kingdom, and talk of Thy power; To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of His kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Thy dominion endureth throughout all generations."
These prophecies must be fulfilled as stated in 1 Cor.15.25, "For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet." They will be fulfilled when He comes in glory and this is taught in the New Testament. Examples abound. Matt.24.30, "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." 2 Thess.1.7-10, "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe."
For further details of this phase of His coming the reader is directed to chapters 11 and 12 of this book.
There are many references to this in the New Testament and none in the Old. This phase of His coming is exclusive to the New Testament and is the imminent hope of all the saved of this dispensation.
The People Involved
This secret coming of the Lord Jesus, commonly referred to as the Rapture, has been the hope of every believer in this "day of salvation", which is the period from Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, to the time of His coming for the church. Some have suggested that it involves only part of the church and that is the spiritual element and all others will be left behind. This is called the partial rapture theory. It needs to be ascertained if this has Scriptural support.
Firstly, considering the matter from a logical point of view it is nonsense, because the church is a coherent entity whether considered as a building, a body or a bride and part of the building, the body or the bride cannot be caught up without demolishing the building, or mutilating the body or dissecting the bride.
Secondly, if only the spiritual are to be raptured, how could the apostle Paul, under inspiration, write to the Corinthians, "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" 1 Cor.15.51. This was not written to the spiritual, he included all. Who were the "all"? He unmistakably refers to some among them as "carnal" and as "babes in Christ". 1 Cor.3.1,3,4, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ … For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?" Even these are included in the "all" who will be changed when He comes. The apostle taught the same truth in 1 Thess.5.9,10, "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him." The waking and sleeping in these verses does not refer to those living and those who have died, but to those who are spiritually alert or those who are spiritually lethargic. Those believers in either spiritual state will obtain salvation from wrath, meaning the tribulation wrath on earth.
The Period Involved
When will this rapture take place? The coming of the Lord Jesus in glory is prophesied as being attended with signs. Thus Matt.24.29,30, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." Mk.13.24-26, "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory." Joel 2.30,31, "And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come." Lk.21.25-28, "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh."
Such an emphasis on signs is totally absent when the rapture is in view. It is commonly said concerning the rapture, that we may look at signs but not for them. Hence the coming of the Lord Jesus to the air has been the hope of all the saved down though the centuries since the day of Pentecost. Never could they have said the Lord cannot come because this certain event had to take place. We can and should, expect Him at any moment.
The question, "will the church go through the tribulation?" is much too large to be answered in these few pages. However when it is grasped that "wrath" in the Bible has to do with living men on the earth who experience the personal displeasure of God and frequently involves the tribulation period, then there are a number of proof texts that clearly show the church will not go through this tribulation and can be raptured at any moment. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians in 1 Thess.1.10, "And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come." J.N.D. translates this, "and to await His Son from the heavens, whom He raised from among the dead, Jesus, our deliverer from the coming wrath." 1 Thess.5.9 has been quoted above, "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." Neither of these references refers to salvation from the punishment due to sins, since that was eternally settled the moment when the Thessalonians "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" 1 Thess.1.9. This must be from the tribulation wrath that will come upon the earth and its inhabitants when the church has been raptured. Again it is recorded in Rev.3.10, "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." What else can this be but the tribulation?
In picture, the rapture of the church takes place at the commencement of Revelation chapter 4 when John is called and caught up to heaven. The tribulation period does not commence until the first seal is opened at the beginning of chapter 6. It is obvious that the church cannot be in heaven and on earth at the same time. Thank God, all who are genuinely saved look forward to the Lord Himself coming to the air to call us all to glory.
A number of Scriptures deal with this great event, which is the next to take place in the calendar of heaven.
The Promise of His coming - "I will come again" Jn.14.2,3.
The Prospect of His coming - "We look for the Saviour" Phil.3.20,21.
The Power of His coming - "We shall be changed" 1Cor.15.51-58.
The Purifying of His coming - "He that hath his hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" 1 Jn.3.3.
The Particulars of His coming - 1 Thess.4.13-15.
The Particulars Of His Coming
To conserve space this chapter will concentrate on this last reference, 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. Both letters to the Thessalonians major on the subject of the Lord’s coming, but with the difference outlined above highlighted and underlined. The following contrasts are generally but not exclusively, true:
|1 Thessalonians||2 Thessalonians|
|deals with the Lord’s coming in relation to the saints whereas,||deals with the Lord’s coming in relation to the earth.|
|has in view the Lord’s coming for His saints while,||has in view the Lord’s coming with His saints.|
|it is the Lord’s coming for glory and blessing but,||it is the Lord’s coming for gloom and judgment.|
|the problem had to do with the dead - 4.13, "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep" but,||the problem was with the living - 2.2, "that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ (the Lord, JND) is at hand."|
The parallel with John chapter 14 is unmistakable and clearly indicates that these are referring to the one and the same event.
|John 14||1 Thessalonians 4|
|"Let not your heart be troubled" v.1||"Comfort one another with ..." v.18|
|"believe in God believe also ..." v.1||"If we believe that Jesus ..." v.14|
|"If it were not so I would have told you" v.2||"This we say by the word of the Lord" v.15|
|"I will come again" v.3||"The Lord Himself shall descend" v.16|
|"That where I am there ye may be also" v.3||"So shall we ever be with the Lord" v.17|
The certainty of this thrilling truth is seen in 1 Thess.4.15-17 by the employment of 5 "shalls."
- Instruction - "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep."
- Intervention - "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout."
- Resurrection - "The dead in Christ shall rise first."
- Translation - "We which are alive and remain shall be caught up."
- Continuation - "So shall we ever be with the Lord."
The truth contained in 1 Thess.4.13-18 can be studied under the following headings.
- Reassurance - "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others ...".
- Reason - "If we believe ... even so …".
- Revelation - "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord ...".
- Return - "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven …".
- Resonance - "With a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God …".
- Resurrection - "The dead in Christ shall rise first …".
- Rapture - "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up …".
- Reunion - "Together with them in the clouds …".
- Reception - "To meet the Lord in the air …".
- Realm - "And so shall we ever be with the Lord …".
- Rest - "Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope" v.13.
Whatever truth Paul was going to impart to them, it had to do with those who were "asleep" and was something of which they were ignorant, and unknown to them at that time.
Ignorance - This can be seen in the other occurrences of the phrase:
- Purpose In Service - "Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,)" Rom.1.13.
- Period Of Blindness - "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in" Rom.11.25.
- Privilege Of Fathers - "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea" 1 Cor.10.1.
- Performance Of Gifts – "Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant" 1 Cor.12.1.
- Persecution Of Servants - "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia" 2 Cor.1.8.
- Particulars Of Rapture – "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren" 1 Thess.4.13.
Asleep - The phrase "which are asleep" means those who from time to time fell asleep and continue to be asleep. It is most important to note that sleep never refers to the soul but is always a reference to the body. In 1 Thessalonians this word is only used elsewhere in vv.14,15 but not in ch.5.6,7,10, where a different word is employed. For example, the word in v.13 is that used in Matt.27.52, "many bodies of the saints which slept arose"; Jn.11.11, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth"; Acts 7.60, "when he had said this, he fell asleep"; 1 Cor.15.6, "but some are fallen asleep"; 15.18, "they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished"; 15.20, "become the firstfruits of them that slept"; 15.51 "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep." Hence this is a clear reference to saints being asleep in death.
If the truth that would solve their difficulty was unknown to them, then it could not be resurrection, since that was already known. Jn.11.24 "Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
The truth he would impart was designed to assist them to overcome their sorrow. Thus he wrote, "that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope." This was not meant to teach that it was wrong for a believer to sorrow, nor is the extent of sorrow condemned but it is saying that the character of the sorrow is different. The Lord wept at the grave of Lazarus and He never condemned the grief of Jairus or the widow of Nain. The unbelieving have a continuation in sorrow because they "have no hope." This is the hopelessness of the heathen who have no hope after death. They have no joyful and confident expectation of eternal glory. It cannot be that they have no hope of resurrection, since this was taught in the Old Testament. It was taught by picture - Isaac, "Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you" Gen.22.5. This is interpreted in Heb.11.19, "Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." It was taught by prophecy as seen in Job 19.25, "For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" and in Dan.12.2, "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." The Lord Jesus Himself taught it by precept in Jn.5.28, "the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
Reason - "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him" v.14.
Here the apostle gives the reason why we sorrow not as others. It is because of faith. The argument is that since we believe one fact then "even so", we believe another. We, in common with all Christians, "believe that Jesus died and rose again." These are both completed events that entertain no thought of a process. There came a moment when He died. This was not a swoon, nor was it a long lingering process as His life ebbed away until He was so weak He had to succumb to death. Note the words of Jn.19.28-30, "After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost." This is conformity with what He had taught in Jn.10.17,18, "Therefore doth my Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father." Likewise with His resurrection. Not a slow recovery from a faint but a definite moment when he rose from the dead.
Now, argues Paul, as we believe the fact of His death and resurrection, we also believe the fact that they shall be brought with Him. So the adverb "even so" governs our belief.
The problem had been with those who had died, described here as "them also which sleep in Jesus". Literally it could be rendered, "those who having been put to sleep through Jesus." Does this mean to "sleep in (through) Jesus" or "in (through) Jesus will God bring…"? Note J.N.D., "so also God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus." This means that the "instrumentality" God uses to put a believer to sleep, is Jesus. Heb.2.14 teaches that one of the reasons why Jesus, the sympathetic Man, went through death was that He "might destroy him that had [has, J.N.D.] the power of death, that is, the devil". The devil has no power to touch a believer in regard to death, rather a believer is put to sleep by Jesus. It is as if we are being told that when a believer comes to the end of life Jesus lays His hand upon Him and gives him rest in sleep. How lovely!
The next phrase, "will God bring with Him" and in particular the expression "with Him", holds the key to the understanding of what the passage is teaching. Various interpretations have been offered, many of which are very far fetched. Those that have achieved a measure of popularity are as follows.
- The spirits of dead believers are brought at the rapture to be reunited with their bodies.
- The bodies of saints are raised.
- The saints, body, soul and spirit are all brought when He appears in His glorious manifestation to establish His kingdom.
Which of these is true?
- This cannot be the teaching of the passage since the problem in Thessalonica was nothing to do with spirits, but bodies.
- Was the problem in Thessalonica resurrection? The answer is a resounding no. It has been noted above that all, including the Old Testament saints, knew about resurrection. Paul needed some new teaching to overcome this problem; he needed a word from the Lord.
- The fact of the rapture was known from the teaching of the Lord Jesus, as shown previously. However, the particulars of the rapture were unknown until this chapter was written, and these previously unknown details are now revealed to dispel the fears that the Thessalonians had concerning their loved ones. They would be taken into heaven, so that when the Lord Jesus comes to establish His Kingdom they will come with Him. The details of this are expounded in the following paragraphs.
In Acts 17.7 the charge laid against the preachers was, "these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus." All they knew was about a coming King, which obviously implied glory, thus 1 Thess.2.12 "That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory." It may be said that the Thessalonians must have known about the rapture from the language of 1.10, "And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come." That is simply a statement of fact that the apostle would fully expound in these verses in chapter 4. It should be noted also that 1.10 refers to the living and did not solve the problem of the dead saints.
Now some had died and this raised the question, had they missed this kingdom and the glory? The answer is, no, they would be brought "with Him". The word "with" translates the preposition, "sun" which denotes union. To teach that this means resurrection seems to stretch the meaning of "sun" to breaking point. Paul could have written that they will be raised by Him, or through Him, but surely not with Him.
It may be argued that "sun" is used in this fashion in 2 Cor.4.14, "Knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you." In this verse the Nestle text gives "sun", but Stephens text gives "dia". "Dia" is accepted by Wigram, Bloomfield, Newberry. It is true to state that there is no clear reference in the New Testament to "sun" being used to indicate union in resurrection. In this very context it is used of our union with Him in glory, v.17 "and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
It is of interest that in J.N.D.’s New Translation he places vv.15-18 in parenthesis thus connecting "with Him" with the times and seasons of chapter 5. The only other references to times and seasons are Dan.2.21 and Acts1.7, and these have to do with the Kingdom and God’s dealings with the earth. Hence the apostle is teaching that the saints have not missed the glory of the kingdom but will be brought with the Lord Jesus at the time of His manifestation to establish His kingdom.
However, this introduces another problem. If they have died and thus their bodies are in the grave, how can they come with Him from heaven? How do they get from the grave to the glory? The answer is given in vv.15-18, the rapture will take place.
Revelation - "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep" v.15.
To provide a solution to this dilemma required a revelation from the Lord. Therefore he writes, "this we say unto you by the word of the Lord." Again it must be noted that the Lord Jesus in John chapters 12 and 14 had taught the fact of the rapture, but this was the first time such teaching had been committed to writing. The general fact had been stated in 1.10 but even that could not be fully understood until these verses in chapter 4 had been written. Paul states that when the Lord comes, we the living, shall by no means precede or go before those who have been put to sleep. This may have appeared strange to their ears and needed further explanation. Now he sets out the details of what will happen at the rapture of the saints.
Return - "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first" v.16.
How tender is the expression, "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven." The bridegroom will not send another for His bride. The church is so precious He will not delegate another to fetch her for Him but He must do this Himself.
Resonance - "With a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" v.16.
The "shout" introduces a command. It has the thought of a stimulating cry like that by which animals are roused and urged on by man; as horses by charioteers or hounds by hunters. It was used as a signal given to men, as to rowers by the master of a ship or to soldiers by a commander. In the Septuagint it is used in Prov.30.27, "The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands." Literally this reads, "at the word of command they march in rank."
It is obvious there is only One Who can command the church to leave earth and that is He Who has come Himself to claim His bride. This is the Lord’s voice. The next expressions seek to describe this shout. There are not three voices or noises, there is but one. His voice may be described from a heavenly aspect as "voice of archangel" and from the earthly standpoint as "trump of God." These expressions are said to be anarthrous, which means they do not carry the definite article and are therefore characteristic. This is the voice that was heard at the grave of Lazarus in Jn.11.43, "And when He thus had spoken, He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth" and he who was dead was raised. The trumpet thought is that of 1 Cor.15.52, "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump" when the living shall be changed. It must be stated and clearly understood that this is the last of the trumpets related to this dispensation and is not related to the trumpets of Revelation chapters 8 and 9. It is the voice that was heard by John in Rev.1.10, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last." Again he heard the same voice calling him to heaven in Rev.4.1, "behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither." What happened to John is a picture of what will happen to the church when 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 is fulfilled and the church is raptured.
Resurrection - "The dead in Christ shall rise first" v.16.
Note how beautiful is the accuracy of the Bible words. Note that they "sleep through Jesus", but are referred to as the "dead in Christ." It was the tender touch of the sympathetic Man Jesus that put them to sleep, but it is the Man exalted Who watches over them now. It is again to be noted that there is no thought of any believer remaining in his or her grave. All those who have died ‘in Christ’ will be raised and there will be no exceptions.
Rapture - "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up" v.17.
Once more we observe there is no thought of two companies, the carnal and the spiritual. All who are alive when the rapture takes place will be caught up. The expression "shall be caught up" does not permit any thought of a long drawn out process. The other occurrences of the word should be examined and the tinge of violence and the irresistibility of the force, detected. Matt.13.19, "then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart." Jn.10.12,28,29 "the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep … I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand … My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand." Acts 8.39, "the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more." 2 Cor.12.2,4, "such an one caught up to the third heaven … How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words." Rev.12.5, "And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to His throne." Thus all the living shall be irresistibly snatched away from the earth.
Reunion - "Together with them in the clouds" v.17.
A wonderful reunion will take place when the raised dead and the changed living will be caught up together. How delightful is the word, "together." In a sentence this word could often be omitted and the sentence still make sense. For example, Ps.133.1, "how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." Phil.1.27, "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." Matt.18.20, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." In each of these quotations the word "together" is all-embracing and so here, in v.17. We shall meet all together and then be received by Him.
Reception - "To meet the Lord in the air" v.17.
The only other occurrences of "to meet" are in Matt.25.1,6, "ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom … at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him." Acts 28.15 "when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum." W. E. Vine quotes Moulton as saying, "It seems that the special idea of the word was the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary." The saints shall go into a meeting with the Lord and that will take place in "the air".
The passage mentions three spheres. The Lord will descend from "heaven" which is the dwelling place of God. The raised dead and the changed living shall meet each other in "the clouds" which is the domain of the birds and aircraft. They will then advance to "the air" which is higher than the clouds and is the domain of Satan and it is there they shall meet Him! In Lk.16.22 the beggar "was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom." The church shall have better than an angelic escort through Satan’s domain, it will be Himself!
He is coming, coming for us;
Soon we’ll hear His voice on high;
Dead and living, rising, changing,
In the twinkling of an eye,
Shall be caught up all together
For the meeting in the air;
With a shout the Lord descending,
Shall Himself await us there.
(A. M. Monteath)
Realm - "And so shall we ever be with the Lord" v.17.
How glorious! It will be wonderful to be with friends and loved ones but this is all-transcendent, "with the Lord." Yet that is insufficient. It is not that we will be with Him for a defined and passing period, but forever! The two on the Emmaus Road in Luke chapter 24 had His company for a while and then He departed, but such a parting will be unknown in the glory. This union will never be broken and His presence will be eternally enjoyed. This is expressing a spiritual and not a local truth. It is not speaking of physical proximity but a spiritual and eternal enjoyment. This will be eternal life in all its fulness and will be the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise, "I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" Jn.14.3.
Rest - "Wherefore comfort one another with these words" v.18.
Those who were mourning could dry their tears and find comfort in these words. Those who had gone on before were at no disadvantage. In fact they have the advantage over the living. They shall rise first and will be involved in the great reunion and will be full partakers in all the glory that shall yet be revealed. How blessed! How soul thrilling! How comforting!
We’ll all gather home in the morning,
Our blessed Redeemer to see!
We’ll meet with the friends gone before us;
What a gathering that will be!