Saturday, April 13, 2024

A Refutation of “The Rapture: Don’t Get Caught-Up in It”

In an article titled The Rapture: Don’t Get Caught-Up in It” (see issue 1004 of Bible Student’s Notebook), De L. Trefethen defends the view that the event revealed by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 pertains to Israel’s expectation, and thus has no direct relevance to the saints in the body of Christ today. In this article, I’m going to be defending the view that what Paul wrote in this passage is just as relevant to believers today as everything else revealed in Paul’s letters concerning the calling and expectation of the body of Christ.


De’s article begins with the following statements:


LOGIC: Trumpets in the old covenant were associated with Israel.


THUS: Trumpets in the new covenant are associated with Israel.


THEREFORE: The trumpet of I Thessalonians 4 is associated with Israel.


AND: The last trump(et) in I Corinthians 15 includes Israel.


LIKEWISE: The seven trumpets of Revelation are associated with Israel.


When De refers to “trumpets in the old/new covenant,” she means “trumpets that are mentioned in the old/new covenant Scriptures.” The problem with the first premise of her argument is this: trumpets are neither inherently Jewish instruments nor inseparably connected with Israel.


For example, in Job 39:24-25 – which I’m sure De would agree is part of the “old covenant Scriptures” – God twice mentions a trumpet when referring to a horse in battle. However, God wasn’t referring to horses used by Israel here (for when God spoke these words to Job, Israel most likely didn’t exist as a nation yet). Instead, God was referring to what was true of horses – and their use in wars – in a general sense. And when the nation of Israel was formed, trumpets were just as commonly used by other nations as they were by Israel. The mere fact that Israel is in view in most of the verses in which the word “trumpet” is found in the Hebrew Scriptures shouldn’t be surprising, since most of the Bible is focused on Israel.


De goes on to say that “the last trump(et) in 1 Corinthians 15 includes Israel.” However, according to her view, this trumpet can be said to include Israel only because it includes all mankind (i.e., every human who will be dead or still mortal at the time of the consummation). In other words, according to her view, the “last trumpet” is just as much associated with the nations as it’s associated with Israel. But if anything that pertains to all mankind can be said to be “associated with Israel,” then one could just as validly argue that the evangel of which Paul became the dispenser (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23) – i.e., the evangel of our salvation (Eph. 1:13) – is “associated with Israel” (for our evangel essentially involves the death of Christ for the sins of all mankind)!


Now, the trumpet of which we read in 1 Thess. 4:16 – and which De claims is “associated with Israel” – is referred to by Paul as “the trumpet of God.” In other words, this trumpet is God’s trumpet (and not Israel’s trumpet). The fact that this trumpet was blown at the time of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai doesn’t mean that it can’t be (and won’t be) used for another purpose that’s not directly related to Israel, and for the sake of a different group of people (e.g., those who have a calling and expectation that’s distinct from Israel’s).


One could, of course, say that the trumpet of God was “associated with Israel” when it was used at the time of the giving of the law. But this wouldn’t help De’s case. For one could also argue that Christ himself is even more closely “associated with Israel” than is “the trumpet of God.” For Christ is, of course, “of the seed of David, according to [Paul’s] evangel” (2 Tim. 2:8) and will “reign over the house of Jacob for the eons” (Luke 1:33). Even the royal title “Christ” (i.e., Messiah or Anointed One) is “associated with Israel.” But Christ’s close association with Israel doesn’t mean that everything Christ does is “associated with Israel” or done for the sake of Israel. Similarly, the fact that the trumpet of God was used for the sake of Israel in the past doesn’t mean the trumpet is inseparably “associated with Israel,” or is exclusively for Israel.


An even bigger problem with De’s argument is that the third claim she makes (i.e., “THEREFORE: The trumpet of I Thessalonians 4 is associated with Israel”) doesn’t follow from the prior premise. Even if we were to accept the validity of the premise that “Trumpets in the new covenant are associated with Israel” (and both the validity and the meaning of this premise is questionable), it would still have to be proven that Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians are, in fact, “new covenant Scripture.” That is, it would have to be demonstrated that Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians are among those inspired writings that were written to/for believers who will be among the beneficiaries of the new covenant between God and Israel. But we have no good reason to think this. Instead, we have good reason to believe that Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians are just as distinct from Israel’s “new covenant Scriptures” as every other letter written by Paul.


De: In Scripture, trumpets announce some prophesied events, i.e., Jesus returning to Earth to rule with a rod of iron as King of kings and Lord of lords (I Thessalonians 4:16), and at the consummation (I Corinthians 15:24, 28).


What we read in 1 Thess. 4:16 doesn’t actually support the claim being made by De. We’re not told by Paul that the event described in this verse will involve “Jesus returning to Earth to rule with a rod of iron as King of kings and Lord of lords.” The only location to which we’re told Christ will be descending when this event occurs is the cloud-filled atmospheric location where the meeting in the air will be taking place (1 Thess. 4:17). Paul gives no indication that, at this future time, Christ will be descending to any point lower than where this meeting will take place.


Moreover, what Paul revealed concerning the timing of the snatching away in relation to “the coming indignation” is actually incompatible with the view that the snatching away of the body of Christ will occur at the time when Jesus is “returning to Earth to rule with a rod of iron as King of kings and Lord of lords,” and indicates that the snatching away will be occurring before the events prophesied in Revelation even begin to occur (and, therefore, will be occurring several years before Christ returns to Earth to rule with a rod of iron).


In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 we read that the Thessalonian saints to whom Paul wrote were “waiting for [God’s] Son out of the heavens, Whom He rouses from among the dead, Jesus, our Rescuer out of the coming indignation.[i] The implication of what Paul wrote here is that when Christ – who is presently in heaven – comes to be “out of the heavens,” all who are appointed to be rescued by Christ out of “the coming indignation” (i.e., every member of the body of Christ who will be alive on the earth at this future time) will be rescued by him.


In accord with the fact that Christ is referred to as “our Rescuer out of the coming indignation” in 1 Thess. 1:10, Paul went on to write the following in 1 Thess. 5:9-10:


“For God did not appoint us to indignation, but to the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for our sakes, that, whether we may be watching or drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him.


Now, since those in the body of Christ haven’t been appointed by God to indignation (we’ve been appointed to “the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”), it’s impossible for us to go through “the coming indignation.” But what, exactly, is “the coming indignation”?


Answer: Paul was referring to the various divine judgments and calamities that will be coming upon the inhabitants of the earth during the future “day of the Lord” (see, for example, Revelation 6-18). It is these future judgments that will precede (and culminate in) the eon-consummating return of Christ that’s prophesied elsewhere in Scripture (see, for example, Zech. 14:3-4, Matt. 24:29-31 [cf. 16:27-28; 25:31], 2 Thess. 1:7-10, 2:7-8, Rev. 1:7 and 19:11-21).


In 1 Thess. 5:1-3 Paul revealed that this future time of divine judgment will begin at a time when people on the earth – i.e., those whom the day of the Lord will be “overtaking as a thief” (v. 4) – will be saying “peace and security.” This means that the coming indignation will begin no later than with the judgment that’s associated with the opening of the “second seal” (when, as we read in Rev. 6:3-4, peace is taken out of the earth, and the inhabitants of the earth begin “slaying one another”). Since the judgment associated with the opening of the second seal will begin when Christ’s prophecy in Matt. 24:7 begins to be fulfilled (and nation is roused against nation and kingdom against kingdom), it’s evident that the start of the “coming indignation” will coincide with the start of what Christ referred to as “the beginning of pangs” (Matt. 24:8).


Now, we know from 1 Thess. 5:9-10 that the procuring of salvation to which we've been appointed will involve not only being rescued by Christ, but also living at the same time together with Him. But how will this come about? Paul gives us the answer in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:


For this we are saying to you by the word of the Lord, that we, the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord, should by no means outstrip those who are put to repose, for the Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord.


In light of what we read in the above passage (and in conjunction with 1 Thess. 1:10 and 5:9-10), we can conclude that the snatching away will be the means by which the saints in the body of Christ will be removed from the earth sometime prior to the start of “the coming indignation.” Consider the following argument:


1. God did not appoint those in the body of Christ to indignation, but rather to the “procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).


2. The salvation to which those in the body of Christ have been appointed will involve being snatched away from the earth to be with Christ, so that we may “be living at the same time together with him” (1 Thess. 4:15-17; 5:9).


3. The snatching away and meeting in the air is going to occur sometime before “the coming indignation” begins (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:10).


Thus, not only will the snatching away precede the eon-consummating return of Christ to earth, but it’s going to precede even the earliest of the divine judgments that will be occurring during the “day of the Lord.” That is, it’s going to take place before the start of the judgments that are connected with the opening of the first four seals of the seven-sealed scroll (Rev. 6:1-8), and which will characterize the period of time that Christ referred to as “the beginning of pangs” (Matt. 24:8).


Moreover, according to the sequence of events contained in Christ’s parable of the darnel of the field (Matt. 13:24-30, 39-43) and his parable of the dragnet (Matt. 13:47-51), the wicked are first going to be severed from the midst of the righteous and “culled out of the kingdom” via the agency of Christ’s dispatched messengers. Only after the unrighteous have been removed will the righteous (i.e., those who “endured to the consummation” and survived the time of “great affliction”) then be assembled from their scattered locations throughout the earth and brought into the kingdom. But this sequence of events is not compatible with the sequence of events revealed by Paul concerning the timing of the snatching away of the body of Christ in relation to the coming indignation of God (according to which the saints are snatched away to meet Christ in the air sometime before God’s indignation comes upon the wicked).


De goes on to write the following:


“EVERYTHING that we read in the new covenant Scriptures aligns with prophecy and the earthly kingdom. NONE of the new covenant Scriptures are about the One Body of the Secret Administration revealed in Ephesians and Colossians.”


I agree with everything De says here. The problem with her position is that the Thessalonian believers to whom Paul wrote were members of the body of Christ (no less so than De and I are). Since the body of Christ is (and always has been) a called-out company of saints whose calling and expectation is distinct from Israel’s, the letters that Paul wrote to these believers aren’t part of the “new covenant Scriptures.” They’re just as distinct from the “new covenant Scriptures” as the rest of Paul’s thirteen signed letters, and were written to saints who just as truly belong to “the One Body of the Secret Administration” as the saints to whom Paul wrote his later letters.


Now, based on what De says in the above quote, it’s evident that she believes that what Paul wrote in 1 Thess. 4:14-17 “aligns with prophecy and the earthly kingdom.” Thus, according to her view, the Thessalonian saints to whom Paul wrote will be enjoying their allotment in Israel’s earthly kingdom. In fact, a little later on in her article De claims that what Paul wrote in 1 Thess. 4:14-17 concerns “kingdom saints whose inheritance/allotment is the Earth.”


In response to this view it should first be noted that the saints in the body of Christ – both past and present – could just as validly be referred to as ”kingdom saints” as the saints among God’s covenant people, Israel. For the “kingdom of God” is a future reality that pertains just as much to those in the body of Christ as it does to Israel (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50; Eph. 5:5; Col. 4:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5).In addition to being established on the earth at the time of Christ’s eon-consummating return (Dan. 2:44; cf. Acts 1:6), the kingdom of God is also going to be established in the heavens (Rev. 12:7-12). And when Paul referred to the kingdom of God as the allotment of the saints in the body of Christ, it was the kingdom of God in heaven – i.e., the Lord’s “celestial kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18) – that he had in mind (more on this point below).


Now, I’m sure De would agree that the Thessalonian saints had the same expectation (and will be enjoying the same allotment) as the saints in Corinth to whom Paul wrote. However, based on what Paul revealed in these letters, we can know that the saints in Corinth – and, therefore, the saints in Thessalonica – will not be enjoying their eonian allotment on the earth. For example, in 1 Cor. 15:47-49 we read the following:


“The first man was out of the earth, soilish; the second Man is the Lord out of heaven. Such as the soilish one is, such are those also who are soilish, and such as the Celestial One, such are those also who are celestials. And according as we wear the image of the soilish, we should be wearing the image also of the Celestial.


According to what we read in these verses, the saints to whom Paul wrote (and all who have been spiritually baptized into the one body of Christ referred to in 1 Cor. 12:12-13) will, at some future time, come to wear “the image of the Celestial,” and – in doing so – will become “celestials.” Since we’re destined to become “celestials,” it follows that our “soilish” and “terrestrial” body must be transformed into a body that is fit for the heavenly realm – i.e., the realm where Christ, “the Celestial One,” now resides and inherently belongs.


After referring to the kind of beings that we’re to become after we’re been vivified, Paul went on to write the following in verses 50-52:


“Now this I am averring, brethren, that flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God, neither is corruption enjoying the allotment of incorruption. Lo! a secret to you am I telling! We all, indeed, shall not be put to repose, yet we all shall be changed, in an instant, in the twinkle of an eye, at the last trump. For He will be trumpeting, and the dead will be roused incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 


Since the implication of what Paul wrote is that we’ll be enjoying our allotment in the kingdom of God after we’ve come to wear “the image of the Celestial” (and have thus become “celestials”), we can conclude that the kingdom of God to which Paul was referring here – i.e., the kingdom in which “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment” – is the kingdom that Paul later referred to in 2 Tim. 4:18 as the Lord’s “celestial kingdom.” 


This understanding of what Paul wrote concerning the kingdom of God in which the saints to whom he wrote will be enjoying their allotment is confirmed by the following fact: on the earth during the eons to come, “flesh and blood” will be able to enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God (see, for example, Ezekiel 36:8-12; 37:25-26; 44:20-25; cf. Isaiah 11:6-8; 65:20-25; Jeremiah 23:3-6; 30:18-20 [cf. v. 3]; 33:10-11, 19-22; 59:20-21). In these and other passages, we read of things said concerning people in the future kingdom that can only be said of mortal, flesh-and-blood Israelites, and in which only those who are mortal will be involved during this time (such as marrying and “multiplying” in the land). This category of Israelites in the kingdom will initially consist of those belonging to the generation that will be alive on the earth at the time of Christ’s return (such as the 144,000 sealed Israelites and the “vast throng” referred to in Rev. 7:2-17). However, multitudes more will be born into, and grow up in, the kingdom that’s going to be restored to Israel when Christ returns to earth.[ii]


That Paul was referring to the Lord’s “celestial kingdom” in 1 Cor. 15:50 (and not the kingdom of God on the earth) is further confirmed by what Paul wrote in his second letter to the saints in Corinth. After referring to the resurrection of the saints in the body of Christ in 2 Cor. 4:13-14, Paul went on to write the following in verses 16-18:


“Wherefore we are not despondent, but even if our outward man is decaying, nevertheless that within us is being renewed day by day. For the momentary lightness of our affliction is producing for us a transcendently transcendent eonian burden of glory, at our not noting what is being observed, but what is not being observed, for what is being observed is temporary, yet what is not being observed is eonian.


Since Paul had in mind that which exists at this present time when he referred to that which is “being observed” (and which is “temporary”), it follows that he had in mind a future reality when he referred to that which is “not being observed” (and which is “eonian”). Thus, the period of time that Paul had in mind when he used the term “eonian” in these verses is a future period of time. But what future period of time? Answer: the period of time during which we’ll be enjoying our eonian life (1 Tim. 1:16; Titus 1:2; 3:7) – i.e., the “oncoming eons” in which God “will be displaying the transcendent riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).


Keeping this point in mind, let’s now consider what Paul went on to write in the next two verses (2 Cor. 5:1-2):


“For we are aware that, if our terrestrial tabernacle house should be demolished, we have a building of God, a house not made by hands, eonian, in the heavens. For in this also we are groaning, longing to be dressed in our habitation which is out of heaven…”


Notice Paul’s use of the term “terrestrial” when describing the present, mortal body of those in the body of Christ. There would’ve been no good reason for Paul to have described the present, mortal body of the saints in the body of Christ as “terrestrial” if he expected the body with which believers are going to be roused to also be terrestrial. Thus, the very fact that Paul described the present body of the saints to whom he wrote as “terrestrial” implies that the future, resurrection body of the saints in the body of Christ will not be terrestrial.


Moreover, that which is implied by Paul’s use of the term “terrestrial” when describing our present, mortal body is explicitly confirmed by Paul’s subsequent description of our future body as “eonian, in the heavens” and “out of heaven.” The first expression (“eonian, in the heavens”) reveals that “the heavens” will be the realm for which our future spiritual body will be suited during the eons to come.  With regard to Paul’s use of the expression “the heavens” here, it should be noted that Paul used the same exact expression in his later letters to the saints in Phillipi and Colosse:


“For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour also…” (Phil. 3:20)


“…because of the expectation reserved for you in the heavens…” (Col. 1:5)


“…we have a building of God, a house not made by hands, eonian, in the heavens.” (2 Cor. 5:1)


While the expression “eonian, in the heavens” reveals that heaven will be the location of our eonian allotment, the second expression – i.e., “out of heaven” – reveals that heaven will be the source of the body that Paul figuratively referred to as “a house not made by hands.” The same term translated “out of” in this expression (ek) is used in a similar sense in 1 Corinthians 15:47, as follows: “The first man was out of [ek] the earth, soilish; the second Man is the Lord out of [ek] heaven.” Paul wasn’t, of course, saying that Adam pre-existed in the earth before he was formed; rather, the idea being communicated by Paul’s use of the word ek is that the earth is the source of that from which God formed Adam (Adam and his mortal descendants are thus referred to as “soilish” – i.e., made from the elements of the earth). Similarly, in 1 Cor. 11:8, 12 we read that “the woman is out of [ek] the man.” Here the same word “ek” was used by Paul to express the idea that Adam was the source of that from which God formed Eve (cf. Gen. 2:21-22), and not that Eve was brought into existence inside Adam.


Thus, in 2 Cor. 5:2, Paul’s use of the expression “out of heaven” should be understood to mean that heaven will be the source of the elements that will constitute our body after we’ve been vivified (just as the earth is the source of the elements that constitute our body at the present time).[iii] The “soilish” material of which our body presently consists (and which makes it “terrestrial”) will, at the moment of our vivification, be replaced with elements that are heavenly in nature. It is in this way that the “body of our humiliation” will be “transfigured” (Phil. 3:21) and “delivered” (Rom 8:23) when we’re vivified in Christ. When we’re “dressed in our habitation which is out of heaven,” we will no longer be “soilish” (as we are now); we’ll be celestial beings, as Christ now is (1 Cor. 15:48-49). It’s this change in our nature that will make us suited for eonian life “in the heavens” (and not merely for life on the earth).


Since the future body (and thus the future life) to which Paul was referring in 2 Cor. 5:1 will be “eonian, in the heavens,” it follows that the expectation and allotment of the Thessalonian believers to whom Paul wrote was, at the time that the letter was written, just as heavenly in location as the expectation and allotment of those to whom Paul wrote his “later letters” (one could also argue that Paul had just as much to say concerning the heavenly expectation of those in the body of Christ in his letters to the saints in Corinth as he did in his later letters to the saints in Philippi and Colossi, and that Paul actually revealed more in these earlier letters concerning the heavenly expectation of the body of Christ than he did in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon combined).


Moreover, since heaven is the location in which Christ was residing when Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth (Eph. 1:20; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:1), we can conclude that it is also in heaven – and not on the earth – that those to whom Paul wrote will be “at home with the Lord” after being vivified (2 Cor. 5:6-9), and where each member of the body of Christ will be “manifested in front of the dais of Christ” (v. 10). 


In light of the above considerations, we can conclude that the expectation and allotment of the Thessalonian saints to whom Paul wrote was, at the time they received their letters from Paul, the same expectation and allotment as that which is referred to in Paul’s later letters. And this means that the location to which Paul believed the saints will be going after the meeting in the air takes place isn’t the earth. Rather, it’s the same location from which Christ will be descending shortly before the meeting in the air takes place (i.e., heaven).


De: The last trump of I Corinthians 15:52 is mistakenly identified as the same trumpet in I Thessalonians 4:16. These two events are many years apart.


Contrary to De’s claim, the resurrection prophesied in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16 is identical with the resurrection referred to in 1 Cor. 15:52. To demonstrate this fact, let’s first consider what Paul wrote earlier in 1 Cor. 15 concerning the vivification of all. In 1 Cor. 15:20-26 we read the following:


Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified. Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ; thereupon those who are Christ's in His presence; thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power. For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy is being abolished: death. 


The sequence of events that we find being revealed in this passage is as follows:


1. The vivification of “the Firstfruit, Christ” (which occurred nearly 2,000 years ago).


2. The vivification of “those who are Christ’s in His presence” (which is still future). 


3. The vivification of everyone else at “the consummation” (which will occur at the end of Christ’s reign, when death – “the last enemy” – is abolished).


According to this revealed sequence of events, “the consummation” will take place sometime after the vivification of “those who are Christ’s in His presence” (hence the words, thereafter the consummation”). In other words, the vivification of “those who are Christ’s in His presence” and “the consummation” are two distinct events that will be taking place at two different times. It is therefore logically impossible for the vivification of “those who are Christ’s in His presence” to constitute (or coincide with) “the consummation.”


Now, we know that when Paul used the word translated “vivified” in v. 22, he meant more than just “restored to life.” Christ is “the Firstfruit of those who are reposing,” but he was not the first man to be restored to life after being dead for a period of time. However, all previous resurrections (such as the resurrection of Lazarus or of Jairus’ daughter) involved being restored to a mortal existence, and didn’t place those resurrected beyond the reach of death. Everyone previously resurrected eventually died again. This was not the kind of resurrection that Christ underwent. Rather, the resurrection that Christ underwent involved his being introduced into an immortal, incorruptible state that’s beyond the reach of death. In other words, Christ’s resurrection involved vivification.


Thus, the resurrection that Paul said comes “through a Man” – and of which Christ is “the Firstfruit” – should be understood as a resurrection to incorruption and immortality. And this means that being “vivified in Christ” involves being introduced into the same incorruptible, deathless state into which Christ was raised by God (and which, as is evident from 1 Cor. 15:54-55, will involve “putting on incorruption/immortality”).


That being vivified in Christ means to be given the same kind of life that Christ has is further confirmed from 1 Cor. 15:42-44, where Paul described the kind of body that those resurrected will have:


”Thus also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is roused in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is roused in glory. It is sown in infirmity; it is roused in power. It is sown a soulish body; it is roused a spiritual body.”


Notice the words, “thus also is the resurrection of the dead.” No one who was resurrected before Christ received the kind of body that Paul had in view in these verses. We can therefore conclude that the kind of resurrection of which Paul was writing throughout this chapter is the kind of resurrection that only Christ has, so far, undergone, and which will involve people being roused with an incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual body.


But what future event did Paul have in mind when he referred to the vivification of “those who are Christ’s in His presence?” Answer: He had in mind the event that’s described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Here, again, are verses 15-17:


For this we are saying to you by the word of the Lord, that we, the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord, should by no means outstrip those who are put to repose, for the Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.


The event that Paul referred to as “the presence of the Lord” is briefly mentioned three more times in this same letter:


1 Thess. 2:19 

For who is our expectation, or joy, or wreath of glorying? Or is it not even you, in front of our Lord Jesus, in His presence?


1 Thess. 3:12-13

Now may the Lord cause you to increase and superabound in love for one another and for all, even as we also for you, to establish your hearts unblamable in holiness in front of our God and Father, in the presence of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.


1 Thess. 5:23

Now may the God of peace Himself be hallowing you wholly; and may your unimpaired spirit and soul and body be kept blameless in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ!


Right now, Christ is present in heaven. However, at the future time that Paul had in mind in the above verses, Christ will descend to a certain atmospheric location above the earth. And shortly after Christ comes to be present in this atmospheric location, every member of the body of Christ who has ever lived (including Paul and those to whom Paul was writing) is going to be snatched away to meet Christ there.


In accord with Paul’s testimony that the Thessalonian saints were “…waiting for [God’s] Son out of the heavens,” we read the following in Philippians 3:20-21:


”For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour also, the Lord, Jesus Christ…”


The Greek word translated “awaiting” in this verse is apekdechomai (“FROM-OUT-RECEIVE”). We find a similar use of this word by Paul in connection with Christ in 1 Corinthians 1:7, as follows: “…so that you are not deficient in any grace, awaiting the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ…”


In each of these verses, the expressions Paul used (i.e., “waiting for His Son out of the heavens,” “awaiting the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Savior”) imply that Paul and the saints to whom he wrote expected Christ to one day leave the heavenly realm in which he’s currently present, and to come to be present (and manifested to the saints) in a different location. And according to the information revealed in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 (and which was first revealed to Paul by the glorified and ascended Christ), the location in which Christ will be present when the saints in the body of Christ come to be in his presence (and will thus no longer be waiting for him) won’t be on the earth. Rather, it will be in some cloud-filled region of earth’s atmosphere.


Now, keeping in mind the fact that the event being prophesied by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 is referred to as “the presence of the Lord,” “His presence,” “the presence of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” and “the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we can conclude that when Paul referred to “His presence” in 1 Cor. 15:23, he had in mind the event that will involve “the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord” and “the dead in Christ” (who “shall be rising first”) being snatched away together…in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.”


It is these saints who will be “Christ’s in His presence.” Thus, the saints who are going to be snatched away to meet Christ in the air will comprise the second “class” of humans who “in Christ, shall be vivified.” As those who will be “Christ’s in His presence,” they will take part in the second vivification event of which Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 15:23. 


Thus, although De goes on to assert that “the saints in the I Thessalonians passage are raised in mortal bodies, NOT in immortal bodies,” it’s clear that those whom Paul referred to as “the dead in Christ” in 1 Thess. 4:16 (and who will be “Christ’s in His presence”) will, in fact, be vivified when they’re raised (and thus will be raised with immortal bodies).


De went on to write the following:


I suppose the confusion comes because there is mention of a resurrection at each event. The resurrection of I Thessalonians 4 is when the resurrected saints and the surviving saints of the great tribulation (at the end of Israel’s Pre-Millennial Kingdom) are snatched up to “meet” the Lord in the air when He descends from Heaven. The resurrection of I Corinthians 15 is at the consummation, when death will be abolished.


As we’ve seen, the resurrection that’s mentioned in 1 Thess. 4:16 (“…with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall be rising first) is the same resurrection that’s mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:52 (“For He will be trumpeting, and the dead will be roused incorruptible). And rather than taking place after “the great tribulation,” this resurrection (and the subsequent snatching away of those raised, together with those still living) is going to precede the judgments that are connected with the opening of the first four seals of the seven-sealed scroll (as described in Revelation 6:1-8). So De is simply in error here.


De: With “fresh-eyes” observation, note that the event of I Corinthians 15:51-54 includes ALL of the resurrected dead and those who are alive at the consummation, ALL of whom will be “changed” to have immortal bodies since death will have been eliminated.


De’s claim that 1 Cor. 15:51-54 “includes ALL of the resurrected dead and those who are alive at the consummation” is not supported by what Paul actually wrote. In verses 51-53 we read the following:


Lo! a secret to you am I telling! We all, indeed, shall not be put to repose, yet we all shall be changed, in an instant, in the twinkle of an eye, at the last trump. For He will be trumpeting, and the dead will be roused incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality.


Now, we know that the “change” of which Paul wrote in v. 51 is a change that will involve both people who will be dead and people who will still be alive at the future time he had in mind (i.e., “at the last trump”). For those who will be dead, the change will involve being “roused incorruptible” (and thus “putting on incorruption”), while for those who will be alive the change will involve “putting on immortality.” For both groups, the change will occur “in an instant, in the twinkle of an eye, at the last trump.” But who did Paul have in mind when he declared that we all, indeed, shall not be put to repose, yet we all shall be changed”?


By “we all” Paul necessarily had in mind at least some who had already been “put to repose” (and who would be “put to repose” before “the last trump” occurred). In other words, the category of people that Paul had in mind will consist of some people who will be dead and some who will still be alive. But we also know that Paul couldn’t have had all mankind in view. For regardless of when one thinks “the last trump” is going to occur, it’s not the case that all mankind are going to be changed at the same time. While the majority of humans to have ever lived will be vivified at the consummation, at least some are going to be vivified before the consummation – i.e., at the time that Paul had in mind when he referred to Christ’s “presence” (1 Cor. 15:23). But if Paul didn’t have all mankind in view when he used the words “we all” in 1 Cor. 15:51, to whom was he referring?


Answer: At the very least, Paul would’ve had himself and the saints to whom he wrote in mind. But this means that Paul couldn’t have had in mind the consummation in verses 51-53.[iv] For Paul would’ve understood himself and the saints to whom he wrote as being included among the class of people that he’d earlier referred to as “those who are Christ’s in His presence.” And as we’ve seen, those who will be Christ’s in his presence are those who are going to be “snatched away together…in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:15-17). We can thus conclude that those who are going to be changed “at the last trump” are those who are going to be snatched away to meet the Lord when “the Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God…”[v]


De: Yet in the I Thessalonians 4 passage, there is NO change in the bodies. I know that some say there is a change from mortality to immortality, but that is insinuating something that is NOT there because they combine these two resurrections in error.


De is in error with regard to when the “change” that’s referred to in 1 Cor. 15:51-54 is going to take place. In addition to the considerations above, we also know from what we read in 2 Cor. 5:1-9 (cf. 4:14) that Paul expected the kind of body with which he (and those to whom he wrote) would be roused – and in which he would be “at home with the Lord” – to be heavenly in nature, and suited for the heavenly realm (for the body that Paul had in mind is referred to as “a building of God, a house not made by hands, eonian, in the heavens”). This could only refer to a body that has been “roused in incorruption,” “roused in glory” and “roused in power” (1 Cor. 15:42-43), and which is thus “spiritual” rather than “soulish” (1 Cor. 15:44-45). The immortality of the body to which Paul was referring in 2 Cor. 5:1-9 (and with which Paul expected to be “dressed” after the present body is “demolished”) is further confirmed from the fact that to be “dressed” with this body will mean that “the mortal” has been “swallowed up by life” (v. 4).


There can be no denying that, when Paul wrote the words found in 2 Cor. 5:1-9, he had in mind the same future event and vivifying change of which we read in 1 Cor. 15:51-53 (which will result in “the mortal” putting on “immortality” and death being “swallowed up…by Victory”). It’s also evident that Paul had the same event in view in Rom. 8:11 (where we read, “He Who rouses Christ Jesus from among the dead will also be vivifying your mortal bodies because of His spirit making its home in you) and in Rom. 8:23 (where we read that we “who have the firstfruit of the spirit…are groaning in ourselves, awaiting the sonship, the deliverance of our body). Notice, also, that in both these verses and in 2 Cor. 5:1-9, it’s emphasized that the vivifying change of which Paul wrote will (1) put an end to our present “groaning” and (2) be the result of God’s spirit having been given to us (and having made its home in us).


Concerning what Paul revealed in 1 Thess. 4:15-17, De went on to write: There is NOT one mention of corruptible putting on incorruption in this passage.


There’s also no mention of the dead in Christ being raised in Philippians 3:20-21.[vi]  Does this mean that the saints who will be dead at the time when the event described in Phil. 3:20 takes place won’t be raised at this time? No; of course not.


The fact is that there’s no reason why Paul couldn’t have included certain details in one place when referring to a certain event that aren’t included elsewhere when the same event is in view. Paul didn’t have to explicitly include or reveal the same exact details every time that he referred to a certain event (whether the event has already occurred or has yet to occur). Even without the inclusion of the same exact details by Paul, the student of Scripture can still reasonably infer from (1) the context and (2) other informative details provided by Paul that the same event is being referred to in more than one place in Paul’s letters.


With regard to the event described in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 (and which will involve both “the dead in Christ” as well as those who are “surviving to the presence of the Lord”), we know that Paul wasn’t referring to a resurrection to mortality when he wrote, “and the dead in Christ shall be rising first.” He was referring to the resurrection of “those who are Christ’s in His presence” (1 Cor. 15:23). And – as has previously been demonstrated – this resurrection will involve being “vivified,” and thus being given a glorified and incorruptible body. Paul didn’t have to explicitly mention in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 that the resurrection of “the dead in Christ” will involve vivification, for it’s likely that the saints to whom Paul wrote already knew that the resurrection of those “in Christ” would involve the same kind of vivifying change that Christ himself underwent when he was roused by God. But even if they didn’t yet know this, Paul knew that they would eventually come to believe this truth as a result of further revelation.


De: As a side note, there is also NO mention of those saints being rushed off to the celestial sphere. Why? Because the passage is in regard to kingdom saints whose inheritance/allotment is the Earth.


In response to De’s claim that there is “no mention of” the Thessalonian saints to whom Paul wrote being “rushed off to the celestial sphere,” the same point made above applies here as well. Assuming that Paul hadn’t already revealed to the Thessalonian saints that their eonian allotment would involve “wearing the image of the Celestial,” becoming “celestials” and being “in the heavens” (1 Cor. 15:48-49; 2 Cor. 5:1-9), Paul knew that they would eventually come to believe this truth as a result of further revelation. What Paul wanted to emphasize in 1 Thess. 4:1515-18 is how the saints in the body of Christ will transition from our present, terrestrial location (for which our “soilish” body is now suited) to the heavenly location in which we’ll be “at home with the Lord” (and for which our body will be suited after we’re vivified, and “the mortal” is “swallowed up by life”).



[i] The Greek preposition translated “out of” in the expression “our Rescuer out of the coming indignation” is the word ek. Paul’s use of this word does not suggest that he believed the saints to whom he wrote would be going through the coming indignation when their rescue took place (for the saints to whom he wrote weren’t appointed to indignation). The same word is found in 2 Cor. 1:9-10, where Paul had in view being rescued by God from what would’ve been certain death: 

“But we have the rescript of death in ourselves, that we may be having no confidence in ourselves, but in God, Who rouses the dead, Who rescues us from a death of such proportions, and will be rescuing…” 

That Paul had in mind being rescued from a perilous situation that would’ve resulted in death had he not been rescued is evident from verses 6-8 (see also 2 Cor. 4:11-12 and 11:23-27, where Paul provides more details regarding the various trials and perilous, near-death situations he’d faced). For similar uses of ek outside of Paul’s letters, see James 5:20 (“saving his soul from [ek] death”), Rev. 3:10 (“keeping you out of [ek] the hour of trial”) and Rev. 22:19 (“eliminating his part…out of [ek] the holy city”). 

[ii] There will, I believe, be some immortal people enjoying eonian life in the kingdom of God on earth. But this category of saints will be constituted exclusively by those believing Israelites (and certain believing “God-fearers,” such as Cornelius and his household) who died before Christ’s return to earth. It is these who are going to be restored to life in what is referred to in Scripture as the “resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14) and the “former resurrection” (Rev. 20:4-6; cf. John 5:29). And – as I’ve argued elsewhere (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2020/04/a-commentary-on-1-thessalonians-413-18_90.html) – this is a resurrection that will occur 75 days after the return of Christ to the earth. Those who are raised from the dead by Christ at the “former resurrection” will be “neither marrying nor taking out in marriage” during the eon to come, “for neither can they still be dying, for they are equal to messengers, and are the sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:35-36). 

In contrast with those who will take part in the “former resurrection,” the rest of the people who will be enjoying an allotment in the kingdom of God after it’s been established on the earth will be mortal, flesh-and-blood human beings. In fact, both before and after the “resurrection of the just” takes place, the mortal, flesh-and-blood Israelites who will be enjoying their eonian allotment in the kingdom of God on earth will likely far outnumber the resurrected Israelites and God-fearers who will be enjoying their eonian allotment there. 

This will also be the case during the fifth and final eon as well (and likely to an even greater extent). For, in addition to what we read concerning the kingdom of God on earth during the next eon (which will include the “thousand years” referred to in Rev. 20), it can also be reasonably inferred that there will be mortal human beings living on the new earth during the final eon, as well. Not only is this implied by Paul’s words in Eph. 3:21 (where we read of “all the generations of the eon of the eons”), but it accounts for the fact that the “log of life” will be present in the New Jerusalem to provide its life-sustaining fruit and healing leaves for those who will need it during this time (see Rev. 2:7 and 22:2). 

[iii] The same can be said concerning Christ. When Paul referred to Christ as “the Lord out of [ek] heaven” in 1 Cor. 15:47, he was communicating the fact that heaven (rather than earth) is the source of the spiritual body that now composes Christ (and which Christ has had since his resurrection). Just as it would be erroneous to say that Adam (who is “out of the earth”) pre-existed in the earth before he existed with a soulish body – or that Eve (who is “out of the man”) pre-existed in Adam before she existed with a soulish body – so it would be erroneous to say that Christ pre-existed in heaven before he existed with a soulish body. 

Rather than pre-existing with a spiritual body, it was when Christ was roused from among the dead that his body was changed from being soulish (and soilish) to spiritual. And this change from soulish/soilish to spiritual involved a change in the very source of that which makes his body the kind of body that it is (with the new source of Christ’s body – and thus of Christ himself – being heaven rather than earth). Paul thus went on to refer to Christ as “the Celestial One” in the very next verse (since Christ is now a celestial – rather than a terrestrial – being). 

[iv] Some have appealed to what Paul wrote in verses 54-55 in support of the view that Paul had the consummation in view. In these verses we read the following: 

Now, whenever this corruptible should be putting on incorruption and this mortal should be putting on immortality, then shall come to pass the word which is written, Swallowed up was Death by Victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting? 

What Paul wrote in these verses is perfectly consistent with the view that, in 1 Cor. 15:50-53, Paul was referring to the vivification of those who will be snatched away to meet the Lord in the air. When Paul referred to “the word which is written” (and then quoted from Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14), he wasn’t saying that this “word” would be fulfilled when the event referred to in 1 Cor. 15:51-54 took place. Had Paul intended to express the idea of fulfillment, he would’ve used the Greek word pleroo. It’s this word that’s elsewhere translated “fulfilled” (or “filled up”) in connection with certain verses of Scripture (see, for example, Matthew 2:23; 4:12-16; 13:14-15; 27:6-10; Luke 24:44; John 13:18; 17:12; 19:36; Acts 1:16; 3:18; 13:27; James 2:23). Instead of saying that this “word” would be “fulfilled” when the event described in 1 Cor. 15:51-54 took place, Paul said that the word would “come to pass” at this time (using the word ginomai – i.e., “to come to be” or “to occur”). 

Notice, also, that Paul said that it’s whenever this corruptible should be putting on incorruption” that “the word” he had in mind “shall come to pass.” Paul’s use of the word “whenever” is consistent with the view that “the word which is written” will “come to pass” for different groups of people at different times. It’s at “the last trump” that the deceased saints in the body of Christ shall be “roused incorruptible” and the still-living saints changed into immortal beings. At this time, death will be “swallowed up by victory” for us (i.e., we who are “Christ’s in his presence”). But what about those who aren’t “Christ’s in his presence”? Answer: For everyone else, the “word which is written” will “come to pass” at the end of Christ’s reign (i.e., at “the consummation”). For it’s at this future time that death, “the last enemy,” shall be abolished. 

[v] Several interpretations of the expression “at the last trumpet” (en tēi eschatēi salpiggi) have been suggested by students of Scripture. I think the simplest and most likely view is that, when Paul used the term translated “trumpet,” he was using the figure of speech known as “association” (or “metonymy”). According to this figure of speech, something that’s associated with a thing is put for it. In the case of 1 Cor. 15:52, the word “trumpet” can be understood as referring to the sound made by a trumpet (i.e., a trump, or trumpet-call). The close association between a trumpet and the sound that it makes is clear from the English word “trump,” which can refer to either the instrument itself or the sound produced by it. It’s also worth noting that, although the Greek noun salpigx has the primary meaning of “trumpet” (or ”war-trumpet”), both Strong’s and the Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon have provided secondary definitions for salpigx: “the sound of a trumpet” (Strong’s) and “a trumpet-call” (Liddell-Scott). 

That Paul was employing the figure of speech metonymy is the view affirmed by Frederick William Danker in his Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). Danker notes that the word translated “trumpet” in 1 Cor. 15:52 (salpigx) means, “by metonymy, the sound made by a trumpet.” Thus, when Paul is understood as having used the figure of speech “association” or “metonymy” in 1 Cor. 15:52, we can understand the expression “at the last trumpet” as simply meaning “at the last trumpet-call,” or “at the last trump.” And this would mean that Paul didn’t have in mind more than one trumpet in 1 Cor. 15:52; rather, he simply had in mind more than one trumpet-call, or trumpet blast. That is, there is going to be a sequence of trumpet-blasts, and the “change” to which he referred in 1 Cor. 15:52 is going to occur at the last of these trumpet-blasts. 

This interpretation is, I believe, to be preferred to any view which involves multiple trumpets being sounded (either in unison or in sequence). There is no sequence of trumpets referred to or implied in 1 Thess. 4:15-17. Rather, Paul referred to only a single trumpet (the “trumpet of God”) as being sounded at this future time. In light of this fact, 1 Cor. 15:52 can be understood as communicating the idea that, just before the dead and living saints in the body of Christ undergo their vivifying change, the “trumpet of God” will be sounded by Christ at least twice, and it is at the last sounding (or trumpet-call) of this single trumpet that the nearly instantaneous event which Paul had in view will occur. 

It should be further noted that the question of whether the term translated “trumpet” in v. 52 can even refer to the literal instrument (rather than the sound it makes) depends on the meaning of the Greek word translated “at” in the expression “at the last trumpet.” The preposition en (which appears three times in v. 52, and is translated “in” twice and “at” once) denotes “(fixed) position (in place, time or state), and (by implication) instrumentality (medially or constructively)” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/en.html). Although the interpretation I’ve presented is consistent with either meaning of the word en in 1 Cor. 15:52, only the “instrumental” meaning of en (“by means of”) is consistent with the view that Paul was referring to the actual instrument itself in the expression “last trumpet” (rather than the sound made by the instrument). For, although it would make sense to say that something will occur either (1) at the time of a trumpet-call or (2) by means of a trumpet-call, it wouldn’t make sense to say that something is going to occur “at the time of a trumpet.”  

[vi] In fact, the only place in Philippians where Paul even mentions a resurrection is in Phil. 3:10-11 (where Paul wrote of knowing “the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, conforming to His death, if somehow I should be attaining to the resurrection that is out from among the dead). And as I’ve argued in more depth elsewhere (click here for the article), the “resurrection” to which Paul hoped to “be attaining” refers to the blessing that he later called “the prize of God’s calling above in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). And just as knowing “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” leads to “conforming to His death,” so knowing “the power of [Christ’s] resurrection” leads to “attaining to the resurrection that is out from among the dead.” Thus, the resurrection to which Paul hoped to be attaining is Christ’s own resurrection. 

Of course, Paul wasn’t hoping to literally attain to Christ’s resurrection. Instead, I believe Paul was referring to Christ’s resurrection to represent a certain blessing that he mentioned elsewhere in his letters. But what blessing did Paul have in mind? Well, we know that Paul wasn’t hoping to attain to the resurrection of “the dead in Christ” (for this is something that every member of the body of Christ who dies will be part of, and isn’t a “prize” that one needs to be “pursuing” in order to “be attaining to”). Rather than referring to the blessing of being roused incorruptible and vivified in Christ (which, again, will be the allotment of all who are in the body of Christ), I believe Paul was figuratively referring to the blessing of being “joint enjoyers of Christ’s allotment (Rom. 8:17), and of “reigning together” with Christ (2 Tim. 2:11-12). It is this blessing that Paul figuratively referred to as “the resurrection that is out from among the dead.”