Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Study on the Timing of the Snatching Away, Part 1 (Christ’s Coming for the Body of Christ is Distinct from Christ’s Coming with All of His Messengers)

Introduction

In another article I argued that, in contrast with the saints of other time periods and administrations (such as Noah, Moses or John the baptist), the eonian destiny of the body of Christ is heavenly in location. Our realm, as Paul declares in Phil. 3:20, is “inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Savior also, the Lord, Jesus Christ…” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1). But when will our removal from the earth and our transfer to heaven take place? It is this question that I will be taking up in this article. The position for which I’ll be arguing can be summarized as follows: The vivifying and snatching away of the body of Christ from the earth (as described in 1 Thess. 4:15-18 and 1 Cor. 15:51-55) will be separated from the coming of Christ with his holy messengers at the end of this eon (as referred to in Zech. 14:4, Matt. 16:27-28, 24:29-30, 25:31, Acts 1:6-11 and Rev. 19:11-21) by a period of at least 3½ years[1] – i.e., the last half of the final seven-year “week” or heptad prophesied in Daniel 9:24-27.[2]

There are, I believe, several routes one could take to arrive at (or near) the conclusion for which I’ll be arguing in this study. Although this study is by no means an exhaustive investigation of the subject(s) considered in it, the route I’ll be taking to arrive at my conclusion may be considered somewhat “scenic” by some (for those who would prefer a more direct and succinct route, I apologize)! The case for my position will, first, involve a defense of the view that the event described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 should be understood as distinct from the “post-tribulation,” eon-concluding coming of Christ with all his holy messengers (i.e., Christ’s “second coming”). In part two, I’ll then turn to the subject of the “day of the Lord” and the “coming indignation” that will characterize the earlier phase of this time period. This future time of indignation will, I’ll argue, commence no later than 3½ years prior to Christ’s return to the earth. In the final section of the article I’ll be presenting evidence for why I believe the saints in the body of Christ will not be present on earth when this time of indignation begins, and that the snatching away will therefore take place sometime before the final 3½ years that will precede Christ’s return to the earth.

For those who have some familiarity with the various positions on the timing of the snatching away or “rapture,” [3] I’d like to just point out that the position for which I’ll be arguing is much closer to the “pre-tribulation” position than to any of the other views, and could technically be described as such. Historically, however, those who have held to the “pre-trib” position have believed that the entirety of Daniel’s 70th heptad will be a time of prophecy-fulfilling tribulation (with the second 3½ years simply being greater and more severe than the first 3½ years). Although I’m certainly open to being corrected on this point, I’m not convinced that the first 3½ years of the 70th heptad will involve any prophecy-fulfilling tribulation or divine indignation. My present understanding is, instead, that whatever tribulation/affliction is prophesied as occurring during the 70th heptad will occur during the second half. Thus, although my position could perhaps be described as “pre-mid-70th-week” (a somewhat awkward label, to be sure!) it would not be accurate to label it as “mid-tribulation” (since I believe the snatching away will occur before any prophesied, 70th week tribulation begins). 

It needs to be emphasized, however, that even if I’m mistaken on this point - if there will, in fact, be prophesied tribulation occurring during the first 3½ years of the 70th week - the essence of the position for which I’ll be arguing in this study would remain unchanged. It would simply mean that the day of the Lord will be beginning earlier than I thought it will - and if that’s true, then it will follow from the conclusion at which I will be arriving in this study that the latest time for the occurrence of the snatching away will also be earlier than I thought (and I say the sooner the better!). 

Christ’s Coming for the Body of Christ is Distinct from Christ’s Coming with All of His Messengers

Although it is my view that Paul did not have much to say in his letters concerning Christ’s “post-tribulation” coming (as referred to in Matthew 16:27-28, 24:30, 25:31, Rev. 1:7 and 19:11-21, for example), I do think that Paul had this event in view in 2 Thess. 1:3-10. There, Paul wrote to the saints in Thessalonica:

"We ought to be thanking God always concerning you, brethren, according as it is meet; seeing that your faith is flourishing and the love of each one of you all for one another is increasing, so that we ourselves glory in you in the ecclesias of God, for your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the afflictions with which you are bearing -- a display of the just judging of God, to deem you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering also, if so be that it is just of God to repay affliction to those afflicting you, and to you who are being afflicted, ease, with us, at the unveiling of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful messengers, in flaming fire, dealing out vengeance to those who are not acquainted with God and those who are not obeying the evangel of our Lord Jesus Christ -- who shall incur the justice of eonian extermination from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of His strength -- whenever He may be coming to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at in all who believe (seeing that our testimony to you was believed) in that day."

Notice that, in verses 6-7, Paul encouraged the persecuted saints to whom he wrote with a remarkable promise that involves a contrast of experiences: when Christ is unveiled from heaven with his powerful messengers, God will be repaying one category of people with "affliction" (i.e., those not acquainted with God and who are disobedient to the evangel of our Lord Jesus Christ) and another group of people with "ease" (i.e., Paul, his fellow laborers, and those saints on whose behalf they ministered and to whom they wrote). Now, if all we had was this passage on which to base our understanding of “end-time” events that will involve the body of Christ, one might be justified in assuming that the salvation of the body of Christ that will enable us to be enjoying “ease” at Christ’s unveiling from heaven with his messengers (i.e., our receiving “eonian life”) will not take place until this event actually takes place. But what I will be arguing in this study is that one would be mistaken for making such an assumption. 

While it’s true that God will be repaying those in the body of Christ with “ease” at the unveiling of Christ from heaven with his messengers (while at the same time repaying the unbelievers who will be alive at this time with “affliction”), I submit that our ease will be a continuation of a blessing that we will have already begun enjoying prior to this event. I’ll be going into more detail in parts 2 and 3 on how much time (at minimum) I believe will transpire between the beginning of our eonian life and the unveiling of Christ from heaven with his messengers at the end of the eon. For now, I just want to look at some of the reasons why I believe the coming of Christ with his messengers as described by Paul in the above passage will be distinct from (and will take place some time subsequent to) the coming of Christ that will involve the commencement of our eonian life.

The Secret of our Change

In 1 Thess. 4:13-18, Paul wrote: 

“Now we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are reposing, lest you may sorrow according as the rest, also, who have no expectation. For if we are believing that Jesus died and rose, thus also, those who are put to repose, will God, through Jesus, lead forth together with Him. 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.”

We know that when Christ sounds the “trumpet of God” that is referred to in v. 16 (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-52), it will result in the resurrection of all the “dead in Christ” to whom Paul referred in this passage. In fact, Paul emphasized that the living will “by no means outstrip [come before] those who are put to repose.” Instead, the dead in Christ will be rising “first,” before those still alive “shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.” Paul stressed this fact so that those to whom he wrote would not, due to ignorance, “sorrow according as the rest, also, who have no expectation” (v. 13). 

Although the exact circumstances that prompted Paul to write what he did in this passage are not known,[4] the point that needs to be emphasized here is that, according to Paul, the coming of Christ referred to in this passage will involve the resurrection of a certain group of saints – i.e., the body of Christ, of which the Thessalonians were members. And their resurrection will not take place after the living are gathered together to meet Christ; it will take place before. Only after the “dead in Christ” have been raised will the living (along with those just resurrected) then be snatched away to meet Christ in the air. 

In addition to the timing of the resurrection of the saints as prophesied in 1 Thess. 4:15-18, Paul revealed elsewhere that the “dead in Christ” are not the only saints who will undergo a miraculous change at this time. This event will also involve the change of those who will still be alive at the time. In 1 Cor. 15:51-53, Paul wrote: 

“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.”

In other words, all of the saints in the category that Paul had in view here – whether dead or alive - will be “changed.” For those saints who will have died before the time that the “last trump” is blown by Christ, their change will take place when they are resurrected. For the rest of the saints – those who will not have been “put to repose” - their change will be undergone while they’re still alive, and will involve “putting on immortality” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1-4). But what needs to be emphasized here is that the “change” that is going to take place at the sound of the “last trump” - a change that will involve not only the dead but also the living – was referred to by Paul as a “secret.” It was not, in other words, a truth that had been revealed through the Hebrew Scriptures (scriptures with which Paul – and perhaps some of those to whom he wrote - were familiar). Nor was it a truth that had been previously revealed by Christ during his earthly ministry. Rather, it was a truth that the resurrected and ascended Christ made known to Paul at some point after appearing to him on the road to Damascus, and which Paul subsequently made known (either orally or through letter) to those to whom he was commissioned to proclaim the “evangel of the uncircumcision.” 

A Chronological Discrepancy

In striking contrast with the time of the resurrection and/or change of those saints within the body of Christ at the time of the “last trump” is the time of the resurrection of Israel’s saints. In Daniel 12:3 it was prophesied that, “From those sleeping in the soil of the ground many shall awake, these to eonian life and these to reproach for eonian repulsion.” Since Daniel will undoubtedly be among those believing Israelites who will awake to eonian life in the kingdom of God, it follows that if we can determine when he will be raised, we can determine when the rest of Israel's saints will be raised as well. 

In Daniel 12:5-7, we read about the last half of Israel's 70th “week” or heptad (a 3½ year-long period referred to as “a season, seasons, and half a season,” or 1,260 days). Now, we know that this period of time will conclude with the return of Christ to earth in glory and power. One of the reasons for believing this is as follows: the wicked world ruler described in Revelation as the “wild beast” is going to be given authority over the entire world for 42 months, or 1,260 days (see Rev. 13:5). This period of time is the second half of the 70th seven-year “week” prophesied in Daniel 9:24-27. We also know that it is at Christ’s coming in his kingdom with all his holy messengers that the reign of the wild beast is brought to an end (see Rev. 19:19-20). So it follows from this that Christ is going to return to the earth at the very end of the final week of Daniel’s prophecy. It is this glorious event that will bring this present wicked eon to a complete end, and usher in the eon to come. 

Another (related) reason for believing that Christ's return to earth concludes the second half of the 70th week is as follows: After escaping from the deadly persecution of the “serpent”/”dragon” (i.e., Satan) and fleeing into the wilderness, we read that the “woman” referred to in Rev. 12 (who likely symbolizes believing Israel) is to be “nourished a season, and seasons, and half a season, from the face of the serpent” (Rev. 12:14). Again, this refers to a period of 1,260 days (v. 6), or 3½ years - i.e., the second half of the final heptad prophesied in Daniel 9. Since the people symbolized by the “woman” are to be protected from Satan for this exact period of time, it follows that they will no longer need the sort of miraculous protection they'll be receiving in the wilderness after this period comes to an end. But the only reason this could be the case is if this period of miraculous nourishment in the wilderness is to end with Christ’s return to earth to deliver faithful Israel from her enemies and set up his kingdom (cf. Luke 21:27-28).

Now, at the end of Daniel 12 we read, “And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.” Here Daniel is told of a period of 1,290 days which will follow the midpoint of the 70th week. It is, in other words, the last half of the 7-year period plus an additional 30 days (1,260 days + 30 days = 1,290 days). In the next verse, we read: “Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”

The “1,335 days” refers to the last half of Israel’s 70th week plus an additional 75 days (1,260 days + 75 days). Apparently, something of great importance - something those who are alive at the time will be blessed to experience - is going to take place on the 1,335th day. But what event could this be? Notice what the messenger’s next words to Daniel are: “And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.” In other words, Daniel was being told that he would “rest” (that is, die) and then “stand” (be resurrected) at the end of the days being referred to here (interestingly, the word translated “resurrection” in the Greek scriptures - anastasis - literally means, “to stand up” or “to stand again”). Thus we see that the resurrection of Israel’s saints will take place 75 days after Christ’s return to earth - i.e., the last day of the 1,335 days spoken of by the messenger (the “end of the days”). Significantly, Christ several times spoke of the resurrection of believing Israelites (those among the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” whom he said he came to save; Matt. 15:24) as something that will take place on the “last day” (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54). Martha believed that her brother Lazarus would rise on the “last day” as well. They were evidently familiar with Daniel’s prophecy that the resurrection of Israel’s saints will take place on the last day of the 1,335 days referred to at the end of the book. 

That the resurrection of Israel's saints is going to take place 75 days after Christ returns to earth (rather than when he returns) is further confirmed by the chronology of the events prophesied in the book of Revelation. According to the chronology of Revelation, the order of events around the time of Christ’s return to earth is as follows: 

1. The wild beast, the kings of the earth and their armies gather for “the battle of the great day of God Almighty” and mobilize “at the place called, in Hebrew, ‘Armageddon’ (16:14-16; cf. 19:17-19).  

2. Christ returns in glory and power, accompanied by “the armies of heaven” (Rev. 19:11-18). 

3. The wild beast and his armies are defeated by Christ (19:20-21).  

4. Satan is cast into a prison (the “submerged chaos”), where he must remain bound for a thousand years (20:1-3). 

5. The “former” resurrection takes place, and the thousand year reign of Christ and his saints begins (20:4-6). 

6. The thousand-year imprisonment of Satan ends, and he is “loosed a little time.” 

The chronology revealed in Revelation as outlined above simply does not match the chronology of events as described by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-18 and 1 Cor. 15:50-53. However, it fits perfectly with what we’re told in Daniel 12 concerning when Daniel (and, by implication, the rest of Israel’s saints) will be resurrected. Notice that there is no mention whatsoever of a resurrection taking place at the time of Christ’s return in Revelation 19. It is not until after the enemies of Israel are defeated that the resurrection of the saints (the “former resurrection”) is referred to. 

Moreover, we know that this resurrection isn’t limited to the martyred saints referred to specifically in this passage, since we're told that “they ALSO LIVE and reign.” Since the reference to their “living” speaks of their being resurrected in the “former resurrection,” we know that there are others who will be resurrected at this time as well (for example, those who will be seated on thrones and judging). The martyred saints are simply emphasized here because Revelation deals primarily with the time period during which their martyrdom takes place (i.e., the second half of Israel’s 70th week, during which time the wild beast will be doing battle with the saints and conquering them; Rev. 13:7). But the fact that the martyred saints are specifically mentioned here completely undermines any attempt to argue that the “former resurrection” referred to in Rev. 20:4-6 is only for believing Israelites who lived and died before Christ’s death and resurrection (such as Daniel). It will include those believing Israelites who were alive when Christ was ministering on the earth, as well as those who will live and die during the final years of great affliction preceding his return. The resurrection of Israel’s saints and the resurrection of those to whom Paul wrote (both before and after his imprisonment) are, therefore, completely different events taking place at completely different times. Any position which ignores this important distinction rests on a failure to correctly divide the word of truth. 

Dispatching His Messengers

Some see Christ’s words in Matthew 24:30-31 as supporting a “post-tribulation” interpretation of 1 Thess. 4:13-18. In these verses we read: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Mankind in heaven, and then all the tribes of the land shall grieve, and they shall see the Son of Mankind coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory. And He shall be dispatching His messengers with a loud sounding trumpet, and they shall be assembling His chosen from the four winds, from the extremities of the heavens to their extremities.”

As most students of scripture would agree, the event in view in this passage is Christ’s coming with his messengers at the end of the eon, when he returns to earth (cf. Matt. 16:27-28, Matt. 25:31, Rev. 1:7 and Rev. 19:11-21). And as we’ve seen, there are good reasons to understand this to be a distinct event from what is described by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 and 1 Cor. 15:51-55. Whereas there is clearly said to be a resurrection of the dead (as well as a “change” from mortality to immortality for the living) involved in the event described by Paul, absolutely nothing is said by Christ about anyone’s being resurrected or changed from mortal to immortal at this time. As argued previously, the resurrection of Israel’s saints (including those who will be martyred under the reign of the wild beast during the time of great affliction immediately preceding Christ’s return) will take place 75 days after Christ’s coming to earth.

It is argued by some that, because a “loud sounding trumpet” is referred to in this passage, the event that is in view must be the same as that described by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:16. However, this simply does not follow. Although it’s true that, in both passages, a trumpet is being blown by Christ, the blast of the “loud sounding trumpet” in Matthew 24:31 is said to be for the purpose of “dispatching His messengers,” whereas the “trumpet of God” referred to in 1 Thess. 4:16 has the distinct purpose of rousing the dead to a state of incorruption and changing the living into immortal beings (1 Cor. 15:51-55). There is also no mention of Christ’s messengers being present or in any way involved in the event that will involve those to whom Paul wrote. 

Peculiarly, a common argument made by those who believe that the coming of Christ described in Matt. 24:30 is the same event as that described by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 is that the “last trump” of 1 Cor. 15: 52 is a reference to the trumpet that is described as being sounded in Rev. 11:15. Those who attempt to argue this are, I believe, being inconsistent. It is evident that, in the first three verses, the trumpets referred to are being sounded by Christ. However, the trumpet referred to in Rev. 11:15 is to be sounded by the seventh of the heavenly messengers referred to in Rev. 8-11 (none of which can be identified with Christ). Thus, the sounding of the trumpet by the “seventh messenger” in Rev. 11:15 is an event that is distinct from BOTH the “last trump” of 1 Cor. 15:52 AND the sounding of the trumpet in Matt. 24:31.

Some see the words, “they [Christ’s messengers] shall be assembling His chosen from the four winds, from the extremities of the heavens to their extremities,” as indicating that the gathering in view will take place in heaven. It is then argued that this supposed “heavenly gathering” must refer to the snatching away, as described by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-18. However, Christ’s words have nothing at all to do with the people in view being in heaven at the time of their “assembling,” or afterwards. Christ was simply saying that those being assembled by his messengers at this time (“His chosen”) would be coming from all over the world. The expressions he used were simply a way of speaking of (1) the four directions of the world (i.e., the four cardinal points) and (2) the visible horizon, where the sun was seen to rise and set. For example, Deut. 4:32 reads, “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of.” And in Psalm 19:4-6 we read, “Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.”

In light of what Christ said about the “chosen” being gathered “from the four winds,” it is significant that, in Ezekiel, we read that it was “into all the winds” and “toward all winds” – i.e., all over the world - that God was going to scatter the Jewish people (Ezek. 5:10, 12; 17:21). And in Zechariah 2:6 we read that God scattered the Jews abroad “as the four winds of the heavens.” But after this scattering, we read that God will gather his “sons” and “daughters” among the scattered nation “from the end of the earth” (Isa. 43:5-7). These are referred to as his “chosen” in the same context (vv. 10, 20). Similarly, in Isaiah 11:12 we read that the “banished of Israel” and “dispersed of Judah” will be assembled “from the four corners of the earth.”

The larger context of Matthew 24 also indicates that Christ’s “chosen” being assembled at his coming with his holy messengers are most likely the remnant of believing Israelites who will have survived the great affliction and lived to see the return of Christ. It is these believing Israelites whom Christ said would be saved if they endured to the consummation (Mt. 24:13), whom Christ said the great signs and miracles being performed by false prophets during the great affliction could deceive, if possible (v. 24), and for whose sake these perilous days would “be discounted” (v. 22). That the chosen here are Israelites is further confirmed by those verses in which Israel and the Jewish people in general are referred to as the “chosen” or “elect” (Deut. 7:6; 1 Chron. 16:13; Isaiah 45:4; Rom. 11:28), and especially those in which the believing, faithful remnant within the nation are referred to as such (Isaiah 65:7-16). 

In the last passage referenced, we find God drawing a contrast between the unbelievers within the nation and the believing remnant, whom God refers to as “my chosen” (v. 9). He goes on to speak of how his chosen among the nation will be tremendously blessed on the earth in the future, using language that clearly refers to life during the eon(s) to come (vv. 17-25). Remarkably, we also read in Isaiah 27:13 that the scattered children of Israel will be gathered to their homeland to “worship Yahweh on the holy mountain at Jerusalem” in conjunction with the blowing of “a great trumpet” – which is the only specific reference in the Old Testament to a “great” trumpet. 

Further evidence that the assembling of Christ’s “chosen” described in Matt. 24:31 involves the remnant of Jewish believers alive on earth at the time of his coming is the fact that the eonian destiny of the Gentiles (non-Israelites) who will be alive at the time of Christ’s coming with his messengers is later described as taking place at a different gathering (Matt. 25:31-46). Unlike the gathering of Christ’s chosen in Matt. 24:31, the gathering of “all the nations” before Christ (which we’re told will be when Christ is “seated on the throne of his glory”) will consist of a mixed company of both “just” and “unjust” Gentiles (whose eonian destiny is determined by their treatment – or mistreatment - of “the least of [Christ’s] brethren”). 

In view of the above facts, I think it can be reasonably concluded that the assembling of Christ’s “chosen” by his messengers at the sound of a “loud sounding trumpet” refers to the remnant of believing, faithful Israelites who will survive the 3½ years of great affliction (having “endured to the consummation”) being gathered from all over the world by Christ’s messengers to “the holy mountain at Jerusalem.” In contrast with this gathering of Christ’s “chosen” when he comes with his holy messengers, we know that the saints who will be present for the meeting in the air as described in 1 Thess. 4:15-18 will consist primarily of those whose background is not Jewish. The apostle who wrote concerning the snatching away and the meeting in the air was, of course, Paul, the “apostle of the nations” who proclaimed the “evangel of the uncircumcision” (it is even implied in 1 Thess. 1:9 that the Thessalonians to whom Paul wrote were primarily Gentile in background). And in contrast with the gathering of the Gentiles described in Matt. 25:31-32, the eonian destiny of those who are to be snatched away to meet Christ in the air will be the same for all: eonian life “in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 3:20-21) and “among the celestials” (Eph. 2:6-7).

The Meeting in the Air and the Meaning of Apantesis

It has been argued by some[5] that Paul’s use of the word apantēsis (“meet”) in 1 Thess. 4:17 supports the position that Paul had in view Christ’s “post-tribulation” return to the earth rather than an event involving the body of Christ meeting Christ in the air and then returning with Christ to heaven. Their argument requires that the term apantēsis doesn’t simply mean “to meet,” but rather, “to meet and then to continue in the direction in which the person being met is going before the meeting takes place.” But is this what the word means? If the word apantēsis doesn't bear this definition - if its meaning is instead, perhaps, more general (and neutral) - then the above argument is seriously undermined.

So what is the meaning of this word? Apantēsis is broken down by A.E. Knoch as literally meaning, “FROM-INSTEADING.” He then defines the word simply as, “meeting, to meet.” The related word apantaō  is, similarly, broken down by Knoch as literally meaning “FROM-INSTEAD,” and is defined as, “meet.” Strong's defines apantēsis as follows: “a (friendly) encounter: - meet.” It defines the related word apantaō  as, “to meet away, that is, encounter: - meet.” Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon defines apantēsis as, “to meet one.” Based on these definitions, the most that can be said - and what I am perfectly happy to concede as being the case - is that, in the Greek scriptures, apantēsis conveys the idea of a friendly meeting/encounter between two parties coming from opposite directions.

Significantly, the word appears 25 times in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, or LXX),[6] which was commonly read in Paul's day (and arguably the primary version of Scripture read and used by both Paul and Christ).[7] And while in the LXX the word always refers to some sort of meeting taking place, the “meeting” in view is not necessarily a friendly one (in a few instances, it refers to two armies meeting in battle, or to a messenger going out to meet an approaching army). And even when the meeting is friendly, it does not necessarily involve one party being escorted by the other (although this is sometimes the case). Nor is it always clear where/what direction the two parties go after the meeting takes place. The fact is that, according to its usage in the LXX, the word apantēsis was clearly understood to be neutral with regards to the exact nature of the meeting in view, or with regards to what took place after the meeting. The only shared meaning between the various occurrences of the word in the LXX is that of a meeting between two parties.

In light of the above definitions - as well as its usage in the LXX - I submit that those who base their understanding of what happens after believers “meet” Christ in the air (or where Christ is being “escorted” by believers) on Paul's use of the word apantēsis are making a single word do the work that only the context in which the word is used can do. It is the context in which the word is used - and not the word in itself - which informs our understanding of what, exactly, takes place after whatever “meeting” is in view. This follows from the fact that the arguments of those who understand 1 Thess. 4:15-18 as involving a “post-tribulation” coming of Christ necessarily rely on the various contexts in which the word is used elsewhere in the New Testament for their perceived strength (which is precisely why they appeal to other contexts in which the word appears). In the other examples in which apantēsis is used (Matt. 25:6 and Acts 28:15), the reason we know for sure what happens after the “meeting” in view takes place is because it is clearly evident (or can be inferred) from the context in which the word is used. If the other instances in which the word is used were as contextually ambiguous as is 1 Thess. 4:17, the argument for a post-tribulation coming of Christ would lose all of its perceived force. So those who argue that apantēsis tells us what happens after the “meeting” in view takes place are simply ascribing information and meaning to a word that only the context in which the word appears can provide.

After quoting the four passages in which the word apantēsis appears in the Greek scriptures, one proponent of the post-tribulation interpretation of 1 Thess. 4:15-18 (Danny Russino) writes, “In every case this word 'meet' does not mean continuing on into the place from where the one being met came. On the contrary, it means to go out and meet the one coming to the place from which those meeting him came.” Contrary to Russino's assertion, there’s simply no good reason to believe that the word apantēsis actually means either of these things. The word, by itself, simply doesn't tell us what happens after the meeting takes place, OR what the exact intent or purpose of the one being met is. Again, based on the definitions provided above, apantēsis can, at most, be understood as referring to a friendly meeting between those coming from two different directions. 

Given these meanings of the word, it makes perfect sense that apantēsis would be used in the context of bridesmaids meeting a bridegroom, or of the brothers from Rome meeting Paul. They're all examples of a friendly meeting taking place between two parties coming from different locations. What exactly happens after these meetings is simply not inherent in the meaning of the word itself. It is the context in which the word occurs - and not the word in itself - which alone can provide this information. If what is said (or not said) in the immediate context makes it unclear as to what exactly takes place after the meeting (as I believe to be the case in 1 Thess. 4:17), some other broader contextual considerations will have to be appealed to in order to determine this.

Thus, while Paul’s use of apantēsis in 1 Thess. 4:17 may be consistent with the position that Christ is going to continue descending all the way to earth after the meeting in the air takes place, it is also consistent with the position that Christ is going to descend from heaven to the earth’s atmosphere, “snatch away” believers to meet him there, and then return to heaven with them in his company. Apart from contextual indicators, the word by itself is simply inconclusive with regards to what is going to take place afterwards. And since the immediate context doesn’t tell us what happens after the meeting takes place (unlike the other instances in which the word is used in scripture), other broader contextual considerations must inform our understanding of what is going to take place.

In his article defending the post-tribulation view of 1 Thess. 4:15-18, Oscar Baker notes that, in Bullinger’s Critical Lexicon and Concordanceapantēsis (“meet”) is defined as follows: “To come or go from a place towards a person; and so to meet face to face from opposite directions; esp., to meet and come back with the person.” Even allowing that Bullinger’s last definition (“to meet and come back with the person”) is a possible definition of apantēsis, it is evident that even Bullinger did not consider this to be the exclusive definition of the word. In any case, it would seem that Bullinger is making the same mistake as Russino and Baker. That is, because two of the three contexts in which apantēsis is found in scripture unambiguously involve the person being met remaining in the company of the other party while continuing on his way (or at least imply this), Bullinger thought it legitimate to attach this contextual information to the definition of the word. But again, to do so is to force the word to do the work of the context in which it is used. The word, by itself, need (at most) denote only a friendly encounter between two parties coming from opposite directions. Given such a meaning, it’s no surprise that the word would be used in the contexts in which it is found.




[1] I say “at least 3 ½ years” only because I believe there could very well be a gap of time between the snatching away and the beginning of the final 3 ½ years. 

[2] A preliminary understanding of the “70 weeks” prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 would be helpful for those readers unfamiliar with this prophecy. Since an in-depth study of this prophecy would be outside of the scope of this article, the soundness of the interpretation of the prophecy that I think is correct will simply be presupposed (I hold to the so-called “dispensational” view, which sees a chronological gap between the 69th and 70th “week” of years). For an introduction to this important prophecy, see http://www.khouse.org/articles/2004/552/ and https://gracethrufaith.com/end-times-prophecy/the-70-weeks-of-daniel/. For a more in-depth treatment of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy, I highly recommend Sir Robert Anderson’s groundbreaking book on the subject, The Coming Prince. Another resource I’ve found helpful is the following online study by End-Time Pilgrim, which is based on Anderson’s work (scroll down just a little ways for the table of contents; it appears on the left side of the page and provides links to all 11 pages of the study).

[3] Although the pre-tribulation position remains a popular view among non-Catholic, evangelical Christians, it seems that the post-tribulation position has made something of a comeback in the past few years (I’ll be challenging this position both directly and indirectly throughout this article). Another position that seems to be getting more attention lately within the evangelical Christian community is the “pre-wrath” view. A few months ago I actually heard this view being talked about on an evangelical Christian radio talk show. One of the guests on the show (Alan Kurschner) is the author of at least two books in which this view is promoted (Antichrist Before the Day of the Lord and Prewrath: A Very Short Introduction). Those who hold to the “pre-wrath” position believe that God’s indignation will not characterize the entirety of the last 3½ years of the 70th week (only part of it). Although I will not be responding to this view directly, the position for which I’ll be arguing in my study (especially in part two) will, I believe, demonstrate the pre-wrath view to be in error.
    
[4] Assuming that the Thessalonians were not ignorant about the fact of the resurrection of the dead, I believe a plausible scenario that would account for the Thessalonians being sorrowful concerning those who were dead is as follows: Paul, while he was with the Thessalonians, taught them about the resurrection of the dead as well as about the snatching away of believers to meet Christ in the air. However, the Thessalonians (for whatever reason) did not yet understand that, for the saints of whom Paul had been made an apostle and minister, the two events will be concurrent. Thus, they mistakenly believed that only the living would be snatched away to meet Christ in the air, while those who had died prior to this time would be resurrected some later time. After receiving word of their misunderstanding from Timothy, Paul therefore wrote to give them clarification on this subject, stressing that those alive at the time of the snatching away would “by no means outstrip those who are put to repose.” Instead, the dead “shall be rising first,” and (together with the living) be snatched away to meet Christ in the air.

[5] See, for example, the articles by Danny Russino and Oscar Baker in issues #499 and 500 of Bible Student's Notebook.

[6]1 Sam. 4:1; 6:13; 9:14; 13:10, 15; 15:12; 16:4; 21:1; 25:32, 34; 30:21; 2 Sam. 6:20; 19:25; 1 Chr. 12:17; 14:8; 19:5; 2 Chr. 12:11; 15:2; 19:2; 20:17; 28:9; Est. 8:12; Jer. 27:3; 41:6; 51:31

[7]http://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/tips/what-bible-did-jesus-use-11638841.html

http://www.theopedia.com/Septuagint

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