Monday, April 13, 2020

A Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Part Five)

The meeting in the air: a “pre-tribulational” event

In contrast with the eon-consummating coming of Christ prophesied in Zech. 14:3-4, Matt. 24:30-31 and Rev. 19:11-21 (when Christ will come “on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory,” defeat the enemies of Israel, and deliver God’s people), I believe that the event prophesied in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 will be completely distinct from – and will be occurring at least seven years prior to – Christ’s return to earth. According to this view, the meeting in the air referred to in v. 17 is not going to be immediately followed by a descent of Christ and the saints to earth. Rather, it’s going to be followed by the ascent of Christ and the saints to the heavenly realm from which we’re told, in v. 16, that Christ “will be descending.”

Since I’ve provided a more in-depth defense of this so-called “pre-tribulational” understanding of the timing of the snatching away elsewhere on my blog, I’m just going to present a few scripture-based arguments and brief remarks in support of it here. I’ll begin my summarized defense with 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 is the means by which God will prevent the body of Christ on earth from going through “the coming indignation” (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:10).

What, exactly, is this “coming indignation” referred to in 1 Thess. 1:10, and how will it begin? Answer: this refers to the indignation of God that will be manifested against the inhabitants of the earth during the future “day of the Lord.” And according to Paul, the status of those in the body of Christ is such that it would be impossible for us to be on the earth when the day of the Lord arrives. Paul described the saints in the body of Christ as ”sons of the light and sons of the day,” and as being “of the day” rather than “of the night” and “of the darkness.” It is by virtue of our status as “sons of the light and sons of the day” that Paul did not think any saints in the body of Christ would be overtaken by the day of the Lord as a thief. But the only way Paul could’ve believed that those in the body of Christ wouldn’t be overtaken by the day of the Lord as a thief is if he believed that the body of Christ wouldn’t be on the earth at the time when the day of the Lord arrived. That is, Paul must’ve believed that those on the earth who have the status of being “sons of the light and sons of the day” – i.e., everyone who is in the body of Christ – will be removed from the earth before the day of the Lord comes to be present. Consider the following argument:

1. The “day of the Lord” is the period of time during which the “coming indignation” will be occurring, and will be “coming as a thief in the night” upon those living on the earth at the time when it arrives (1 Thess. 5:1-3).
2. Paul did not believe the day of the Lord would overtake those in the body of Christ as a thief (:4-5).
3. Paul did not believe the body of Christ would be present on the earth when the day of the Lord came.

In my two-part study, ”Before the Pangs Begin,” I defended what I believe concerning when, in relation to certain prophesied events involving Israel and the nations, the coming of Christ to rescue believers will be taking place. In this study, I argued that the “day of the Lord” (and the “coming indignation” associated with it) will include those prophesied judgments that we find described in the book of Revelation (including the calamities associated with opening of the first four seals of the seven-sealed scroll), and which Christ referred to in Matthew 24:8 as “the beginning of pangs.” When we understand that the future events of which Christ prophesied in Matthew 24 will be occurring during the future day of the Lord/coming indignation, we can conclude that Christ’s coming to rescue those believers who constitute his body from the coming indignation must occur before these events begin. Consider the following argument:

1. According to what is revealed in 1 Thess. 5:1-3 and Rev. 6:1-4, the day of the Lord will begin at a time when peace has not yet been taken out of the earth (and when “extermination” is still “standing by” people “unawares”).
2. The warfare between nations and kingdoms referred to by Christ in Matthew 24:8 (which will be part of the “beginning of pangs”) corresponds to the peace-removing judgment associated with the opening of the second seal in Rev. 6:3-4.
3. The day of the Lord will begin before the warfare between nations and kingdoms referred to by Christ in Matthew 24:8 (which will be part of the “beginning of pangs”) begins.

From this conclusion it follows that the snatching away of the body of Christ must take place before the “beginning of pangs” referred to by Christ in Matt. 24:8 begin to occur. Moreover, when we realize that the “beginning of pangs” referred to by Christ will coincide with the first 3 ½ years of the final, 70th heptad prophesied in Daniel 9:27, we can further conclude that the body of Christ is going to be snatched away before the 70th heptad begins:

1. The events that Christ referred to as “the beginning of pangs” (Matt. 24:8) will coincide with the first half of the prophesied 70th heptad (i.e., the seven-year time period prophesied in Daniel 9:27).
2. The snatching away is going to occur before the “beginning of pangs” begin to take place.
3. The snatching away is going to occur before the prophesied 70th heptad begins. 

In my follow-up study, “The Timing of the Snatching Away in Relation to the 70th Week,” I provided additional reasons for believing that the snatching away is going to be occurring before the 70th heptad prophesied in Daniel 9:27 begins. Here are two related arguments defended in this study:

1. The day of the Lord is going to begin with what Paul referred to as “the apostasy” and “the unveiling of the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:2-3).
2. The unveiling of the man of lawlessness (as well as, I believe, the apostasy) will begin the fulfillment of Daniel 9:27, and is thus the prophesied event with which the 70th heptad will begin.
3. The body of Christ is going to be snatched away before the prophesied 70th heptad begins.

1. The man of lawlessness cannot be unveiled – and the 70th heptad cannot begin – until after the “present detainer” has been removed from the earth (2 Thess. 2:1-8).
2. The “present detainer” to which Paul referred in 2 Thess. 2:7 is the body of Christ (i.e., the company of saints referred to in 2 Thess. 2:1 by the word “our”).
3. The body of Christ is going to be snatched away from the earth before the 70th heptad begins.

The meaning of “meet”

Among those who disagree with the position briefly defended above, some have appealed to Paul’s use of the word translated “meet” in 1 Thess. 4:17 (apantēsis) in defense of the view that, after believers meet Christ in the air, Christ will then descend all the way to earth with believers in his company. Their appeal to the word apantēsis is based on the belief that, rather than simply meaning “to meet,” the word means something like, “to meet and then continue in the direction in which the person being met was going before the meeting took place.” But is this, in fact, what the word means?

According to the Concordant Literal New Testament’s “Keyword Concordance,” the elements of the word apantēsis are “FROM-INSTEADING.” The word is then defined simply as, “meeting, to meet” (the related word apantaō is, similarly, broken down into the elements, “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.” Based on these definitions, the most that could 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 apantēsis appears twenty-five times in the Septuagint (or LXX) translation of the Hebrew scriptures (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). This translation was commonly read in Paul’s day, and is believed by some scholars to have been the primary version of Scripture read and used by both Paul and Christ.[1] And while, in the LXX, the word was always used to refer to some sort of meeting taking place, the exact nature of the “meeting” in view was not necessarily a friendly one (in a few instances, the word was used to refer to two armies meeting in battle, or to a messenger going out to meet an approaching army). And even when the context makes it clear that the meeting was friendly, it did not necessarily involve one party being escorted by the other (although this was sometimes the case). Nor is it always clear where (or in what direction) the two parties went after the meeting took place. The fact is that, according to its usage in the LXX, the word apantēsis was clearly neutral with regard to the exact nature of the meeting in view, or with regard to what took place after the meeting in view occurred. The only shared meaning between the various occurrences of the word in the LXX is that of a meeting between two parties.

In E.W. Bullinger’s Critical Lexicon and Concordance, apantēsis (“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 have been the exclusive definition of the word. In any case, I would argue that, with regard to the last part of his definition, Bullinger was simply making the same mistake as those who appeal to this word in support of their position. That is, because two of the three contexts in which apantēsis is found in Scripture (Matt. 25:6 and Acts 28:15) unambiguously involve the person being met remaining in the company of the other party while continuing on his way (or imply this), Bullinger thought it legitimate to attach this contextual information to the actual definition of the word. But again, to do this 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 it would be used in the contexts in which it is found. 

In light of the above definitions – as well as its usage in the LXX – I submit that those who are basing their understanding of what happens after believers “meet” Christ in the air 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 should inform our understanding of what, exactly, takes place after whatever “meeting” is in view. This follows from the fact that the argument that is based on the use of the term “meet” in other contexts necessarily relies on the various contexts in which the word is used for its perceived strength (that’s precisely why those who use this argument appeal to other contexts in which the word appears). In the other examples in which apantēsis is used, the reason we know for sure what happens after the meeting in view takes place is because it’s 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 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 erroneously 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-tribulational” interpretation of 1 Thess. 4:15-17 (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, however, 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 a meeting takes place. Nor does it tell us what the exact intent or purpose of the one being met is. Russino is letting additional information that is not inherent in the meaning of the word apantēsis (and which simply means “to meet”) redefine the word so that he can then claim that it means what he wants it to mean in 1 Thess. 4:17. But that which is said to happen after two parties “meet” doesn’t change the meaning of the word apantēsis. The word still means “to meet.”

It should also be noted that, in the very statement in which Russino is quoted as using the word “meet,” above, he used the word in accord with its standard, neutral meaning (“ means to go out and MEET the one coming…”). So it seems that Russino and others can’t even make their point concerning the meaning of a word that is, without exception, simply translated “meet” in 1 Thess. 4:17 without using the neutral – and correct – meaning of the word “meet.” Again, the term apantēsis need, at most, be understood as referring to a friendly encounter between those coming from two different directions. Given this meaning 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 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, after descending from heaven to the earth’s atmosphere and snatching away the saints in the body of Christ from the earth to meet him in the air, Christ is then going to return to heaven with them in his company. Apart from contextual indicators, the word by itself is simply inconclusive with regard to what is going to take place afterwards. And since the immediate context of 1 Thess. 4:17 doesn’t tell us what happens after the meeting takes place (unlike the other instances in which the word is used in Scripture), we have to let other broader contextual considerations inform our understanding of what is going to take place. 

Some who believe that Christ is going to descend to the earth immediately after the snatching away claim that the expression eis apantēsis is actually a technical (or semi-technical) term that denotes the formal reception/welcome of a visiting dignitary. In an article written in 1930, German scholar Erick Peterson wrote that apantēsis “is to be understood as a technical term for a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors.” And in their work on extra-biblical use of Greek vocabulary around the time of the writing of the Greek scriptures (also published in 1930), Moulton and Milligan similarly noted that the word apantēsis “...seems to have been a kind of technical term for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary.” Those who believe that the future scene described in 1 Thess. 1:16-17 will involve Christ’s post-tribulational return to earth to establish the kingdom then claim that, since (historically) the residents of a city would go out to meet the honored guest/dignitary and then escort him back to their city, its use by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:17 supports their position.

However, it is doubtful as to whether “eis apantēsis” did, in fact, have such a fixed, technical (or “semi-technical”) meaning in Paul’s day, or that Paul’s use of the term should be understood as conveying such a meaning.[2] And even granting that the term did (or could) have this technical/semi-technical meaning – and that Paul used it for this reason – its use by Paul would still not necessarily support the position that Christ is going to descend to the earth after the snatching away takes place. For, again, according to the more “technical” definition provided above, nothing is said about where those who welcome the arriving dignitary go after the meeting takes place. It must also be emphasized that neither Peterson nor Moulton and Milligan say that the term apantēsis includes the notion of returning with the dignitary to the place from which the greeting party came from (in fact, it’s evident that Milligan himself did not believe that the term implies that the dignitary necessarily return back with the greeters, as noted in his commentary on 1 Thessalonians: “The thought is that the 'raptured' saints will be carried up into the 'air,' as the interspace between heaven and earth, where they will meet the descending Lord, and then either escort him down to the earth in accordance with O.T. prophecy, or more probably in keeping with the general context accompany Him back to heaven.”).

Moreover, while there may be certain similarities between the event described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 and the arrivals of earthly dignitaries/magistrates to certain cities, there are also important differences that cannot be overlooked. The fact is that what Paul described in this passage has no exact parallel or correspondence with anything that has ever happened in this world with any earthly dignitary/magistrate. For example, believers are not simply going to depart on their own accord to meet Christ after he descends from heaven into earth’s upper atmosphere. There is no volitional, premeditated action on the part of the saints during this event. Instead, the saints in the body of Christ are forcefully – and without any preparation on their part – “snatched away” by Christ to meet him in the air. There are, of course, more differences that could be noted, but the point is that any analogy that may exist between what is described in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 and events of a more mundane nature that involved the arrival of dignitaries on earth in ancient times cannot be pressed too far.

The only reason anyone can argue from the more technical definitions that Christ will be descending to earth with believers in his company is because it is assumed that Christ's intended purpose is the same as when an earthly dignitary would meet the residents of a city outside of the city. But when apantēsis was used in reference to a meeting that takes place between the residents of a city and a visiting dignitary, it would be clear from the context that the intent of the visiting dignitary was to visit the city of the residents who are coming out to meet him. However, what Paul wrote in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 does not make it clear what Christ’s intended purpose and destination is after believers are snatched away to meet him in the air. This must be determined by other considerations (among which are, I believe, what Scripture reveals concerning the nature and duration of the “coming indignation” from which Christ, our Rescuer, is going to be rescuing us).

[2] See, for example, Michael Cosby’s excellent article refuting this position: “Hellenistic Formal Receptions and Paul’s Use of Apantesis in 1 Thessalonians 4:17,” Michael R. Cosby, Bullentin for Biblical Research 4 (1994) 15-34 ( See also the following articles: and

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Part Four)

The dead in Christ shall rise first

When the “trumpet of God” is sounded by Christ (and the “last trump” referred to by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:52 occurs), there will be an immediate resurrection/vivification of every member of the body of Christ (i.e., those who were called by God through the evangel that was entrusted to Paul, and which he was heralding among the nations during his apostolic ministry). Thus, as far as the enjoyment of our eonian life is concerned (and our removal from the earth to meet Christ in the air), those believers who will still be alive when Christ comes to deliver his body will have no advantage or precedence over those saints who died. Before living believers are snatched away, the dead in Christ will be raised. This is, of course, a remarkable revelation in and of itself. However, what some believers fail to fully appreciate is that the scriptural revelation concerning the time of the resurrection of “the dead in Christ” referred to in 1 Thess. 4:17 stands in stark contrast with what Scripture reveals concerning the expectation of the saints among God’s covenant people who will be dead when Christ returns to earth.

As noted earlier, there is nothing said about a resurrection of the dead taking place at the time when, in fulfillment of Zech. 14:4 and Matt. 24:30-31, Christ returns to earth to deliver Israel from her enemies. We are told in Matt. 24:31 that those whom Christ referred to as “His chosen” will be assembled through the agency of messengers, but the larger context of this chapter indicates that this group of people will consist of believing Israelites who will have survived the time of great affliction and lived to see Christ’s return. It is these 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). Absolutely nothing is said about anyone being resurrected or vivified at this time. And considering the huge significance of such an event as the resurrection of Israel’s saints, its absence from this passage is especially glaring.  

So when will the saints among God’s covenant people be raised, if not at the time of Christ’s return to earth? 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). 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 heptad 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 this wicked ruler will be 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 “70 weeks” 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 heptad 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, as I’ve argued elsewhere, likely symbolizes the believing Jewish remnant who will be dwelling in the land of Israel at this time) 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 heptad. 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 heptad 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 see – 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. 

One proponent of the view that the sounding of the trumpet by the seventh messenger is the “last trump” referred to by Paul attempted to tie these passages together by claiming that, when the seventh messenger sounds his trumpet, there “is a resurrection of Israel’s saints.” However, we aren’t told that there will be a resurrection of Israel’s saints (or any resurrection at all) when the seventh messenger trumpets. What we are told in Rev. 11:18 is that, after the sounding of the seventh angel’s trumpet, the twenty-four elders declare that,

“...the nations are angered, and Thy indignation came, and the era for the dead to be judged, and to give their wages to Thy slaves, the prophets, and to the saints and to those fearing Thy name, the small and the great, and to blight those who are blighting the earth.”

That which is said to have come is the “era” or “season” (karios) in which this event (as well as others) takes place, and not the event itself. There is no mention whatsoever of a resurrection taking place when the seventh messenger trumpets.

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).[1] 

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

We could, of course, go on listing events until we get to the creation of the new heaven and new earth and the descent of New Jerusalem, but the point is that there is a clear chronological order to the events that are prophesied as taking place in Revelation. 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. This order of events simply does not match what we find revealed by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-18 and 1 Cor. 15:50-53. However, the chronology revealed in Revelation 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. We therefore have good reason to believe that the resurrection of Israel’s deceased saints and the resurrection of “the dead in Christ” referred to in 1 Thess. 4:16 are completely different events taking place at completely different times.

[1] 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.

A Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Part Three)

The Chief Messenger

Some assume that, because Michael is referred to as the “chief messenger” in Jude 9, he must be the same “chief messenger” referred to by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:16. However, I believe there are good reasons to believe that Paul did not have Michael in view here. First, let’s consider a few passages from Daniel in which certain superhuman, angelic “chiefs” are referred to. In Daniel 10:12-14, we read the following words spoken to Daniel by a celestial messenger (probably Gabriel; see Daniel 8:16; 9:21):

“Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The chief of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the first chiefs, came to help me, for I was left there with the chief of the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

And in verses 20-21, we read:

“Then he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the chief of the kingdom of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the chief of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your chief.”

Finally, in Daniel 12:1 we read: “In that era Michael shall stand up, the great chief who is standing over the sons of your people. Then an era of distress will come to pass, such as has not occurred since there was a nation on the earth, until that era.”

What we discover from the above verses is that there are several “chiefs” among the celestial messengers. Some (e.g., Gabriel) are on the side of God and the saints, while others (e.g., the “chief of the kingdom of Persia”) are, evidently, antagonistic toward them. Among the angelic “chiefs” who are clearly on the side of God and his saints is Michael, who is referred to as “your [Daniel’s] chief” and as “the great chief who is standing over the sons of your [Daniel’s] people.” Among the celestial messengers, then, Michael is to be understood as the chief messenger of Israel (just as there is a chief messenger of Persia, a chief messenger of Greece, etc.).

Thus, Michael’s dispute with the Adversary over the “body of Moses” (Jude 9) makes perfect sense when we realize that Michael is the chief messenger of Israel. But do we have any good reason to believe that Michael is the chief messenger in view in 1 Thessalonians 4:16? No. We know that Paul did not have Daniel’s people, Israel, in view when he prophesied concerning the “dead in Christ rising first” and the snatching away of the living and the (formerly) dead in Christ to meet the Lord in the air. The saints whom Paul had in view as being snatched away to meet Christ in the air are those who, at that time, constituted the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:15-19; 10:16-17; 12:12-27; Rom. 12:4-5). As noted earlier, this company of saints simply cannot be identified with either national Israel or the chosen remnant among Daniel’s people. Since Paul – in contrast with, for example, Peter, James and John – wasn’t addressing a group of believers consisting primarily of those among the twelve tribes of Israel (or even gentile proselytes to Israel) in his first letter to the Thessalonians, it follows that the “Chief Messenger” of this particular body of saints couldn’t have been Michael (who, again, is the chief messenger of Daniel’s people, Israel).

There is further evidence that the “Chief Messenger” referred to by Paul is someone other than Michael. In contrast with Christ’s words in Matthew 24:30-31 and John’s prophecy in Revelation 19:11-14 (for example), Paul doesn’t say anything in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 about Christ coming with any (let alone “all”) of the “holy messengers.” Rather, we read of “the Lord Himself descending from heaven.” And immediately after this, we read that Christ will be descending “with a shout of command.” In other words, Christ’s voice will be heard as he’s descending (as a “shout of command”). Thus, when Paul went on to add “with the voice of the Chief Messenger,” he can be understood as referring back to (and expanding upon) what he’d just said concerning the “shout of command.” This means that the “Chief Messenger” whom Paul had in view is none other than the Lord himself.

Like the nation of Israel, the body of Christ (which is a multinational/multiethnic body of people) has its own “Chief Messenger.” But our Chief Messenger isn’t Michael; rather, our Chief Messenger is Christ Jesus himself, the Head of “the ecclesia which is his body.” It should be noted that an “angel” or “messenger” is simply one whose role or office involves delivering a message, carrying out a decree or executing the purpose of another, and does not necessarily refer to a particular class or category of celestial beings (although it can, in certain contexts; see, for example, Heb. 1-2, where the “messengers” in view throughout these two chapters are exclusively celestial, non-human beings). Significantly, both John the Baptist and Christ are prophetically referred to as “messengers” in Malachi 3:1 (for more examples where the term is used in reference to human beings, see Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:24; 9:52; Acts 12:15; 2 Cor. 12:7; James 2:25).  

It is the voice of Christ alone that will be heard as a “shout of command” as Christ descends from heaven to the atmospheric region where the meeting in the air will take place. However, in contrast with what we read in John 5:25-29 (cf. John 11:43), it is not the voice of Christ that directly results in the resurrection referred to by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-17. Rather, it is the sounding of a trumpet, as revealed by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:51-52:

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.

Notice that it is both those saints who will still be alive and those who will be dead who will be “changed.” For those still alive, the “change” will involve “putting on immortality,” and for those who are dead it will involve being “roused incorruptible.” Thus, we see from verse 52 that both the change of the living and of the dead is connected with the sounding of the trumpet, for both are said to occur “at the last trump,” when “he will be trumpeting.” The fact that the sounding of this trumpet will result in people being vivified is highly significant, for this can be understood as revealing the identity of the one who will be trumpeting.

“At the last trump

In 1 Thess. 4:15-17 there is no sequence of trumpets referred to or implied. Rather, Paul referred to only a single trumpet (the “trumpet of God”) as being sounded at this future time. But how, then, are we to understand Paul's words in 1 Cor. 15:52 (where we read of “the last trumpet” or “the last trump”)? There are several interpretations of the expression “at the last trumpet” (en tēi eschatēi salpiggi) that 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 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.[1] 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). The only reason I haven’t appealed to these “secondary definitions” of salpigx is because I see them as implying (and being derived from) the use of the figure of speech association/metonymy. 

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). As already noted, 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 blast 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)” ( Although the interpretation I’ve advanced above 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 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 to occur “at the time of a trumpet.” 

Since it is at the sounding of what Paul called the “trumpet of God” that both the living and dead members of the body of Christ are introduced into a state of immortality and incorruption, we can conclude that whoever is sounding this trumpet is the authorized agent by whom the dead and living saints that Paul had in view are to be vivified. Given this fact, I believe it is Christ himself who will be the one trumpeting at this future time, for only Christ has been given the authority to vivify the dead. Some students of Scripture, however, believe that Paul had in mind the sequence of trumpet-soundings referred to by John in Revelation 8-11, and that the identity of the implied trumpeter in 1 Cor. 15:52 is the seventh of the seven unnamed angels referred to in Revelation 8:2. For example, one proponent of this “post-trib” interpretation of Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:52 stated the following in defense of it:

”If Paul said they would be raised at the last trumpet, it means that there are other trumpets blown before it. There is no denying the fact that before the Second Coming of Christ trumpets are going to be blown. In Revelation 8-11 there will be at least 7 trumpets blown before Jesus comes. In I Corinthians 15 Paul said the dead would be raised at “the LAST TRUMPET.” If there are 7 trumpets blown before He comes, to which trumpet is Paul referring? That’s easy: it’s number 7 in Revelation 11:15…”

However, Paul doesn’t say that he had this particular sequence of trumpet-soundings in view in 1 Cor. 15:52, and it’s unlikely that either he or the original recipients of 1 Corinthians were even aware of such a sequence. There is no evidence that Paul had received revelation concerning these seven messengers and the specific calamities resulting from the sounding of their trumpets during the day of the Lord; rather, it was to the apostle John – while he was on the island of Patmos – that this particular prophetic information was revealed (and it was, of course, John who was chosen by God to make it known). And given the fact that there is compelling internal and external evidence pointing to John’s having written this work near the end of the first century (i.e., during the reign of Caesar Domitian, circa 95-96 AD), it’s unlikely that the saints in Corinth to whom Paul wrote would have even been familiar with such a sequence of trumpet soundings. [2]

In any event, there is nothing said by Paul or John that demands this interpretation. The key to scriptural interpretation is not merely the comparison of like words (such as “trumpet”), but rather the context of various passages of Scripture. And when we compare the context in which the “last trumpet”/”trumpet of God” is referred to by Paul and the context in which the trumpeting of the seventh angel is found, the differences – both in what is said and what is not said – are great enough to warrant the belief that the two events are not the same. The context of Revelation 10-17 and that of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 are completely different. The sounding of the “trumpet of God” is associated with the descent of Christ from heaven to rescue those not appointed to indignation from the “coming indignation” by removing them from the earth (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:15-17; 5:9-11), while the trumpeting of the seventh angel is associated with further calamity and indignation coming upon the inhabitants of the earth (Rev. 11:18-19). In fact, the trumpeting of the seventh messenger is said to bring about the third “woe” in a sequence of three “woes” (Rev. 8:13; 9:12; 11:14). And these three “woes” will have been preceded by four earlier trumpet-related calamities (Rev. 8:6-12) which – like the tumultuous events that will be brought about by the breaking of the seven-sealed scroll – can all be understood as expressions of God’s indignation or “wrath.”

However, nowhere does Paul say or hint that the sounding of the “trumpet of God” at Christ’s descent from heaven will result in calamity or “woe” for anyone (nor is the trumpeting of the seventh angel said to be accompanied by, or to result in, the descent of the Lord himself from heaven, the voice [singular] of the “Chief Messenger,” the rousing and rising of the dead in Christ, the change of the living, or the snatching away of any saints to meet the Lord in the air). Thus, while the sounding of the “trumpet of God” is associated with a time before God’s indignation begins (for it is that which will sound when the time comes for those not appointed for indignation to be removed from the earth), the trumpeting of the seventh messenger will occur during (and near the end of) a period of time that will already be characterized by God’s indignation.

[2] Even the earlier dating that some propose for the writing of Revelation – i.e., circa 65-66 AD (during the reign of Caesar Nero) – would be too late for the original recipients of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to have knowledge of the sequence of trumpet-soundings revealed to John and recorded in Revelation 8-11.