Escorting the King of Kings?

In the previous article (Rapture Ready?) on the pre-tribulation ‘Rapture’ (PTR) we looked at, among other things, the primary passage used to support the doctrine, namely 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17. Parallel and similarly-themed passages to these Thessalonian verses—ones mentioning a “trumpet” in the context of the gathering of believers (both dead and alive)—were shown not to support the PTR. In fact, these parallel passages suggest a completely different understanding, which in turn suggests a non-PTR interpretation in the Thessalonian passage.

In this post we will more closely analyze this same passage. Understanding Paul’s primary and secondary purposes in preparing this passage will further support our non-PTR position. At the same time, this may provoke other intriguing lines of inquiry.

Additional Revelation

Before proceeding further, however, I shall provide two additional passages relating to Jesus’ Parousia. These were left off the preceding article due to length. They are presented here as further evidence for the previous article’s stance as well as background for the current one. Both are from Revelation. The first is the seventh of seven trumpets (cf. Rev 10:7), which is the last trumpet of all:

11:15 Then the seventh angel trumpeted, and [then] there were loud voices in heaven, saying: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. 16 Then the twenty-four elders, who sit upon their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God 17 saying: We give you thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and reign. 18 The nations/people were enraged, but then came your wrath and the time for the dead to be judged—and to reward your bond-servants: the prophets, the saints, and those who fear your name, the small and the great—and to destroy those who destroy the earth.

The above passage has its own focal points, yet this last of seven trumpets is certainly the same as the “last trumpet” of 1Corinthians 15:52—and, as pointed out in the previous article, the Corinthian passage is a parallel to 1Thess 4:15–17. Though the Parousia and the gathering of the saints are not explicitly mentioned, both are implied, given the other similarly-themed passages which do mention them. That is, the Parousia and gathering are assumed to be nearly coincident with the trumpet sound yet prior to he shall reign forever and ever (compare And so we shall be forever with the Lord in 1Thess 4:17). Judgment, in both its negative (“wrath”) and positive (“reward”) aspects, is one of the foci (cf. Matt 25:31–46, the sheep and goats). And judgment is the sole focus of the remaining Revelation passage we will explore:

14:14 Then I saw—behold!—a white cloud. And sitting upon this cloud was one like a son of man—upon his head a golden crown and in his hand a sharp sickle. 15 And then another angel/messenger came out of the temple crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting upon the cloud: Apply your sickle and reap! For the hour has come to reap, because ripe is the earth’s harvest. 16 And the one sitting upon the clouds thrust his sickle upon the earth and the earth was harvested.

The imagery of one like a son of man seated upon this cloud evokes both Daniel 7:13 (cf. Rev 1:7, 13–14) and Matt 24:30. One might initially mistake this passage as indicating negative judgment (cf. Joel 3:13)—perhaps especially considering the “sharp sickle” symbol—but that would misinterpret the ‘reaping of the harvest’ metaphor here and in its broader context. See Matt 3:11–12/Luke 3:16–17 and the parable of the weeds (Matt 13:24–30) for comparison. To keep in proper context, this Revelation passage (14:14–16) should be contrasted with the wrath of God expressly stated in the verses immediately following it (14:17–20;1 cf. 1Thess 5:3). Thus, Revelation 14:14–16 is the harvesting of believers—though no distinction is made between those still alive and the dead in Christ.

As Paul states in 1Thess 5:9: For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are saved from wrath, but not necessarily from tribulation (just ask the Thessalonians). We may suffer at the hands of our enemies (or not), but we will not suffer God’s wrath. Believers are whisked away just prior to God’s wrath pouring out upon the earth on the Day of the Lord.

A Closer Look

Now we will scrutinize the Thessalonians passage, adding verse 18 (1Thess 4:13–18):

4:13 Now brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping, so that you will not grieve as the rest—those who have no hope. 14 For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, in this way also God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus along with Him [Jesus]. 15 For this we say to you, by word of the Lord: We who are alive, those remaining until the coming [Parousia] of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 Because He, the Lord, will descend from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; 17 then we who are alive, those remaining, shall be caught up [harpazō, ‘raptured’] together along with them, in the clouds, to meet [eis apantēsin] the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord. 18 So, encourage one another with these words.

Paul opens with a plea for the Thessalonians not to grieve about the dead in Christ (13–14) and closes with an exhortation to encourage each other (18). There seems to have been some mistaken notion about the ‘fate’ of the dead in Christ (13–14). The Thessalonian ekklēsia was primarily, if not exclusively, from a pagan background.2 Accordingly, they believed the dead had no positive future. Thus, Paul wanted to remind (or apprise) them of our future resurrection hope (14–17)—and the disposition of those surviving until Jesus’ Parousia. This future meeting of all believers dead and alive with Christ at the Parousia would provide the reason they could “encourage one another” (18) in the (then) present time.

So, Paul’s primary objective in this passage was to correct their misunderstanding—whatever this was exactly—regarding the dead in Christ (“those who have fallen asleep through Jesus”). And, toward this end, Paul quite likely went beyond what most English readers would perceive. That is, in his use of the verb harpazō (“caught up”) he may well have consciously repurposed this term (17) from pagan ideology, as Malherbe asserts:

Of special interest is the consolation tradition, which casts light on Paul’s use [of harpazō] and shows once more how he turns conventional expressions to a pastoral use. Epitaphs lament Fate’s snatching (harpazein) away the dead from their loved ones to Hades . . . Letters of condolence then use harpazein and its cognates in addressing or speaking of the grief stricken . . .

 . . . [Paul’s] purpose is to console . . . The dead in Christ will rise, and their separation from those who were left is overcome as, ironically, they are snatched up together with them. In a neat twist, Paul uses the conventional language of grief to comfort. He does not say who snatches them up, but v 14 would seem to indicate that it is God who gathers them together by snatching them up.3

In other words, Paul took a term (harpazō) with a negative connotation and inverted it. Instead of “Fate” ‘snatching’ all the dead to Hades forever, God will ‘snatch’ the dead in Christ together with those believers still alive at Jesus’ Parousia. We will all then meet Him “in the air”. The Apostle linguistically ties this idea together in his use of “along with Him [Jesus]” (syn autō̹) in verse 14 and “together along with them” (hama syn autois) in 17. In verse 14 God will bring/lead the dead in Christ along with Jesus, i.e., once the dead arise as Jesus had done God will snatch them (together with those yet alive) to meet Jesus in the air (17).4 As Paul states in his first Corinthian epistle, For the [last] trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (15:52).

In service of his primary objective, Paul necessarily had to explain some end time events. However, importantly, this was subsidiary. Similarly, in the immediately following section (5:1–11), Paul’s primary purpose is again pastoral, with a brief explanation of eschatology toward that goal. As Green helpfully explains in his overview of 1Thessalonians 5:1–11,

The purpose of the whole discussion of this theme is pastoral and not speculative (v. 11; cf. 4:13, 18). Paul demonstrates no interest in fueling an apocalyptic perspective in order to hypothesize about the end or to foster escapism. The teaching about final events is meant to inform and encourage them in their daily life and conduct. Clear thinking about the end is designed to help them live as true Christians in the present.5

The Day of the Lord comes as “a thief in the night” (5:2) solely with respect to unbelievers (5:3), not to believers, who will not be caught by surprise (5:4; cf. Luke 21:29–31). Importantly, note that Paul linguistically ties this section together with the previous section (1Thess 4:13–18): “Jesus died for us, so whether awake [alive] or sleeping [dead] we will live together along with Him (hama syn autō̹)” (5:10). Following this affirmation, Paul provides his concluding exhortation (5:11).

Where Do We Go From There?

An unanswered question in the Thessalonians passage—and not explicitly answered elsewhere in Scripture—is this: Where do we go after meeting Jesus “in the air”? Clearly, at the Parousia Jesus will descend from heaven (16), while believers will be caught up with Him “in the clouds” (17). One comes down, the others up. But once we meet “in the air”, where do we believers go? Do believers and Jesus go together, or do believers continue on to one destination, while Jesus proceeds to another?

In the PTR view, Jesus reverses course and believers continue on, escorting Him to heaven.6 But the analyses in this and the preceding article related to it have shown the PTR view to be insupportable when placed in the broader context of Scripture as a whole. Taking the similarly-themed passages as a group, the most logical movement for Jesus is to continue earthward, or, alternatively, to remain in the clouds to pour out His wrath upon the earth from there. Where, then, would believers go (or remain)? Scripture elsewhere records judgment/rewards at the end of the age (e.g., Daniel 12:1–3; John 5:28–29).

The remainder of this article will be necessarily speculative in probing for answers to this question of movement and/or destination. To be clear at the outset, I do not wish to make any firm conclusions from any of the data presented below. I am merely providing the following as intriguing [to me anyway] food for thought. That said, let’s dive into the data!

In 1Thess 4:16 the first command could be understood as a battle cry (see various English versions: “shout of command”, “cry of command”, etc.). And the “trumpet of God” could be similarly understood. Adding the “voice of the archangel”, Witherington observes, “The images are martial, as if Jesus were summoning His army.”7 These images accord well with the battle imagery of the Rider on the White Horse (Rev 19:11–16). Note that His army here includes those “wearing fine linen, pure white” (19:14; cf. 19:7–8; 7:9, 13–14). And Paul states something intriguing in 1Cor 6:2–3, almost in passing: “Do you not know that the saints/holy ones (hoi agioi) will judge the world? . . . Do you not know we will judge angels?” When are we to judge the world and the angels? Whatever the timing, this idea must be harmonized with God’s clear words, “Vengeance is mine” (Deut 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).

In another article on CrossWise it was noted that the term Parousia had been used in antiquity for the fanfare surrounding the arrival of a king, ruler, or dignitary (see definition A2 here). The ISBE records how parousia was found in various inscriptions, noting specifically its application to the Greek god of medicine:

In Hellenistic Greek it was used for the arrival of a ruler at a place, as is evidenced by inscriptions in Egypt, Asia Minor, etc. Indeed, in an Epidaurus inscription of the 3rd century BC…‘Parousia’ is applied to a manifestation of Aesculapius [Aσκληπιός Asklēpiós]. Consequently, the adoption of Greek-speaking Christians of a word that already contained full regal and even Divine concepts was perfectly natural.8

Considering their pagan background, surely the Thessalonians understood Paul’s intention behind his use of Parousia. Such a regal backdrop can add substance to the battle imagery noted earlier. But there is even more to consider here.

The words translated “to meet” in 1Thess 4:17 are from the Greek eis apantēsin. This is an accusative (direct object) phrase, and the infinitive “to meet” in translation is somewhat of a compromise. The Greek is actually a preposition (eis, “into”, “in”, “for”) and noun (apantēsin, “meeting”). We might think of it more along the lines of eis martyrian in John 1:7: “This man came for testimony, to witness about the Light.” As such it would be more like: “for a meeting with the Lord in the air”.9

With that background, we can proceed further. Two different Christian sources claim this noun apantēsis (in its accusative form apantēsin) carried particular significance in Hellenistic culture:

According to 1 Th. 4:17 . . . there will be a rapture eis apantēsin tou kyriou eis aera [“to meet the Lord in the air”]. The word apantēsis (also hupantēsis . . .) 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. Similarly, when Christians leave the gates of the world, they will welcome Christ in the aēr [“air”], acclaiming Him as kyrios [“Lord”].10

The word seems to have been a kind of technical term for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary—a usage which accords excellently with its New Testament usage.11

Before exploring the New Testament (NT) examples, a selection from historian Polybius (Histories, V 26:8–9) will illustrate its usage in Hellenistic culture near-contemporaneous with Scripture. Note that Polybius also uses a verb form (apantaō) of this noun to restate the initial meeting, and he uses a separate verb (gignomai, “came”) to record the escort back to Corinth:

So, with Apelles nearing Corinth, Leontius, Ptolemy and Megaleas—commanders of the foot soldiers and the other army divisions—with great urgency, spurred the young men to go for the meeting [eis tēn apantēsin] with him [Apelles]. Consequently, Apelles came [to Corinth] with great fanfare, due to the multitude of soldiers and officers who had come to meet [apantēsantōn] him, and marched directly to the royal court.12

Note that the welcoming party would first go out with the purpose of meeting the dignitary en route, and then turn back toward their own locale to accompany him for the remainder of his journey.

Backing up for a moment, it might prove beneficial to further define both apantēsis and hupantēsis. Each is a compound of a preposition + noun. The first is from the verb apantaō: apo (“from”) + antaō (from anti, meaning “against”, “opposite”, “instead of”). Danker defines the term ‘come opposite to’, hence ‘meet face to face’.13 The second is from the verb hupantaō: hupo (“under”, “below”) + antaō, defined as draw up close for encounter.14 The two are synonyms but may well have different nuances, depending on context.

The first NT passage we will explore is, appropriately, in the long discourse on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:1–25:46), which contains Jesus’ teaching on the end times. The passage in question is known as The Parable of the Ten Virgins:

25:1 “At that time the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins taking their lamps to meet [eis hupantēsin] the Bridegroom. 2 Now five of them were foolish, yet five wise. 3 For the foolish taking their lamps had not taken any oil with them, 4 but the wise had taken flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 Because of the Bridegroom’s long delay, they all became tired and fell asleep. 6 But in the middle of the night came a shout, ‘Look, the Bridegroom! Come out to meet [eis apantēsin] Him!’ 7 So all those virgins arose, and they trimmed their lamps. 8 Then the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil because our lamps are burning low.’ 9 But the wise replied, saying, ‘No, there may not be enough for both us and you. Go instead to the sellers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 But as they were leaving to buy, the Bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready entered the wedding with Him. Then the door closed. 11 Later the remaining virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us!’ 12 Replying, He said, ‘Amen, I say to you: I do not know you.’ 13 So, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The substance of this parable does not quite fit the pattern of going out to meet the dignitary, and then accompanying him back to the originating locale. However, it does match a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors. And the five wise did accompany Him to the wedding. Moreover, the content is thematically related to both 1Thess 4:13–18 and 1Thess 5:1–11. So it is useful for analysis.

As with any parable, it can be perilous to attempt to make concrete parallels to the figurative language. But it would be safe here to understand the oil as indicating degree of readiness. In this sense, the oil could signify the amount of Holy Spirit infilling (Eph 5:15–21). If so, this idea of purchasing oil could be understood as akin to Simon Magus, aka Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24)—except maybe for the fact that the five wise suggested the idea to the foolish. Whatever the case, it is clear that Jesus (the Bridegroom) ‘does not know’ the foolish (cf. Matt 7:21–23). All ten desired to meet Jesus, but half were not ready, thereby missing the wedding (Rev 19:6–9; cf. 19:17–18).

The next NT selection for consideration is in Acts 28, which follows the pattern of the Polybius’ passage. While on his journey to Rome, Paul is welcomed by some brothers from Rome, and the brothers accompany him for the rest of his trip:15

28:15 After hearing the things concerning us, the brothers from there [Rome] came up to Appias’ Forum and Three Taverns to greet (eis apantēsin) us. Upon seeing them, Paul, thanking God, was encouraged. 16 So when we entered [eiserchomai] into Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

The next passage, like the first, is from Matthew’s Gospel. But it is very different in that it is regarding Jesus’ encounter with the two demon-possessed men from the land of the Gadarenes, whom he exorcises by sending the demons into nearby swine:

8:28 Upon His arrival to the other side, to the land of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs—exceedingly violent, such that no one is able to pass through that way—confronted [hupantaō] Him. 29 Excitedly they cried out, “What is it between us and you, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30 Off in the distance from them was a herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the demons begged Him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go!” So, after they came out, they went into the swine. Immediately, the entire herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and died in the waters! 33 Those who were tending the pigs fled; and then, going into town, they reported all, especially concerning the two demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town left to confront [eis hupantēsin] Jesus. Upon seeing Him, they urged that he should turn away [metabainō] from their borders.

Given the context, I decided to translate to the stronger “confronted”/“to confront” instead of simply “meeting”. The recurrence of the two words (verb in 28, noun in 34) may have been intended as a linguistic framing device to tie the story together. The final verse (34) is the primary one to analyze here, for it begins with the accusative eis hupantēsin and ends with the verb “turn away” (metabainō). I perceive the townspeople’s message here as one of ‘go away and don’t come back!’ Accordingly, I interpret this passage: After Jesus drove the demons out of the two men and into the herd of pigs, the townspeople drove Jesus from their town to any other!

In any case, verse 34 at least partly follows the pattern— it does not specify whether or not they escorted Jesus back to the shoreline—though in a negative way. That is, Jesus is not considered a dignitary by the townspeople. However, this could be a case of irony. That is, though the townspeople saw Jesus as villainous, the fact that they intercepted Him and essentially drove Him out of town, follows this pattern as if He were the dignitary He really is!

Tangentially, though still relatedly, observe the demons’ question to Jesus regarding “the appointed time”. Is this the time believers will “judge angels”?

The final passage to consider is The Triumphal Entry in John’s Gospel (John 12:12–15):

12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast, after hearing Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took palm branches and came to welcome [eis hupantēsin] Him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD: the King of Israel!” 14 Then Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat upon it, as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter of Zion. Behold! Your King is coming, sitting upon a donkey’s colt!”

 . . . 17 Now the crowd—those who were with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead—continued bearing testimony. 18 Because of this also, the crowd greeted [hupantaō] Him—for they heard He had performed that miracle.

Though not explicit, it is strongly implied that those who went out with palm branches to welcome Jesus also escorted Him into Jerusalem. This, then, fits the Polybius pattern.

Verses 17–18 may not be directly related to The Triumphal Entry, but they do exhibit a similar pattern to the Polybius passage. The difference is that a verbal form is used instead of the accusative phrase.

What Can Be Concluded?

Having provided the applicable Hellenistic background and all the NT examples corresponding to or approximating this background, what, if anything, can we make of the data? Can any of this be used in attempting to determine where believers go immediately after our meeting in the air with Jesus?

What do you think?


1 Note that these clusters of grapes are from the vine of the earth, that is, they get their sustenance from the earth as opposed to from the Lord (cf. John 15:1–17).

2 See 1Thess 1:9 how you turned from idols to serve the living and true God.

3 Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Anchor Yale Bible; Accordance electronic ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 276. Emphasis added.

4 “Those who have fallen asleep through Jesus” will rise from the dead first, then both the newly-arisen/formerly-‘sleeping’ in Christ and believers yet still alive will be ‘snatched’ up together. This sequence is the most faithful to the text. It is probably only a nanosecond after the dead arise that both these newly-arisen and the remaining believers are ‘snatched’ up together by God to meet Jesus in the air. In this way, all believers will be ‘snatched’ up together simultaneously in order to have one single meeting “in the clouds” with Jesus. This concurs with Paul’s statement that those remaining (those alive) when Jesus comes “will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep”—the living will not precede the dead in Christ, but the dead in Christ will not precede those yet alive either, with respect to the meeting in the clouds. Put simply, we are all ‘snatched’ together (hama) “to meet the Lord in the air”.  Accordingly, the ‘Rapture’ is a ‘snatching’ of both the newly-raised-formerly-‘sleeping’and those still alive in Christ at His Parousia. This, then, conforms to the one gathering of believers in Matthew 24:31 and the one harvesting of believers in Rev 14:14–16. This also concurs with 1Cor 15:51–52: Take note! I tell you a mystery: Not all will sleep, but all will be changed—in an instant, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [those yet living] will be changed. Paul then refers to the living as “the mortal”, which will be changed to “immortality” (15:53). In other words, Paul makes a distinction between the two groups and always places the dead before the living in the texts. Thus, all these passages easily harmonize by judiciously employing Occam’s razor.

5 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), p 230. Emphasis added.

6 Very likely due to a committed PTR stance, Robert L. Thomas (“1 Thessalonians”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians – Philemon, rev. ed., Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, gen. eds. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006]) states: Since God the Father is in heaven, the verb ά̓ξεί (axei, “will bring” . . .) indicates that the destination of the movement of Jesus and those with him in this verse is upward, not downward. At this moment of Jesus’ return in the air, the company named will not move back to the earth but toward the Father’s presence in heaven . . . (p 418). But this does not necessarily follow.

7 Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), p 138.

8 Burton Scott Easton, “Parousia”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st Ed. (1915), prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.4, para 43388

9 I retained “to meet” in my translation above because no other English version translated it “for a meeting” and I did not wish to cause any initial confusion. It was decided to leave the explanation of “for a meeting” for later—here—when explaining this speculative portion.

10 Erik Peterson, “ἀπάντησις”, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), G. Kittel & G. Friedrich, eds.; transl. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–76), p 1:380; Greek transliterated, bold added.

11 J.H. Moulton & G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), p 53.

12 Polybius, Histories, V.26.8–9 [Book 5, Chapter 26, section 8–9] (my transl.); Greek text [transliterated above] Theodorus Büttner-Wobst after L. Dindorf, 1893, courtesy Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, specifically  here.

13 Frederick W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p 40. Danker is the “D” in BDAG and the older BAGD.

14 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 361.

15 Without a firm grasp of ancient geography—and Luke’s rather confusing narration in this part—it is difficult to follow Paul’s journey and that of the brothers who wish to welcome him; so, I’ll rely on the almost always reliable F. F. Bruce (1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982]): Cf. . . . Acts 28:15, where the Christians from Rome walk south along the Appian Way to meet Paul and his company (eis apantēsin hēmin) and escort them on the remainder of their journey to Rome (pp 102–103).

52 Responses to Escorting the King of Kings?

  1. Craig says:

    See especially footnote 4.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Rapture Ready? | CrossWise

  3. Jim says:

    Great read Craig. You’ve put a good deal of thought around these themes, so thank you.

    I like the idea that seems to come over in the main body and in Footnote 4 that the concept of Death or Fate ‘snatching away’ a person’s life is inverted by Paul. He transposes that pagan cultural notion by saying that Jesus will ‘snatch’ believers back from death to life, to be joined by transformed living believers in the air. That whole paradigm voids a pre-TR as a secret event.

    And I like the ‘welcoming committee’ idea too. It reminded me of Acts 25:23 when King Agrippa arrives to hear Paul’s defence with great pomp and all the dignitaries of Caesarea. Not an exact comparison, but I strongly suspect that would have mirrored his first arrival in the town, although it’s not recorded.

    Lastly, I see the bible indicating that Jesus returns to mete out his judgement on the earth, to which we will be witnesses. He is destined to rule earth, indeed appointed to that role and title by the Father until the final enemy, death, is defeated. We are called to partake in that rule, as you noted, being judges over men and angels, so his return to an earth with subsequently no satanic influence will be ours to enjoy as we serve him.

    Open to alternate views on that last para. I haven’t closed off all the possible permutations that scripture could permit on that aspect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:


      Thanks for your comments, and you’re welcome! I’m glad at least one reader appreciates the effort.

      Because of the speculative nature of some aspects of eschatology, I’ve nothing to critique your penultimate paragraph. This speculative nature prevented me from taking any sort of stance in this particular regard.


    • Craig says:

      I must say that I was awestruck when I came to see the similarities between Ephesians 5:15-21 and the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for pointing this out!!!! That is fascinating!!!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Craig says:


          Yes, indeed! I initially looked at the Ephesians passage with respect to the verbiage “be filled with the Holy Spirit”, but as I checked the larger context I was stunned.

          And thanks for your help with the TDNT reference. Finding this in a footnote of Grudem’s Systematic fueled my somewhat tangential quest toward the ‘Escorting the King’ path. The reference to Polybius was cited there–though only one line was sourced (V 26.8; finding the second line [26.9] with its use of the verb form solidified it for me)–and this helped with tying the latter part of this article together (with the NT references).

          Liked by 1 person

        • Glad to be of service to you and your ministry!!!!!! I hope this post and your last will really get people thinking about the problems with the PTR.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Craig says:

          I sure hope so. I’ve many friends who just won’t take the time to really look at the data. It’s disconcerting. Sad.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Bruce Cooper says:

    Make that at least two who appreciate Craig, because I can surmise the amount of time a post like this takes to write. I am aware of the different tribulation perspectives and have read and studied a fair amount on the subject but I haven’t personally hammered it all out yet in my own mind. I am sitting in the circle, but just listening, writing down the references. Due to my age, multi-tasking is no longer one of my attributes, so I have a tendency to need to isolate myself from all other distractions and really focus. And thanks to individuals like you, who put the required time and effort that is required into this, I have a condensed path to seriously consider and I am sincerely thankful for that. Just wanted you to know that I am still listening. Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      Thanks Bruce!

      The only thing I’ve solidified is that the PTR is not supportable in Scripture (and post-millennialism is a non-starter). Outside that, I can’t say that I’ve nailed down much more.

      When I speak with others about this, I’m pretty certain that cognitive dissonance ensues, because the PTR doctrine is so ingrained. And it sure sounds good! But I think what they miss is that I’m not saying there isn’t a ‘Rapture’; I’m saying it doesn’t occur before a seven year tribulation period. We are whisked away before God’s wrath, not prior to a seven year tribulation! One cannot dichotomize 1Thess 4:13-17 with 1Cor 15:50-54, Matthew 24:3-31 and Rev 14:14-16. They are all referring to the same event!


  5. Bruce Cooper says:

    Hi Craig, I agree that PTR in my mind is wishful thinking by some and not supported. I think there is a real danger associated with that line of thinking, just like I can’t buy into the case for OSAS for the same reasons. We are also in agreement ref post-millennialism. I found your post “Rapture Ready” really helpful and this post even more so. Short story is your thought process helps me and at my age I need all the help I can get. I think I saw SlimJim say “keep em coming!” somewhere and I have to agree. Sincerely appreciate your endeavours. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      Yes indeed; OSAS is many times related to PTR. As regards OSAS, I think the Parable of the Ten Virgins should be read alongside both Ephesians 5:15-21 and Galatians 5:16-26. I think if we live our life by the flesh (Gal 5:17-21) we will find ourselves outside the wedding banquet like the foolish virgins.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Craig says:

    In reading more of Robert L. Thomas’ work, I’m becoming less and less impressed. His strong PTR leanings affect his objectivity. For example, like a good commentary writer he engages with the position of the ‘welcoming party’ for dignitaries, but he ends up dismissing it at the end, just after he says that, if it is applicable, “Christ would not necessarily be escorted back to earth immediately” (p 417 of reference @ note 6). This is a case of ‘having one’s cake and eating it, too’. Such an idea goes against the civic custom of the originating committee meeting the dignitary en route, and then coming back to the originating locale as escorts. How would such an idea (we meet Jesus in the air, Jesus reverses course and we believers go to heaven with Him, then we all return seven years later) be congruent with the custom?

    Further—and maybe this is just a peculiarity of the editors of the series—Thomas uses “cf.” to refer to sources that go against the position he’s stating. In the technical literature I see “contra” used in such cases (and this is apparently standard in law [see “Contradictory Signals” here]). For an example, when Thomas first mentions the technical force of apantēsis (“meet”/”meeting”) he references a source that apparently supports it (Best, 199); yet, at the end of his statements on this subject in which he claims the technical use does not apply in 1Thess 4:17 he cites THE SAME SOURCE that apparently supports it, plus one other that is non-committal (Bruce) and a third that doesn’t support its applicability here (Malherbe). His in-paragraph citation reads “(cf. Best, 199; Bruce, 102–3; Malherbe, 277)”. At best this is sloppy. This should be (cf. Malherbe, 277; Bruce, 102–3; contra Best, 199) or better (cf. Malherbe, 277; Bruce, 102–3, who is non-committal; contra Best, 199).

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are correct that it should be contra. I bought this commentary series but haven’t made it to Thessalonians yet. Other commentators, at least in the OT books do use contra in the manner which you state. Brother, I have a bunch of NT background books and commentaries that if you ever want I can email you.

      All too often PTR holders want to have their cake and eat it too. I think the same way with those who see no rapture. Admittedly, I am PreWrath and this is falling on deaf ears. No one, not even my own mom will consider that we will be here for some of the tribulation. I shared with my mom the other day that in the PreWrath view we are raptured after the AOD and directly after the Day of the Lord starts.

      Falling away/apostasy/spiritual deception and depression are increasing. I am grieved like you for the amount of people who will fall away or at least become very dejected because they are going through trials and hardships. Sad as you keep saying.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Also if I may ask (I was too busy ranting and lost my train of thought!) how do you like the Socio-Rhetorical Commentary?! I have thought about buying that but I wasn’t sure.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Craig says:

        I have the hardcover version of NT volumes in that series. I prefer physical books, but I’m running out of space… I might take you up on the offer of books and commentaries via email. If you’ll email me a list, I’ll look at it.

        I formerly held to a PreWrath view (mid-trib). Now I think we go through the entire tribulation–a literal seven years or not.

        I’m grieved over so many interrelated things. Folks just won’t entertain the notion that there might be some sort of global collusion going on–which lines up with Biblical prophecy, the way I see it (how can there be a universal ‘mark of the beast’ unless there’s a global authority structure to implement/mandate it?).

        I have my own share of trials and tribulations. But I know the truth. And, Lord willing, I will stand firm to the end.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I understand about running out of room! I still buy hard copies but I have a lot of series on e books. Going through the whole trib is more possible than pretrib. I agree about global collusion. I have been doing a lot of studying/research on the nature of the AC and the beast system. I will admit that I am more of a one world dictator who has the support of many nations but that we may not know who or what it is until the AOD. I am. It dogmatic about this. I just do not want to be deceived and there is so much deception, delusion occurring around us.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Craig says:

          Look into the World Economic Forum and The Great Reset.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I can only listen to so much of that because it really, really angers me!


        • That was supposed to say I am not dogmatic about that. I need to clarify the WEF and Great Reset, while it angers me I know that God is in control. I have been talking with my mom and two other ladies this week to consider/prepare that PTR isn’t true. I do think the strong delusion will befall the PTR holders.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Craig says:

          I saw that typo and was going to fix it. I knew what you meant!

          Yes, the “strong delusion” concerns me. And it should concern any discerning Christian, for it is God Himself Who sends it! We need to yearn for the truth.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Glad you knew what I meant!! I was thinking about my WEF comment and was like I need to clarify and when I saw that I was like, “ah, yikes!!!” I don’t understand why pastors and others in Christendom aren’t talking about God sending this strong delusion. This is heavy on my heart. After I finish psalm 119 and unless the Lord directs me otherwise, I want to write on trends that I am seeing.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Americaoncoffee says:

    A blessed post and referencing. There are so many signs in this hour that magnify our Lord’s coming. Thanks for the share.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Craig says:

    Unrelatedly–well, somewhat tangentially–I really enjoy Rick Beato’s enthusiasm, and he picked one of my favorite songs, from my favorite album by U2 (the only one I own, having sold off the rest years ago). Many don’t know that some of their earlier songs were Christian-themed (and I didn’t discover this until after my conversion)–this one quoting Isaiah 40:31. The way I read this, the main section of the lyrics is sung from the perspective of God, with one section from the perspective of the singer:

    “Drowning Man”

    [God] Take my hand
    You know I’ll be there
    If you can
    I’ll cross the sky for your love
    For I have promised
    Oh, to be with you tonight
    And for the time that will come

    [God] Take my hand
    You know I’ll be there
    If you can
    I’ll cross the sky for your love
    And I understand
    These winds and tides
    This change of times
    Won’t drag you away
    Hold on, and hold on tightly
    Hold on, and don’t let go
    Of my love

    [Believer] The storms will pass (the storm will pass)
    It won’t be long now (it won’t be long now)
    His love will last
    His love will last…forever

    [God] Take my hand
    You know I’ll be there
    If you can
    I’ll cross the sky for your love
    Give you what I hold dear

    [God] Hold on, hold on tightly
    Hold on, hold on tightly
    [Isaiah 40:31] Rise up, rise up
    With wings like eagles
    You run, you run
    You run and not grow weary

    [God] (take my hand, take my hand)
    Hold on, and hold on tightly
    Hold on, hold on tightly
    To this love…last forever
    To this love…last forever

    Take my hand
    Take my hand…

    Here’s the complete version without Beato’s comments:

    Too bad Bono became entangled with world politics…


  9. Craig says:

    Here are two commentarians supporting that the movement is earthward:

    We are not told what will follow that meeting in the air, but the imagery suggested by apantēsis . . . points to the earth as their final destination (the citizens, who had gone out to meet him, escorting the new arrival back to their city).

    David J. Williams, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series 12; Accordance electronic ed. 18 vols.; (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992), p 85.

    They rise first, i.e. before those Christians who are still living are caught up to be with the Lord and go to meet the Lord in the air. The picture is that of a group of citizens going out from a city to meet a visiting dignitary and accompany him back. This implies that the Lord returns with his people to the earth. (They certainly do not stay permanently on the clouds playing harps!) This language was probably never intended to be understood absolutely literally; it is describing things that go beyond words. The important thing is that believers, whether the dead or the living, are from then with the Lord for ever.

    I. Howard Marshall, 1 Thessalonians, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition; ed. D. A Carson et al.; Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p 1282.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. SLIMJIM says:

    Eschatology is probably my weakest area of theology…so I read this but feel not compelled with Pre-trib rapture but not sure of other views too. Thanks for this

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Craig says:

    Of the Thessalonians passage, according to F. F. Bruce, pp 102–3 (see note 15):

    When a dignitary paid an official visit (parousia) to a city in Hellenistic times, the action of the leading citizens going out to meet him and escort him back on the final stage of his journey was called the apantēsis. So Cicero, describing Julius Caesar’s progress through Italy in 49 BC, says, “Just imagine what apantēsis he is receiving from the towns, what honors are paid to him!” (Ad. Att. 8.16.2), and five years later he says much the same about Caesar’s adopted son Octavian: “The municipalities are showing the boy remarkable favor. . . . Wonderful apantēsis and encouragement!” (Ad. Att. 16.11.16). Cf. Matt 25:6, where the bridal party is summoned to go out and meet the bridegroom (eis apantēsin autou), so as to escort him with a torchlight procession to the banqueting hall, and Acts 28:15, where the Christians from Rome walk south along the Appian Way to meet Paul and his company (eis apantēsin hēmin) and escort them on the remainder of their journey to Rome.

    These analogies (especially in association with the term parousia) suggest the possibility that the Lord is pictured here as escorted on the remainder of his journey to earth by his people—both those newly raised from the dead and those who have remained alive. But there is nothing in the word apantēsis or in this context which demands this interpretation; it cannot be determined from what is said here whether the Lord (with his people) continues his journey to earth or returns to heaven. Similarly it is not certain whether the Son of Man, coming “in clouds” (Mark 13:26 par.; 14:62 par.) is on his way to earth or (as Dan 7:13) to the throne of God.

    And this is what I like about Bruce. He’s almost always measured in his positions, offering both pros and cons. After some further thought and study on this, I’ve arrived at a more informed opinion, and I’ll provide my take as I engage with Malherbe, p 277 (see note 3):

    The word apantēsis (“meet”) and its cognates in the NT are used in the ordinary sense of meeting (e.g., Matt 8:28; 25:1, 6; 28:9; Mark 14:13; Luke 8:27; 17:12). It is also used frequently in the LXX, and its use in Exod 19:10–18, which shares a number of features (descent of the Lord, meeting, clouds, trumpet) with 1 Thess 4:16–17, has been thought a sufficient background to Paul’s description (Dupont, 64–73). Another connotation has also been found, which has been more widely accepted (Peterson [TDNT]).

    In this technical sense, the word was used of citizens, or a group of them, going out of the city to meet a visiting dignitary and then escorting him back into the city (see Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 11.26–28, for a priest awaiting the parousia of Alexander in order to go out and meet [hypantēsis] him). The term was so well known in this sense that Cicero did not translate it into Latin (To Atticus 8.16.2; 16.11.6), and the rabbis adopted the Greek word as a loan word (E. Peterson in TDNT 1.381). It was the dignitary who gave the term its technical meaning; royal connotations did not always attach to the word when it described a group going out to meet a prominent person and escorting him (Acts 28:15).

    The technical meaning, which was recognized as early as John Chrysostom (Homilies on 1 Thessalonians 8 [PG 62:440]), has been advanced in support of the interpretation that the Lord’s people will “go to meet him in the air in order to escort him back to earth and that this is where they shall always be with the Lord” (Marshall 1983: 131). This opinion is strengthened by the connection of apantēsis with parousia (Gundry, 165–66), but it is improbable nevertheless on a number of counts. The Hellenistic processions were undertaken at the initiative of the welcomers, whereas here they are snatched up, presumably by God. Furthermore, the purpose of the meeting is to bring about their gathering with the Lord and each other, not to escort the Lord, of which nothing is said. Nothing is said about returning to earth, either here or in 1 Cor 15:23–28, 51–57 or Phil 3:20–21. Nor does Paul say that they will go to heaven or, indeed, what will transpire when they meet. He retains his focus on the problem at hand.

    First, I’ll challenge Malherbe regarding the “ordinary sense” of the term. Though he uses Matt 8:28 as an example, he does not mention 8:34, which I think could well be a case of “anti-apantēsis” in an ironic sense (as I note in the article), with the townspeople failing to see the Royalty in front of them. To his specific objection regarding the impetus coming from the welcoming party (as opposed to God bringing/leading believers), I’ll have to get a bit technical.

    The word used for the raising of “those who have fallen asleep through Jesus” is the verb anistemi in 4:14 and 4:16, and this verb here is active (as opposed to passive). This means the dead arise of their own power. And this concurs with Jesus claims in John 2:19 and 10:17, in which both actions are active (Jesus is the agent of His own raising); yet, in most all other texts Jesus is (passively [or mediopassively]) raised by God/the Father. Is this a contradiction? Of course not. It’s a joint effort by Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit), just like it will be in the resurrection of believers. The dead in Christ want to be raised (to be with Jesus/God), and in some sense—according to the Greek—they raise themselves, though they cannot, of course, do it alone. And after their (self-) raising, even though it is God (as the text strongly implies) who brings/leads them to the big meeting in the air, this does not necessarily preclude volition (i.e., joint action) on the part of the dead toward this journey

    Similarly, those alive at Jesus’ Parousia wish to be with Him, and it follows that we may have some sort of volitional power. Thus, even though the passage strongly implies that it is God who brings/leads believers to the meeting in the air, this does not preclude some sort of impetus on the part of those still alive toward this endeavor.

    As to the rest of Malherbe’s objections, I cannot disagree. The text is silent; we may or may not escort Jesus. And nothing is in the text to demand such an interpretation (following Bruce). As in the Green quote which concluded the “Rapture Ready?” article, Paul’s focus is primarily on comforting the Thessalonians regarding the dead in Christ; but, knowing their Hellenistic background, I think Paul intends to connote a welcoming party procession to meet him. But does Paul intend a return to earth? In my opinion, he leaves this hanging, for this was not his main point (and he may well not have been privy to such revelation/information). Had he wished to make it clear (if earth was the intended destination)—like the Polybius example (and Acts 28)—he would have said so, using one of the usual verbs for returning (e.g. eiserchomai).

    Therefore, I think I. Howard Marshall (see my earlier comment with his quote) goes a bit too far in his assertions, though he does temper them a bit as he concludes his thoughts. We need other Scripture to confirm or refute such notions. That’s not to say there aren’t some passages which cannot be used toward this end.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jim says:

    Good, balanced analysis Craig (as always 🙂). I would suggest that a passage relevant in this study is Zechariah 14. Plenty of apocalyptic cross-references with Rev 19-20, such as the uniqueness of the light and the weather during that time; Jesus arriving visibly with many ‘holy ones’ (angels, rather than resurrected believers), and setting his feet at Jerusalem, as the angel declared to the disciples after his ascension in Acts 1.

    The plagues suffered by the massed armies in that region are particularly gruesome, and I noted how animals are affected in like fashion – quite topical given the zoonotic nature of SARS. Anyway, I think there are enough pieces of the puzzle to conclude with better than 50% certainty, that Jesus returns once, to earth, with a purpose which is to defeat the forces of evil, and in so doing raise believers during that period of returning to earth.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Craig says:

    Here’s R. C. Sproul’s take, agreeing with the ‘escort’ scenario:

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Jim says:

    I am not Reformed, but this section of Sproul’s commentary is correct I believe. Thanks for posting Craig.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Craig says:

    Yesterday I received my copy of Gordon Fee’s NICNT commentary The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians. His was the first work in which I’ve found another recognizing the compromise in “to meet”:

    The infinitive “to meet” in the TNIV–and almost all other English translations–is actually a noun in Paul’s Greek, which reads (when put literally), “for the meeting of the Lord in the air” [p 180].

    Fee, though, rejects the ‘escort’ interpretation, saying, “[A] recent investigation of the word has demonstrated that [its understanding as a technical term for a “ceremonial reception”] is unlikely, and that all the other accoutrements of such ceremonial receptions are altogether missing from this passage” [p 180].

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Jim says:

    So for you Craig, is the sense of harpazo here God’s prevention of an enemy forcibly stealing believers from the prospect of eternal life given through Jesus Christ?

    I recall OSAS justification applies this verse to their case.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      Yes, to your question. However, to me, this does not mean that one cannot subsequently reject Christ (“This is just too hard to bear.”), thereby losing one’s eternal ‘security’. They way I see it, God will not go against our own wishes. “He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). He who chooses not to stand firm, will lose his/her inheritance.


  17. Jim says:

    On running the clip again, it could be taken that Jesus is reassuring his listeners that, once they are in a state of eternal life through faith in him in the everlasting age to come, nothing will be able to remove them from that state of being.

    This is different from it being read as Jesus saying that believers THIS side of eternal life will never be snatched to a place of destruction, or denial of eternal life ie the OSAS argument.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      I think the overall context points to eternal life being conditioned on being Jesus’ sheep, that is, those who both hear His voice and follow Him. Those who don’t hear, or those who hear yet choose not to follow Him will not enjoy eternal life (“life into the age”).

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Jim says:

    Right, and if Jesus in John 10:28 is actually referring to a quality of the eternal life to come (no possibility of enemy interference), then it becomes moot as a OSAS proof text.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      Though this is a possible interpretation, I think it may not be quite that narrow. By that I mean that I think the first part is true and the following emphatic double-negative is somewhat hyperbolic. In other words, it’s an overstatement for effect. No one can take Jesus’ sheep from his hand, but anyone in His hand can subsequently decide to jump out of His hand.


  19. Jim says:

    Although you could say that to jump from Jesus’s hand would entail being previously convinced he was Lord and Saviour (thus in his hand as one of his sheep), to being convinced of another way to God, or of no faith at all (thus jumping from his hand), which would entail the work of an external false or enemy idea that replaced the original faith and snatching that sheep away.

    If Jesus is describing the age to come, he is assuring the sheep that no possible false idea or lack of faith will be able to snatch them away, despite that possibility in the here and now, as you say above. You’ve sharpened my iron, thanks Craig 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      To put a finer point on it, the way I see it, it’s not the enemy who snatches the individual from Jesus’ hand, although the individual can choose to heed the enemy and consequently jump out of His hand. In other words, the enemy cannot just snatch an individual, but the enemy can persuade the individual (or difficult circumstances can induce the individual) to jump ship. That’s the distinction I see.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      Adding to my very recent comment, this is in view of John 15: The Vine and the Branches.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      I’ve been slowly working on a post titled “Peace and Security!”. Now see this:

      Of course, I disagree with the vlogger’s position on the PTR.


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