Chapter 12 - The Rapture Of The Saints
The word is not well-chosen, for its normal usage
denotes a burst of irrepressible joy, like the “first wild careless
rapture” of the dawn chorus in early Spring. But there is also the idea,
suggested by the Latin original, of being snatched away — that of sudden
bodily transportation. In this sense the word has become part of the jargon of
some of the sects with a strong eschatological bent, and inasmuch as there is no
obvious alternative available, it must be put up
The most commonly held idea is that Christ comes,
gathers the saints together, and takes them away to heaven whence (by a most
unscrupulous man-handling of a very plain Scripture) they are to be “kings
and priests, and reign over the
(Revelation 5:10). A basis for this grossly mistaken notion is sought in 1
Thessalonians 4:17 and John 14:3.
The first of these speaks of the saints as
“caught up with them (the dead, now risen) in clouds to meet the Lord in
the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord”.
But there is no mention of heaven here,
only of the air. And since this extends, according to the scientists, a mere
sixty miles or so above the earth’s surface, there is here at best only a
possible suspension of Christ and the saints in orbit above the earth — a
thing which no one has any intention of believing.
The verse calls for re-translation with the
phrases in a different order: “caught away in clouds (for the purpose of
meeting the Lord) into the air”. The meeting place is not specified in
this passage, but it is clearly enough established elsewhere by the Scriptures
which make it plain that Christ comes to sit on the throne of David and to reign
in Jerusalem. If the saints are to be “ever with the Lord”, then
they too must be on earth, and not in heaven.
“I will come again and receive you unto
myself, that where I am there ye may be also” (John 14:3). Again the words
are made to prove more than they say. The context: “I come again”
and the abundant Bible evidence that Jesus is to come to the earth and is to
reign on the earth should settle once and for all the destiny of those whom he
blesses with his eternal presence and fellowship.
But having set aside the various wrong
interpretations of the famous words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the
question still remains: What exactly did Paul mean?
“Caught up in clouds into the air”
has been taken to mean, “snatched away in groups” to be
“exalted in the Aerial”.
Here the Greek verb is correctly translated,
inasmuch as there is no suggestion of upward movement, but only that of
being taken suddenly (and perhaps forcibly) away (e.g. Acts 8:39). Then the
interpretation moves into the realm of the figurative. “Clouds” are
taken to be metaphorical “clouds of witnesses”, and “the
air” is first replaced by a synonym (?) “heaven”, which is
then also given a figurative meaning: “a condition of political exaltation
or power” (equivalent to being “kings and priests reigning on the
There are several unsatisfactory features about
an interpretation of this nature:
A better alternative, it is submitted, is to let
the words mean precisely what they say, namely, that the saints will be
literally caught up in literal clouds, into the literal air, to meet the Lord
who has come to Jerusalem.
- There is nothing in the context to suggest a figurative
meaning. Indeed when some verses further on, Paul does moves into the realm of
figure and type, he says so plainly: “as a thief in the night . . .
as travail upon a woman with child”
only place where “clouds” is used as a metaphor, the Greek word is a
different one (Hebrews 12:1). The word used here always means a literal
- The Bible evidence for “air” being
taken as symbolic is, to put it mildly, hardly conclusive. To quote such a
dubious passage as “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians
2:2) is in itself an open admission of a weak case. And Revelation 16:17 is no
help at all, since no one can be sure that he has his finger on the precisely
correct interpretation of the details of the Seventh Vial. The context of
wickedness and divine wrath in both of these supporting passages is anything but
helpful or appropriate to 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
special purpose is there, conceivably, behind the transportation of the saints
in “clouds” or groups? If a first-Century preacher of the gospel can
be thus transported individually (see Acts 8:39) why not a twentieth-Century
preacher? And, further, what of those who may be isolated from their nearest
brethren in the Faith by hundreds of miles?
- Lastly, this
figurative interpretation is self-condemned by the length of time it takes to
explain it, and by the dim comprehension of those who have had it thus explained
to them. This is written out of experience of many personal discussions on the
To adopt this simple and adequate point of view
is to remove at a stroke many tortuosities of uneasy exegesis and to prepare the
way for a quite delightful and wholly satisfactory extension of a familiar
Biblical theme. The last paragraph carefully and deliberately used the words
“literal clouds”. But these, it is now suggested, will not be
When Israel were delivered from Egypt, they were
protected from their enemies by “a cloud and darkness” which came
between the two hosts, and yet gave Israel light by night. This pillar of cloud
was the sign of God’s Presence with them. By it He guided them through the
wilderness, and brought them to the Land of Promise.
The same cloud of the Shekinah Glory is traceable
through the history of Israel, and then becomes a feature of the New Testament
narrative. This Cloud, called “The Glory”, appeared associated with
Moses and Elijah on the mount of Transfiguration, but in the course of that
incident it transferred itself from the Law and the Prophets and instead it
overshadowed Jesus and the Apostles (Luke 9:30-34). It is demonstrable that this
Fiery Cloud was also manifested at the crucifixion. It was this Cloud which
“received Jesus out of their sight” above the mount of Olives, and
it will be in this same Shekinah Glory that Jesus will return: “Behold, he
cometh with clouds . . . coming on the clouds of heaven . . . in the glory of
His Father” (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 26:64 and 16:27).
Then what more appropriate than that the saints
who are to be heirs with Christ in his exaltation and majesty should have the
same divine and royal entourage in their progress to the Holy City? Could
anything be more fitting?
 The more readily, one
hopes, since our own community has also shewn a flair for coining its own
jargon. What about disfellowship, responsibility, immortal emergence?
 It is perhaps worthwhile
to point out that the same Greek phrase comes many times in Revelation (e.g.
6:10 and 11:10) always as "on the earth".