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THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS - Chapter 4 - Verse 17

Verse 17. Then we which are alive. Those who shall then be alive. See 1 Th 4:16. The word here rendered then, (epeita) does not necessarily mean that this would occur immediately. It properly marks succession in time, and means afterwards, next, next in the order of events, Lu 16:7; Ga 1:21; Jas 4:14.

There may be a considerable interval between the resurrection of the pious and the time when the living shall be caught up to meet the Lord, for the change is to take place in them which will fit them to ascend with those who have been raised. The meaning is, that after the dead are raised, or the next thing in order, they and the living will ascend to meet the Lord. The proper meaning of the word, however, denotes a succession so close as to exclude the idea of a long interval in which other important transactions would occur, such an interval, for example, as would be involved in a long personal reign of the Redeemer on earth. The word demands this interpretation—that the next thing in order, after the resurrection of the righteous, will be their being caught up with the living, with an appropriate change, into the air—though, as has been remarked, it will admit of the supposition of such a brief, momentary interval (en atomw, en riph ofyalmou, 1 Co 15:51,52) as shall be necessary to prepare for it.

Shall be caught up. The word here used implies that there will be the application of external force or power by which this will be done. It will not be by any power of ascending which they will themselves have; or by any tendency of their raised or changed bodies to ascend of their own accord, or even by any effort of their own will, but by a power applied to them which will cause them to rise. Compare the use of the word arpazw in Mt 11:12, "the violent take it by force;" Mt 13:19, "then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away;" Joh 6:15, "that they would come and take him by force;" Joh 10:12, "the wolf catcheth them;" Ac 8:39, "the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip;" 2 Co 12:2, "such an one caught up to the third heaven." Also, Joh 10:28,29; Ac 23:10; Jude 1:23; Re 12:5.

The verb does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. In all these instances there is the idea of either foreign force or violence, effecting that which is done. What force or power is to be applied in causing the living and the dead to ascend, is not expressed. Whether it is to be by the ministry of angels, or by the direct power of the Son of God, is not intimated, though the latter seems to be most probable. The word should not be construed, however, as implying that there will be any reluctance on the part of the saints to appear before the Saviour, but merely with reference to the physical fact that power will be necessary to elevate them to meet him in the air. Will their bodies then be such that they will have the power of locomotion at will from place to place?

In the clouds. Gr., "in clouds" en nefelaiv—without the article. This may mean "in clouds;" that is, in such numbers, and in such grouping as to resemble clouds. So it is rendered by Macknight, Koppe, Rosenmuller, Bush (Anastasis, 266,) and others. The absence of the article here would rather seem to demand this interpretation. Still, however, the other interpretation may be true, that it means that they will be caught up into the region of the clouds, or to the clouds which shall accompany the Lord Jesus on his return to our world, Mt 24:30; 26:64; Mr 13:26; 14:62; Re 1:7.

Comp. Da 7:13. In whichever sense it is understood, the expression is one of great sublimity, and the scene will be immensely grand. Some doctrine of this kind was held by the ancient Jews. Thus Rabbi Nathan (Midras Tillin, xlviii. 13) says, "What has been done before will be done again, As he led the Israelites from Egypt in the clouds of heaven, so will he do to them in the future time."

To meet the Lord in the air. In the regions of the atmosphere -above the earth. It would seem from this, that the Lord Jesus, in his coming, would not descend to the earth, but would remain at a distance from it in the air, where the great transactions of the judgment will occur. It is, indeed, nowhere said that the trans- actions of the judgment will occur upon the earth. The world would not be spacious enough to contain all the assembled living and dead, and hence the throne of judgment will be fixed in the ample space above it.

And so shall we ever be with the Lord. This does not mean that they will always remain with him in the air—for their final home will be heaven—and after the trial they will accompany him to the realms of glory. Mt 25:34, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom," etc. The time during which they will remain with him "in the air," is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. It will be as long as will be necessary for the purposes of judging a world, and deciding the eternal doom of every individual "according to the deeds done in the body." There is no reason to suppose that this will be accomplished in a single day of twenty-four hours; but it is impossible to form any conjecture of the period which will be occupied.

{c} "in the clouds" Rev 11:12 {d} "ever be" Joh 14:3

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