1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 (ESV)
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Recently I have found myself thinking of the “latter days” or “end times” discussed in the Bible. Our world today is full of the signs that Jesus mentioned before his crucifixion. But Jesus says to not be worried. I will come back and take you to be with me (John 14:3).
The Greek word for “caught up” is harpazo. Notice all the places where the word is used in the following dictionary and two commentaries.
773 ἁρπάζω (harpazō): ≡ Str 726; --1. snatch, seize (Mt 13:19; Jn 6:15; Ac 23:10; Jude 23); a rapture to God and glory (Ac 8:39; 2Co 12:2, 4; 1Th 4:17; Rev 12:5) 2. attack, implying the seizing of something (Mt 11:12; Jn 10:12) 3. plunder, seize possessions by force (Mt 12:29) 4. gain control over, formally, snatch from the hand (Jn 10:28, 29)
4:17 caught up. After the dead come forth, their spirits, already with the Lord (2Co 5:8; Php 1:23), are now being joined to resurrected new bodies (see notes on 1Co 15:35–50); the living Christians will be raptured, lit. snatched away (cf. Jn 10:28; Ac 8:39). This passage, along with Jn 14:1–3 and 1Co 15:51, 52, forms the biblical basis for “the Rapture” of the church. The time of the Rapture cannot be conclusively determined from this passage alone. However, when other texts such as Rev 3:10 and Jn 14:3 are consulted and compared to the texts about Christ’s coming in judgment (Mt 13:34–50; 24:29–44; Rev 19:11–21) at the end of a 7 year tribulation, it has to be noted that there is a clear difference between the character of the “Rapture” in that there is no mention of any judgment, while the other texts feature judgment. So then, it is best to understand that the Rapture occurs at a time different from the coming of Christ in judgment. Thus, the Rapture has been described as pretribulational (before the wrath of God unfolded in the judgments of Rev 6–19). This event includes complete transformation (cf. 1Co 15:51, 52; Phil 3:20, 21) and union with the Lord Jesus Christ that never ends.
4:18 comfort one another. The primary purpose of this passage is not to teach a scheme of prophecy, but rather to provide encouragement to those Christians whose loved ones have died. The comfort here is based on the following: 1) the dead will be resurrected and will participate in the Lord’s coming for His own; 2) when Christ comes the living will be reunited forever with their loved ones; and 3) they all will be with the Lord eternally (v. 17).
Only “after that” (v. 17) will living Christians “be caught up” for the meeting with Christ. The interval separating the two groups will be infinitesimally small by human reckoning. Yet the dead in Christ will go first. They will be the first to share in the glory of his visit. Then the living among whom Paul still hoped to be (cf. “we”) will be suddenly snatched away (harpagēsometha, “caught up”; cf. Acts 8:39; 2 Cor 12:2, 4; Rev 12:5). This term in Latin, raptus, is the source of the popular designation of this event as the “rapture.” So sudden will it be that Paul likens it to a blinking of the eye (1 Cor 15:52). In this rapid sequence the living will undergo an immediate change from mortality to immortality (1 Cor 15:52, 53), after which they will be insusceptible to death.
Together with the resurrected believers, they will ascend, be enshrouded in the clouds of the sky (cf. Acts 1:9), and meet the Lord somewhere in the interspace between earth and heaven (“air,” aera).
Cathy and I find great comfort in the words of Paul and Jesus. At the right time we will be caught up with Him in the air. Then we will be with him forever. Be encouraged.
Cathy and Danny Sartin
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Th 4:16–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Str Strong’s Lexicon
Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Th 4:17–18). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Thomas, R. L. (1981). 1 Thessalonians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, pp. 278–279). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
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