Caught Up in the Clouds
“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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”- 1 Thessalonians 4:17–18
To reassure the Thessalonian Christians who feared that those believers who die before Jesus returns will somehow miss out on the full blessings of His return, Paul addresses the coming of Christ to consummate His kingdom (1 Thess. 4:13–18). We have already seen that the resurrection of Jesus guarantees the resurrection of all those who trust in Him (vv. 13–14). In fact, the resurrection of Christ also guarantees our continued consciousness in the intermediate state between death and the final resurrection. After all, if Jesus lives today, then all who are united to Him by faith must also be alive, including those who die before His return. The spirits of the Christian departed rest with Christ in heaven, beholding Him and awaiting the new heaven and earth (Phil. 1:21–23).
When Jesus returns, Paul says, there will be the voice of an archangel and a trumpet to announce it, as well as the resurrection of those who have died in faith (1 Thess. 4:15–16). The Apostle does not here address the resurrection of those who die apart from Christ, for he focuses on the Thessalonians’ worry about their departed brothers and sisters in the faith. We know, however, that both “the just and the unjust” will be resurrected on the last day, the unjust being consigned to everlasting punishment for their sin (Dan. 12:2; Acts 24:15).
Today’s passage explains that at the coming or parousia of the Lord Jesus, both the newly resurrected believers and those Christians who have not died before His coming will be caught up together to meet Jesus in the clouds as He comes (1 Thess. 4:17). The Greek word translated as “to meet” in this text was used for the official delegation of an ancient city that would be sent out to greet a visiting dignitary. They would meet this official with great acclaim, and then travel with him the rest of the way into the city. Something similar will happen at the return of Christ. All His people will be caught up to meet Him, and then they will travel with Him the rest of the way, forming an entourage to celebrate His return.
This catching up of believers to meet Christ in the air is also known as the rapture of the church, and there has been much debate about the rapture’s timing and other end-times events over the past two hundred years or so. We will address this topic more in the next study, but for now let us note that Paul tells us about the rapture so that we will comfort each other, not so that we will engage in speculation regarding its timing (1 Thess. 4:18).
The doctrine of the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead is a great comfort to believers. It assures us that life continues after death and that Jesus will by no means fail to punish the impenitent and reward those who have served Him. When we or others experience tragedy, a reminder of the return of Christ and of the resurrection at the appropriate time can be a great comfort to the soul.
Passages for Further Study