Rapture, following Andy Woods, is the reunion of Christians who were dead in Christ with the living up in the sky. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Woods explained, is “probably the clearest reference to the rapture found in all of the New Testament.” (Woods 2004: 312) Six decades back, Arthur B. Whiting made a similar declaration. This passage, according to Whiting, provides us with an orderly and detailed exposition of understanding the Rapture (Whiting 1945: 361).
Maintaining the cessation of the baptism with the Holy Spirit at the second advent of Christ Jesus, Merrill F. Unger holds that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 provides evidence that the Church will be removed out of the world (Unger 1944: 362). Lewis S. Chafer concurred with Unger and added that Christ Jesus will come “only to the upper-air spaces and the believers [would be] gathered together unto Him” (Chafer 1952: 134)
Believers, those dead in Christ and those alive, will be raptured (Niemelä 2000: 61) into heaven (Wong 2003: 347). They will obtain glorified bodies, according to Ron J. Bigalke Jr., and “go to the Father’s house” (Bigalke Jr. 2003: 109)
Contending against posttribulational rapture of Christians, the underlying motif of the historical premillennialism, Ronald D. McCune explained that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 5:1-11 cannot be disjoined. The substitutionary atoning work of Christ Jesus in 5:10 read in light of the resurrection and rapture of 4:13-18 provides a case that believers “will not face the wrath of the Day of the Lord which overtakes the unbelievers as a thief.” They will be where Christ Jesus is prior to the tribulation (McCune 1975: 23). In other words, as Mal Couch put it, “just before the terror and the wrath of the seven-year Tribulation begins” (Couch 1998: 425) Christians will be removed from earth into heaven.
Richard S. Yates boosts McCune’s and Couch’s reasoning as he also maintained that prior to conversions of people who survive the Great Tribulation, the rapture of the Church, Christians dead in Christ and those alive, to heaven must have taken place already (Yates 2006: 465).
Challenging posttribulational, Danile K. K. Wong asked, “[i]f the rapture is posttribulational and the church is to turn right around in the air and come back to earth immediately, what is the point of the rapture?” (Wong 2003: 347)
No Rapture: Kingdom of God on Earth As It is In Heaven
How we are to understand Christians, living and those who dead in Christ, reunited again in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (4:17) has generated unending debate. Not all scholars understand 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 to be teaching the idea of rapture, viz., Christians meeting their Lord in the sky and carried away out of earth to heaven.
Paul’s term eis apantēsin (“to meet”) could be understood as a technical term connoting the meeting of a visiting honorable dignitary. In ancient Hellenistic Greek, the citizens of a particular city would go outside their city and meet a visiting dignitary and they will joyously accompany him back to the city (Cameron 1922: 116; Gundry 1973; 104; Marshall 1983: 131; Elias 1995: 178-9; Martin 1995: 153; Green 2002:226; Wright 2004: 125). Roman Christians did the same with Paul in Acts 28:15 (cf. Matt. 25:6).
Paraphrasing James Moffat, Christians will not just be raptured to heaven but will return with their King back to earth to participate in His final manifestation His sovereign reign on earth as it is in heaven (Moffat 1956: 38). On similar ground, I. Howard Marshal stated that we could deduce “that the Lord’s people go to meet him in order to escort him back to earth”( Marshall 1983: 131)
Parallel to Marshal is N. T. Wright. Wright argued that “[i]t would therefore be nonsense to imagine that the presently alive Christians are literally going to be snatched up into the sky, there to remain for ever.”(Wright 2004: 125) Wright understood Paul’s chatter of ‘descending’ of King Jesus not as literal coming of Jesus from the sky above, a location above us, but appearing of Christ Jesus from “another dimension”(ibid, 125 emp. orig.) John Stott presented a similar but yet different view. Stott understood that Christ Jesus will appear not in a locational wise but universally. Meeting Him in the clouds, Old Testament symbol that represented the presence of God, Christians will be reunited with their Lord and King in a transcendent space (Stott 1991: 104).