1 Thessalonians 4 and the Pretrib Rapture

Weeee!The doctrine of the Rapture is unquestionably the sacred cow of Pretribulational Premillennialism (say that three times fast). It is ironic that this very word “rapture” does not appear anywhere in scripture. But there are in fact passages which seem to support it however the “rapture” interpretation of those passages do not stand up to scrutiny. The most famous of these rapture passages is 1 Thessalonians 4:17:

“Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (New King James Version).”

This one passage seems to sum it up, doesn’t it? Or does it? I have read and heard of many preterist commentators (those who believe that this passage, as well as others concerning the Second Coming, has already taken place) who have attempted to explain this verse by focusing on the definitions or interpretations of “caught up” or “meet the Lord.” However I believe that it is simpler than that. Consider the word “we”. The word interpreted as “we” here is the Greek word hēmeis (pronounced hā-mā’s). The word means we, us, ourselves. It is the plural of the Greek word egō (meaning I or me). It is a plural first person pronoun the use of which assumes inclusion of the speaker. What could Paul have been thinking?

Unless we are ready to believe that Paul was speaking or thinking nonsense, we must be able to assume that he was a rational person and that we can logically consider his statement in verse 17. Now those who hold to a Second Coming (and therefore rapture event) that is still in the future, believe that Paul was telling the Thessalonians to “comfort one another” (v. 18) with the hope that Christ will return over two thousand years later. By virtue of the word “we” it is not safe to assume that he meant those words for us. In light of Paul’s use of the word “we” there are only three conclusions that we can draw:

  1. Paul of course knew that the Second Coming/Rapture would not happen for thousands of years, he just simply thought he’d live that long. Alas, however, if he were alive, we would know about it.
  2. Paul honestly thought that the Second Coming/Rapture would happen in his lifetime and/or the Thessalonians’ lifetime, but he was wrong. Anyone wanna raise their hand for that one? Yes, thank you, I see that hand. Oh, what’s that? You were just stretching?
  3. The final possible conclusion is that Paul knew that the Second Coming would happen soon and that some of those who were alive and remained, including himself (though he was martyred before it happened), would witness the event, and that he was right.

Which of these potential conclusions seems the most plausible? Or what other conclusions could be offered? There are different varieties of interpretations of this passage. One such interpretation is that the Second Coming occured in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem. This view rejects the doctrine of the rapture and teaches that Christ’s parousia was one of judgment and was furthermore not a visible “coming”. I have to admit that I am not completely certain as to how I would interpret 1 Thess. 4:17. I do however reject the doctrine of the rapture and I believe that in this passage Paul was talking about something that he knew (because the Holy Spirit had revealed it) would come upon his generation (cf. Matthew 24:34).

I do not put this forth out of any spirit of rebellion. I have never been the kind of person who always seeks to “buck the system.” In fact, such people annoy me. I simply can not have my brothers and sisters in Christ going around deceived believing in a doctrine that does not make sense and makes Christ, the Bible or both look foolish. So let us begin to think about scripture, to think about who is speaking and to whom and stop looking at it through a hermeneutic that has been tainted by bad theology.

Josh H.

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