Eschatology, the Study of Last Things
by James T. Bartsch
The Nature of the Rapture
"Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord." 1 Thess. 4:17
Why 1 Thessalonians 4:17 cannot be used to prove a Post-Tribulation Rapture
Introduction: Conservative expositors agree that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 describes an event in which dead believers in Christ are resurrected and living believers in Christ are given "resurrection bodies." Both categories of saints are snatched up for a meeting with the Lord in the air. As Paul completes his discussion, he does not explicitly state what happens to these believers, other than to state, "and so we shall always be with the Lord."
What happens next? Those who believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture assume that Christ takes the believers with Him back up to heaven, where He has prepared dwelling places for them (John 14:1-3). I personally believe those dwelling places are contained within New Jerusalem, which presently is in heaven (Rev. 21:1-22:5). Those who believe in a Post-Tribulation Rapture assume that the resurrected / raptured believers serve as a welcoming party. They ascend into the air to greet Jesus, welcome Him, and escort Him back to earth. There is not a uniformity of opinion among Post-Tribulation Rapturists as to what happens after that event, but that is beyond the purpose of this present discussion.
As a basis for their belief that the ascended saints constitute a welcoming, escorting party, Post-Tribulation Rapturists cite the use of three related Greek words, listed below. This study will examine each of these words in the Greek NT. This study will attempt to demonstrate that the Greek words are inconclusive to prove that the saints are a welcoming party who escort Jesus back to earth. In fact, there are many instances in which those who go to meet someone not only do not serve as a welcoming party, but they also do not then share a common destination.
The conclusion is that in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 the noun "meeting" (apantesis, 529), and its related cognate verb and noun, in and of themselves, cannot be used either to prove that the saints are a welcoming party who escort Jesus back to earth, or that they accompany Him back up to heaven. Other factors must determine what happens next after this meeting in the air.
NT occurrences of the noun apantesis (529):
Matthew 25:6. Literally, the text reads as follows: "In the middle of the night, moreover, there had come to be a cry, 'Look! The bridegroom! Let us go out for a meeting!'" (author's translation).
This passage is used by post-tribulationists to support the notion that the Church will, at the end of the Tribulation, be summoned to ascend into the heavens, greet the bridegroom in mid-air, and escort Him back to earth. It is assumed by post-tribulationists that Matthew 25:1-13 is a parallel passage to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, both of them describing the Rapture of the Church. It is assumed, furthermore, that Matthew's use of apantesis (meeting, 529) in Matt. 25:6 and his use of hupantesis (meeting, 5222) in Matthew 25:1 are equivalent in all respects to Paul's use of apantesis (meeting, 529) in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
I am willing to stipulate that, at least on a surface level, Matthew's use of apantesis in Matthew 25:6 and hupantesis in Matthew 25:1 (see the discussion below) can be construed as a summons to certain people to go out and meet the Bridegroom, Jesus, and escort Him to the place where the wedding feast will take place, presumably on the earth (see Rev. 19:7-9). Beyond that correspondence, however, incongruities begin to mount. Let me list them.
(1) There is no evidence in Matthew 25:1-13 that those issued the summons to meet the bridegroom ascend into the air to do so. That fact stands in stark contrast to the ascension demanded in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
(2) There is no evidence in Matthew 25:1-13 of any resurrection that takes place, much less a transformation of living saints into glorified bodies, as is the case in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
(3) Even more problematic is the fact that the summons to go out and meet the bridegroom was delivered to both believing and unbelieving respondents in Matthew 25:1-13. In other words, there were ten virgins who were awaiting the coming of the bridegroom. But five had insufficient oil. When the call came at midnight to meet the bridegroom, the five with insufficient oil were forced to attempt to procure more oil. By the time they returned, the door had been shut. They pled, "Lord, lord, open up for us." But He responded, "Truly, I do not know you." Thus they were barred from the kingdom as unregenerate, unknown by the Bridegroom/Monarch who had returned. There simply is no parallel in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 to any call issued to anyone other than believers.
(4) But the most telling problem of all for the post-tribulationist is that the language of Matthew 25:1-13 demands a distinction between the bride, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the virgins invited to attend the wedding feast as guests. (This same difficulty rears its head in Revelation 19:7-9, by the way.) If we assume (incorrectly, I believe) for the moment that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Matthew 25:1-13 are speaking of the same event (I don't believe they are), then we have some serious identity issues. A post-tribulation timing of the event described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 demands that all believers everywhere who survive the Tribulation period are part of the Church. If we believe, correctly, that the Church constitutes the Bride of Christ, what then, is the identity of the virgins invited to greet the Bridegroom and escort him to the wedding feast when He returns for His bride? Who are they? Clearly the ten virgins invited, and even the five virgins who succeeded in entering the wedding hall for the feast cannot be the Bride. They are visitors at the wedding feast, but they are not the Bride. Post-Triublationism has no cogent answer to this insurmountable problem.
If post-tribulationism cannot successfully differentiate between the Bride and the Virgins called to the wedding feast, pre-tribulationism can. Here is the solution to the problem. The Rapture occurs before the Tribulation. The Church is entirely removed to heaven, there to undergo the Judgment Seat of Christ and be purified for her wedding to her groom, Christ (cf. Rev. 19:7-8). Meanwhile on the earth, many of those left behind are granted a spiritual awakening. They come to realize that Jesus really is their Messiah and place their faith in Him. They are redeemed, but they are not part of the Church. It is likely that Matthew 25:1-13 describes, in parable-like terms, those of the nation of Israel who survive the Tribulation period and await the return of the Messiah. Some (the five wise virgins) are genuine believers and are granted entrance into the wedding feast and the Kingdom of the Heavens. Others (the five foolish virgins) are not genuine believers. The Lord does not know them. The wise virgins represent the redeemed of Israel who survive the Tribulation and are invited to serve as guests at the wedding feast of the Groom (Christ) and His Bride (the Church) (Matt. 25:10; Rev. 19:7-9).
Conclusion: There is a circumstantial and surface level correspondence between the meeting spoken of in Matthew 25:1-13 and the meeting described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. One could say that the language of Matthew 25:1-13 provides a precedent for saying that "meeting" can have the meaning of going out and greeting the Bridegroom / Monarch and escorting Him to the wedding festivities. But partial correspondence does not demand that the two passages are, in fact, speaking of the same event. The difficulties encountered in presupposing that Matthew 25:1-13 describes a post-tribulation rapture event, and that this event is the same event which Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 are insurmountable. The term hupantesis in Matthew 25:1 and the term apantesis in Matthew 25:6 do not demand an identity with the apantesis in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. In fact, there is no hint in the language of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 as to the final destination of the parties involved in the meeting described therein. So 1 Thessalonians 4:17 cannot be used as proof of a post-tribulation Rapture. Other factors must determine the timing of the Rapture, and what happens immediately thereafter. To conclude that Matthew 25:1-13 equates with the Rapture as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 leaves insurmountable exegetical anomalies in the passage.
Acts 28:15. "And from there the brothers, having heard the things concerning us, came for a meeting with us as far as Market of Appius and Three Taverns, whom, Paul having seen, having thanked God, he received courage" (author's literal translation). The Christian brothers came from Rome as far as Market of Appius and Three Taverns for a meeting with Paul. There they met Paul and, presumably, accompanied him back to Rome, although the text nowhere explicitly states that. The point of the account was the meeting, not the presumed accompanying, although the latter cannot be denied. Post-tribulationists point to this passage as proof that apantesis requires both a meeting and an escorting of the party greeted back to the place of origin - in this case Rome, in the case of the Rapture, back to earth. In Acts 28:15 that accompaniment back to Rome can be presumed, but again, it is not stated. All that is explicitly stated is that Paul and whoever traveled with him reached Rome. The writer (Luke) counts at least himself and Paul and the soldier guarding him as a plurality in Acts 28:15 - the brethren came for a meeting with us (plural). That plurality (Paul and company) reached Rome (Acts 28:16). The "we" of Acts 28:16 may well include a larger number of people than the "us" of Acts 28:15 (in other words the addition of the greeters from Rome), but Luke's language does not explicitly state that. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Jesus' return to earth, accompanied by the saints from the earth, can be neither presumed nor denied. The evidence is insufficient.
1Thessalonians 4:17. "Then we, the ones living, the ones remaining, together with them shall be caught up in clouds for a meeting with the Lord in air. And so, always with the Lord we shall be" (author's literal translation). This is the third and last time that the noun meeting (apantesis) occurs in the NT. Here Paul asserts that the previously dead believers in Christ will first be resurrected in response to the descent of Christ from heaven, accompanied by a shout, the voice of an archangel, and a trumpet of God (1 Thess. 4:16). As far as the text of Paul's statement in 1 Thess. 4:17 is concerned, Paul never specifies what will happen next to the believers caught up into the clouds for a meeting with the Lord in the air. His point is solely that "always with the Lord we will be." 1 Thessalonians 4:17, by itself, cannot be used either to prove a post-tribulation rapture or a pre-tribulation rapture. Stated another way, it cannot be proven from 1 Thessalonians 4:17 that the ascended saints turn around and descend with Christ, accompanying Him as escorts back to earth. Nor can it be proven from 1 Thessalonians 4:17 that the ascended saints accompany Christ back up to heaven. Other passages must be brought to bear to determine the destination of Christ and the resurrected / raptured saints.
NT occurrences of the related cognate noun, hupantesis (5222):
Matthew 8:34. The whole city came out for a meeting with Jesus. This narrative here (Matt. 8:28-34) describes the occasion in which Jesus entered the country of the Gadarenes and was met by two violent, demon-possessed men (Matt. 8:28). The demons in the men begged Jesus to allow them to enter the swine feeding nearby (Matt. 8:29-31). He gave them permission. They entered the swine, whereupon the whole herd rushed headlong down the steep bank and drowned in the sea (Matt. 8:32). The herdsmen ran to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs (Matt. 8:33). The next verse reads, literally, "And behold, the entire city departed for a meeting with Jesus, and having seen Him, they begged that he might depart from their regions" (Matt. 8:34, author's literal translation).
If anything this passage disproves the notion that hupantesis necessarily speaks of a welcoming party. Here, the opposite is true. The people from the village not only did not welcome Jesus and escort him back to town, but they actually begged him to leave, which He did. Moreover, they certainly did not accompany him.
The conclusion is that this cognate noun cannot be used to prove that the meeting in the air described in 1 Thess. 4:17 is necessarily a welcoming party to escort Jesus back to earth. In fact, this verse demonstrates exactly the opposite. The villagers were not a welcoming party, but an expulsion party. And they did not accompany him as he left those parts.
Matthew 25:1. In the preceding segment of Jesus' Olivet Discourse, He had predicted His return (Matt. 24:29-51). In this lengthy discussion He spoke of the sequence of His return (Matt. 24:29-31), the timing of His return (Matt. 24:32-36), the suddenness of His return (Matt. 24:37-44), and the accountability at His return (Matt. 24:45-51). Continuing the theme of accountability, Jesus predicted the judgments at His return (Matt. 25:1-46). These judgments were twofold: The judgment of Israel (Matt. 25:1-30), and the judgment of the nations (Matt. 25:31-46). In His discussion of the judgment of Israel, Jesus gave two analogies: (1) The analogy of the wedding (Matt. 25:1-13) and (2) the analogy of the journeying slave-owner (Matt. 25:14-30).
In Matthew 25:1, Jesus stated, "Then shall be likened - the kingdom of the heavens - to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out for a meeting of the bridegroom" (author's literal translation). As we stipulated earlier in our discussion of Matthew 25:6 (which see above), on a surface level, there is a correspondence between the summons issued to certain people to go out and meet the bridegroom (Jesus) and escort Him to the wedding festivities (Matt. 25:1-13) and the summons issued to believers of the Church Age to ascend for a meeting with Jesus in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18). But a closer examination reveals considerable difficulties in presupposing a one-to-one correspondence.
(1) In Matthew 25:1-13, not all those summoned appear to be believers. Five of the virgins were barred from entering the wedding feast (and thus Jesus' kingdom) because the bridegroom never knew them. Conversely, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, there is no evidence that the summons (via Christ's shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God) were issued to anyone but believers.
(2) In Matthew 25:1-13, those to whom the summons was issued were not the bride. They were virgins who would attend the wedding festivities as guests, not as the bride. This is in stark contrast to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where Paul is addressing Church Age believers, all of whom constitute the Bride of Christ.
(3) Since all of Matt. 25 deals with the judgments at Christ's return, and since Matthew 25:31-46 is specifically stated to be a discussion of the jugment of the nations (Gentiles), it is highly likely that the material in Matt. 25:1-13 as well as that in Matthew 25:14-30 deals with the jugment of Israel, not the Church.
For these reasons, though the term hupantesis does fit the configuration of people going out for a meeting with the bridegroom and escorting Him back to the wedding festivities, it is unlikely that this proves that "meeting" (apantesis) in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is identical to this "meeting" (hupantesis) here in Matthew 25:1. Nor can Matthew 25:1 be used as a precedent that, when the Church Age believers are raptured for a meeting with the Lord in the air, they must necessarily then return to earth. The exegetical difficulties are insurmountable if one presupposes that Matthew 25:1-13 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 are discussing the same event.
John 12:13. John reported, "They took the palm branches of the palm trees and went out for a meeting with Him, and were crying out, 'Hosanna! Blessed is the One coming in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!'" (author's literal translation). That certain individuals with a Messianic expectation went out for a meeting with Jesus is not open to debate. That they escorted him is also not open to debate. But the destination is an anomaly. The greeters did not escort Jesus back to the place from which they had come, as Post-Tribulationists would have us believe will happen in 1 Thess. 4:17. Rather, they escorted Him to a different place, presumably, the city center of Jerusalem. So though there are certain parallels between John 12:13 and 1 Thess. 4:17, the parallels break down at some point. So John 12:13 cannot be used to prove, on the basis of a cognate noun, that the Rapture in 1 Thess. 4:17 is a Post-Tribulation Rapture.
Conclusion: The related cognate noun, hupantesis (5222) cannot be used to prove a Post-Tribulation Rapture. The data simply do not support a Post-Tribulation conclusion.
NT occurrences of the related cognate verb hupantao (5221): (To be continued)
Matt 8:28. Jesus had just entered into the country of the Gadarenes, when two who were being demonized met him as they were exiting from the tombs. They were so exceedingly violent that it was unsafe for anyone to pass by that way. This was anything but a welcoming party that met Jesus. They verbally accosted Him, and there is no evidence that, even when Jesus cast out the demons from them, that they wanted to accompany Him anywhere (Matt. 8:29-34). This passage does nothing to demonstrate that the raptured believers in 1 Thess. 4:17 will be a welcoming party who will escort Jesus to earth.
Matt 28:9. After Jesus' resurrection, an angel told the frightened women at His empty tomb to tell the disciples Jesus had risen and was going to meet them in Galilee (Matt. 28:1-7). The women quickly ran from the tomb with fear mingled with great joy to report to the disciples (Matt. 28:8). Suddenly, Jesus met them saying, "Rejoice!" They came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him (Matt. 28:9). Jesus told them, "Go tell my brothers to depart for Galillee, and there they will see Me!" (Matt. 28:10). In this instance it is Jesus who met the women, not the other way around. And He neither accompanied them, nor did they accompany Him. At every point, this cognate verb fails to demonstrate that the raptured believers in 1 Thess. 4:17 will be a welcoming party who will escort Jesus to earth.
Mark 5:2. This appears to be a parallel passage to the incident recorded in Matt. 8:28-34. When Jesus disembarked from the boat into the country of the Gerasenes, immediately a man from the tombs met Him -- a man with an unclean spirit. This man was far from a welcoming party. Once Jesus had cast out the demons from the man who had been demon-possessed, the man begged Jesus to let him accompany Him. But Jesus assigned him instead to report to his people the great things the Lord had done for him, showing him mercy. So this cognate verb does nothing to reinforce the notion that the raptured believers in 1 Thess. 4:17 will be a welcoming party who will escort Jesus to earth.
Luke 8:27. This appears to be another passage parallel to the incident recorded in Matt. 8:28-34 and Mark 5:1-20. When Jesus disembarked from the boat into the country of the Gerasenes, immediately a man from the tombs met Him -- a man with an unclean spirit. This man was far from a welcoming party. Once Jesus had cast out the demons from the man who had been demon-possessed, the man begged Jesus to let him accompany Him. But Jesus told him instead, "Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you" (Luke 8:39). So the man departed, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him" (Luke 8:39). So the man did not escort Jesus back to where he had been, nor even to the city, nor did he even accompany Jesus. The conclusion is that this cognate verb does nothing to reinforce the notion that the raptured believers in 1 Thess. 4:17 will be a welcoming party who will escort Jesus to earth.
Luke 14:31. Jesus was teaching the crowds gathered to listen to Him about the cost of discipleship. He asked, "What king goes out to meet another king in battle without considering whether he can, with ten thousand troops, defeat the opposing army with twenty thousand? Or perhaps he rather needs to send an emmisary to ask for terms of peace" (author's paraphrase). Jesus' point was that he who wished to become His disciple would need to give up all his own possessions. Would they be willing to pay the cost? (Luke 14:31-33).
Neither one of two opposing kings constitutes a welcoming party to escort the other army to its destination. That whole idea is completely incongruous. We conclude, therefore, that this cognate verb does nothing to reinforce the notion that the raptured believers in 1 Thess. 4:17 will be a welcoming party who will escort Jesus to earth.
John 4:51. This entire narrative is recorded in John 4:46-54. A royal official traveled from Capernaum to Cana of Galilee to beg Jesus to come heal his sick son. Jesus remarked that the Jewish people would not believe unless they saw signs and wonders. The official repeated his request, and Jesus replied, "Go, your son lives." The man believed Jesus and departed. On the way, his slaves met him and told him his son was living. He asked them what time his son began improving. They told him that his fever had left him about the seventh hour. The man knew that was the hour Jesus had told him that his son was living. So the man believed in Jesus along with his entire household.
This remarkable narrative certainly fits the scenario that people go out to meet someone and escort him back home as a welcoming party. But that was not the point of this narrative. The point was that the journeying slaves wanted to convey to their master the good news that his son was alive. Presumably they all traveled back to Capernaum together, but that is nowhere explicitly stated, nor was it the point of the narrative. The point was to confirm the time and circumstances under which the man's son had been healed. The conclusion is that, while this passage certainly more closely than most other passages fits the circumstances of 1 Thess. 4:17, it does not really prove that, when Jesus returns, the Church that is raptured serves as a welcoming party to escort Him back to earth.
John 11:20. Lazarus, the good friend of Jesus had fallen ill. His two sisters sent word to Jesus advising Him of Lazarus' illness. Jesus delayed His trip to Bethany, arriving after Lazarus had already died (John 11:1-18). When Jesus finally arrived, Martha went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed in the house (John 11:20). Martha's purpose was not really to serve as a welcoming party, escorting Jesus to her home (as some have theorized in 1 Thess. 4:17). It was rather almost to confront Him for having arrived so tardily (John 11:21). In fact, after her conversation with Jesus (John 11:21-27), she returned back to her home alone, not to escort Jesus there, but rather to summon her sister to return with her to meet Jesus (John 11:28-29).
John 11:30. Jesus had not yet even entered the village of Bethany, but was still in the place where Martha had met Him. In fact, there is no record that either of the two sisters ever escorted Jesus back to their home. Rather, Jesus requested to be taken to the grave site (John 11:31-38). One could argue that the sisters escorted Jesus to the tomb, but the text does not state that. Rather, all the initiative came from Jesus. When He asked where the tomb was, they had simply said, "Come and see" (John 11:34). John, the author, next recorded Jesus' miraculous raising of Lazarus from among the dead four days after his demise (John 11:38-44). The results were as intended – many of the Jews believed in Him. (John 11:45). In relation to our present discussion, however, there is no evidence that this verb (hupantáō, 5221) can be used to substantiate the interpretation that the meeting (apántēsis, 529) identified in 1 Thess. 4:17 is a meeting to escort Jesus back to earth.
John 12:18. The occasion was Jesus' "Triumphal Entry" into Jerusalem for His final Passover Feast (John 12:12-15). Present at the Feast were numbers of people who had been at the scene when Jesus had called forth Lazarus from his tomb and had raised him from among those who were dead. Those onlookers kept reporting to others at the feast what they had seen (John 12:17). On account of this the crowd met Him because they heard that He had performed this miraculous sign (John 12:18). Consequently the Pharisees said to one another, "Look, you are not accomplishing anything. Behold, the world has followed after Him!" (John 12:19, author's translation.)
It can readily be observed that the crowd that went to meet Jesus did not do so to welcome Him and escort Him back to their homes or to any other venue in particular. They were simply curious, and wanted to see the man who had raised a dead person back to life! We conclude, then, that the cognate verb (hupantáō, 5221) can hardly be used as routine evidence to substantiate the interpretation that the meeting (apántēsis, 529) identified in 1 Thess. 4:17 is a meeting to escort Jesus back to earth. The circumstances in this instance do not warrant that interpretation.
Acts 16:16. On Paul's Second Missionary Journey, Paul and Silas, accompanied by Dr. Luke, had just arrived at the important city of Philippi. On the Sabbath day they went outside the city to the bank of a river and found a group of women gathered there to pray (Acts 16:12-13). They began speaking the Good News about Jesus to the women, and the Lord opened the heart of a woman named Lydia to respond to the message. She invited the men to stay at her home, which they did (Acts 16:14-15). It happened that, as they were returning to the place of prayer, a slave-girl possessing a fortune-telling spirit met them. She was bringing her masters a lot of profit by her fortune-telling. (Acts 16:16). She kept following after Paul and his group. She yelled, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who are announcing to you the way of salvation!" (Acts 16:17, author's translation). This kept up for many days. Finally, Paul, greatly annoyed, turned around to her and commanded the spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her! It came out that very hour (Acts 16:18). Her masters, seeing their profit had disappeared, dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities and brought false charges against the missionaries. A mob rose up at the instigation of the authorities and beat them, after which they were thrown into prison (Acts 16:19-23).
It is not difficult to see that the meeting of the slave girl with Paul and Silas was not a cordial one at all. This was a confrontational meeting between the forces of the Devil and the power of God. She did not welcome them, nor did she accompany them to her home. She kept following them and antagonizing them.
Consequently we conclude that the use here of the cognate verb (hupantáō, 5221) can hardly be used as evidence to substantiate the interpretation that the meeting (apántēsis, 529) identified in 1 Thess. 4:17 is a meeting to escort Jesus back to earth.
Post-Tribulation Rapturists assume that the meeting in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is one in which resurrected and living saints are raptured to meet the Lord in the air, welcome Him, and escort Him back to the Earth. To defend their view they cite instances in which the noun apántēsis (529), the cognate noun, hupantesis (5222), and the cognate verb hupantáō (5221) constitute a welcoming and escorting. In this article we have demonstrated that similarity does not prove identity.
Many of the uses of these related terms do not, in fact, connote a welcoming / escorting party. In fact, sometimes those involved in the meeting are actually inimical to those whom they meet (Matt. 8:28, 34; Mark 5:2; Luke 14:31; Acts 16:16).
In other cases, the purpose of the meeting was something other than a welcoming / escorting event (Matt. 28:9; John 4:51; 11:20, 30; 12:18).
Of the passages that most clearly conform to the Post-Tribulation Rapturists' point of view (Matt. 25:1, 6; John 12:13; Acts 28:15; 1 Thess. 4:17), there are break-downs that disprove what Post-Tribulation Rapturists are trying to say. For example, in Matt. 25:1, 6 not all of the virgins are even believers. Five are excluded from The Kingdom of the Heavens, not incorporated into it. Moreover, the five wise virgins who are included in the The Kingdom of the Heavens are clearly not the bride (the Church), but merely guests at the wedding feast (Matt. 25:10; Rev. 19:9). They cannot possibly be parallel to the Church, which alone is stated to be the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:24-27, 29, 32; Rev. 19:7-9).
Of the remaining passages, in John 12:13, the greeters certainly welcomed Jesus, but they did not escort Him back to the place from which they had come, but to a different place. So the parallel is imprecise. In Acts 28:15, though Christians from Rome came to greet Paul, the text never explicitly states that they accompanied Paul back to Rome. The point of the narrative was the meeting, not the presumed escorting. Likewise, in the critical passage, 1 Thess. 4:17, the main feature of the event was the saints' meeting Jesus in the air, not some presumed escorting Him back to earth. In fact, Pre-Tribulation Rapturists can far more easily make the case that Jesus will subsequently escort the entire Church to the Father's House up in heaven (John 14:1-6), quite the opposite of what the Post-Tribulation Rapturist asserts.
The whole point of this article is to demonstrate that the meeting of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is inconclusive as to the future destination of the believers who meet Jesus. Other passages must be brought to bear on that subject. In my opinion, the best passage that describes what happens after the meeting is John 14:1-3. There Jesus states that He is leaving to prepare dwelling places for His Bride, the Church. He will certainly return to retrieve His Bride and take her with Him to the place He has prepared for her. That place is in the Father's House. They know the way to get there (John 14:4-6). Jesus is the Way for the Bride to journey to the Father's House (John 14:6).
We conclude that 1 Thessalonians 4:17 cannot be used to prove that the "meeting" referenced therein demands a welcoming party that will escort Jesus back to Earth as the projected scenario of a Post-Tribulation Rapture. Conclusive evidence simply does not exist.
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
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Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Updated June 30, 2019