Category Archives: Eschatology

Jesus’ Coming Foretold—Acts 1: 6-11

Some teachers use this passage to teach that Jesus’ coming will be seen by eye-witnesses. The apostles saw Him as He ascended, so these people teach He has not yet come because He has not been seen since then.

But His coming will not be physically ‘seen’ but understood. He could never be seen by human, physical eyes in His exalted, glorious, state, “whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16). In this brief article, I argue that there are several other ways that His coming could be compared with His ascension.

Verse 6. So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

  • Their question shows they thought just as the Jews thought –in terms of a Davidic messiah and an earthly kingdom of Israel free of Roman rule. This would soon change with a new covenant in Jesus’ blood.

7. He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;

  • They had already been told in the Olivet discourse (Mat 24:36) that the timing of His coming was unknown and He gently rebuked them and said only the Father determines the times and seasons.

8. but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

  • But: Grk, G23 5alla,contrariwise, emphatic—they will have to think differently—to change their mind
  • His witnesses: They are to receive power and be His witnesses everywhere, starting in Jerusalem.

9. And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

  • Cloud Grk. nephelē: He was hidden from their eyes by cloud. Just as He was hidden from their eyes as He went into Heaven, so when he comes He will be hidden to human eyes by the clouds of glory (Mat 24:30).

10. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men (Grk. anēr) in white clothing stood beside them.

  • Sky: Grk. ouranos. Strong’s KJV translates by heaven (268 times), air (10), sky (5); twice in v.11.
  • Two men: Grk anēr, not angeloi: cf Luke 24:4 at the empty tomb. These must be heavenly visitors.
  • Jesus has never been physically seen by human eyes ever since. Talk about a rapture!

11. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven (ouranos) will come in like manner as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

  • why? Was this a rebuke?  In just a few days they will receive the promise of the Father upon them and be empowered to be His witnesses everywhere! Thus, they were dismissed by the heavenly visitors (v12).
  • will come: Grk, erchomai=come. It does not say ‘return’ (Grk strepho, epistrephō or hypostrephō) which would imply He would come in a similar form to that of His first coming, (born of a virgin) and that of his resurrection appearances and ascension. No. He will come hidden to their physical eyes.
  • See also Rev 2:5, 16 & 3:11 where erchomai is used to mean Jesus will come, not ‘return’ or ‘come back’
  • in like manner: (Grk hos). This can’t be taken to mean ‘in every respect’ but rather there are one or more similarities. See Mat 23:37 where Jesus uses the same phrase: “the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”. Jesus did not mean He was a hen!
  • here are 3 similarities of His coming with that of His going into heaven:
    •  ‘a cloud received Him’– He will come in clouds (of glory-Mt 24:30) ;
    •  ‘out of their sight’– He will come hidden from human eyes as One ascended on high and ‘who lives in light unapproachable, whom no one has seen or can see’ (1 Tim 6:16);
    • implies He went suddenly, unexpectedly and will come suddenly, unexpectedly (see Mt 24:36-42)

Note also Luke 24: 52-52: And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them.

  • This passage in Luke confirms the Acts 1 passage. Luke wrote that it was while He was blessing them that He became patted and thus hidden from them.

Conclusion

The claim by some that this passage shows that Jesus’ coming would be seen with physical eyes cannot be proven. Therefore His coming certainly could have happened within the lifetime of his disciples as He promised it would (Matthew 16:28, 24:34). Let’s rejoice that He has come to dwell among His people, His ekklesia, and to empower us to be His witnesses as He did with the first apostles!

Jesus’ Coming – When?

In this short paper, I present reasons why the Coming of Jesus has already taken place!

1.  When Jesus gave instructions to His disciples preparing them for their mission to Israel (Matthew 10), He told them “whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. (Mat 10:23).

There is an obvious urgency in these instructions because the time they will have among the towns of Israel to proclaim the Kingdom of God before He comes (in judgment on apostate Israel) is short. They will be persecuted, but to waste no time there, but flee to the next town. We see this taking place with the apostles in the book of Acts.

2. Then Jesus later challenged His disciples with the question ‘who do you say I am?’ as we read in Matthew 16. He followed up Peter’s testimony with a foretelling of His coming death, the cost of following Him and then this stupendous announcement:

For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every person according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Mat 16:27-28

Some have interpreted this as referring to the Transfiguration event which follows soon in the narrative. But the subject of the transfiguration was Jesus’ coming death (His exodus) and the effect of this experience of His majesty upon the three disciples was a blinding, dramatic revelation of His messiahship and Lordship. This is not ‘the Son of Man coming in His kingdom’ which, as the narrative unfolds, comes after the resurrection, exultation and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the inauguration of the New Covenant.

 We must take the plain text simply as it comes to us. Jesus’ coming will be ‘seen’ (Grk horao—i.e., understood, experienced) by some of those 12 disciples in their lifetime.

3. Let’s now go to Matthew 24 and the two questions the disciples asked Him after He dropped the bombshell prophesying the destruction of the temple. As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Mat 24:3)

The ‘last days’ in the NT refers to the end of an era, an age, not the end of time or the end of the world! That is a serious error. It is a terrible stumbling block to people reading and understanding the meaning of Jesus’ words. The text is not confusing or unclear about the end of the age. The Jews thought in terms of ‘this age’ and the ‘age to come’ (see Jesus’ words in Mat 12:32).

4. Further in this great discourse we read: And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Mat 24:30)

‘They will see’ cannot be forced to mean to ‘see’ with physical eyes as a visible event but they will understand the staggering, horrifying truth of God’s judgment. His Coming would never be seen optically, as He sits at the right hand of power, masked by dark clouds of glory and “who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16).

Do you see? Do you understand? Many stumble over this, thinking that because He would not seen by human eyes, then He has not yet come. See?

5. Next, Jesus at His trial before the Sanhedrin: the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64).

Jesus was referring here to His coming (the Parousia)—‘coming on the clouds of heaven’. The question is when would this coming take place? Or has it already taken place?

If Jesus meant His coming was to take place many centuries in the future, then the text would not make sense to us today, because the high priest would have died long before!

It is incumbent on Futurist teachers and commentators to explain how the high priest could be alive to witness Jesus’ exultation and His coming if the coming is yet to take place.

6. At His coming, those who will ’see’ will also include those who have rejected the Messiah, see Rev 1:7: He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth [i.e., the Jews] will mourn over Him.

The visible destruction of Jerusalem and its temple will be the sign that the Son of Man reigns in heaven having ascended to the Father. His throne and reign is taught by the whole New Testament as heavenly, spiritual, not earthly or fleshly. Natural, fleshly Israel, with its temple worship, sacrificial system, priesthood, will all disappear.

People also saw remarkable, visible phenomena: Josephus, Eusebius, Tacitus and the Talmud describe trumpets and angelic voices being heard and supernatural activity observed in the time leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. These things are recorded in many documents. These are historical facts, taking place 2000 years ago.

Conclusion

The above evidence is more than sufficient to demonstrate that our Lord has already come—in dreadful judgment on apostate Israel. We could look also at the dozens of texts in the letters of the New Testament and remark how the writers and apostles saw the Coming of the Lord as imminent, soon.

Thus the ‘great tribulation’ and the destruction of Jerusalem are also in the past. We now freely participate in the Kingdom of God with optimism and joy, till ‘the earth is filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’ He lives! He reigns forever and ever!

The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:40—51

We conclude our close look at the amazing account of Jesus answering the questions of His disciples.

Verses 40-41. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. 

  • Here these pairs of people at work with one of each pair taken and the other left, are claimed by some to support a secret rapture, ‘snatched up to heaven’. There is no reason at all to link this scene with a ‘rapture’ and there are many uses of the word taken (Grk. paralambano) in the NT, none of which have the usage suggested by ‘rapture’ teachers.
  • It is unclear for the casual reader who is ‘taken’ and who is ‘left’, but when we look at the whole discourse e.g., v.39, it is much more likely that those ‘taken’ means the wicked.
  • This is confirmed by Jesus’ parable Matthew 13:49: “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous . . . .”  
  • The context here –as we saw in verses 16 and 19–clearly shows this is a Judean agricultural scene that cannot fit with modern times. This proves that dispensational teaching is error.

42-44. Therefore be on alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.For this reason, you also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. 

  • The parousia of the Son of Man means judgment. Jesus does not use the phrase ‘I will return’ which suggests a visible, physical coming like his first. Rather he consistently declares to the disciples ‘I will come!’—see his warnings of his coming to four of the seven congregations in Rev 2:5,13; 3:3,8.
  • These sentences stress the suddenness of his coming, so alertness is constantly needed.
  • Luke’s parallel account adds that the believers will escape all that is about to happen by watching and praying (Luke 21:36) —and not through any ‘secret rapture’!

45-51. “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect himand at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

  • ‘Note ‘not coming for a long time’—even the servant in the story would not be expecting the timing of this advent to be 2000+ years in the future but certainly within his lifetime! This urgent warning confirms the true intent of Jesus’ prophetic word that ‘this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (24:34)—it will not be ‘a long time’.
  • To stress further, Jesus again hints that he will come on a day when he does not expect himand at an hour which he does not know, repeating what he said already (in verse 36).
  • The Lord expected His disciples to be active and ‘put in charge’—He had given them authority and urgent work to do amongst the Jews—see Matthew 10:23: ‘But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes’.
  • After He comes at the end of the age, that is the current Mosaic age, His servants who have acted sensibly and faithfully will be blessed and given extra responsibilities (Eph 4:11ff, Rom 12:6ff) in the proclamation of the risen Christ and his kingdom. Life will continue beyond the end of ‘this’ Mosaic age and into the New Covenant age, and is not the end of the world.

Conclusion

It is absurd to think that what was ‘near’ for these disciples can be ‘near’ for us today.

The end which the Jews expected was not the end of the world but the end of an age—they understood that there was ‘this age’ and the ‘age to come’—see Matthew 12:32.

Many believers today vainly suppose that the “last days” refers to the end of the gospel era. Such a belief leads to expecting a future of defeat with many people falling away and an apostate church while Satan’s kingdom triumphs, then leading to a powerless army of God and the disappearance of authentic Christianity as time goes on. Such a view promotes despair and an escape mentality.

Instead, we are called to bear witness to Jesus and his matchless character and power and authority at the right hand of the majesty on high. He is present with us, his new creation, his holy nation, within our lives, at home in our hearts, in a new covenant! We can be glad we do not face what they call ‘the great tribulation’ and that we will not be ‘left behind’. We rejoice at the way that all Jesus’ predictions, all of them, that we read here in the Olivet discourse have come true in amazing detail. Glory to God and to the Lamb forever for He shall reign forever, His kingdom an everlasting kingdom.

Of course, there will be still an ultimate ‘last day’ when Jesus will exercise His royal judgment overall. For Christians, a significant portion of that future judgment will concern what we have done in the meantime, during the messianic age. Instead of wasting our time, waiting for Jesus to ‘return’ and longing for a rapture, we are to be busy about His business, expectant of the Holy Spirit at work in the world through us.

Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:31-39

Continuing our close look at the amazing account of Jesus answering the questions of His disciples.

 31. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

  • Angelic sending and gathering: there is no time reference given here and it does not have to follow that this gathering of the elect applies only at the time of the events described in v.30. Such angelic activity can continue as God gathers His elect from all places worldwide.
  • Trumpet: See Isa 24:12b-13: ‘you, O Israelites, will be gathered one by one. In that day the great trumpet will sound . . .’
  • Angels gather: a spiritual gathering; Jesus foretold a new ‘nation’ (Mat 21:43, 1 Pet 2:9)

reflected in the heavenly Jerusalem of Heb 12:22ff and Eph 1:20, 2:6 which continues today.

  • Alternatively, the Greek word ‘angelloi’ messengers, could instead mean the apostles and witnesses who spread the gospel everywhere, so gathering the elect—foretold in Isa 11:12.
  • Note John 11:48-52 where high priest Caiaphas prophesied four things: ‘that one man die for the people, that the whole nation not perish, that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and that ‘Jesus would gather together into one (nation) the children of God.’ Extraordinary!

32-33. “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, know that He is near, right at the door. 

  • Fig tree parable: Just as tender branches and the appearance of leaves are two signs that summer is near, so you (these hearers) know (Greek ginoskete usually translates ‘know’), thus to ‘see’ with understanding. He has foretold of several things—all these things.
  • when you see: (Grk ideti) does not necessarily mean ‘see’ with eyesight but ‘know.’ You see?
  • all these things: some say there could be centuries between earlier events and his coming—but the text uses the phrase all these things (Greek, panta tauta) following one after another as we saw; the discourse is a unity as Jesus answers the disciples’ ‘when’ question.
  • Jesus explicitly told them ‘you too, when you will see all these things’. How can that be possible unless they or some of these hearers are still alive when he comes?
  • near, right at the door: The word near, Greek ‘eggus’ and the phrase ‘right at the doors’ strongly implies imminence. It is beyond absurdity to insist on a 2000 plus years gap. An event cannot be near for 2,000 years, nor it can it be near 2,000 years ago and “at hand” today. Let us put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes! It cannot be sincerely held that God’s avenging judgments on the Jews of that generation would be delayed for 2000 years. See Hebrews 8:13:  ‘When He said [Jeremiah 31], “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready [Grk eggus = near, imminent] to disappear’. So when does it totally disappear if when this was written it was still somewhat present? Did not our author think ‘very soon’?

34. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass awayuntil all these things take place.

  • Truly: Jesus again uses the word amen, assuredly, as if to say ‘you just won’t believe this’.
  • This generation: To attempt to put the parousia in the future some scholars say Jesus meant ‘that generation’, i.e., an unknown future generation which is meaningless. As we saw above (v.25), Jesus warned the disciples of his generation beforehand so they would be prepared.
  • all these things: There will be some still alive who will ‘see’ (know) what He described take place; this includes His coming and indicated how soon He would come.
  • This phrase all these things (panta tauta) is identical to that in the previous verse.  
  • Many commentators and writers have been unable to accept these words of Jesus and plead many different and fanciful explanations, e.g., “generation” means Jewish race, not contemporaries. This dishonours Jesus’ integrity and causes many to stumble and doubt the veracity of the scriptures. Many people from atheists to Moslems have claimed Jesus was a false prophet because they take his words literally, while many brainwashed Christian teachers today find ways around His plain speech because of set, preconceived doctrine. Some modern scholars, thought Jesus made a mistake. Even C S Lewis misunderstood Jesus’ words, assuming He spoke of the end of the world. See his book of essays, “The World’s Last Night”. Harvest Books; (Nov 4, 2002).  
  • What hermeneutical keys can be validly used to show Jesus’ meant a future “final state”?
  • What meaning naturally, logically, arises from our Lord’s prophetic statement? These disciples took His words literally; they knew he meant what he said and said what he meant.
  • Those who cannot take this literally, also stumble over Matthew 10:23b and Matthew 16:28.
  • Millions who can’t believe Jesus came unseen to the human eye, yet believe in the sure and current presence of the Lord Jesus in their spiritual lives—they ‘see’ his presence by faith!

35. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

  • This sovereign, emphatic declaration emphasises the importance, plainness and certainty of all His words including v.34, where the phrase “pass away” is used and repeated by Jesus here. One day heaven and earth as we know it will pass away but Jesus’ words remain forever and ever just as Psalm 119:160 says of God.
  • The Bible has an eternal perspective—past, present and future. And those who trust and follow Him will find themselves part of the future ages with the Lord forever, incorruptible, not a mere 1000 years on a corruptible, earthly, fleshly, Jewish world as taught by many.

36.But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven nor the Son but the Father alone. 

  • That day and hour: Jesus could not give the disciples, who had asked ‘when?’ (v.3), the day or hour, but only its certainty. He did not use the plural ‘days’ as if it could be serialised, split up. Nor did he say ‘of that century and year’ as if it was far in the distant future.
  • This is the dramatic climax of ‘all these things’ Heinrich Meyer wrote in his 1832 critical commentary: “That the second advent itself is intended to be included is likewise evident from Mat 24:36, in which the subject of the day and hour of the advent is introduced”.

37-39. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 

  • They did not understand until it was too late and they were the ones taken away in the Noah account—those not believing and watching were taken while just eight were saved.
  • The coming: Greek is ‘parousia’: a better translation is ‘presence’ or ‘visitation’, a period, not an action (verb). This parousia will be a devastating judgment on fleshly Israel and importantly, the confirmation of the New Covenant, a new creation.
  • Jesus likens what is coming on the unbelieving Jews with the enormous wrath upon people of Noah’s day: Heb 10:28-30 makes it clear that for anyone to regard as unclean the blood of the new covenant has insulted the Spirit of grace will bring ‘much severe punishment’ about to come on this evil and unbelieving generation who rejected and killed their Messiah.
  • His coming will be just like the Noah visitation—there was no visible physical presence of God then, nor at any of the other judgment events recorded in the Old Testament.

Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:20-30

Continuing our close look at the amazing account of Jesus answering the questions of His disciples.

20-21. But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath . For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.  

  • The warning is for the people of the generation he is addressing—it is ‘your flight’. Jesus was not warning people two millennia hence, but to people who observe the Sabbath, Jews.
  • To imagine that Jesus was referring to an event in the distant future is to question the truth of his prophecy which forsaw “yourflight” and observers of the Jewish Sabbath.
  • Jesus does not know the timing of this (see v.36) so he warns these disciples accordingly. The warning applied only to his disciples of his own generation.
  • There will be utter devastation and terrible suffering then. The eyewitness historian Josephus confirmed the terrible depth of horror of the incomparable events of 68-70 AD, having no restraint describing the chaotic, dreadful events in his famous ‘Wars of the Jews’.
  • Jesus’ term nor ever will shows this will not be the end of the world—again, no fleeing then!
  • Luke 23:27-31 shows us that Jesus, on the way to the cross, said to the weeping crowds and women “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.For behold, days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are those who cannot bear, and the wombs that have not given birth, and the breasts that have not nursed.” They must be very concerned for terrible events would happen in their own generation.

22.  Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.  

  • Those days are days of great trouble; they are limited, cut short, and the elect, the obedient believers, who are still living, will escape it in their flight.
  • Again, human life will continue after the days are cut short—it’s not the world’s end!
  • History records several temporary cessations of the assaults by the Roman army when the elect, those who follow Jesus, would have had the opportunity to escape from Judea.
  • Jesus was not prophesying about some event far in the future but much sooner events.
  • This escape has little to do with a ‘rapture’ of 1 Thes 4:17 where Paul there gives absolutely no hint of anyone fleeing anything, but being united with Jesus forever.

23-25.  Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if it were possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you in advance.

  • You: Jesus warns these disciples about misreading the timing and nature of His coming. He warns them, his generation, to have such an expectation—not future millions of believers.
  • False prophets’ signs will be so powerful misleading many, but as Albert Barnes commented (1870) “His real friends would be too firmly established in the belief that he was the Christ.”
  • Many rabbis then practised sorcery, e.g., flames seemed to come out of Barcochab’s mouth (John Gill’s Commentary). We read of Simon Magus & Elymas in Acts 8:9-11,13:6. Magic arts practice was widespread.

26. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.

  • He continues to warn them to ignore reported sightings of him; such places like ‘wilderness’ and ‘the inner rooms’ can’t possibly fit any description of a future end of the entire world.
  • His coming will not be observable. Jesus had told the Pharisees, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed . . .  “(Luke 17:20) which reminds us that His coming will not be seen by physical eyes though it will be experienced and understood.

27. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

  • There is no break in Jesus’ warning—when he comes in judgment it will be understood by all and swift like lightning, and be ‘seen’ as widespread (‘from the east to the west’)—not in any inner room or special place. Lightning is sudden, unpredictable, lasts only for milliseconds.
  •  It is limited geographically to a region—as the region of Judea—not the entire planet. The Roman historian Tacitus reported, “sudden lightning from the clouds lit up the Temple.” Histories ch. 5 sect. 13 AD 109 and “In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour.”
  • Lightning often shows God’s power in the OT, e.g. Job 37:3 ‘He sends it (his voice) out under the whole sky, and his lightning to the ends of the earth.’ Also Job 26:13, Pss 97:4, 77:18.
  • Coming: The Greek word here is parousia, a noun meaning visitation.
  • Son of Man: When Jesus answered the disciples’ questions he kept referring to himself in the 3rd person and not the 1st, as “the Son of Man” (Mat 24:30, 36, 39; cf. Mat 16:27-28).

28. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. 

  • The corpse: the carcass of the Jewish nation, especially Jerusalem.
  • vultures: Josephus described multitudes of corpses piled up in Jerusalem during the Roman invasion—graphic evidence of God’s judgment everywhere. Vultures gather after battles.
  • Birds eating human flesh is a judgment motif in O.T. e.g. Ezek 32:3-4, 39:1-5, Rev 19:21.
  • In Luke’s account, Jesus answers the disciples’ question of those left behind in Judea and killed ‘where to Lord?’ answering ‘where the body is there also will the eagles be gathered’ (Luke 17:36). Again, this is a Judean, Roman conquest context, not the world’s end.

29. “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

  • Immediately: Another time stamp—there is no delay after the tribulation ends and is then closely followed by the ‘appearance’ in v.30, no gap. Cf Mark 13:24 ‘but in those days’.   
  • Stars falling: Collapsing of cosmic entities is a common motif in judgment prophecy, e.g. Isa 13:10, 19:1,24:18-20, 34;8-15, Ezek 32:7–8; Joel 2:28; Nah 1:3; Pss 18, 104:3) and this would be understood by informed Jews familiar with the prophets.

30. And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  

  • And then. Another timestamp—the remarkable number of these shows an unbroken sequence of all the things Jesus foretold, one after another, not split up over millennia.
  • The sign of the Son of Man: It is the sign that appears in heaven, not the Son of Man.
  • Cf.Daniel 7:13: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.”
  • The Son of Man is not seen in the sky but ‘seen’ seated in the heavenlies (Grk. oranaos)! Stephen said to the Sanhedrin, at his trial,I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
  • tribes of the land (Greek, epi tes ges) that is tribes of Israel. These Jews mourn because of the realisation of judgment—a Judean context, so there is no worldwide mourning. For Jews there is only one ‘land’—the land of Israel promised by God to Abraham.
  • Note the change to the 3rd person—‘they’; those who will ’see’ includes the high priest and those who have rejected the Messiah, cf Rev 1:7, Zech 12:10. Second Century Historian Hegesippus wrote that James (Jesus’ brother) proclaimed Jesus to the Pharisees saying: “He himself sits in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.” The Pharisees then killed him.
  • they will see: This cannot be forced to mean to ‘see’ with physical eyes as a visible event but they will understand the staggering, horrifying truth of God’s judgment. Jesus’ second coming could never be seen optically, as He sits at the right hand of power and “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16).
  • Daniel Moraiswrote: Christ was invisible as the brightness of His presence was masked by the Glory Cloud, thick dark storm clouds, as was the case during the coming of the Lord in 2 Sam 22:8-15, Isa 66:15-16, Psalms 18:6-16, 50:3, 97:1-5, 144:5. Also judgment on cities in the past according to the Hebrew prophets—the brightness of his presence seemingly being masked by the thick, dark clouds of the Glory Cloud.
  • The visible destruction of Jerusalem and its temple will be the sign that the Son of Man reigns in heaven having ascended to the Father. His throne and reign is taught by the whole New Testament as heavenly, spiritual, not earthly or fleshly. Natural, fleshly Israel, with its temple worship, sacrificial system, priesthood, all will disappear.
  • Jesus told the high priest at his mock trial: “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mat 26:64). Jesus expected the high priest would be alive and recognise the coming of the Son of Man!
  • Jesus’ coming would be marked not by his visibility, but by much visible phenomenon, e.g. storm clouds hiding his glory, Psalm 18:6-16.  Remarkably, Josephus, Eusebius, Tacitus and the Talmud variously recorded that trumpets and angelic voices were heard and supernatural activity observed around the time of the end of Jerusalem and its temple. See Albert Barnes’ commentary. These are historical facts, taking place 2000 years ago.

Matthew 24:10-21

We continue our examination of how Jesus answered the two questions put to Him by the disciples on Mt Olivet.

10. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.

  • Note the change to the 3rd person. All of these things would take place within the lifetimes of the apostles as we read in Acts and many Letters of the NT.

11-12. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.

  • many: there would be much apostasy, hatred, false prophets, deception, lawlessness, whereas the ‘one’ of v.13 to be saved from the terrible tribulation about to come.

13. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

  • the end. Jesus did not talk about the end of time. Believers of his generation would endure suffering and were warned to be faithful to an ‘end’ which they could foresee and survive.

14. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. 

  • This gospel: it isthe gospel of the kingdom which was already proclaimed at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as we read in the early chapters of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
  • world: Grkoikomene’= inhabited world—this was accomplished by the apostles before the end, the end of the Mosaic age –see Rom 1:8, 10:18, 15:19, Col 1:6, 1 Thess 1:8.
  • Then the end will come: Jesus answered the disciples’ when-question, so that they would be able to discern ‘the end’. Note what Jesus did not prophesy, not the end of time or the world.
  • Nations: Grk ‘ethne’, here means people groups, not as our modern concept of nations.

15.“Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),

  • Abomination of Desolation: Jesus referred to the abomination which Daniel spoke of (Dan 9:27, 11:31, 12:11) –a most critically serious event to be repeated and then at the end.
  • the reader:  The unique and fascinating writer’s note to his readers (bracketed in most translations) underscores the seriousness of the situation and that it is connected to the sign of the end and the deliverance of the faithful from the coming tribulation. This proves Jesus’ words were remembered and recorded and were deliberately intended to be read by believers of that generation and acted upon before the end of the age as we can see from history (AD 66-70) and by them escaping “to the mountains”.
  • It is clear Jesus was not prophesying about some event far in the future but soon events to people of his generation. So let the modern reader understand—history!
  • Here are two more time markers: 1st, when the disciples see this, and 2nd, what they must do.

16. then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 

  • This was the signal to the disciples to flee to escape the coming great tribulation which Jesus will refer to next  (v.17).
  • The geographical description is local, Judean, not global, and cannot support some distant future event. History shows they fled to Pella, a city of the Decapolis in Trans-Jordan.
  • Luke adds that when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, they would know its destruction was near (21:20)—He instructed that “those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.” (21:21) If they don’t flee they will be the ones left behind!—see v.28.
  • Luke further adds “because these are the days of vengeance that all things written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:22). It is vengeance against the apostate nation of which Moses forewarned long ago (please see Deuteronomy 28:34-68; 29:22-28).

17-19. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things that are in his house.  Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  

  • For those who hear and understand what Jesus has just said, there will not be time to go back for anything, so serious is the imminent threat of the destruction—they must flee.
  • This warning comes straight after the “abomination” reference allowing time to escape.
  •  The scene is local, rural, Judean and does not fit any end of the world context. Jesus did not prophesy the end of the world—there would be no one ‘fleeing’ anywhere then!

20-21. But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.  

  • The warning is for the people of the generation he is addressing—it is ‘your flight’. Jesus was not warning people two millennia hence, but to people who observe the Sabbath, Jews.
  • To imagine that Jesus was referring to an event in the distant future is to question the truth of his prophecy which forsaw “yourflight” and observers of the Jewish Sabbath.
  • Jesus does not know the timing of this (see v.36) so he warns these disciples accordingly. The warning applied only to his disciples of his own generation.
  • There will be utter devastation and terrible suffering then. The eyewitness historian Josephus confirmed the terrible depth of horror of the incomparable events of 68-70 AD, having no restraint describing the chaotic, dreadful events in his famous ‘Wars of the Jews’.
  • Jesus’ term nor ever will shows this will not be the end of the world—again, no fleeing then!
  • Luke 23:27-31 shows us that Jesus, on the way to the cross, said to the weeping crowds and women “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.For behold, days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are those who cannot bear, and the wombs that have not given birth, and the breasts that have not nursed.” They must be very concerned for terrible events would happen in their own generation.

To be continued . . . . . . .

The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:1-9

Let’s begin our journey through Matthew chapter 24. Did you read Matthew chapters 21 to 23 to get the overall context–the lead up to Matthew 24, the Olivet Discourse?

  1. Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came to point out the temple buildings to Him.

the temple buildings: Mark (13:1) notes that one of the disciples exclaimed “Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” This complex took 46 years to build (John 2:20) and was one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was built of stones weighing up to 400 tons and was capable of accommodating up to one million people. Think about that.

2. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”  

  • Truly: Amen!Jesus often used this word when about to say something extremely surprising and unbelievable—as if to warn them they were about to be shocked—see v.34. And so this event was the most shocking and tumultuous thing any Jew could imagine would happen. This struck at the very heart of Judaism, their religion, God’s house. This was unimaginable, incredible, beyond belief.
  • you: 2nd person, plural—these disciples are specifically addressed here and throughout this discourse and not for people of future times. Jesus provokes these disciples to ask questions.
  • not one stone: The destruction of the temple will happen because it was now no longer God’s house, but ‘desolate’ (Mat 23:38) and by then Jesus would have made the sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 10:9, 12, 14, 18). See also Jesus’ words recorded in Luke 21:24. The Roman army under Titus destroyed the temple in 70 AD along with the city of Jerusalem.

3.  As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”

  • on the Mount of Olives: After ascending the mount they would have a clear view of the subject of Jesus’ shocking prophecy.
  • privately: Mark wrote that Peter, James, John and Andrew were present (Mk 13:3). Luke identified the questioners as ‘they’ who were some of those who admired the temple area (Luke 21:5-6). Jesus spoke these words to people in his generation, not future generations.
  • So the disciples had two questions for Jesus: a ‘when’ question about the destruction of the Temple buildings, and a ‘what’ question about ‘his parousia’ and ‘the end of the age’ which are inseparably bound in one sign (singular) to come.
  • coming: (Grk ‘parousia’) means ‘presence’, a period, a state, not an action—Strong’s G3952. The word implies a visit or visitation and this one is of judgment and wrath. It is also for His people a coming to be present with them—God with them! Abiding in us!
  • age: Grk aionos, not ‘kosmos’ world as in KJV. This is about the end of an age, the Mosaic age, the old covenant age—here and in the other occurrences of this phrase in this discourse. See 1 Cor 10:11—Paul wrote about his age which was already at an end. Hebrews 9:26 says ‘Jesus appeared at the end of the age, to put away sin.’  Jesus first coming was a past event, marking the beginning of the end of a period, the end of the Jewish or Mosaic age.
  • The term ‘the end’ is repeated in vs. 4, 13, 14, so it is critical to know what is meant by ‘end’.
  • Their questions used the terms ‘parousia’ and ‘end of the age’ as Jesus had already taught the disciples about his coming and the replacement of the current age (see Mat 16:27-28).
  • The discourse that follows vss.4-36 must be seen as Jesus answering the disciples’ two questions—when these things will happen and what will be the sign of His presence. The central issue is Jesus’ coming in judgment on Israel and the Temple which no longer was fit for his presence among them and his parousia (presence) among a new ‘nation’ of the elect.   

4. Jesus answered them “See to it that no one misleads you.

  • Jesus warned them—they were likely enough to be misled. We can be misled too if we think these words are addressed to us!

5. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.

  •  The times were awash with end-of-age and coming of Messiah beliefs, Josephus talks about these in his Jewish Wars 9:3’.

6. You will be hearing of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  

  • Today end-time preachers use these texts to frighten people that his return is near. But It is clear Jesus was prophesying here to his disciples, not to 21st Century readers. It is nonsense to hold that what was ‘near’ for these disciples (‘you’) can be ‘near’ for us today.
  • At the Jewish council, Gamaliel mentioned uprisings led by Theudas and Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:35-38).
  • Jesus here dealt with the ‘when’ question and continues this until at least verse 15.

7. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places, there will be famines and earthquakes.

  • nation against nation: See Josephus Jewish Wars, b. 6, 9:3. Coffman concludes “Such things as famines, wars, and earthquakes seem to have been multiplied during that period”. Also Albert Barnes Commentary
  • earthquakes: John Gill comments that “at Crete, and in divers cities in Asia in the times of Nero: particularly the three cities of Phrygia, Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae; which were near to each other, and are all said to perish this way, in his reign.”

8. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

  • birth pangs: Jesus had spoken to these disciples of ‘the regeneration (Grk, ‘paligenesia’= rebirth, renewal) when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne (Mat 19:28, Luke 22:28) as pictured in Daniel 7:13-14, and following his ascension into heaven (see Acts 2:33-36)—not in any worldly ‘millennium’ as taught by many endtime teachers. These disciples will live through all these things—this is just the beginning of birth pangs.
  • But they are not to fear, as something much, much more heavenly and serious will happen.
  • Jesus continues warning them not to be misled. Political conflicts, famines and earthquakes have been commonly reported in history and preachers then and today have often used current troubles in to convince hearers of the imminent end of the world.

9. “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.

  • Then:here is one of several time stamps e.g., v.10, which show that the narrative is a unity.
  • Deliver you: Jesus was prophesying to those who asked the questions not to us today. This was part of the disciples’ inevitable sufferings “because of My namewe find recorded in Acts and epistles and foreshadowed in Mat 23:34.
  • Tribulation: The word tribulation or suffering is used multiple times in the NT, and here is not connected to the “great tribulation” Jesus would refer to in v.21.
  • all nations: Strongs 1483 (ethne); better translated ‘multitudes’ including Jews and Gentiles.

To be continued . . . .

The Thessalonians and the Parousia

The apostle Paul, writing about 51 AD to believing Christians in Thessalonica in the Roman province of Macedonia, expected with them, an imminent return of the Lord. Paul wrote they had turned from idols to serve the living God and to wait for his son from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

As we read this letter today, bear in mind we are reading mail written to believers living 2000 years ago. We must reject the temptation to think we are being addressed by Paul. This is not about us.

The Thessalonians were anticipating the most profound life-changing thing to occur within their lifetime: the Parousia of their saviour! Yet they were deeply troubled and Paul was addressing their concerns.

First, let us ask: Were they still waiting for Jesus to come when they all passed away 2000+ years ago?

Think: Jesus’ second coming was near for these believers, so it cannot be near for us. And if Jesus’ return is near for us today, was Paul in error? If they had the wrong expectations, why didn’t Paul correct them? Why didn’t he write ‘sorry, you’ve got it wrong, Jesus won’t be coming back for a long, long, time.’

Now let’s look at that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 passage carefully in more detail.

 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as the rest of mankind do, who have no hope.

Paul’s concern as he wrote to these troubled believers, who were worried that those Thessalonians who had died before the Lord’s coming were going to miss out. Their concern was not about the truth of resurrection, as it was when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. For the Thessalonians the fact of the resurrection was not the issue.

14 for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

Paul reasoned: we believe Jesus died and rose, even so [Greek, kai houtos—likewise, it follows] God will bring with him’ those you are concerned for! Great news! Jesus’ resurrection guaranteed theirs also!

Isn’t this evidence that both Paul and his readers believed Jesus was coming soon, not aeons hence?

Some scholars think the bodily resurrection comes at the end of the Messianic age—still in the future.

But does that agree with Paul’s teaching? We ask, do all deceased believers now sleep for thousands of years before their resurrection? Are the Thessalonians and Paul still asleep in Jesus today? Let’s see.

Paul wrote some have fallen asleep in Jesus. Did God bring them ‘asleep’ i.e., with disembodied spirits with Jesus? Or had they been raised when the Lord descended from heaven as it plainly says in v16)?

Is there any hint this resurrection would not occur until 2000+ years hence, as some others claim?  Would that idea really comfort his readers?

15 for this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord — shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.

Now Paul gave them more details. He said what he wrote about this came from Jesus. If Paul was mistaken, was Jesus also mistaken? No way!  Recall that Jesus was ignorant of the day or hour of his coming (Mat 24:36), and so Paul could not be certain about it either.

Here we read of two distinct groups of long-ago saints at His coming: first, those ‘fallen asleep’ and second, those alive and who remain. Jesus had twice told His disciples that there will be some people hearing His words who will remain alive at His coming (see Mat 16:27,28 and 24:34,42,44).

Paul has now said enough to reassure his readers. But surprisingly, he continues with such extraordinary, strange remarks and making verse 17 perhaps the most puzzling in the NT:

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.

Paul expects Jesus will descend from heaven; not to Earth, not to Jerusalem. The text in v17 mentions clouds and air for the meeting site, not Earth.

Paul tells them the ‘dead in Christ’ will rise first. They will not miss out on their experience of the Parousia. Is this not their resurrection from the dead—not a spiritual rising. They are raised first, before those who remain alive. Those who remain will also experience resurrection. There are no time limits given. Nobody in Christ will miss out! (Are we today not in a somewhat similar state as those remainers?)

Some writers (For example author, Mike Rogers, www.mikerogersad70.com) think the resurrection comes at the end of time at a single point-in-time event in the future. But this does not follow from the text.

Paul later explained to the Corinthians “Christ has been raised from the dead the first fruits of those who are asleep . . . so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Cor:21-27.)

The phrase each in his own order implies, not a mass collection of millions together, but one at a time—’each’ not ‘together’; ‘his’ not ‘they’. As Isaiah 27:12-13 prophesied, On that Day the Lord will thresh from the flowing stream of the Euphrates River to the brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up one by one, you sons of Israel. It will come about also on that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.  And Moses declared If any of your scattered countrymen are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you (Deut 30:4).

We can see Paul expected the Parousia soon, as did all the apostolic writers, but they said nothing about any post-Parousiabelievers like us, far in the future. Did they assume there would be no future?

Paul wrote ‘The last enemy that will be abolished is death’ (1 Cor 15:26). And Jesus did so—see Rev 20:14, Heb 2:14, 2 Tim 1:10. We all die one at a time (Heb 9:27) and when each dies, is not death abolished, one at a time? That’s what has been declared at funeral services for centuries.

Like Paul, I know that if my earthly tent is torn down, I have a building from God . . . That’s reassuring indeed! He goes on, For indeed, in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, since in fact after putting it on, we will not be found naked. For indeed, we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. (2 Cor 5:1-4). Can we gauge what joyous state Paul expected from this and other passages e.g., Phil 1:21-24? Seems like he couldn’t wait to be so clothed when he wrote that!

I can’t imagine Paul still ‘unclothed’, as a disembodied spirit. Can you?

Paul goes on with some puzzling details, but not about the nature of resurrection . . .

17 Then we who are alive, who remain, 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.

Note the adverb of sequencing, then. The original word is epeita meaning thereupon, thereafter, afterward (Strongs G1899). So this catching up was not simultaneous with the coming of Jesus with the risen saints. This leaves open the possibility those ‘remaining could be ‘caught up’ at any time.

Paul here used the 3rd person, we who remain, not ‘you’. Did Paul think he might be included among those remaining? Recall that both Paul and his readers expected a soon return of Jesus (see 1:10, 3:13). We know Paul was executed around 66/67 AD. Has Paul been raised or is he still ‘fallen asleep’, waiting for a ‘general resurrection’ at the end of time as some teach? I think not.

To the Philippians Paul confidently and eagerly wrote our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Phil 3:20f).     

We may wish Paul had said more. What happens to unbelievers? Or believers who will remain alive?

Reflect that the apostle John died an old man sometime after AD 98 in Asia Minor and Thomas died in AD 72 in India, both still alive and remaining on Earth after the time when all these things take place as Jesus declared to His disciples on the Mt of Olives recorded in Matthew 24, verse 34.  

Many more questions arise. Could Paul have been among the countless numbers brought with Jesus, all having died before the Lord’s coming—as he had—and already risen? If those who remain are caught up together with them, do they come together all risen and meet the Lord in the sky? Does this include the untold numbers of saints from the earliest of times? Fantastic, mysterious language!

Why did Paul, writing to the Corinthians 5 years later about the resurrection (1 Cor 15) not even hint there, or anywhere else in the New Testament, of such phenomena as we read in this letter?

Is there some other explanation of how they meet up with the risen believers in the air? Do you think all the remaining saints really took off, leaving behind their corruptible bodies, rising into the clouds and meet the Lord there with those who died in Jesus? Taking it literally raises many difficult questions.

Think about Paul’s use of that word ‘caught up’ (Greek hapazo, to seize, carry off by force)here: he was caught up into paradise (2 Cor 12:22f). Let’s consider how can all believers have already come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22-24)—just how have they come? What about John’s being ‘in the Spirit’ and being ‘called up here’ (Rev 1:10, 4:1)? And how Phillip could be suddenly ‘snatched away’ and was found at Azotus (Acts 8:39-40).

Are these not examples of ‘rapture’ without anyone leaving the Earth?

Paul was not that concerned with detailing the method of the Parousia—that was secondary. Comforting his readers’ fears was his objective. Paul was not writing a systematic theology for people living 2000 years in the future! Rather he writes to assure them that nothing can separate them from Christ (Rom 8:38).

Verses 16 and 17 contain highly symbolic, apocalyptic language like we find in Matthew 24:29-30 and in Revelation–angels, trumpets and the like.

Let’s try taking this not literally, but figuratively.

First, the remaining—including you and I today—are, and can be ‘caught up’, with those gone before, just like Paul was caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor 12:22ff). Was Paul here applying his experience to the Thessalonians as additional comfort?

And where? Well, not up into the air where the birds fly—Paul would have used a different Greek word, oranos.  No. Here Paul used the Greek, aer, not oranos (see Strongs). This aer is the air we all breathe, as God designed, spontaneously, the foundation of all life (Gen 2:7; 7:2,15), a ‘spiritual’ air, and a realm inhabited by spiritual beings (Eph 2:20), as Greek speakers in Paul’s day would have understood. In Greek mythology, aer was the god of the lower atmosphere in charge of the air breathed. (For more uses of the word aer see 1 Cor 9:2, 14:9; Eph 2:20; Rev 9:2, 16:17.)

In that space, we who believe remain forever with the Lord. Whether we live or die (Romans 14:8) we remain in a mystical union with Jesus that begins by faith and is with us for and into eternity. As William Neil wrote in his 1950 commentary of Thessalonians, being a part of that Body of which Christ is the Head. Jesus taught we already experience eternal life when we believe. And He said Truly, truly, I say to you, a time is coming and even now has arrived, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself . . (John 5:19-30)

 18 so, then, comfort one another with these words.

Would they have been comforted and encouraged if this was not going to happen in their lifetime? No.

If Jesus’ coming was near for them, as Paul wrote around 55 AD, and both they and their dead loved ones were raised and live eternally with Jesus, then the Parousia cannot be near for us today. If this happened to them as described and within their lifetime, then it is impossible for this be near for us.

Because we today look confidently to Jesus to raise each of us incorruptible in the future (though we cannot say when) we can conclude that Paul was writing figuratively in his earnest desire to comfort the distressed Thessalonians.

So we can take this figuratively and not literally. As I said, five years on when he wrote to the Corinthians, that mysterious language was absent. There he simply declared ‘I tell you a mystery’. Mystery!

When Paul writes to them by the word of the Lord (v.15), then we must take that literally: that we who are alive and remain . . .  shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. But in verses 16 and 17 it seems he was “prophesying in part, seeing dimly as by a mirror (NASB margin in a riddle)”?  Mystery!

Conclusion

I don’t believe that Paul taught that the Thessalonians were to be literally ‘caught up into clouds’. When I consider that Paul’s use elsewhere of his being ‘caught up’ and how other apostolic writers wrote of various ecstatic experiences, and his use of the Greek word, aer, helps me to make sense of this passage. 

If the Parousia is coming near for us today, as many teach, the Thessalonians all died without the comfort Paul was assuring them. So God did not come down from heaven and they were not ‘caught up’ then.

According to many Christian friends, this event is all in the future and it’s going to happen ‘soon’, 2000+ years after Paul wrote this letter? Has the meaning of the word ‘soon’ been changed to mean ‘sometime’?

Paul did not teach that the resurrection comes at the end of time as a single point-in-time event in the future. From what he wrote then, I can’t imagine Paul still now, ‘unclothed’—a disembodied spirit.

Paul concluded “so we will always be with the Lord”. Praise God! We can be encouraged as well—so shall we be also always with the Lord—nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38). That’s something so clear and concrete that all His brothers and sisters can be in agreement as one.

What do you think? I am eager to hear your comments, both positive or critical.