by Mike Ratliff
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 will rise first. 17 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. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 NASB)
In this post we will simply look at the meaning of certain Greek words and how they are translated in many or most English Bibles instead of how they should “literally” be translated. From this the meaning of certain passages will change their focus from one eschatological term that is found nowhere in scripture to one that is the basis of our blessed hope in Christ. The passage in question is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
13 Οὐ θέλομεν δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί, περὶ τῶν κοιμωμένων, ἵνα μὴ λυπῆσθε καθὼς καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα. 14 εἰ γὰρ πιστεύομεν ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἀπέθανεν καὶ ἀνέστη, οὕτως καὶ ὁ θεὸς τοὺς κοιμηθέντας διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἄξει σὺν αὐτῷ. 15 Τοῦτο γὰρ ὑμῖν λέγομεν ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου, ὅτι ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι εἰς τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ κυρίου οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν τοὺς κοιμηθέντας· 16 ὅτι αὐτὸς ὁ κύριος ἐν κελεύσματι, ἐν φωνῇ ἀρχαγγέλου καὶ ἐν σάλπιγγι θεοῦ, καταβήσεται ἀπʼ οὐρανοῦ καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστήσονται πρῶτον, 17 ἔπειτα ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι ἅμα σὺν αὐτοῖς ἁρπαγησόμεθα ἐν νεφέλαις εἰς ἀπάντησιν τοῦ κυρίου εἰς ἀέρα· καὶ οὕτως πάντοτε σὺν κυρίῳ ἐσόμεθα. 18 Ὥστε παρακαλεῖτε ἀλλήλους ἐν τοῖς λόγοις τούτοις. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NA28)
13 But we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about the ones sleeping, that you might not grieve just as the others who have no hope. 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. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel and with a trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be seized in clouds for meeting of the Lord in air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 So then, encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 translated from the NA28 Greek text)
The two Greek words in question are both found in v17. They are ἁρπαγησόμεθα and νεφέλαις. The first word is the verb ἁρπαγησόμεθα (harpagēsometha) the Finite, 1st Person, Plural, Future, Indicative, Passive case of ἁρπάζω (harpazō). My Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon defines harpazō thusly: 1) to snatch away, carry off. 2) to seize hastily, snatch up. 3) to seize, overpower. To Plunder. Bill Mounce defined it as “To Seize” in his Mounces’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Ok, what about other New Testament usage of this verb? Matthew 11:12, “the violent take it by force.” Matthew 12:29, “Plunder his property.” Matthew 13:19, “the evil one comes and snatches.” John 6:15, “Take him by force to make him” John 10:12, “the wolf snatches them and.” John 10:28, “No one will snatch them out of.” John 10:29, “no one can snatch it out the.” Acts 8:39, “The Spirit of the Lord snatched” Acts 23:10, “take him by force, and bring” 2 Corinthians 12:2, “was caught up to the third” 2 Corinthians 12:4, “was caught up into Paradise and” Jude 1:23, “save other by snatching them” Revelation 12:5, “But her child was snatched away.”
In these other usages the examples were the common English translations, not the literal Greek to English translation. In any case, the word has nothing to do with being caught upwards to heaven, but rather, to be seized suddenly and taken from one state to another or by having soldiers or thieves plunder your home, etc. Think of the words “rape” or “assault.”
The other Greek word in question is the noun νεφέλαις (nephelais) the Dative, Plural, Feminine case of νεφέλη (nephelē), which literally means “cloud.” Notice that the word “the” does not precede νεφέλαις, so this is not referring to the clouds up in the sky.
Here is my translation of v17 again, “Then we who are alive and remain will be seized in clouds for meeting of the Lord in air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” This is talking about those Christians who are still living when our Lord returns. What happens to them? They “will be seized in clouds.” There is no reference to going up. There is no reference to a change in location. There is only a change of state. This is referring to those who are still alive physically being instantly transformed in clouds to then meeting the Lord in air. So that being in clouds in the process of transformation into what? We will be transformed in an instant to our eternal state and then be with the Lord forever. Those who have already died in Christ will be resurrected first. What this verse describes is the resurrection process for those who are alive when He returns.
Be encouraged my brethren.
Soli Deo Gloria!