“Mark, what do you make of this business of being caught up to meet the Lord in the air?”
The question was being asked by a second-year theological student at Caxton Theological College, near York. Jim’s friend Mark, also of the second-year, was lounging on his bed reading a novel, and didn’t seem too interested in serious discussion. Nobody else was about just then, even though their dorm housed twelve students.
“Why don’t you go and read the “Left Behind” stuff in the Library? It makes a good yarn.”
“I’ve seen it, and it raises more questions than the Bible itself,” said Jim, somewhat querulously.
“Well then, try old Quinton. He might be able to help.”
“Mark, aren’t you interested in the subject? I thought we could thrash it out together.”
“Yes and no. Yes, intrinsically, but no, because I’ve just reached a point in this thriller where I can’t put it down.”
Jim saw the futility of pressing the matter further, and wandered off. Yes, on reflection he thought Dr Quinton might be able to help, so he turned about and made for the room adjoining the Library, a place where the aged and semi-retired Professor might be found. The learned Doctor was rarely seen these days, being in his mid-seventies, but he’d been at the College for best part of 45 years, and now that he was a widower, he felt more at home in the College than in his cottage, less than 100 yards down the road. If he felt bright and alert, he would sometimes sit in on a morning tutorial, but more often he would sit in his own corner in the Library annexe and read. Jim entered, and was pleased to find the Prof in his usual corner. Hearing a student enter, he lowered his book, and squinted over his owl-like glasses.
“Ah, it’s Melrose, isn’t it? . . . . D’you want to see me? . . . . Well, come and sit down, young fellow. What’s on your mind?”
“I was wondering, sir, about this situation that Paul mentions, where he seems to indicate a sort of vacuum-cleaner effect, where we get sucked up into the air to meet the Lord. Do you think we ought to take his words literally?”
Dr Quinton chuckled because he’d never heard it put quite like that before. “Why does the matter interest you?”
“Because I can’t wait to meet the Lord, and I want to learn all I can about the mechanics of that day.”
“In that case I’ll try to help you. If your query was purely academic, I should have felt less inclined.”
“Mark Lester pointed me to the “Left Behind” stuff, but I’ve read some of that and it doesn’t have the ring of truth, even though I couldn’t put my finger on the source of error. It horrified me to think of little piles of clothes being found all over the place.”
“A bit embarrassing for all those people rising into the air in the nude, eh?”
“Gosh, yes, that hadn’t caught my attention.”
They both laughed.
“But seriously, sir, do you think we shall literally defy gravity and get whisked up to sit on clouds?”
“When you put it like that, I don’t think I’d like it at all. I’d much prefer to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. But tell me, what exactly did Paul say to the Thessalonians?”
“I’ve got it here, sir. . . . He said, ‘We who are alive and remain shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.'”
“Have you checked it out in the original?” asked the Doctor.
“Yes, sir, and I noticed that it doesn’t say the clouds. It’s anarthrous. It should be translated ‘in clouds’. But apart from the possibility that Paul used figurative language to describe companiesof people, I couldn’t get any further.”
“Well then, what is a cloud?”
“I’m sorry . . . . I don’t see the point of your question.”
“Of what does a cloud consist?”
“I suppose it’s a conglomeration of water droplets.”
“Exactly, and it has a well-defined shape. Suppose you were right about Paul’s use of figurative language. That would suggest conglomerations of saints. Paul said clouds, didn’t he? Plural. That means different groups of people.”
“You really think that’s what he meant?” asked Jim, screwing up his face somewhat.
“Well, it was your suggestion. . . . Now, let’s look into it a bit further. What about being ‘caught up’? Have you investigated that word?”
“Yes, sir. The Greek verb is HARPAZO. Vine’s dictionary says the verb conveys the idea of force suddenly exercised.”
“Right. . . . So now we have something to go on. . . . Have you chased up the other occurrences of this verb in the New Testament?”
“Yes, sir. The manchild was caught up to God in Revelation 12, and Paul was caught up to the third heaven, and also to paradise, in second Corinthians 12.”
“Good. You’ve obviously done your homework. Now, tell me this. When Paul was caught up to the third heaven, was he with other people?”
“I have no idea. I don’t think there’s any record. Why do you ask?”
“If he was with sitting with other believers at the time, what do you think they would have observed about him?” said the Doctor, taking off his spectacles.
“Well, since you ask, I suppose they might have thought he was asleep.”
“An interesting suggestion . . . . Now think a bit further about what you’ve just said.”
“Oh, yes, I think I understand what you’re driving at. Paul must have been like John in Revelation, when he said that he was ‘in the spirit’. I suppose he was just sitting somewhere on Patmos, and had an experience similar to a dream or a vision. Oh, and perhaps it was like that for Peter when he saw the sheet let down.”
“Now you’re on the path of discovery. Yes, it was so real to Paul that he had to admit he couldn’t tell whether he was snatched away physically or spiritually. . . . You see, we tend to treat everything on a mundane nuts-and-bolts level, whereas the spiritual life is on a higher plane. Call it a higher dimension if you like. When we are changed into our new bodies, we shall be snatched away, not geographically, but dimensionally.”
“That makes more sense. . . . Gosh, this is exciting. . . . So, you are suggesting that when the change occurs, we shall not move an inch from where we are, but suddenly find ourselves in a new dimensional state?”
“What was our Lord like when He arose into His new dimensional state?”
“In many ways, just like He was before. The disciples recognised Him, and He showed them the nail prints, and ate a meal with Him.”
“But what else?”
“Yes, of course . . . there were some rather weird goings-on, weren’t there? He was able to walk through a locked door, and appear and disappear at will.”
“And when you are changed, you will be able to do that as well. His forty-day excursion amongst His friends was a foretaste and a guarantee for them . . . and also for us,” beamed the Doctor.
“This makes so much more sense than little piles of clothes. . . . Can I ask you one more thing? Paul said that we shall meet the Lord in the air. That seems to suggest it’s not on the earth. Can you explain?”
“Paul called the Devil ‘the prince of the power of the air,’ didn’t he? Does that mean he only operates up in the atmosphere? Does it suggest we are all in danger when flying in aircraft?”
“No, it can’t mean that, otherwise no one would be flying at all. I read the other day that at any moment of time, there are about 100,000 people up in the air, travelling from place to place in the world. If the Devil only had power over people up aloft, then he would be seen as totally weak and ineffectual.”
“How right you are. Where does the Devil operate?”
“Anywhere and everywhere on the earth’s surface, in the hearts and minds of mankind,” Jim was quick to answer.
“So why did Paul call him the prince of the power of the air?”
“Is it another figure of speech? Like the clouds?”
“When Satan was thrown out of heaven in the beginning, where did he go?”
“Into the lower heaven, so we were told in a lecture last week.”
“In ancient times they used the stars to represent the upper heaven, and the air to represent the lower heaven.”
“So Paul expected his readers to know and to understand these symbols?” asked Jim.
“Most certainly. And that’s why we often find it difficult today, because we are used to our own world of figures. Each age has a different set of figures in colloquial speech, and we must never try to translate ancient literature in accordance with modern figurative language. Neither must we make nonsense out of ancient figures by assuming that they were meant to be understood literally.”
“That makes the ‘Left Behind’ literature false propaganda.”
“That’s probably why it sells so well. I’ve noticed how the Devil always fosters deceit.”
“Thank you, sir, for helping me with the problem. I feel much more certain what will happen when the Lord comes for us.”
“Good! Keep your feet on the ground, young man.”