“Meeting the Lord in the Air”
“We who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.” (1 Thess.4:17)
There are three items in this verse which need some clarification. Let’s start with the last item first – the “Air.” Are we really expecting to be hoisted aloft into the aerial regions? I know that many take these words in a very literal way, saying, “Well, it happened like that when the Lord ascended, so why not us?” This has led to the “Left Behind” series of 16 fictional books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which have become so popular that sales have topped the millions, making the authors extremely rich. In this series, LaHaye and Jenkins suggest a very literal handling of this verse in First Thessalonians, making it seem like a reverse bungee-jump into the sky, leaving behind little bundles of clothes where once people stood. The obvious result of this is untold wreckage and carnage, as those who were in the process of piloting planes, or driving cars, suddenly disappear. One supposes the authors imagine that such a catastrophe would be amusing to the Almighty, but I for one cannot contemplate that this would be the intended meaning of the verse, or that God would be other than grieved at such an evil backlash to His day of resurrection of the saints.
Take the Lord’s ascension. He had been raised from the dead forty days before, and took His disciples to the Mount of Olives, there to say goodie. And yes, He did rise into the air, and yes, He was lost to their sight in the clouds, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we shall follow suit. I shall try to show why.
“Air” in the Bible is a figure of speech for the Lower Heaven. The whole Bible is an account of Heaven’s dealing with the Earth, and as Heaven is to us invisible, writers have employed figurative language to speak about that which we cannot see. The ancient Hebrews employed a word for Heaven (SHAMAYIM) which scholars think may be DUAL rather than PLURAL. (There is some dispute about this.) In other words “In the beginning God created the Two Heavens and the Earth.” Whether the Dual state of the word is correct or not, the rest of the O.T. bears witness to the fact. Take for example Solomon’s words at the inauguration of the Temple, in which he said,“Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain Thee.” (1 Kings 8:27) This two-fold distinction is elsewhere depicted in terms of the Stars (the highest heaven) and the Atmosphere, or Firmament, (the lower heaven.) When Satan fell from heaven, he no longer had access to the Highest Heaven, but had to live in the Lower Heaven. Hence we find Paul saying of Satan that he is “the prince of the power of the air.”(Eph. 2:2)
If Satan is the “prince of aerial authority” then to take this literally would suggest that he only has power over the atmosphere, making it extremely dangerous to all those who use aircraft. But this is not what Paul intended. He was saying in effect, “Satan is the prince who rules at present in the lower heavens.” The seventh angel poured out his bowl of wrath “into the air”, (Rev.16:17) and this must be understood of God dealing finally with the evil powers operating in the lower heaven. Earlier in Revelation 12 we read about Michael and his angels evicting Satan and his angels from this region, down to the earth. It could be that the battle described in chapter 12 is chronologically the moment in chapter 16, when the bowl of wrath is poured out.
Returning now to our verse in First Thessalonians, we are told that we shall rise to meet the Lord in the Air. What can this mean, based on the exposition of the last two paragraphs? If the air is the Lower Heaven, then, to unlock the figure of speech, we shall be meeting the Lord in that region. Instead of Air being a geographical term, it must be understood as a Dimensional term. God is “in heaven”, but in fact He is with us, around us, all the time. Satan is in the lower heaven, but we know that he interferes with earth’s population continually. This is what we mean by Dimensions. There appear to be three dimensional states, the highest being the state which Solomon called the Highest Heaven. Let us call that 12D. Then there is a dimensional state appropriate to the Lower Heaven, which we can call 8D, and finally the dimension in which we now exist is 4D (because scientists tell us that we live in a four-dimensional state, three of space, and one of time.)
“The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven.” (1 Thess.4:16) What does this mean? There is nothing geographical intended here. It is not like some meteorite landing on the earth from outer space. We are being told that the Lord, who normally inhabits the Highest Heavens, comes down dimensionally to the Lower Heaven. Then those of us who are alive and remain are “changed”, so that we can rise dimensionally into the Lower Heavens to meet the Lord. All this can be accomplished right here on the earth without us moving an inch!
The second item needing attention is centred on the word “Clouds”. “Behold, He comes with clouds, and every eye shall see Him.” (Rev.1:7) To us, clouds are very much a part of the sky, the air surrounding the earth. Hence they are spiritually and dimensionally connected with the Lower Heaven. It is reasonable therefore to imagine the Lord coming “down” dimensionally, to dwell in His Lower Heaven for a while, “to gather together His elect from one end of heaven to another.” (Matt.24:31) In Psalm 104:3 we read of the Lord, “who makes the clouds His chariot, and who rides on the wings of the wind.” Rich poetic language has necessarily to be used to refer to heavenly activities. In Daniel 7:13 we read that “One like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of Days, and was presented to Him.” Surely this must refer to the time of change, the time of resurrection, upon which we are now focusing our attention.
The third and last of the items in our verse is the expression “caught up.” The Greek word used here is HARPAZO, and it is instructive to see how it is used elsewhere. The Lexicon tells us that it means “to seize, or to snatch, either by force against resistance, or where no resistance is offered.” The former meaning is found in John 6:15. When Jesus perceived that they would come and take Him by force . .”
The latter is found in the following very instructive references, all of which are helpful to our study.
Acts 8:39. “The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip . . . [who was] found at Azotus.”
2 Cor.12:2 Paul said that he was “caught up to the third heaven (whether in the body or out of the body, I know not.)
2 Cor.12:4 Again Paul said that he was “caught up to Paradise.”
Rev. 12:5 Concerning the woman in this chapter, it is said that “her child was caught up to God.”
Philip experienced a “geographical” change, rather than a “dimensional” change. The Spirit of the Lord transported him some 18 miles. But Paul says that he was caught up, first to the Third Heaven, (The Jews tried to envisage no less than seven heavens) and then Paradise. He says that he had no idea whether this was a bodily experience, or a purely spiritual one. One wonders whether he was in the presence of others at the time, and if so, what they saw. I very much doubt they saw Paul disappear. This was a dimensional experience of a temporary kind, whereas our “change” will be permanent. When John was “in the spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev.1:10) he heard a great trumpet. He must have been “caught up” like Paul, and being in this temporary state, he was able to hear heavenly trumpets, which we cannot. Finally, the manchild of Revelation 12 is caught up to God and to His throne. Is this a dimensional shift from 4D to 12D, or just to 8D? to use our code. Perhaps we should save any discussion of that for another number.
Putting all these thoughts together, we can say that when the change comes, we shall be granted a new body which is immediately capable of “seeing” into the 8D heavens, where the Lord will have arrived to welcome us. When this happens, every eye (of those changed) will see Him. Those around us will not be aware of this transition, but as time passes, and as we become capable of higher dimensional activities, there will certainly be a recognition that something hashappened. This is just a lowly foretaste of greater things ahead, as explained in one of our previous numbers. Bear in mind all that happened to our Lord in His forty days after resurrection, and this will provide a clue to what it will be like for us.
To rise into the air, as at the Lord’s ascension, is therefore not to be considered in this verse. But after the more important dimensional changes have taken place, it will be quite possible for resurrected saints to rise bodily into the air if at any time it might be considered necessary. But that is quite a different matter.