When The Lord Returns Will He Do A U-turn?

We "Meet The Lord In The Air" at His coming - Then Jesus does a U-turn back To heaven??

By Ed. F. Sanders

The Return Of Christ And The Rapture In 1 Thess 4

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming (parousia) of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And  the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them  in the clouds to meet (apantesis) the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thess 4:15-17(1)

Well known dispensational scholar and pretrib apologist John F. Walvoord writing about the pretrib rapture said "The major passage on the Rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18"(2). I will agree that this is a major rapture passage but it clearly does not teach a pretrib rapture!

What the passage does teach:

1. v.15: The passage is talking about the 'the coming' of Christ (not 'a coming'). The Greek word is parousia (parousia) which 'denotes both an "arrival" and a consequent "presence with"'(3). This is the same Greek word used to describe the Second Coming in 1 Thess 2:19, 3:13 and 5:23 (also 2 Thess 2:1, 2:8)(4). Is Paul here in vs.15 introducing a different return of Christ than in the previous and following chapters? If there were 2 future 'comings' of Christ why did Paul not distinguish them clearly (2 Coming and 3rd Coming?) The fact is there is no exegetical or grammatical basis for concluding that Paul speaks of two different comings separated by a period of years. There is only one future return of Christ taught in the NT (Heb 9:28).

2. v.16: The return of Christ Paul is describing is public "with a cry of command, with the voice of  an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God" - there is no 'secret rapture' here as taught by Tim LaHaye who is maybe the best known of the 'left behind' theologians.

3. v.17: We meet the Lord in the air and will then will be with Him always.

What the passage does not teach:

1. the rapture is before the tribulation

2. The rapture is a 'secret' event

3. that Jesus comes to meet his saints then does a U-turn and goes back to heaven for seven years.

Yet in spite of the obvious one pretrib writer says:

"The Saint U-turn. In the pre-trib scenario, after we rise to meet the Lord in the air, we will go to heaven and abide there seven years. At the end of the seven years Christ comes down to earth, defeats the Antichrist, and cleanses the temple(5)". This is the Tim LaHaye 'left behind' theology in summary.

The 'u-turn' interpretation stands or falls on the meaning of the word "meet" in verse 17 (Greek apantesis, translit. apantesis)(6). W.E. Vine says the definition is: 

"a meeting"...occurs in Matt. 25:6 (in some mss. in ver. 1, and in Matt. 27:32, in some mss.); Acts 28:15; 1 Thess. 4:17. It is used in the papyri of a newly arriving magistrate. "It seems that the special idea of the word was the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary"(7).

Of the significance of "meet" the NIDNTT(8) says

"The use of apantesis in 1 Thess. 4:17 is noteworthy. The ancient expression for the civic welcome of an important visitor or the triumphal entry of a new ruler into the capital city and thus to his reign is applied to Christ. “Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord (eis apantesin tou Kyriou) in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” The same thoughts occur in the parable of the ten virgins. The virgins leave to meet the bridegroom (eis apantesin tou nymphiou) i.e. the Lord, to whom they wish to give a festive reception (Matt. 25:1)".

F. F. Bruce, a Plymouth Brethren scholar, comments on  the word 'meet':

"When a dignitary paid an official visit or parousia to a city in Hellenistic times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escorting him on the final stage of his journey was called the apantesis(9)...".

In commenting upon the application of this unique word Arthur Katterjohn remarks:

"Another pretribulation distinctive is associated with the word "meet". It teaches that when we have met the Lord in the air, He will reverse direction, lead us back to heaven, and there we will pass the seven year period in which tribulation racks the earth. Does the word "meet" mean to change direction and return along the path just traveled? It is used only three times in Scripture: Matthew 25:6, Acts 28:15, and here (1 Thess 4:17). If the word "meet" in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 has essentially the same meaning as in the other two occurrences, then we get a picture of Christ descending to the earth, being met by His people in the air, and continuing down to set right the heresies of the tribulation. The saints, and not Christ, reverse direction. The Captain of the hosts does not retreat on His way to victory. He continues on".(10)

Well said! Even though this passage does not say the rapture is before the tribulation it is used as the main pretrib "proof-text" by countless preachers and teachers who have not taken the time to exegete the Scriptures faithfully.

To use the passage (1 Thess 4:15-17) as the basis for a pretrib rapture and u-turn is a deception! The passage simply does not teach a pretrib event or establish the timing of the rapture with respect to the tribulation! We must interpret Scripture based on exegesis (determining what the passage really says) rather that eisigesis (reading into the text what is not there).

The second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ will be a sudden, personal, visible, bodily return! not a secret rapture then a u-turn back to Heaven!
Also see: Matt. 24:44; 25:13; Mark 13:32-33; Luke 12:40; John 14:3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 5:2; Heb. 9:28; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 1:7; 22:20


(1) English Standard Version

(2) Quote from End Times, by Dr. John F. Walvoord, former President of Dallas Theological Seminary. He also wrote the classic pretrib defense The Rapture Question (1957) where he lists 50 reasons to believe the pretrib rapture - not once citing a verse that says the rapture precedes the tribulation period!

(3) Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, W. E. Vine, electronic edition (c) by Wordsearch Corp.

(4) Also parousia is used of the return of Christ in Matt 24:3, 24, 37, 39, 1 Cor 15:23, Jam 5:7-8, 2 Peter 1:16, 3:4.

(5) From an article on the Rapture Ready website (www.raptureme.com). This is the site that publishes the "Rapture Index" The publisher of the 'index' states "You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity, but I think it would be better if you viewed it as prophetic speedometer. The higher the number, the faster we're moving towards the occurrence of pre-tribulation rapture".

(6) Found in Matt. 25:1 (some mss.), 25:6, Acts 28:15, and 1 Thess. 4:17. Commenting on 1 Thess 4:17 Peter E. Cousins says this word "to meet is used in the papyri of the official reception given to a visiting govenor, whom his citizens escort into the city from which they have come to meet him" (New International Bible Commentary, (c) 1979 by Pickering & Inglis Ltd). 

(7) Vine, op. cit. W.E. Vine, himself a pre-trib dispensationalist, is here citing from Moulton's Grammar of New Testament Greek, (4 Volumes, J.H.Moulton, Vol. I, p. 14). Vine says the word is similar to synantesis--συνάντησιs "a coming to meet with...is found in some mss. in Matt. 8:34, of the coming out of all the people of a city to meet the Lord".

(8) Colin Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 325.

(9) F.F. Bruce commentary on 1 Thessalonians in the New Bible Commentary--Revised, p. 1159. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (c)1970.

(10) From the book The Tribulation People by Arthur Katterjohn, former professor at Wheaton College, Ill..

Updated 8-11-2007