The Greek term APANTHSIS is used in the ancient Hellenistic world as a technical term (TERMINUS TECHNICUS) to describe citizens who would go out to meet a visiting dignitary and escort him back to the city from which the citizens emanated. See The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament by Rogers and Rogers (page 479); Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (J.H. Moulton and G. Milligan), page 53; Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 1:380-381.
I think we should not read too much into the
metaphorical language found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
The imagery used regarding APANTHSIS must be
correlated with John 14:2-3, which suggests that the
bridegroom goes away to prepare a place for his bride
(the EKKLHSIA), then returns to carry her home. A.T. Robertson (Word Pictures) thus states that there is not enough
evidence (based on APANTHSIS alone) to tell us whether
the risen holy ones continue heavenward with the Lord
or continue descending to the earth. F.F. Bruce
argues similarly and R.L. Thomas unequivocally argues
that one should not infer too much from Paul's use of
a word that functioned as a technical term in other
In conclusion, I would submit that it is ill-advised
to construe every little element of a metaphor. As Max
Black contends, metaphors both emphasize and suppress
meaning. They also create new meaning through an
interaction of what Black calls the "frame" and
"focus." For Black, a metaphor constitutes a sentence (the
frame) in which primary and secondary subjects (i.e.
concepts) appear. One example of a metaphor that might
illustrate Black's distinction is "Man is a wolf." The
sentence is the frame, "man" is the primary subject
and "wolf" is the secondary subject. The term "wolf"
emphasizes and suppresses meaning about wolves and
man. Most people interpret the turn of phrase to mean
that man is ferocious or ravenous. However, wolves
have a number of positive traits (e.g. altrusism,
social traits) that we frequently overlook due to what
Black calls "associated commonplaces" (ENDOXA) about