Wednesday, July 25, 2012

1 Thessalonians 4:17-Proof of Eternal Heavenly Life?

I remember when I started going from door to door back in the early 1980s, as Witnesses, we had to demonstrate that most people will live forever on earth, not heaven. So it feels strange to be making an argument that is designed to convince people that there will be Christians exalted to heaven. Let's begin with 1 Thess 4:17. Here is a journal article that makes a case for the passage in Thessalonians being one line of evidence which supports the idea of heavenly life for those "in Christ."

Please try this updated link. It works better for the journal article:


The Apologetic Front said...


For whatever reason, the article linked won't allow me to read beyond the first page. Otherwise, I must ask, where in the text of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is it expressly stated that Christians will go to heaven?


Edgar Foster said...

I've fixed the link, Mike. Please try it now. You could deny that 1 Thess 4:17 speaks of going to heaven, but that does not do justice to the verse, IMO. Plevnik argues that 1 Thess 4:13-18 portrays the Lord bringing in his bride: the figurative bride does not escort Christ back to her home. See 1 Thess 4:14.

The Lord's followers meet him in the air after being caught up in the clouds. These words imply that the bride is taken up from the earth.

Plevnik writes: "The cloud here is not the vehicle for the Lord's descent from heaven, as in the synoptic portrayals of the parousia, nor is it the shroud of God, as in theophanies. It serves, rather, as a transport for the human beings that are taken up from their place on earth to a place in the beyond, as is the case in the portrayals of assumptions in both Jewish and pagan sources. The cloud motif is employed when a living human being is taken up."

Edgar Foster said...



Samuel Rocksmith said...


A number of scholars such as N.T. Wright have argued that the expression "to meet" was customarily used when a figure was coming to a city. People would go out "to meet" him and escort him into the city.

How would you make sense of this text when viewing the resurrection to be taking place over an extended period of time? If you believe that all anointed ones now go directly to heaven upon death, how is the Lord descending or being met in the air?


Edgar Foster said...


I have covered the point about what parousia could mean in the NT. Please see see and the journal article by Plevnik.

Regarding your question about the anointed, I would say that 1 Thess 4:13-14 depicts how Christ will raise those "sleeping [in death] (NWT). I will admit that there have been questions in my mind about the timing of events outlined in 1 Thess 4:16-17. It seems to me that the resurrection does occur during the Lord's parousia. The sticky part is what Paul means by hAMA SUN, a construct which BDAG says is pleonastic. What we do learn from the apostle's words is that the dead in Christ rise before the living. I believe that the anointed are instantaneously resurrected. But I concede that the details still have yet to be worked out.

Samuel Rocksmith said...


Thank you for responding.

I would only mention that the expression is used just this way in Acts 28. The Christians went out to meet Paul and returned with him.

Given the language of "coming" the implication is that he is coming not just to the air but all the way to earth. Correspondingly, heaven will contain him only until that time. - Acts 3:21

Jesus foretold the day he would eat and drink wine again in the kingdom. Because he was there relating when he would perform what had immediately prior been a literal action, you can not demand that this is figurative only because a priori notions prohibit the text from meaning what it says. - Matthew 26:29


Edgar Foster said...


You're welcome. Regarding APANTHSIS being used in Acts 28:15, I would just say that context determines how a word is used. Plevnik explores whether the Lord brings in his people, according to 1 Thessalonians, or whether they bring him in. Much depends on how parousia is employed too.

I prefer to define parousia as "presence" rather than "coming." NT Wright also understands parousia in terms of enthronement. Does the account in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff really say that Christ comes down to the earth?

I don't see how Mt 26:29 proves that Christ will reign on the earth. Moreover, it may not be immediately evident that the language used by Jesus in that passage is metaphorical, but biblical interpreters have argued for a metaphorical usage based on context.

Samuel Stonesmith said...


Thank you for your continued interaction.

My comments did not pertain to the meaning of parousia, but "descend from heaven." If he leaves heaven, where will he go?

There is a cumulative case to be made, three portions of which I have observed. He descends from heaven, heaven holds him only until the restoration of all things and he will again partake of food and wine.

As a rule, one can find an interpreter to advocate just about any view. Whether it is sound is another matter.


Edgar Foster said...

Hello Sam,

The reaon I made remarks about the parousia was because of the word "coming" that you employed. Many translate parousia as "coming" or arrival. I prefer "presence" or enthronement" when the term is used of Christ.

I am not denying that he descends from heaven in some sense of the word. However, I do not interpret the descent in a literal way. For example, in Exodus 19, YHWH made a descent. While that divine action could be understood literally, I don't believe the OT/NT envision the action in that way.

Sure, Christ descends from heaven. But why construe the descent literally? Furthermore, compare John 14:1-3 where Christ says that he prepares a place for his apostles/disciples in order that he may receive them home to himself. That passage sounds more like Christ brings in his ecclesia rather than the converse being true.

As for Acts 3:21, with all due respect, I'm not sure that it clearly teaches that Christ will descend to earth. The passage must be understood within its proper historical and literary context.

I concede your point about interpreters. And I'm not trying to claim that just because an interpreter says X, it must be true. But how do we determine whether Jesus was speaking literally or figuratively in Mt 26:29? My answer is context and by looking at how similar usages of a word are made in scripture. I guess we can believe that heaven (or however you understand eschatology) will have streets of gold and clear water too. Yet such language seems to be understood best when interpreted figuratively.