The Father William Most Collection
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
In 1 Thessalonians 4 there are a few lines which are widely misunderstood. They are thought to speak of rapture. I have even seen a bumper sticker on a car: "In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned." The poor man thought Jesus might come down at any moment, and snatch him into the sky! Then his car would go wild, probably killing someone. But no worry, he told himself. Only the bad guys will be left.
The trouble begins in 1 Ths 4. 13. We gather that the Thessalonians had been expecting the return of Jesus at any moment. Some were thinking: Would it not be too bad if I should die before that- then others would get to see Him before I would!.
St. Paul wanted to answer this. He said in effect; Do not get worried. Here is how it will be. Jesus will come down from heaven with a command, with the call of an archangel. and a trumpet and the dead will rise first. Then we the living will be taken in the clouds to meet Jesus in the air.
They also compare this passage with the account of the Last Judgment. the judge is seated, and on the left are the wicked, on the right, the good people. But this takes place on the earth, they say--the rapture takes place in the air-- so there must be two separate events. There is a rapture.
Those who think that way seem not to know about literary genre- the various patterns of writing used in ancient time. (on them cf. Scrip525) We need to know what they are, for each genre has as it were its own rules for how to understand it.
Now the passage in 1 Ths has strong apocalyptic color-- a cry from the sky, a call of an archangel, the trumpet of God. This is basically apocalyptic, a strange Hebrew genre which presents highly colored images, revelations, secrets. The original readers knew this was overly strong, and knew they needed to cut it are down to get at the solid content. The last judgment scene is clearly apocalyptic too-- all persons of all ages of the world are to come before the Judge. There would be no place on the globe with even standing room for such a throng. So it is apocalyptic. It conveys he fact that God will reveal to all how just and right all His judgments were throughout all history. Probably He will do this by way of an interior locution, which with one touch, as it were, can convey a huge amount of information.
We are left with only one event. So there will be no cars flying off unmanned.