Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Dark skies

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep (1 Thes 4:14, ESV).

This is a fascinating little verse. Because it's rather elliptical, and the syntax is ambiguous, we need to be cautious about erecting a huge theological edifice on this slender foundation. That said, it's worth exploring what the passage may well mean.

The ESV gives a highly defensible rendering. Perhaps the best rendering. 

Assuming that's a good translation, several implications seem to follow:

i) Dead Christians (the "saints") are currently in the presence of Christ, wherever he is. We might say heaven, although Christ has a physical existence. Is it a state or a place?

ii) Be that as it may, the verse indicates that when Jesus comes back to earth, he will bring the saints back with him. The saints will accompany him from heaven to earth. They will be his entourage or retinue. 

iii) Assuming that's the correct interpretation, let's try to visualize that scene. First, you have the "mechanics" of transporting them from heaven to earth. Maybe they just appear out of thin air. Instant teleportation. 

iv) If they descend from the sky, we're talking about–what?–billions of the saints suddenly appearing overhead. If they're between the sun and the earth, they'd darken the sky. Likewise, if they're between the moon and the earth, on a full moon. So the sky might be black with the crowded figures of the saints, casting a vast shadow over the earth. 

Or if they're not between the sun and the moon, they'd appear to form a vast black cloud or flock of birds in formation flight. 

That alone will make the Second Coming a highly visible event. Imagine living on earth at the time. Imagine an unbeliever watching this unfold. 

v) Assuming this interpretation is correct, it's at odds with preterism. Some preterists think Jesus already returned, symbolically, in the Fall of Jerusalem. But of course, there was nothing corresponding to billions of saints suspended in midair, descending to earth. 

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