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1 The return of Christ

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The first thing that happens when Christ returns to the earth is that he will resurrect those known as the responsible dead.  This will take place before he gathers together the responsible living. 

We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 (NIV)

So those believers who had died would be the first to know that the Lord had returned to the earth. After this the believers who are alive will become aware that he has returned.

...all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth...        John 5:28

When Christ returns he will call out a loud command or shout to summon and assemble all at once. But this shout will probably not be heard by everyone but rather only the responsible dead. In other words, non-believers will probably not hear the shout.

Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. John 5:28-29 (NKJV) 

Not only will there be a loud shout, there will also be a trumpet call of God. The trumpet to be used is the silver trumpet used to assemble Israel before Gods presence (Numbers 10:2-10). Like the “shout”, the sound of the trumpet will not be heard by all people but rather the responsible dead. 

When Christ returns there will be many responsible believers who will be raised but by comparison there will be relatively few who will be living at Christ’s return. The dead will represent the responsible believers who have lived throughout the ages from creation right through to those who have died in the present day. As you would imagine, over such a long time period there will be many! Those alive represent those believers born in the past seventy or so years.

...we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them [resurrected dead] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

Click here to find out who will be

regarded as a responsible believer.

The raised dead believers and current living believers will be caught up together in the clouds. The word “caught” was translated from the Greek word [1] HARPAZO. This Greek word means to snatch or seize something – like a wild beast would forcibly take hold of it’s prey. So all the believers will be seized in the clouds – they will be then taken away to the judgement by an irresistible divine force. This type of travel may have been similar to what happened to Philip (see side box “Miraculous travel”). 

Many translations say they will be caught in the clouds. However, the Diaglott translates this phrase to be “be caught away in clouds”. These clouds are

symbolic of a multitude called out of the surrounding nations (represented by the sea). For more on this click here.

Miraculous travel

Philip was removed to Azotus (or Ashdod) a distance of about 32 kilometres by miraculous means. He was taken by an irresistible divine force.

Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea. Acts Ch.8:36-40 NKJV

The words “caught away” are from the Greek word Herpasen (similar to Harpazo) and means “to snatch away; to catch or seize away”. As quickly as Philip had appeared to the Ethiopian, he was removed once his work of conversion and instruction was completed.  

It is clear from many places in the Bible that God’s power allowed those given it the ability to travel long distances in a very short time.

Besides Philip there have been many others who experienced this power and as a result have been physically transported by it: 

Elijah did: 

Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 2 Kings Ch.2:11 NKJV 

The twelve disciples did as well: 

Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.

Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them. Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing. So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going. John 6:15-21 

We can see from what is described, that God’s power was used to perform a miracle. The disciples were immediately and instantly transported to the shore of the Lake which was distance away.

Through this miraculous travel the saints (responsible believers) will be taken to Mt. Sinai where they will stand as a vast multitude before the judge. The Judge will then separate “the sheep from the goats”.

In the first century, leading citizens of a city would go out and escort a dignitary on the last stages of his journey as a mark of respect and in an effort to gain his approval. This will also happen at Christ’s return – the purpose of gathering into the Lord’s presence will be pay respect to the great Judge of the whole earth and to obtain his approval. 

The last part of 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 and verse 17 says that the believers will meet the Lord in the air. Will they literally meet him in the air?

They may meet him in the air as the verse says but there is a symbolic meaning behind this.

The word “air” is symbolic of a ruling power [2].  It is the aerial or governing region and refers to the government of Christ and his saints in the age to come. The government will be formed at Sinai, from which it will proceed to take dominion over the whole world.

It is the hope of the saints (responsible believers) to be associated with the Lord Jesus Christ in his kingdom. This would be not just as joint-heirs but as “kings and priests” who would rule over the earth in righteousness

The last part of verse 17 also says “so we will be with the Lord forever”. All true saints would find this a magnificent scene. In this time there will be joy and happiness for all who participate and the best thing is that this will last forever!


Summary of events


Christ will return to earth with a “shout” or command that will awaken the dead.


The dead will be resurrected from the grave.


The living believers will join the raised dead to be taken to the place of judgment.


He will come with the authority of the Archangel to forgive or condemn, to invite in participation or banish.




The Bible was originally written in the Greek language. So to sometimes get the true meaning of a word written down in English we need to go back and check the original Greek word to see what the original meaning was.


See Ephesians 2:2 and Revelation 9:32


See Revelation 5:10, 3:21, 20:6


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Last Updated: Sunday, 08 March 2015