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1 Thessalonians 4:17 (KJV) states,

Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds....

It looks like those who are ALIVE and REMAIN will be caught up. Does "we which are alive" refer to those who are still alive after the Tribulation? If not, in what other way should this scripture be interpreted?

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Also - possibly related to The Truth About the Rapture –  Jesse Jul 29 at 18:07
    
Vicki, I was having a hard time understanding the first question so I re-worded it, hopefully to clarify. Please take a look and see if this is what you intended. You also may want to check out this related question. –  Susan Aug 18 at 12:32
    
It refers to those who are alive, when Christ descends from heaven with a shout, at the voice of an archangel and the trump of God ~ 1Thes.4:16 That is when he will gather all believers unto Himself (some call this the rapture and refer only to the "Church" - New Testament saints), however I personally believe that would be all believers throughout the ages. Those who are alive, at the moment of His coming, are all those who will be caught up to meet Him in the air, being transformed without tasting death. –  G.Rassovsky Aug 18 at 13:14

2 Answers 2

I agree with the previous answer by Joseph and will seek to reiterate it by looking at the immediate context of 1 Thess. 4.

In 1 Thess. 4:13 Paul refers to "those who are asleep" and is simply trying to encourage them since it seems that some of them were grieving. They were under the misconception that the dead would not experience the coming of the Lord. Paul seeks to emphasize that when Christ comes, both the dead (sleeping) and the living will experience his coming.

This simple surface level reading of the text is made murky by the many confusing teachings on 1 Thess. 4:17 in regards to the "rapture". The word 'caught up' is from the latin word "raptura" and here in Thessalonians is the only time this word is used to refer to the 2nd coming. It seems that the confusion in your question comes from trying to understand how all the various teachings of the NT fit into a coherent picture. This turns into a puzzle game of trying to fit the different pieces together and often around the pieces of the millenium and the tribulation. I believe Paul is simply trying to encourage grieving people with hope, teaching that both the living and dead would experience the coming of the Lord.

Here is an interesting note on 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 from IVP Bible Background Commentary:

Judaism traditionally associated the resurrection of the dead with the end of this age and the inauguration of the kingdom, and readers would assume this connection in the absence of a direct statement to the contrary. When paired with a royal “coming”, the word for “meeting” in the air normally referred to emissaries from a city going out to meet the dignitary and escort him on his way to their city. The contrast that this image provides with the honor thought to be particularly due to the “Lord” Caesar and his emissaries could well have provoked hostility from local officials (cf. 2:12; 5:3; Acts 17:7).

It seems to me like this passage in it's original context was meant to inspire hope and vision of the Messianic King coming to visit his people. I believe it is best when read that way and not used as a piece in a messy and confusing puzzle of one various eschatological view.

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In the Christian New Testament, there were false teachers who had taught (during the First Century at the time of Paul) that the resurrection had already taken place.

2 Timothy 2:17-18 (NASB)
17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.

Some believers were upset, because they believed that they were excluded from this resurrection. In other words, the hope of the resurrection relates to believers both alive and dead, and to be excluded from this resurrection would imply that you were not saved in the first place.

John 14:1-3 (NASB)
1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

There is no indication that there is any discrimination between living and dead believers. That is, all those who believe in Jesus are in mind. When Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching that the resurrection had already occurred, they were contradicting the words of Jesus - that is, they were making Jesus to be a liar.

1 Timothy 1:19-20 (NASB)
19 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. 20 Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.

If we connect the Hymenaeus from 1 Tim 1:19-20 to the very (same?) Hymenaeus mentioned in 2 Tim 2:17-18, then the blasphemy appears to be in making Jesus to be a liar in that not all believers are included in THE resurrection (as Jesus had made the explicit promise in John 14:1-3, noted above).

Again, later in the First Century, as Paul began was writing his epistles, many people who heard these words of Jesus had already begun to die.

1 Corinthians 15:6 (NASB)
6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.

Thus when Paul talks about the resurrection in his epistles to the Thessalonians, there is no change of scope in the text that would separate living believers from those believers who are already dead. In other words, the event of the resurrection of believers includes those living and those dead.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 (NASB)
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

The last verse here begs the question: How do you comfort somebody with the message of the resurrection, when, if perchance you happened to be alive when it happened, you would have to remain behind (for whatever reason)? The issue here therefore is not about “rapture” or “tribulation.” That is, this resurrection will include all those who are (or had been) believers. Thus when this resurrection occurs, we have comfort (now in the present moment today right now) that we will have immediate corporal reunion with the Lord and with those loved ones who had preceded us in the Lord.

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