November 26, 2011

Air or Aither...αήρ or αἰθήρ

Mount Olympus-Thessalonica

All evangelicals like reading about the rapture. At least that is the way it was when I grew up. Sadly, many delve into it and Revelation looking for predictions and timelines of the end times and poor motives produce poor results. The book of Revelation’s proper title is taken from its first verse: The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Its main purpose is not to be fodder for tabloids and evangelicals constantly recycling the same whacky theories with new enemies as the antichrist every ten years. It is to reveal, …to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John”. Without getting into a 50 page dissertation it is written in apocalyptic language common to Jewish culture in the time of the Minor Prophets and is routinely misinterpreted by “exegetes” today because they remove it from that context, take much of it literally and try to contemporize the words to mean something it could’ve never meant. That being said, let us return to the letter of 1 Thessalonians to review a rather explicit mention by Paul of a rather unique, supernatural and blessed event called: The Rapture.

I the first letter to the Thessalonians we see the Rapture of the Church mentioned and is often subtitled “The Coming of the Lord” in modern English translations. Often used in funerals to reassure people of the eventual resurrection of all in Christ it also bespeaks of being “caught up together in the air”. As we have seen in other studies of the Greek, “air” here in the English is accurate but its in bland terms rather than colorful. So let’s look at it.

The Coming of the Lord

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

When we look at the words "caught up” or αρπαγησομεθα / harpagesometha, we will find that the word means "to carry off by force" or to “snatch”. Why would Jesus need to take his own that have been given to Him by the Father, by force? The implication here is that there will be willful resistance or opposition to God taking His own home. The opposition that those of the Church will encounter will be in the realm of the “air” as this “snatching” will take place as believers are called up into the air. Who is the ruler of the air? You guessed it: Satan. He and is demons will try to fight them from getting to heaven as they are raptured (to no avail I might add).

This will obviously require direct intervention. It will require God's power to incapacitate the opposition of the demons and take His Church" If understood in a proverbial manner we can sort of understand this to be “rescued from the danger of destruction” or as it is commonly referred to nowadays: Pre-Tribulation or perhaps at least Pre-Wrath. The Church will be snatched away before “all Hell breaks loose”. The idea of snatching also implies a quick movement or plucking something or someone out of a situation quickly…perhaps so suddenly that no one will realize it until it has already happened. It will catch everyone except God of guard. So why would people even attempt to predict the exact time? It makes no sense, especially considering Jesus Himself said that no man knows the time or the hour. All else is vain speculation and to me that is just trying to read something into the Scripture that is just not there…and that’s what Satan does. If what we do does not bring unity, it brings division. Division in the church is not of Christ.

In this passage we also see transference from one place to another. It is a transferring of saved and redeemed humanity supernaturally and extraordinarily quick from “here” to “there”. One second here and the next we will be in glory. The relocation will be quicker than the snap of a finger or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:52 “ῥιπῇ ὀφθαλμοῦ / the wink of a viewer’s eye”.

There is still one piece of this word puzzle that still needs clarification to bring the full illustrious color of the original statements to light. “Snatched or caught up” into the air or in the Greek αερα / αήρ / aer. This seems like a simple enough statement until we realize that the Greeks understand that there were different types of air or different levels or layers of air. “Aer” or “aera” in Greek was the denser lower atmosphere. They knew this because of the mountains in the empire and the fact that the higher you went on mountains the thinner or more rarified the air became. The rarified or thinner air was designated as αἰθήρ / aither, aether or ether. Aether in Greek mythology, is one of the Protogenoi, the first-born elementals. He is the personification of the upper sky, space, and heaven. He is the pure upper rarified air that the “gods” breathe, as opposed to the normal air / αήρ that mortals breathe.

I don't suppose that it is any accident that Paul is writing this to the Christians of Thessalonica who just happend to live at the foot of the highest and most famous mountain in Greece: Όλυμπος / Mt Olympus which supposedly was the residence of the twelve main gods of the Greek pantheon. Whom some of these new Christians my have diverged from in terms of belief. They would've most certainly understood the idea of aither or rarefied air considering Olympus was nearly 10,000 ft high.

It is here that I sense that God led the writer Paul to use αερα/αήρ/aer not αἰθήρ/aither/aether on purpose. It is here that I ask you as honest Christians to put away all the artistic renderings of Jesus literally standing in a cloud bank calling millions of bodies way up into the clouds and realize what this passage is truly saying. It can only mean that the Lord will descend into air immediately blanketing us at nearly a ground level. He will be so close that he will be below the mountain tops that the Greeks would know in the Mediterranean environment. He would literally be so low as to reach down and meet us on the ground as a father reaches down to hug a child. It is no wonder that we see Paul say, (v.18) “…therefore encourage one another with these words”. Who wouldn’t be encouraged by this?


Philsthrills said...

You don't have to post this, but I thought I would share it with you. It is another take on the subject that found interesting.

Andy Pierson said...

Hey Phil!
Yeah, my views on the Rapture have changed drastically in 5 years. I do not buy into the purest version of Christian Zionism anymore. The Rapture as it is often painted by places like TBN seems almost like an Evangelicals "easy-way-out". The ole' "we will not expereince death since we are clearly living the very last days of the last days" has worn thin with me. The generation that forcefully paraded this view are passing away now and the whole "Dispensational/Israel 1948 independence/that generation will not pass away" thing is showing itself to be rather evasive. The underpinning theology is now showing its weakness. Sadly I see many cashing in on others fears because of it. Reality tells me that each generation always believes its their generation and that's not the point. Getting our hearts right for Christ is. Somehow, every generation gets this wrong. Why? Because they do not understand their own history...therefore they're doomed to repeat it.

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