"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, 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, shall 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (1 Th 4.16-18)
I believe in the rapture of the Church.(1) But I believe that living saints are going to be lifted up off the earth and into the air to meet the Lord Jesus as He returns for His enthronement on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in Israel. The rapture of the Church is not going to take place before the great tribulation. It is not going to be an escape hatch for an elite who will then watch the Church triumph and satan be crushingly defeated "from a balcony seat in heaven".
The whole momentum of our text is Jesus descending...coming down! And the key to understanding the departure point and the destination of His journey lies within this portion of Scripture itself. First-of-all, verse 16 says that He "will descend from heaven"! But where does this descent end? Back in Heaven...if the pretribulation rapture advocates are to be believed? For that to be so, the Bible would have to say that Jesus is to appear in the sky and hover, float, be suspended (2), waiting for His followers to join Him...before then disappearing with them. The whole context, weight, direction, impetus is Christ in person descending...travelling from "up there" to "down here"! (As Paul teaches elsewhere - 2 Thessalonians 2.8 - the Lord Jesus' "appearing and his coming" to be here, are one and the same event!)
And what is said in verse 17, gives us a tremendous key and clue to answering this incredibly important question. Those who are raptured, are going to be caught up to "be with the Lord", who is "in the air" and "in the clouds". Does this mean that The Day cannot be fine? That in some strange way or other the Second Coming is going to be dependent upon the weather?
Not at all! These clouds are not full of vapour. They are full of the glory of God.
"And behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man." (Da 7.13)
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days...they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Mt 24.29-31)
"But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Mt 26.64)