"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 4:17
NKJV - 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
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We will remain with Christ forever, but not in the clouds. Note that I Thess 4:17 does not give the destination, but the meeting place. In Greek the term is 'aer' which is used of the lower atmosphere where living things, like trees and birds and people, live. This isn't above the clouds and out of sight, or the clouds of heaven. The phrasing used "meet the Lord" is a common Greek phrase used for a group of people leaving their home city or country to meet an incoming delegate or King. They all meet halfway or somewhere between their homes. Then they escort the King/delegate back to their own country so the King may take his throne or the delegate conduct peace talks, etc. So in the case of Christ descending to the lower clouds and the humans meeting Christ in the lower air, the implication of the phrase is that this is one of those meetings of two parties. We all then 'escort' Christ to Earth. So the final destination here is back to Earth, not to the atmosphere or to heaven. This is the second coming of Christ, which all the peoples of the earth will view! (Matt 24:31-32, Rev 11:15-18, Rev 1:7, Rev 16:15, Heb 9:28, II Pet 3:10, Acts 1:10-11, John 6:39-40, Matt 16:27, Col 3:4, Acts 17:31, Luke 21:27, Luke 9:26, John 5:28-29, Matt 24:27, Matt 25:31-32, II Thess 1:5-10, Psalm 96:13, II Tim 4:1, and so forth.) It appears Christ will at this point set up a Millenial Kingdom on Earth, although theories regarding the particulars of that vary. It's sometimes hard to know whether a verse has the Millenial Kingdom or God's eternal Kingdom in mind. Revelation 5:9-10: “And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” See also verses like Psa 2:6-8, Psa 110:1-2, Isa. 2:1-4, Jer. 3:17; Micah 4:1-3; Zech. 8:3, Isa. 29:18, Isa 32:3,4; Isa 33:24, Isa 35:5,6; Isa 57:19, Jer. 33:6, Mal. 4:2, etc. Which all look forward to Christ ruling on Earth from Jerusalem in the last days. It seems that Jesus will rule here in a theocratic monarchy on Earth. After the Millenial Kingdom there will be a last battle, and then the heavens and Earth will be burned and renewed. Scripture is actually pretty clear that God's future kingdom will be on that restored Earth, not us being taken away to a far away heaven. Rev 21:1-3 "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God."
Basically and in my humble opinion, The Spirit is just letting us know once we make it into His presence, you can be rest assured that you will always be in His presence. God consoling His people.
The first sentence is a reference to the rapture. The second sentence is simply what will happen after the rapture. We will be raptured up to meet the Lord in the air, but then after everything else happens that the Bible describes, we will live forever with Christ. Randy Alcorn wrote a book titled, "Heaven". I highly recommend it. In fact, it's basically the only book I know of that is entirely dedicated to the topic of Heaven! God created us as both physical and spiritual beings. This is how we are made, and this is how we were intended to always live. When Christ returns, He is going to fully redeem and restore both mankind and the earth. Heaven will come down and reside on the new earth. Our final destination is actually here on a restored earth. We will have perfected bodies, freed from the temptations of our flesh, and we will enjoy a perfectly restored earth as God originally desired it. And we will live here in the presence of Christ for all eternity. Our future is pretty awesome, I recommend reading Heaven, by Randy Alcorn.
We will not remain in the clouds with our Lord Jesus as a permanent residing place. Actually, we will be caught up with him in the clouds (rapture) but we will then reside with him in heaven forever and ever.
I do not think that Christians are going to spend eternity in the clouds. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul is saying that the saved will be taken up to meet Jesus in the air. This is what some call the rapture (Revelation 1:7 clearly say that this event is not secret). Jesus in John 14:2, 3 says that He is going to the Father to prepare a place for us and then take us to Heaven to be with Him. Also, Revelation 20:4 says that we are living and reigning with Him for 1000 years. Then in Revelation 21:1-3, we read, that the New Jerusalem come down from God. So, if New Jerusalem is where our mansions are, and it had not come down to earth yet, it appears that during the 1,000 years we are going to be in Heaven with Jesus and the Father. Jesus also speaks of the second resurrection. It's a time when the wicked come out of their graves at the end of the 1,000 years for their judgment. My conclusion is that Paul is talking about us being taken to be in Heaven with Christ for 1000 years, until we descend with Him when New Jerusalem comes to the earth (Zech 14:4; Revelation 21:1-3).
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