The Clouds of the Aerial

QUESTION : "I am wondering how Christadelphians explain 1 Thes. 4:17."

1 Thess. 4:13-18 is a source of great comfort to those who understand the Truth regarding what God has intended for the righteous. Paul, in concluding his remarks on the matter in vs. 18, said, "Comfort one another with these words." He was speaking to the faithful at Thessalonica to console them who were sorrowing because of the death of some of their number. Paul reminds them that while all others who sleep in death are without hope, their dead were buried in hope. And that hope, as he brings out in vs. 14, is in the resurrection from the dead. "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again (was resurrected), even so them also which sleep (are dead) in Jesus will God bring with him (ie. resurrect them as He resurrected Jesus)." This is exactly the same teaching that Paul elsewhere gives concerning the resurrection. Romans 6:5, for example -- Paul, in endeavouring to remind the sorrowers of the great joy laid up for them, goes on to further expound the events to occur at the return of Christ to the earth ("for," said the angel in Acts 1:11, "this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven"). He points out that at the return there will be some alive who have remained steadfast in the one true faith that Christ and the apostles taught in the Gospel message. He says (v. 15) --

Now, what are we to make of "clouds" and "the air" in this verse? Our best (rather, our only) recourse is the Bible for our enlightenment. What does God say in the Bible regarding the inheritance of the saints? Is it not the earth? If the inheritance of the saints is the earth, what are we to make of clouds and the air that Paul mentions? Since it is Paul using the term, let him define what he meant by it. The answer regarding clouds is provided by him in Hebrews 12:1. After speaking of the righteous in history (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc.), Paul concludes the chapter saying in v. 39 -- -- and he continues in chapter 12:1: Paul refers to these particular faithful as a "cloud of witnesses." Other saints too numerous to mention ("for the time would fail me to tell of them" -- Heb. 11:32) will also constitute clouds of faithful witnesses. It is to these clouds of "the dead in Christ arisen FIRST" that the ones "which are alive and remain" will join themselves.

Paul's use of the term cloud to describe a multitude is not unique within the Scriptures. Ezekiel uses the metaphor in his description of the Russian host that will come against Israel just before Christ's revealing himself to the nations --
What then of "the air?" The answer, in light of the use of the symbolism of clouds, is simple: just as clouds symbolize the multitude of saints, "the air" (or, the aerial) symbolizes the position of the clouds, and the environment in which they dwell.

The "hope of the Gospel" is that God will set up a kingdom on earth -- This kingdom must have rulers over the people, and thus it will have as its head Christ as the righteous king -- And the saints will form its aristocracy -- In the symbology, as the clouds hover over the earth, so will the immortalized saints have the ascendancy over the mortal peoples of the earth.

Further again, let us examine Paul's usage of the word "air" elsewhere to see what he meant by it. In his letter to the Ephesians, 2:2, he reminded the saints of what they were as pagans before they obeyed the Truth of the Gospel. He said -- Here, Paul describes the course of this world (or world order) as being under the ruling authority of "the spirit... of disobedience." The children of disobedience are therefore those who rule according to this ruling authority, which is nothing other than their own sinful, fleshly impulses, in rebellion against God. The air therefore refers to the spirit of disobedience (the "spirit of the times" we might say) incarnate in the authorities exercising dominion and power over the nations, with whom Paul and his co-labourers "wrestled." Thus he says in the same letter, Eph. 6:12 -- -- These upper regions are the "air," in which the rulers are positioned, being politically elevated over all the earth.

Now the revealed purpose of God is to change "the Air" -- to hurl the mighty from their thrones; exalt them of low degree, and to send the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-55, in light of Rom 4:17: "God ... calleth those things which be not as though they were"). When this is accomplished, the kingdoms of this world will have become those of the Father, and His Anointed, according to Rev. 11:15. The political air will then be abolished, and a new order will be substituted in their stead. This new order is styled in the prophets, "New Heavens, and a New Earth, in which dwelleth righteousness" (Isa. 65:17; 2 Pet. 3:13). The course of THIS order, the ruling of the authority of this air, will be the Spirit that works in the sons of obedience.

Then, the "spirit of the times" will be purely of peace and righteousness, when the King of the earth, together with his clouds of saints, will reign from the throne of David in Zion. This is what the prophet Daniel foresaw in his seventh chapter (v. 13) --
Thus, in a few, yet very profound words, Paul reminds the sorrowers in Thessalonica of their great hope: resurrection from the dead, a "putting on incorruption and immortality" (see 1 Cor. 15:52-54) and a ruling place in a kingdom which will control all the earth. Heartened, may they not have opened the record of Scripture and read? --