There is a great difference of views between Preterists and other Christians on the resurrection of believers. Both the timing and the nature of the event – and even what to call it – have been often and at times heatedly argued. But that issue is not the topic of this article. There are plenty of good defenses of Preterism to be found on the Internet.
What concerns me is the great divergence among Preterists on this topic. I confess I had not really appreciated this great difference until I started reading the debates between Ed Stevens and Don Preston, and examined much more carefully the relationship of 1 Cor. 15 with 2 Thessalonians 4 and 5.
The divergence of positions between these two sides within Preterism have to do more with the nature of the rapture of believers than with timing. And also whether even the term “rapture” is apt.
The core issue here is not so much, as Paul rhetorically asks, “How are the dead raised?” but “How were those still living at that time raptured?” That is the question. I used to believe the corporate body view, that the Parousia meant a spiritual change of address and position for saints from that time onward. But on the basis of 1 Thess. 4:13-17 I no longer believe that the resurrection was corporate. It was individual. The event of the the believing saints who had died and the living saints, both, had a change in their bodies and were raptured to be with the Lord.
An objection is often made that if the rapture really happened, Christians throughout the Empire suddenly disappearing, then surely someone would have seen it, would have written about it. But maybe Christ did indeed come like He hinted, “as a thief in the night”. Those who knew of the Christians, and did not see them the next day, might just assume that they had fled or they had been killed. This was, after all, during the intense Neronic Persecution. Christ Himself said that if those days had not been cut off, no flesh would have been saved.
A corroborating witness to this possible timing of the rapture at night comes form Josephus. He relates:
Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us go hence.”
It could very well be that this was the very time of the rapture, both the living and the dead in Christ rising up to meet Him in the air.
The two events of 1 Thess. 4.16-17 (the sleeping saints rising up from Hades and the rapture of the living saints) merge into one glorious event (a meeting together with Jesus in the air). Now these questions come to mind: If the living saints – as all too many Preterists believe – still remain on the Earth post-70AD then …
1. How would their lives have changed?
2. How would they even KNOW of a change – if all of this was invisible?
3. And – if they DID know – why would they not have written about the great change that just happened? This would have been a tremendous evangelical Exhibit A.
But what we have instead is 30 – 40 years of silence from Christians. What we do have in this same period are gnostics filling in the void. What void? The earlier Christians had all been raptured away – just as Paul had written.
But could it be possible that this rapture was merely a change in spiritual standing, imperceptible to the ones experiencing it? Hardly. The saints at that time experienced a real event, the ones living rising up with the ones who had died. They rose up together to meet the Lord in the air. Just as Paul said they would.