There is a theological construct called “full preterism” which teaches that many events spoken of in the New Testament have been fulfilled. The fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the second coming of Christ have been fulfilled according to this position.
Also included in this position is the resurrection that Jesus promised and of which Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 15. The full-preterist argument for a fulfillment of the general resurrection of the dead in the first century is based on Paul’s use of the word “we” in 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52: “we shall not all sleep;” “we shall all be changed;” “we shall be changed.”
Likewise, in 1 Thessalonians, Paul speaks of those who are alive at the Lord’s return, and he includes himself in the language of those being caught up to meet the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16, For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
The full preterist will argue that Paul was expecting himself to be included when the prophesies concerning the rapture and the resurrection were fulfilled.
The words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians and in 1 Corinthians do not of necessity mean that the apostle expected to be alive when they were fulfilled. Paul was speaking not only to the first century Christians, but to Christians of all generations. He would certainly be included in the rapture and in the resurrection.
In order for the full preterist position to be valid, the texts concerning the rapture and the resurrection have to be spiritualized. However, it is inappropriate to spiritualize something that is being discussed physically. It is hard to spiritualize the resurrection of the saints without, at the same time denying the bodily resurrection of the saints. The full preterist position is a renewed form of Gnosticism. The Gnostics denied that Jesus had come in the flesh. They spiritualized the incarnation.
In order for the teaching of Paul concerning the rapture to happen, which is the greeting of Christ at His coming, the full preterist has to spiritualize that event too, and speak of a rapture which was secret, silent, and unseen.
If this position is true then no one heard the rapture, no one saw it, and no one was aware of it. If full preterism is true then justice cannot be done to the biblical language which was designed to comfort God’s people.
It is a matter of theological irony that Dispensational teaching about the rapture closely parallels the full preterist position, because Dispensationalist vociferously denounce full preterism. Dispensationalism teaches that prior to the great tribulation the Lord will rapture His saints in a secret and silent coming. The rapture will happen so suddenly it will be invisible to people who are left behind. They will wonder what happened.
The Glory of Christ’s Return
Tragically, Dispensationalism misses the importance of Paul’s teaching on the rapture which is that when Jesus returns the second time, Christians will rise to greet the Lord and escort Him to earth. In this friendly encounter with Christ in the air, the church will share in the glory of the Lord’s return. Every eye shall see Jesus coming, with the shout of the voice of the archangel, and with the blast of a trumpet.
What Paul was communicating was a familiar image to the people of his generation involving the triumphal return of the armies of Rome. Whenever the armies of Rome would return from a victorious campaign, they would camp outside the city. All of the soldiers would be encamped as well as all of the captives they wanted to put on display.
A messenger would then be sent to the Senate to announce their arrival. The banners of SPQR would be carried with great fanfare. This would give the city planners time to erect an arch of triumph and to decorate the city to welcome their great heroes. Garlands with sweet aroma would be scattered throughout the city.
At a prearranged time a signal would be made whereby trumpets would be blown. That was the signal for the armies of Rome to march into the city. But before the blowing of the trumpet everyone who was a citizen of Rome would go forth to greet the victorious army and serve as an escort back into the city through the arch of triumph. In this manner the people would participate in the victory and in the triumph of the army.
When Jesus comes He shall descend with the saints. He will continue to descend in a great triumphant return joined by those who shall be changed in a moment and in the twinkling of an eye who shall rise to greet Him. Even so come quickly Lord Jesus!