Right, please excuse this, its bound to be a bit rambling as I process my thoughts.
Firstly, I should like to point out that I dont believe in the eternity of the Soul. Like many of the Church Fathers I believe that the Platonistic concept of an eternal soul is a false manmade concept. For example, Justin Martyr, who said that the soul is by (fallen) nature mortal, and the hope of Christianity is not a universal immortality (to hell or heaven), but a resurrection of the person to eternal life, or destruction.
Secondly, resurrection for Christians, is the bringing to life of the person who once was. Just as when Christ died, the resurrected Christ was not a ghost, or a spirit, but a physical being that could be touched, and could eat.
In a recent discussion about Paul being snatched up to the “third heaven” I was doing some research on what the third heaven was in the ancient Hebrew mind. Whilst doing that I discovered a writing by Thomas Aquinas which seemed to explain what I was thinking more clearly. Here is the substance of what I wrote:
Thomas Aquinas describes this is as elevation to an understanding beyond what would normally be known – as opposed to a physical place. He describes 3 kinds of sight as an example:
1.Bodily: by which we can see and know bodies
2.Spiritual: by which we see likenesses of bodies
3.Intellectual: by which we understand the nature of things.
e.g. (1)if I see something visible, (2)if I imagine something previously seen, (3)or if I understand through phantasms.
Each of these, he says, is considered “heaven” (or by God’s rule/command/will) if it is outside of the normal human realm.
And I quote:
“For example, if you see something with your bodily eyes above the faculty of nature, then you are rapt into the first heaven. This is the way Belshazzar was rapt, when he saw the handwriting on the wall, as it is stated in Dan. (5:5). But if you are raised up by the imagination or spirit to know something supernaturally, then you are rapt to the second heaven. This is the way Peter was rapt, when he saw the linen sheet descending from heaven (Ac. 10:11). But if a person were to see intelligible things themselves and their nature, not through sense-perceptible things not through phantasms, he would be rapt to the third heaven.”
So, Aquinas is suggesting that to be rapt[ured] into the 3rd heaven is a way of explaining how close one is to God, not a physical place. Because as we know, Heaven does not exist yet, it is a future hope, not a present reality.
So, bearing that in mind lets look at:
1 Thess 4:15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 4:16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 4:17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
And after having described the worsening condition of the world as Sin runs rife – Matt 24:
24:36 “But as for that day and hour no one knows it – not even the angels in heaven – except the Father alone. 24:37 For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 24:38 For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 24:39 And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man. 24:40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left. 24:41 There will be two women grinding grain with a mill; one will be taken and one left.
Ok, let us start with Matthew. “As it was in the days of Noah” I believe not only refers to the “Eating and drinking”, that is, life continuing normally, but the following sentences regarding WHO is taken away I think are important. At the time of the flood, it was the wicked who were washed away in the flood, the righteous were picked up by the water and then deposited back on earth, which is where humans belong.
In 1 Thess its clear also, that those who are righteous who have died will, at the same time as those who are alive, be brought into the presence of God where they will live eternally (in this world, albeit sinless, uncorrupted and perfect).
These passages fairly obviously describe the return of Christ at which time the wicked are taken away, and the children of God inherit the earth.
You see, its not all that complicated in my opinion. There is a rapture, but Christians dont suddenly go missing. On the contrary, all the righteous who have died will reappear, and the wicked will disappear, wailing and gnashing their teeth as they are thrown in a lake of fire and destroyed for all eternity.
We die. Christ comes again in judgement. The righteous inherit the earth. The wicked are destroyed.
Discussion thread is here: http://theology.geek.nz/forums/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=16