Joseph Plevnik, «1 Thessalonians 4,17: The Bringing in of the Lord or the Bringing in of the Faithful?», Vol. 80 (1999) 537-546
The image of bringing in, which, in dependence on Hellenistic parousia depictions, denotes the bringing in of the Lord at his coming, does not fit the imagery and the theology of Paul in 1 Thess 4,13-18. Hellenistic parousias depict the citizens making the royal visitor welcome in their city, whereas 1 Thess 4,13-18 depicts the effect of the Lords coming on them. The faithful are raised; the faithful are taken up. 1 Thess 4,13-18 really depicts the bringing in of the faithful, not of the Lord. The implication is that they do not return to the earth, but stay with the Lord forever.
In 1 Thess 4,16-17 Paul states that at the Lords coming from heaven, the faithful "will be caught up in the clouds ... to meet (ei)j a)pa/nthsin) the Lord in the air". In 1930 E. Peterson explained this as the "bringing in" (die Einholung) of the Lord: at the coming of the Lord from heaven, the faithful go up to bring him into their earthly city1. Pauls model here is the Hellenistic parousia, where the citizens go out to greet the royal visitor and joyfully bring him into the city2. With this explanation Peterson changed the traditional interpretation, according to which the believers go up to stay with the Lord in the heights or in heaven. Petersons explanation, still followed by some exegetes today3, was challenged by J. Dupont4 and others. We shall here re-examine this issue in the light of Pauline imagery in 1 Thess 4,13-18.
1. The Rise of the "Einholung" Idea
Petersons explanation rests on the meaning of the phrase ei)j a)pa/nthsin used in 1 Thess 4,17 for the meeting between the faithful and the Lord. According to G. Luedemann5, it was K. Deissner6 who first (1912) suggested that the purpose of the a)pa/nthsij is "to receive the Lord at his coming from heaven and return with him to earth". The new element in this explanation is the return to earth, which is not explicit in 1 Thess 4,17.
But Deissner was not the first to suggest this interpretation. Thatyear J.E. Frame, independently of Deissner, wrote in this connection about the "official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary"7. And both Deissner and Frame cited earlier scholarly opinions anticipating this view; Frame referred to J.H. Moulton (1906)8, and Deissner to E. Teichmann