It is a help sometimes when seeking to understand why a certain word is used in a particular context to substitute another. It highlights the significance of the word that is used. Not that we can replace any word in the Scriptures, for they stand supreme among all literature in that the words are used with the utmost discrimination and exactitude. Seven times are they refined.
Consider this phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4. We might have read instead of snatched away, that we are taken up or that we ascend or go up. But each of these latter words conveys a different thought which was not intended by the holy Spirit. We are snatched up. That is, our departure is an urgent, swift, sudden plucking up, which thoughts the other words do not convey. The word "snatched" is used elsewhere in the Scriptures and its sense can be intensified in our minds by considering some of these other contexts.
Philip was snatched away from the eunuch (Acts 8:39). It was a sudden, abrupt departure. When Paul's safety was threatened by the throng (Acts 23:10) the captain ordered the troop to descend and snatch him out of their midst. There was an urgency in the circumstances surrounding Paul. On another occasion in one of the most miraculous and amazing events of Paul's life, he was snatched away to the third heaven and into paradise (2 Cor.12:4). He had then an experience similar, in this one respect, to that which will occur again to him when, with us, he will be snatched up into the air. These examples if we consider them will help us grasp the significance of the word "snatch" when it is used of our introduction into the presence of the Lord at His coming.
When the Lord comes He will snatch us all up to Him with urgency and speed. We shall not rise of our own volition, though we shall be fully capable of doing so. Perhaps we hesitate, not realizing our new power, or perhaps awed by the presence of the Lord, fearful to approach Him. But we are not left a moment longer.
SIMULTANEOUSLY, TOGETHER IN CLOUDS
The dead in Christ (who have been raised from the dead) and the living will be snatched up in clouds simultaneously, together. These two words are not synonymous. One refers to the time of the snatching, the other to the proximity in space of the two parties. The snatching upward will occur at the same moment for all in Christ. Wherever they may have died, in whatever region of the world, their swift transfer from the earth to the air will happen at precisely the same moment. There will not be some who will approach the Lord more slowly. With speed and urgency the Lord will snatch us to Himself.
Also the movement upwards will be together. We shall not be spread over the expanse of the skies singly or in scattered groups, according to where we were located in life or in death. We shall be assembled and rise as one company to meet the Lord. It will not however be a massed throng, that is a single assembly, for we are snatched up in clouds. Now this does not mean that we shall ascend in the clouds of the sky, but that we shall be assembled like clouds and so ascend to the Lord. This is not an unusual figure of speech, for a massed assembly is often referred to as a cloud. We read of a vast cloud of witnesses. In Ezekiel 38:16 Gog goes up against Israel a great assembly, as a cloud to cover the land. Again in Isaiah 60:8 those who bring the sons of Israel from afar to their land as a thick cloud are flying. There are other examples. A very apt example of its use is by astronomers who refer to large groups of stars as star clouds. The photographic plate shows this most distinctly.
Just how the saints will be grouped we are not told. It may be according to the generation in which we have lived, or according to our place and function in the body of Christ. It is enough to know that the vast assemblage of saints will cover the sky as clouds in the vault of heaven. And thus we shall always be together with the Lord.
TO MEET THE LORD IN THE AIR
The contrasts between the coming of the Lord for the ecclesia with a celestial destiny and His coming for Israel are great.
To the earth He comes as Son of Mankind. For us He returns as Lord and Chief Messenger. When coming to Israel His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives; for us He descends no further than the air. He travels alone from heaven's height for us, but for His earthly people He is accompanied by His holy messengers. These may be the vast array seen in the throne scene of the Unveiling, numbering two great groups of a hundred million and one million. The glory of His presence will differ on each occasion. For Israel He will appear as He was on the mount of transformation, His face shining as the sun. The brilliance of His glory will not be greater than His terrestrial saints can endure. For us He will come as the Celestial One with a different glory, one exceeding in brilliance the brightness of the noonday sun. But we shall be able to look and live, for we too shall be celestials, changed into beings with a glory similar to the Lord's. He Himself assembles us with His own voice and His own trumpeting and His personal snatching upward. Israel will be gathered by His messengers. We shall meet the Lord, a personal face-to-face encounter. Israel is assembled to Him; the intimacy indicated in the word meet is absent from the record of that assembly.
The grace shown to us transcends anything that Israel has.
Where then is the air in which we meet the Lord? In this context it is the same as we understand it in general conversation. It is that part of the atmosphere which contains the mixture of gases essential to life on earth. It stretches upward for a few miles. Even at the top of the highest mountains the air is very thin. At ten miles up we could not live without artificial aids, for the air is almost absent. So it is certain that we shall meet the Lord in the blue expanse above, within a few miles of the earth's surface, within sight of our erstwhile home.
One most important feature of this meeting place is that it is the territory of the Adversary, Satan, for he is the chief of the jurisdiction of the air. It is from the air that he controls earth's affairs. To him have been given all the kingdoms of the earth, and the affairs of mankind are under his sway, political and religious. He is a spirit making his headquarters in the air above us. And it is here that we shall meet the Lord, in the heart of the enemy's kingdom. But this is for a purpose, for it will be the role of the ecclesia to display to the archenemy of God and His truth, the power and glory of the sons of God. Then will be fulfilled the words, "The God of peace will be crushing Satan under your feet swiftly." It will not be by battle but by the power of the presence of Christ and His ecclesia.