Though I do not believe in a first-century rapture there is a common argument cited by anti-rapturists that is often used to refute the rapture that is worth mentioning. It is perhaps beyond dispute that 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is a prophecy concerning the Parousia or second coming:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
It is sometimes argued that 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 is unlikely to be a prophecy about the rapture because when mentioning the second coming the Greek word that is often used to label this event is parousia. Parousia is a Greek word which denotes the coming and presence of an important figure. In its formal usage it implies that a regal figure like a king or general was to come to a city. The inhabitants of the city would then meet this figure outside of the city gates and then escort this this person into the city with them. In its formal usage a regal figure does not meet the inhabitants of a city outside of the city and then take them elsewhere as the doctrine of the rapture implies.
I do not believe that this is a good argument against the rapture as it also argues against what I believe to be a proper understanding of the resurrection to heaven as well. One of the major problems with this argument is that it assumes that the formal understanding of parousia is intended in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Parousia can also be understood in other ways. For example Leonippus, the Prefect of Caria, refers to his military assault on Asia as his parousia. Furthermore, an inscription in the 3rd century B.C. records the healing of an individual at the temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus as a parousia of the god Asclepius.1 Both uses of parousia appear particularly appropriate for the way in which parousia appears in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. In these verses the parousia of a divine being, the Lord Jesus Christ, occurs amidst a military invasion.
The above argument also assumes that Christ’s parousia is just a brief-one time event in the sky when Jesus would come on the clouds to collect the righteous and then bring them back with Him to heaven. Is this a proper understanding of the Parousia or second coming? In the ancient world it was very perilous, expensive and time consuming to travel to distant cities in a large empire. Therefore, when an emperor visited a city in his empire he would often stay for some time. For example, when Nero visited Greece in A.D. 66, he stayed until late A.D. 67 or early A.D. 68. The entire length of Nero’s stay in Greece was his parousia. Parousia does not just mean coming or arrival, it also denotes the presence of a regal figure. In other words, parousia is a word perhaps more accurately translated visit than coming. This fact is illustrated in Philippians 2:12: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence [parousia], but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling[.]” In this verse one can see how parousia denotes the presence of visitors, not just their coming or arrival. Thus parousia is a word used to denote the coming and presence of a royal figure which came to a close at his or her departure. In other words, this word often connotes the coming to and subsequent presence of a king or other royal figure in a city often followed by a departure to the capital city assuming, of course, that the city being visited is not the capital itself.
Having properly defined parousia, let us now look at the Parousia at the end of the age. After Jesus’ earthly ministry, He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11) and there He presumably stayed with the Father (Luke 19:12-27; John 8:21-23; 13:1; 14:2-3; 16:7; Acts 3:19-21; 7:55; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Hebrews 9:24; 1 Peter 3:22) before coming back to earth to enact judgment at the end of the age. The fact that Jesus came back down to earth at the Parousia when He came on the clouds of heaven is implied in Psalm 18:9. In this verse God is said to come down from heaven when He comes on the clouds in judgment: “He [God] parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet (Psalm 18:9).” All the verses cited above show that the true seat of Christ’s throne is the Jerusalem of heaven mentioned in John 18:36, Hebrews 12:22 and Galatians 4:26 where Jesus rules at the right hand of the Father. As mentioned above, the formal usage of parousia suggests that an important figure was to come and stay in a city oftentimes for quite some time before later departing back to the capital if this city is not the capital. I believe that Jesus came on the clouds of heaven in a visible manner at the start of the Jewish War in Iyyar of A.D. 66 when an army of angels was witnessed riding on the clouds in Israel. This event strikingly resembles descriptions of the Parousia especially the one mentioned in Revelation 19 which depicts Jesus riding a white horse leading an army of angels on the clouds. I believe this was the “coming” aspect of the Parousia. See Jesus, the Son of Man, was LITERALLY Seen in the Clouds in A.D. 66. I believe Jesus then stayed throughout the entire duration of the Jewish War actively enacting judgment on wayward Israel before departing back to heaven with the saints at the last trumpet in A.D. 70. See Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. Thus from A.D. 66 to A.D. 70 is the “presence” aspect of the Parousia. If this description of the Parousia is true then 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 does not violate the formal usage of Parousia in the ancient world as the Parousia appears to have begun in A.D. 66 and lingered until A.D. 70. Thus Jesus did not come to earth and then immediately take the saints back with Him to heaven, rather, He stayed on earth to enact judgment for some time before finally returning back to His capital, the Jerusalem that is in heaven, with His people at the resurrection in A.D. 70. Therefore, assuming that Jesus first came in judgment at the start of the Jewish War in Iyyar of A.D. 66 when the army of angels was witnessed in the clouds and stayed to enact judgment before finally accompanying the resurrected dead back with Him to heaven this understanding of the Parousia perfectly fits the formal usage of this term in the ancient Greco-Roman world. It should also be noted that the formal understanding of Parousia is an especially appropriate word to describe the second coming if the two witnesses are who they seem to be. See the preterist commentary on Revelation 11. That being said, is there any evidence that the resurrection has already occurred?