“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: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17. This is a symbolic verse. Why do we believe that? Because the return of our Lord is “as a thief in the night,” 1 Thessalonians 5:2. No thief announces his presence with a trumpet! Additionally, our Lord said, “…the world will see me no more…” John 14:19 (ESV). But the world will discern the presence of the Lord by the signs of His return as listed in 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
A shout. The Greek word, keleusma, is a war-cry shout of encouragement. Jesus, with the voice of the archangel (God’s chief messenger), shouts the encouragements of liberty and justice for all. Daniel 12:1 and 4 further explain that during the end times, Michael (Jesus) shall return and bless mankind with “an increase of knowledge.” However, mankind’s increased knowledge is opening their eyes to their rights of justice and liberty. These rightful demands are fast escalating the world into the “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation (Armageddon).” (Daniel 12:1)
The trump of God. This trump is the same as the seventh (and last) symbolic trumpet of Revelation 11:15-19, “The seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever…And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged…”
The clouds. In this context, clouds picture trouble. Psalm 97:1-6 (NASB), “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; Let the many islands be glad. Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Fire (complete destruction of the evil systems) goes before Him And burns up His adversaries round about. His lightnings (truth, increased knowledge) lit up the world; The earth saw and trembled.The mountains (kingdoms of this world) melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples have seen (by the evidences of His just and righteous reign) His glory.”
The Air. Just as clouds symbolize trouble, the air refers to spirit forces around the earth ruling mankind. For example, Satan is called “the prince of the power of the air” in Ephesians 2:2. Thus, both the dead in Christ and afterward faithful Christians will be “be changed…at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:52) and join our returned Lord to establish God’s kingdom on earth.