Since the Rapture has made headlines lately, here are some observations.
The New Testament was written in Greek. Some argue that it was originally done in Hebrew, but they cannot provide ancient Hebrew (or Aramaic or Syriac) manuscripts to back that up. All of Paul’s churches used Greek as their principal language. Paul himself had grown up speaking a dialect of Greek known as koine. It is for this reason that many serious students of the Scriptures decide to study that language, just as many others study Hebrew.
Unfortunately, much of what we hear about Greek in books or from the pulpit is false or misleading. For example, some preach that the word agape means “divine love,” whereas phile means “human love or affection.” This is simply not the case, and the words are often interchangeable in the New Testament. I shudder every time I hear the words “I know that it says thus-and-such in your Bibles, but the Greek really says, etc.” Listen: English Bible versions – with a few exceptions – were carried out by leading experts in the field of the original languages, who have gone to great lengths to express the meaning of the original in English. You can trust your English Bible.
Yet, every once in a while there is a gem in the original Greek that is difficult to communicate in English. For example, the NIV of 1 Thess 4:17 has, “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.” The other versions are similar and equally reliable. In my forthcoming commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Zondervan) I opted to translate verse 17 as: “we who still live and remain will be taken up together with [those who were dead] in the clouds to welcome the Lord in the air.” “To meet,” a verb in most versions, represents a Greek preposition and noun, “for a meeting” (eis apantesin). Nevertheless, a verb in English captures the original Greek equally well.
But one might ask, what happens after the Christians meet the Lord in the air? Where do they go? Paul does not say, neither here or in the parallel in 1 Cor 15:52.
In some systems of eschatology, Christ comes close to the earth, to the atmosphere, to receive the saints and then take them back with him to heaven. Everyone else is “Left Behind.”
Another interpretation is that Christ comes back at the end of the tribulation, the saints go forth to meet him, and then they accompany him as he continues on to the earth.
Does Paul give any indication of what is to follow? Apparently so: the Greek “meeting”  is not simply going to encounter someone. Rather it refers to “the action of going out to meet an arrival, especially as a mark of honour.”  When a dignitary came to visit a city in those days, the inhabitants would pay him tribute by going out of the city to meet him at the proper time. They would then accompany him back to the city which he was planning to enter. This is what happens in John 12:13, where the crowd on Palm Sunday comes out of Jerusalem to meet Jesus (upantesis) and to accompany him back in to the city. Then too, the Olivet Discourse contains the metaphor of a ruler coming to the city, which he enters “when you see all these things: know that he is near, right at the gates” (Matt 24:33 NJB).  What makes Paul’s language unusual is that he turns the horizontal action of the dignitary’s approach, reception and entrance into a gated city into a vertical action: when Christ comes, he “descends” to his domain, and his subjects “ascend to the clouds, to the air,” as befits his honor and glory. 
What does this mean? Based on this conventional usage of “meeting” (apantesis), it may be concluded with a high degree of certainty that Jesus will come to the air; resurrected believers and then living ones will ascend to honor him; then they will immediately accompany him back to the earth.  This lies very close to the thought of 2 Thess 1:10 (GNB) – “when he comes on that Day to receive glory from all his people and honour from all who believe.”
Neither here or in any other verse does Paul speak of a Rapture where Christians go to heaven, with the world “left behind” to suffer the tribulation.
NOTES: We will confine the technical details to the Notes and use transliterated forms of the Greek for the ease of the reader.
 The key word apantesis has a related word or cognate upantesis, a word that has the same general meaning. See the Matthean parable of the ten maidens (Matt 25:1-13), the ten apparently go forth in order to meet the groom and then walk back with him to the wedding feast, from which the girls had originally set out; however, we do not possess enough detailed information about wedding customs to make absolute claims. The language in the better manuscripts of that Matt 25:6, “to meet” (eis apantesin ) is identical to what Paul uses here – another tantalizing clue that Paul is working with the Matthean tradition. Notice that in Matt 25:1, upantesis is interchangeable with the apantesis of 25:6. In both verses, some manuscripts have the words switched.
 So say Liddell, Scott and Jones, Greek-English Lexicon, “apantesis.” See also Moulton and Milligan; the Hellenistic references show that this is not a Semiticism.
 So the Matt 24:33 (NJB); the NRSV and ESV also have “gates,” which preserves the metaphor – the Son of Man comes as a king to the gates of his city. See the synoptic parallel in Mark 13:29. The alternative translation, which is not so strong a possibility, is that this refers to the door of a habitation; indeed, several metaphors of the synoptic apocalypse speak of the lord of the household and his servants.
 So E. Peterson, “apantesis,” in TDNT 1:380-81. Among other authors, this is one of those cases where one side errs by reading too much meaning into a word, and the other side refutes what is in effect a straw man. For example, John Chrysostom, First Thessalonians 10 (NPNF1 13:356) states that such a coming by a king by definition includes the giving rewards for the faithful subjects and the immediate judgment of the city’s rebels; the type of expanded meaning of the concept is approved by Lucien Cerfaux, Christ in the Theology of St. Paul (trans. Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker; New York: Herder and Herder, 1959), 39-42. A better way forward is shown by M. R. Cosby, “Hellenistic Formal Receptions and Paul’s Use of APANTHSIS in 1 Thessalonians 4:17,” BBR 4 (1994): 15-34. He demonstrates that the word does not necessarily carry all the baggage that is sometimes attributed to its meaning (citizens prepare the reception; the offering sacrifices; judgment of rebels who are jailed within the city). Nevertheless the word can be shown to generally describe “a loose pattern to play against when describing the coming of a heavenly king” (15). Similarly Malherbe, Letters to the Thessalonians, 277; Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 102-03. Doubtful is the theory of N. T. Wright, that it was Paul who originally combined “meeting” with Parousia in order to pit Christ against the earthly usurper, the emperor. See N. T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 2005), 74. The easiest refutation of Wright’s point is that, it was not Paul who first applied these terms to the second coming: he found them in the gospel tradition (parousia: Matt 24:47; see too Jas 5:8; “meeting” [apantesis], see our analysis above).
 So p. 331 in S. Turner, “The Interim, Earthly Messianic Kingdom in Paul,” JSNT 25 (2003): 323-42. See also the essay by Douglas J. Moo, defending the post-tribulationist view timing of the rapture, in Reiter, Three Views on the Rapture, 169-211. Wanamaker, Thessalonians, 169-70, states that the reference to the clouds means that they accompany Christ back to heaven.
1 Thess 4:17 – “meet the Lord in the air” in the original Greek, by Gary Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica