As we said earlier, the purpose of prophecy is not to satisfy our curiosity about the future but to teach us how to live today. For Paul, the order of final events has practical implications for everyday Christian living. Prophecy is valuable to the degree that it impacts the way we relate to God and to each other. In this case, Paul wanted to use last-day events to bring comfort to those who had lost loved ones.
This text says that believers join Jesus in the air to be with him forever. The key theme is the act of reuniting with each other and being together with Jesus. The text is silent regarding where they go after the initial encounter in the air, even though Paul clearly does not say that, at the Second Coming, Jesus and the believers will descend from heaven to earth and reign there. In fact, within the passage itself, the movement of the saints is only upward. The dead believers first rise up from their graves. Then they and the living believers ascend together to meet their Lord in the air.
Paul provides further information in 1 Corinthians 15:23, 24. There he draws a strong parallel between the experience of Jesus and of those “in Christ.” Jesus arose and ascended to heaven as a “first fruit,” which implies that those who are in Him will have a similar experience.
The immediate destination of the saints is clarified outside of Paul, in John 14:1-3. When Jesus comes, He will take His disciples to be where He is (heaven). He does not come to join them where they are (on earth). This is why Adventists believe that during the thousand years after Jesus’ return (Rev. 20:4-6), the righteous will be with Him in heaven, the wicked will be dead, and Satan will be confined to earth with no one to tempt or annoy. Only after all the events associated with the millennium do the faithful come back to the earth to dwell (2 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 3:12).
Look at how “otherworldly” our ultimate hope is. How, though, could it be otherwise? After all, what real long- term hope does this world offer us? How can we learn, then, not to get so caught up in that which offers us no hope anyway?