We are all aware of the fact that within North American Evangelicalism, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins are considered two of the most influential authors on eschatology, the study of end times. This is due to the fact that the series that they co-authored, and the connected stories like Left Behind: The Kids, have sold over 75 million copies. Yes, you read that correctly.
The other day, Kenny Burchard wrote a piece called “Getting Left Behind? — According to Matthew & Luke, it’s preferred to being taken!” As with all of Kenny’s posts, there was a lot to think on (by the way, his post helped us have a record number of viewers yesterday!). In the comments section, one of my friends from good old North Central University was pushing back on some of his ideas concerning the texts in question. Being the resident controversial exegetical nutcase, I decided I’d like to weigh in too.
Why? Because I’m not sure what to think on this one!
Here are a few exegetical reflections that I’ve interacted with and reflected on from Matthew 24:38-42, which reads:
“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Craig Keener notes that “in the context of 24:37-39, “taken” presumably means “taken to judgement”” (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 115). Keener then points us to Jeremiah 6:11 as a possible OT background, which reads:
“Therefore I am full of the wrath of the LORD; I am weary of holding it in. “Pour it out upon the children in the street, and upon the gatherings of young men, also; both husband and wife shall be taken, the elderly and the very aged.” (Jeremiah 6:11)
N.T. Wright suggests, as Kenny pointed out, the same thing when he writes that when Jesus returns,
“… life will go on as normal right up to the last minute. That’s the point of the parallel with the time of Noah. Until the flood came to sweep everything away (is Matthew remembering 7:26–27?), ordinary life was carrying on with nothing unusual… it will divide families and work colleagues down the middle. ‘One will be taken and one left’; this doesn’t mean (as some have suggested) that one person will be ‘taken’ away by God in some kind of supernatural salvation, while the other is ‘left’ to face destruction. If anything, it’s the opposite: when invading forces sweep through a town or village, they will ‘take’ some off to their deaths, and ‘leave’ others untouched.” (Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28, 127)
In addition to Keener and Wright, Craig Blomberg also takes the view that “taken” is “taken to judgement.” If Keener, Wright, and Blomberg lean this way, we need to take this view seriously.
However… R.T. France, William E. Anderson, Leon Morris, John Nolland, and Michael Wilkins disagree. Wilken clarifies his view by acknowledging the two views and then making his case:
“The “taking” and “leaving”are intriguing. These expressions may indicate that one is taken away to judgment (like those swept away by the Flood) and the other is left to enjoy the blessing of salvation at the arrival of the Son of Man (as Noah and his family were saved by God’s warning),3 although the verb for “taken” in 24:40–41 is different from the verb for “took them all away” in 24:39. Or vice versa, one is taken away to safety to enjoy the blessing of the arrival of the Son of Man (like Noah and his family in the ark) while the other is left to experience the wrath of the Son of Man (like those who died with the arrival of the Flood).
The latter view has in its favor that it corresponds, in some sense, with the angels who gather the elect at the coming of the Son of Man (24:31) and seems more consistent with the following parables. Also, the verb used here means “take to safety” in 2:13, 14, 20, 21, while the verb “left” in Matthew often has a meaning of “abandon” or “forsake” (e.g., 4:20, 22; 8:22; 19:29; 23:38; 26:56). The point is that the Son of Man gathers his people at his return to enjoy the full manifestation of the kingdom of God, while those left behind experience his judgment.” (Wilkins, Matthew, 801–802)
So, at the end of the day, I think either reading makes sense… but I seem to recall that two years ago I came to the conclusion that being “taken” was being taken to judgment. The context of the proceeding verses led me in that direction. However, the context of the verses further back may suggest that being taken could be related to what Jesus spoke of in relation to the angels of v.31! Ahhh!
So which is it? I’m not sure.
My inclination is to go with Keener, Wright, and Blomberg on this one, but I think I might have changed my mind due to Wilkins and Morris… or maybe not.
By the way… the pre-tribulational rapture is not taught in the Bible… in case you were wondering.
What say you?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
Jesus did use the language of a bridegroom often when He spoke to His disciples. In the beginning of John 14 Jesus says “I go away to prepare a place for you and when everything is ready, I will come and get you so that you will always be with me where I am”. This is explaining an event and it is described as a bridegroom coming to get his bride. In Jewish custom which Jesus’ entire audiences always were this is how it was done. The young man made the promise to go prepare a place for his bride. He did not know when he would come and get her, because only the Father knew when the place was ready for the bride. Sound familiar? “No one knows the day or hour, except the Father” (Matthew 24:36). Many of these things spoken are things a bridegroom would use in speaking with his bride and these things are entirely overlooked. People know little about Jewish customs and that lack of understanding keeps people in the dark.
This was pretty helpful to me. The idea that Matt 24 isn’t a reference to the rapture doesn’t necessarily become an argument against the rapture. That idea can stand on it’s own without having to explain other texts. That said… I do have one last thought 🙂
With regard to the alternative views, as I’m looking at verses 38-42, the context of this passage is specifically the coming of the Lord Jesus and not judgment (i.e. the coming of the Son of Man, what day your Lord is coming). He compares it to the days of Noah, but the parallel there, as Wright pointed out, is simply that it will be sudden. Because this portion of text pertains to Jesus’ coming, I think it naturally follows then to look to verse 29 which is also talks about his coming. The “taking” that follows the coming of Christ in verse 29 is the gathering of the elect and not the judgment of the wicked.
Joe, I think part of the difference between you and Kenny is related to the concept of the “rapture.” Many of us who reject the Dispensational pre-tribulational rapture theory tend to push back on “rapture talk” because Dispensationalists have often found it where it simply is not to be found (e.g., Revelation 4:1!!!!!).
So your concern is valid because I’m with you in that I do believe in the “rapture” if one defines it as the “gathering together of the elect when Jesus returns” (cf. Matt. 24:31). I’m not yet at a place where I see Paul’s use of harpazo in 1 Thessalonians 4 as purely symbolic to the point of having no doctrinal meaning.
I think you are likely correct in your exegesis, though I would want to stress that I think the Olivet Discourse does include the concept of Jesus’ coming in judgment, not just salvation. Perhaps that’s because I’m a bit more “preterist” than you, but there is a fulfillment in relation to judgment that is found in the 70AD destruction of the Temple and attack upon Jerusalem. Jesus refers to those.. and I would see dual meaning and/or dual interpretation there.
Thanks for your thoughts dude! Hope you are well!
Luke, that makes sense and just for the record I find nothing in scripture that indicates a pretrib rapture either. I also agree with there being elements of judgment in Matt 24 and fulfillment in 70AD. So, I think I’d agree what you guys are saying much more than I’d disagree with. It probably doesn’t help that I’d have no idea how to term what I actually think… church endures tribulation, church is gathered to Christ, God pours judgment on earth, Jesus comes back with the saints for the mil, everyone else attacks Israel, everyone dies by fire, the judgement. Is there one word for that? Haha…
And yeah, thank for the reply as well. I’m doing good. Trying to love the Lord and be a vessel. Congrats on the coming baby 🙂
Also, the pre-tribulation rapture is funny. Me thinks a good number of people will be screaming, “I know this isn’t the tribulation, because I haven’t been raptured yet!” even while they are being led off to the gallows. God bless them 🙂
BREAKING NEWS: The longtime No. 1 pretrib rapture authority, Dr. John
Walvoord of Dallas Seminary, has written that the “Left Behind” books
and movies have a NON-BIBLICAL foundation! Walvoord says in his book
“The Rapture Question,” p. 169, that the ones “taken” first in Matt. 24
are the wicked who are judged and killed, and the ones “left” behind are
the righteous – which is just the OPPOSITE of what “Left Behind” books
and films portray! For proof of this, Google “The ‘Left Behind’ Rupture”
which was aired on Joe Ortiz’s “The End Times Passover” blog on August
12, 2014. (For more shocks Google “LaHaye’s Temperament,” “Thomas Ice
(Bloopers),” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Pretrib Rapture Pride,”
“Pretrib Rapture Secrecy,” “Letter from Mrs. Billy Graham,” and “Pretrib
The Jewish Wedding traditions used by PreTribulationalists in an attempt to prove a PreTrib rapture are the rabbinic teachings found within the Talmud and Kabbalah. That means they come from those who had rejected Jesus Christ and which same writings denigrate and blaspheme Him. There is nowhere in Scripture where we are to take Jewish traditions as a way to interpret Scriptures. There is also no clear parallel. The teachings and traditions are varied, and PreTribulationists pick and choose which details they need to construct a specific scenario supposedly taught in Scripture. Over the years they have been embellished with more and more untrue details. Scripture warns, “Do not go beyond that which is written.”
The Church is not the Bride. The Bride is the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, which has the names of the twelve tribes written on its gates and the names of the twelve apostle written on its walls. In other words, the Bride is made up of both old and new testament saints, Jew and Gentile made one in Christ.