40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.
- Matthew 24:40, 41
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:3
Christ’s first statement in answer is a warning against misunderstanding the nature of the event. He goes on to detail exactly how His coming will be, so we are not deceived.
In vss. 13:24 – 30 Jesus tells a well know parable of a man who plants wheat in a field. His enemy comes in; sows, tares, and they sprout to strangle the wheat. The farmer is implored by his servants to allow them to remove the tares, but he lets them grow together until the time of harvest, when he asks them to first gather together the tares, burn them, and then to gather together the wheat into his barn.
I want to draw your attention to the sequence provided. The tares are gathered and burned up “first.” This is not a supplied word; Jesus Himself deliberately uses it. The Greek word is προτον (proton), meaning before, or at the beginning. The planter instructs, not that the wheat be gathered into the barn first, but that the tares be “gathered up” and burned first.
In vss. 38 and 39, during the Olivet discourse, Jesus also likened His second coming to the flood of Noah’s time. He said,
“For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Italics mine)
The people of Noah’s day lived just like most do today: not thinking that sudden judgment was about to come. Their experience points out the suddenness of the event for those who are not watching for it, showing that like the global flood, the second coming will be unexpected, not unperceived.
But let us also notice now who is taken away. The flood did not come and take away Noah and his family. It came and “took away” all of the wicked people. When the flood was over, it was Noah and His family who were left. Again, the flood did not come and take away Noah and his family. It came and “took away” all of the wicked people.
The Olivet discourse is also narrated in Luke 17. The account is very similar, except of course, the wording is slightly different. This is very useful to us for determining what the inspired idea is behind the two accounts.
Again, Christ says in Noah’s day the people were living normal lives without any awareness of the coming flood, until the day of destruction. “People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:27.
As you can see, Luke tell us the wicked are not only “taken away” by the flood, but they are destroyed. In verse 34, he carries on the idea that “two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left…” when this happens.
In verse 37 of Luke’s account, the disciples actually asked Jesus where these wicked ones are taken.
“Where, Lord?” they asked. He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”
Jesus’s words echo Isaiah, who, picturing the same scene, shows that “they (the saints) will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” Isaiah 66:24. They also echo Revelation 19:17, 18:
“And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, o that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.”
Make no mistake, there is definitely a removal of the saints from the Earth to heaven: a “taking away”, as shown in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This discussion does not intend to cast any doubt on that truth. What we have tried to focus on is the specific interpretation given to the taking away that Jesus describes in the Olivet discourse, particularly in Matthew 24:40, 41 and Luke 17:26, 34 – 36. That taking away is not the same as the rapture of the saints. It is a matter of different imageries used for the same end time even, rather than one of different end time scenarios.
Basically, Christ is not dealing with the ascension of the faithful in these verses. Passages like 1 Thess 4:15 – 17 deal adequately with that. In Matthew 24: 40, 41 Jesus is concerned with the destruction of the wicked and the preservation, not the translation or transportation of the saints.
For a more detailed article on this subject click here.
Other Difficult Passages Explained Here
Until next time, keep studying. Prove all things, and hold fast what is good!