For the past few weeks, my Sunday messages have been covering the end times. Specifically, for two weeks, we have looked at what Jesus himself said about his return. The most interesting part of all of this for me is how Jesus’ words seem to directly speak against what is called in Christian circles, “The Rapture.”
When people talk about the “Rapture” they usually refer to a moment when Jesus “snatches away” his followers in surprising and secretive fashion. His followers enjoy life with him in heaven while the earth becomes embroiled in a time of “Tribulation” led by a person known as the “Antichrist” or the “Beast.” The Tribulation ends when Jesus comes back and the followers of the Beast oppose him in a battle at a place called Armageddon.
As I said on Sunday, this is a notion that is uniquely North American. The idea that God has promised to take his people out of the world before the real trials hit is something that sells only in America where we tend to believe God’s job is to keep us comfortable. For most of the world and for most of Christian history, the idea of Christians facing hardship and persecution is natural and expected.
Nevertheless, the Christian subculture of the U.S. has promoted the “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” idea, and though I hope that God gathers me to him before the days of the Antichrist at the end, I don’t expect it because Jesus didn’t teach it, and neither did Paul.
A Lingering Question
Doesn’t Jesus teach about a secret rapture in Matthew 24:40?
So on Sunday, I addressed the most common rapture passage. It is in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff. I explained that when verse 17 says we “will be caught up… to meet the Lord in the air” it is referring to an ancient practice of people rushing out of the city to welcome their victorious king on his way into the city, and therefore is best understood as a picture of us escorting Jesus to earth as he establishes his kingdom.
However, I didn’t address the other super-important “rapture” passage in Matthew 24:40-41. Here it is with a little bit of 39 thrown in.
That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Matthew 24:39-41 NIV
This passage is frequently used to prove that the Rapture is promised, that it will be spontaneous, and that it will be secret. You will be standing there in a field and all of a sudden, the person next to you will simply be gone!
Isn’t that what it says? Actually, no.
As I say so many times, let’s consider the passage in its context.
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 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. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
Matthew 24:37-42 NIV
There are two things to note here. First, Jesus isn’t talking about something that happens secretly, but he is talking about something that is surprising in its timing. The great flood of Noah’s day wasn’t invisible or secret, but it was unexpected. The emphasis again isn’t on the secrecy but on the unexpected nature of the event.
Secondly, pay close attention to the words that are actually used in this passage. In 40 & 41, we are told that one of the men is “taken” and one of the women is “taken.” It is our rapture presupposition that leads us to read “taken” as if it said “mysteriously and invisibly taken by Jesus to be in heaven.” However, the verb is used in verse 39 and it is conveniently ignored by everyone who uses this verse as a rapture verse. For emphasis then, here are verses 39-41 again.
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. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Matthew 24:39-41 NIV
In the days of Noah, the flood “took” people away. At the coming of the Son of Man, some will be “taken” away. The picture by Jesus is obviously that to be “taken” is to be destroyed in judgment!
Simply put, this passage cannot be talking about a secret rapture of the saints who depart earth to enter heaven.
As a teenager, I got in a debate with a friend of mine who firmly believed that if I did not believe in the rapture, I was in danger of going to hell. He was convinced that all true Christians would believe in a secret pre-tribulation rapture. For that reason, for the intensity generally surrounding this topic, I usually avoid talking about it, but there are two reasons I have discussed it recently:
- It’s important to me that people pay attention to what the Bible actually teaches and not just what someone says the Bible teaches. It is my hope that you would dig into your Bible to read it for yourself and to understand what it really says.
- It’s important to me that we follow Jesus the way he wants us to follow him, and on this topic, the thing he emphasizes over and over is the need for us to “be ready” not by believing in a specific aspect of end times ideas but by actually living out a life that faithfully honors him, that shares his blessings with others, and that is “ready” to face hardship or persecution for the sake of his name.
If you want to know even more about being ready for Jesus’ return. Go ahead and read what Jesus himself said about it in the next part of Matthew. Matthew 25. It will seriously challenge you.
If you want to read more of my thoughts on the rapture, consider my older blog posts on the topic.