Thursday, May 27, 2010

Left Behind, Thank God

As I've had quite a few people ask me about my thoughts on the Rapture, I thought it would be best to take a look at my exegesis of the important passages. For this post, we'll be looking at Matthew 24:36-41.

36"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and 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. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Those who believe in the Rapture see it clearly in verses 40 and 41. One is taken, the other is left. And given what is about to happen--the Great Tribulation--it's far, far better to be taken. The one who is left must suffer the curse of enduring seven horrible years of persecution and torture. It will, quite literally, be hell on earth. So those who are taken are taken up to Heaven for this time; rescued, as it were, from this great period of suffering.

But a careful reading of the text reveals that Jesus is saying quite the opposite. Being taken away is the worse fate, and it is much better for those who are left behind. The key to interpreting this passage is Jesus' retelling of the story of Noah.

"38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away." The flood waters, quite literally, took away, in judgment, all those wicked people. God exercised his judgment against humanity by taking away the overwhelming majority in the great flood, and leaving behind only a handful--Noah and his family. In the flood, it was far better to be left behind.

"That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." As it was in the flood, so will it be at the return of Jesus. Those who are taken away are taken away in judgment. They are not transported to Heaven, rescued from the coming seven years of tribulation. No, they are taken away in the judgment of God. These are the goats that Jesus talks about just a chapter later, in Matthew 25:31-46.

The sheep, however, are left behind. Just like Noah and his family, those who are left are the ones who survived the judgment. They were not swept away by the flood waters. They remained. Better to be like Noah than like the mocking, arrogant heathen that died in the 'whelming flood.

Rather than giving an early teaching of the Rapture, Jesus is teaching that God's judgment at his return will come upon us unawares. We don't know when it's going to happen. But it will happen. And just like in the days of Noah, you will want to be left behind. Being taken away means that you are taken away in judgment. Those who are taken away are the goats, and those who are left behind are the sheep. Live in such a way that you will be left behind.

11 comments:

Kelly said...

Andy, it seems I agree with what you're saying here. I try to read the Bible and compare my first reactions to it to my current knowledge about God. Is it like God to whisk the "good" people away and sit back to essentially torture the "bad" ones? Not so much.

rachelspiegel said...

wow. makes sense to me. it's amazing what can be missed sometimes when we just "read" the bible instead of "studying" it.

Scorpachie said...

are you saying that the authors of the Left Behind series are not God's chosen mouthpieces? ... cause I sure am!

Bort said...

Jesus warns His coming for His elect will be like the days of Noah. When the Son of Man comes in the glory of His Father after the sun, moon, an stars lose their light, most in the world will be clueless. They will be eating and drinking getting married totally unaware the earth is about to be burned up. The one taken, is the church being delivered to heaven before the wrath of God demolishes the earth. The ones left are the wicked to be judged by a Holy God. The point is deliverance then wrath, like Noah and Lot. Was Lot taken out of Sodom before the fire came? Absolutely.

Patrick said...

But Andy, Noah WASN'T left behind. The unbelievers were. I believe the context of the scripture is positive, not negative. It's a positive promise to spare believers from being left behind to the "flood waters" just as it was a positive promise to spare Noah. I believe the passage is focusing on the "surprise" of Jesus's return, not on the words "taken" and "take". I feel you're over-dissecting those words. What's the Greek for those words anyway?

Patrick

andy said...

Bort, I would encourage you to take a closer look at Revelation 21 and 22. The earth isn't burned up, it's renewed. And as I said in the post, the wicked were the ones taken away in the waters. The point of reference for the Noah allusion is the earth, not the ark. I'm not sure how the story of Lot fits here.

Patrick, you're right that it is a positive promise, but as I read it, the flood waters (i.e., God's judgment) is what does the taking. They were swept away in the torrent, but Noah was saved because he was in the boat--saved from the judgment of God. It's not that we're taken away and then the judgment of God comes, it's that the judgment comes and we're the only ones left behind. In other words, Jesus is our ark.

Patrick said...

Here's the point of the entire passage, Andy:

36"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

It's strictly illustrating the SURPRISE of Jesus' return. Reading into this passage beyond this point is risky, IMHO. At least that's what I remember from New Testament survey back in college.

Patrick

Patrick said...

Andy,

Thought about this a little more last night (and by the way, I'm not trying to be combative or devil's advocate, I just love discussing theology). I have some further thoughts:

"38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and 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. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left."

Notice how these passages further illustrate the surpise aspect of Jesus's return, as apposed to the judgement aspect? Nothing here is speaking of believers versus unbelievers. It's merely how people will be engaged in ordinary activities at Jesus' return: marrying, eating, drinking, grinding a hand mill, working in the field, etc. Since believers and non-believers both engage in these activities, we can't assume the passage is speaking about the judgement aspect of Christ's return. Only that his return will be like a flood: taking people away when they least expect it.

Patrick

Lori Smoot said...

Hey Andy, I really enjoyed reading this. The idea of "rapture" was taught to me my entire childhood until it became my husband's favorite topic of discussion. His favorite book is Revelation and he loves/trembles seeing God's promises fulfilled. We have spent hours reading, talking, debating, and praying. It's been some quality time together! With the combined elements of resurrections, martyrs, representatives present during tribulation, promises of tribulation (and encouragement to stay faithful), along with the warnings to not take the mark (implying the presence of believers because they have reason to not take the mark), and a multitude of other things, this whole idea of God sparing us physical pain despite the need of lights in an exceeding dark and troubled world just doesn't jive with me anymore. I don't even think the rapture coincides with the character of God. As I pondered this further, I even see the concept of rapture (I speak of pre-trib) as deceptive to those who embrace it. At the beginning of Revelation it extends blessing to those who read it and wisdom to those who understand it. More often than not I've found rapture followers uninterested in the book because it doesn't apply to them, or those who read it to merely "cheer God on" as He "demolishes the sinful." To think about current tragedy (tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanos, storms, etc.) each of these events have allowed additional spreading of the Gospel. Exactly what tribulation and trial are to bring about... the biggest difference is that right now there are those still willing to hear and respond. In the time to come there are those who bear witness of Jesus Christ, only to be killed and God to be cursed and hated. All that to say, thanks for sharing your perspective on this passage in Matthew. These are sound words and are complete with contextual understanding. Thanks again!

andy said...

Patrick, I also enjoy a good theological discussion, and posted this in hopes that it would generate one. I agree with you on the surprise aspect of this passage--I think that's what Jesus' point really is. But I also think that everyone involved in the telling and hearing and writing of this story knew that, at the return, there would be a final judgment. (The sheep and the goats illustration is the perfect example of this.) So the judgment is what will be so surprising.

My point is that the pre-trib, pre-mill, rapture folks are misinterpreting the passage insofar as who will be taken and who will be left. I don't know what this judgment will look like, but if you understand the Noahic flood reference to be the controlling metaphor, some will be taken in judgment, and the rest will be spared from judgment.

The other interesting thing about the Noahic reference is that Noah knew there was a judgment coming. He wasn't caught unawares. While the others were partying, he was preparing. We also know a judgment is coming. We don't know when or even what it will look like, but we know it's coming.

Lori, thanks for the encouragement. I think you put the pieces of the puzzle together quite nicely! I also worry about the faith of those who expect a rapture--are they hoping for escape from the world or that God's kingdom would come "on earth as it is heaven"?

jay_lori_smoot said...

andy, this is lori's husband and i have thought long and hard on this subject. most people who hold true to the pre trib rapture, point to this verse and say "see one is taken yadda yadda yadda." yet, what they fail to realize is that the seven year trib has been completed and Christ is coming with the last trump sending his angels ahead to gather up the elect(matt24: 30-31). fast forward to 1 thes. 4:13 and we see this happening within a twinkling of the eye and the dead in Christ rising first and we who are alive and remain will be caught up to meet him in the clouds. this is all taking place AFTER the trib, and Christ is coming with judgment at the same time gathering His bride. the trib is God pouring out his wrath and Christ coming has ALWAYS been associated with his judgment. now I have to disagree with you, andy, about being left behind. remember Christ is OUR ark, he is OUR door that we enter into at the twinkling of an eye gathered together from the four winds from one end of heaven to the other. those who are left outside this door will face His judgment. in fact, He will destroy the nations with a rod of iron (judgment)rev 19: 15 and revelation 19:21 puts it like this... and the rest were killed with the sword of the one who sat upon the horse, the one which came out of his mouth, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. not a pretty picture for those who are left behind. the bottom line is yes we will have to go through the trib as Christians and yes we will be the ones taken at the end of the trib. He will be our ark, He will pour out His judgment and we will come to rest on a world free of satan for 1000 yrs.