Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why I Want To Be "Left Behind": How Rapturists Misread Jesus' Words

Today's Gospel reading--"one is taken and one is left" (Matt 24:40-41)--is a locus classicus for those who believe that before the final judgment there will be a "rapture" of the righteous. However, to read the passage the way rapturists insist it should be read seems to wrench it out of context. Let me explain.

Here's the passage as it stands. It is taken from Jesus' "eschatological discourse" in Matthew 24:
As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 38 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, 39 and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming (Matt 24:37-42).
Now, according to the standard rapturist interpretation, when Jesus says, "one is taken and one is left," he is teaching that the righteous one will be "raptured" while the wicked, unbelieving heathens will be "left behind."

The problem with this view however is that it seems contradict what Jesus is actually saying.

The larger context of the passage is an analogy: Jesus is describing the time of the coming of the Son of man in terms of the flood judgment.

What is often missed is this: according to Jesus, in the days of Noah it was the wicked who were "swept away" (Matt 24:39). In other words, in the days of Noah, the wicked were the ones taken.

Hence, it would seem that in Jesus' analogy, it is desirable to be among those left behind--i.e., those not swept away as the wicked were in the days of Noah. A careful reading then would suggest that the righteous are those who are left behind, not those taken.

I realize that the view that Jesus here links salvation with those being "taken" is very much entrenched, no doubt in part due to the influence of the rapture interpretation. Yet such a reading does not seem to flow naturally from the text. In fact, such a reading in fact reverses the imagery so that the days of the Son of man are unlike the days of Noah, contrary to what Jesus himself seems to teach.

So much for worrying about being "left behind."

19 comments:

Tim H. said...

Jesus promises that if we eat his flesh and drink his blood, he will raise us on the "Last day" (John 6:54). Modern rapture pseudo-theology necessarily insists that this is not the actual last day but the last day before the rapture.

Followed to its logical conclusion, according to rapturiests, there must be two ressurections of the body - one at the time of rapture and another at the end of time. Therre must also be a second partial coming of Christ, where he descends in the clouds, raptures all believers and heads back to heaven. Then the third, full and complete coming of Christs at the end of time.

It doesn't make sense.


-Tim-

Charles said...

Michael,

Your assumption about rapturists may apply to some, but there are many rapturists who would agree with the view you presented. See for example:

Stanley Toussaint's commentary Behold the King (p. 281),
Louis Barbieri, "Matthew" in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (p. 79,)
John Walvoord's commentary Matthew (pp. 193-94).
Paul Enns' article on the Olivet Discourse" in Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (p. 288).

I think that the above would suggest that your assumption of "the standard rapturist interpretation" is simply incorrect.

Jokingpeo said...

Wow, Michael. Rapture doesn't make sense to me but I did wonder what that passage meant. I never looked at it that way but that does make a lot more sense. When Jesus comes again only the righteous should be left standing and the wicked taken away and thrown into hell with the demons. It makes no sense that a person who dwells in wickedness should ever be able to tolerate God's goodness. They would rather be in the dark than be in the light.

Good look man.

kainzh said...

What about 1 Thessalonians: "The Lord himself shall come down from heaven with commandment, and with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead who are in Christ, shall rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air, and so shall we be always with the Lord."

Tim H. said...

//taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ//

You have to read the bible in the context of the social, political and economic customs of the authors and the intended audience and not in our own social context. Going out to meet Jesus is Paul's reference to an ancient custom, a political gesture of respect, whereby the dignitaries and citizens of a city or town would go outside the gates of the city some miles to meet a visiting king, governor or military leader and escort them back to the city.

The idea that Jesus stops about a mile or so above the earth in the clouds, raises the dead, raptures the good guys and then hangs a U-turn and heads back to heaven is not consistent with this custom.

Paul statement is about escorting Jesus to earth for the one and only ressurection, not that we will be brought to heaven as part of an interim ressuretion.

"For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him (on) the last day." (John 6:40)

The LAST day. Not the last day before the millenial reign and seven year tribulation and then the real last day.


-Tim-

Tim H. said...

I blogged about the same subject a while back...

http://timhollingworth.blogspot.com/2010/03/whats-wrong-with-left-behind.html


-Tim-

Juan said...

What about what Revelations 21:1-5 says?... 1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

It appears that God will dwell among men because the old earth will be gone, so, does this go back to what Michael was saying about the righteous staying and the wicked wiped out?

I am currently studying, and this is part of my study, so it will certainly help.

Fr. Deacon Daniel said...

While I appreciate Michael Barber's intention to address some of the fanciful exegesis of Rapture theorists, as a friend pointed out, it is also important to read a particular text in the context of the Church's historical interpretation of a passage.

In the Ancient Christian Commentary series, Hilary of Poitiers (4th Century) seems to indicate the opposite of what Michael concludes as to what each person (taken and left behind) signifies.

"Christ shows that a judgment is coming, since between two people in a field, one is taken up and one left behind...This teaching means that the separation of the faithful from the unfaithful will consist in one being accepted and the other abandoned. For, like the prophet says, when the wrath of God rises, the saints will be hidden in God's chambers but the faithless will be left exposed to celestial fire. The two in the field therefore represent the faithful and the unfaithful, both of whom will be surprised by the day of the Lord in the midst of the world, in the course of their life's work. They will be separated, one taken and the other left. It will be the same for the two grinding at the mill, which represents the work of the law. For only some of the Jews, like Elijah, believed through the apostles that they must be justified by faith. One group will be taken up through the faith that produces good works, and the other group will be abandoned in the fruitless works of the law, grinding in vain at a mill that will never produce heavenly food. The two lying in bed are proclaiming the repose of the Lord after His Passion, which both Catholics and heretics confess alike. But because the truth of the Catholic faith preaches the unity of the Father and the Son, which we call their deity, whereas the false doctrine of heretics attacks this unity with many different insults, one of the two lying in bed will be taken up but the other will be left behind. For by accepting one and rejecting the other, God's judgment will prove the merit of each confession." On Matthew 26.5

My read on St. Hilary's spiritual exegesis here is that the one who is taken (usually mentioned first) is the righteous, faith-filled orthodox Christian, whereas the unrighteous who reject Christ as Messiah and Son of God sharing the same nature as the Father (mentioned second...IOW, the Arians...Hilary was known to be the Malleus Arianorum or "Hammer of the Arians" and the "Athanasius of the West") are left behind. While one patristic source does not a consensus make, it certainly calls into question the innovative reading Mr. Barber proposes. If others have any sources, I would be curious...

Antony said...

Michael:

To add to Fr. Deacon's remarks above, Cornelius a'Lapide also interprets this passage in a way that differs from yours, drawing from the thoughts of St. Ambrose:

"Then two shall be in the field. One shall be taken and one shall be left. Meaning: In the day of judgment Christ will separate companion from companion, neighbor from neighbor; as, for example, farmer from farmer. The one who has lived justly and piously He will take up with Himself to glory in heaven. But his companion, who has lived wickedly, He will leave in his sins, disapprove and condemn to everlasting punishment. For as S. Ambrose says (in Lucae 17:35), “He who is taken is carried away to meet Christ in the air; but he who is left is condemned.” Christ says this, that no one may trust to good society merely because he lives among the righteous. He would also show how exact and searching will be that judgment, which will separate and divide father from son, wife from husband, brother from brother."

I accept the Church's rejection of the Protestant innovation called the "Rapture", but I hope to be "taken" and counted amongst the sheep, not "left" to roast with the goats :)

Antony

Linda Fugger Rice said...

THE RAPTURE STARTED IN THE 1800'S SO IT IS FAIRLY NEW. JESUS DID NOT GET HIS REDEMPTION OF SOULS DONE DURING THE CRUCIFIXION, IF HE HAS TO COME BACK AND GET US BEFORE ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. HE DIED ONCE AND FOR ALL! THE NOAH SCENARIO IS VERY CORRECT. WE WILL BE OK NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. FEAR NOT!

Beatrice said...

The important differences between the rapture and second coming are as follows:

1) At the rapture, believers meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). At the second coming, believers return with the Lord to the earth (Revelation 19:14).

2) The second coming occurs after the great and terrible tribulation (Revelation chapters 6–19). The rapture occurs before the tribulation (1 Thessalonians 5:9; Revelation 3:10).

3) The rapture is the removal of believers from the earth as an act of deliverance (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, 5:9). The second coming includes the removal of unbelievers as an act of judgment (Matthew 24:40-41).

4) The rapture will be secret and instant (1 Corinthians 15:50-54). The second coming will be visible to all (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:29-30).

5) The second coming of Christ will not occur until after certain other end-times events take place (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Matthew 24:15-30; Revelation chapters 6–18). The rapture is imminent; it could take place at any moment (Titus 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54).

Ages of Salvation History Nut said...

I concur with the older theologians: In the rapture, it is the just that are taken, not the reprobate. The important thing is to rather realize that the rapture is consummate with the end of time. If any Christian lives to be in the times of the great falling away, they will suffer in the persecution and tribulation. Christ told one mystic that He will not be satisfied until the cup of the blood of the martyrs is overflowing. The sufferings of the just in the very end times will be the most horrific. They will fulfill the Maccabbean struggle, and in fact may be the very thing that will open the eyes of the Jews: The Jews will see their spiritual stages fulfilled by the Church and the Gentiles:

That is, in the time of OT Antichrist, Antiochus was a blasphemous Gentile imposing apostasy on innocent Jews.

In the times of the end, it may well be a secular Jew imposing apostasy on Gentile Catholics.

The Jews will say, where have we seen this? And in seeing this, their eyes will see the reality that inner renewal is what matters, not external. They will see that inner renewal that they traversed from Abraham to Maccebees fulfilled in the Church and Gentiles as they journey from Pentecost to NT Antichrist.

But, again, the important thing is, the rapture is consummate with the Second Coming, not before.

thedivinelamp said...

I'm no biblical scholar but it seems to me that attempting to interpret the passage as the Rapturist do-or, for that matter, against them as you do-is an exercise in futility.

Excuse me if I'm wrong, but isn't the entire thrust of the passage about the suddenness/unexpectedness of the Lord's return? The disputed verses (40-41) are bracketed by just this theme. What is there in the text to lead one to assume that it is also about the sequence of salvation?

Rosary Guy said...

Matthew 13 sheds some light on Jesus' teaching here. In the Parable of the Weeds and Wheat (vv 24-30) the servants collect the weeds first, and bundle them up for burning, and then gather the wheat into the Lord's barn. Jesus explains the parable to His disciples (vv 40-43):
40 Just as weeds are collected and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.
41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

The Parable of the Dragnet (vv 47-50) may be counter-evidence, but isn't as clear.

Owen said...

Interestingly the study notes of the new Ignatius New Testament Study Bible on that passage agree with Mr. Barber or the other way around.

Fr. Deacon Daniel said...

Owen,

I confirm this as well. I would have to guess that this is not purely a coincidence.

That said, the interpretation offered by him (and by the very fine and useful ICSB-NT) is certainly an innovative one.

He has not yet demonstrated, however, that it is a traditional or even the proper reading, especially if one considers the view that it was the righteous who were "taken up" into the Ark (also raised above the land by floating on water) while the ones "left behind" on the ground suffered the judgment of the flood...

God bless,

Fr. Deacon Daniel

John said...

The Greek for taken up in Matthew 24:38-39 refers to those not in the Noah party being taken away. The exact Greek translation of that verse is

38 "For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into theark, 39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.."

Anonymous said...

So what happens to the believers left on earth, if the wicked are the ones removed? Does this mean the believers will be the ones to go through the time of great tribulation when the antichrist is here on earth?

Anonymous said...

This happens after the great tribulation. The meek will inherit the earth.