Who is Taken?

Many Christians think the following verses refer to the rapture:

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. (Mat 24:40-41)

The idea is that the Christians are taken up into heaven so they can escape the great tribulation while are the non-believers are left on earth to endure 7 years of fire, hail, brimstone, rivers turning to blood, etc.

However, there are problems with this interpretation. First, Matthew does not support it. Here is Matthew 24:37-39:

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 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. 

Who are the ones taken away or swept away in these verses? Not the Christians. It is the non-Christians. Those who were not prepared for the flood were the ones taken away.  Noah was the one  left behind.

Second, Luke also does not view this as the rapture, but rather as a taking away to judgment or to die just like Matthew. Here is the parallel passage in Luke to Matthew 24:36-44:

I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (Luke 17:34-37)

Notice in Luke the disciples (see verse 22) follow up Jesus’ description about people being taken with a question about where they will be taken. Jesus’ answer does not indicate a rapture. Where will they be taken? Look for the vultures. They will be eating their flesh. Whatever you think about the rapture, vultures eating the flesh of those taken does not usually figure into it.

So being taken in Matthew 24 and Luke 17 is not about the rapture. It is about Roman soldiers coming and dragging men off to die and to be slaves and to be imprisoned.

When Did Jesus Come on the Clouds of Heaven?

One of the more difficult verses for those of us who believe Matthew 24 is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem is Matthew 24:30. Here we are told that “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”  A vast majority of Americans cannot imagine this verse referring to anything other than the 2nd coming of Christ. Yet Scripture tells a different story.

Matthew 24:30 is a quote from Daniel 7:13. Here is Daniel 7:13-14:

(13)  “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.

(14)  And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Jesus is clearly referring to this verse when he says this in Matthew 24:30. A couple of observations about Daniel 7:30.

First, the Son of Man is Jesus. This is obvious from the numerous times Jesus calls himself that.

Second, the Son of  Man is coming up, not down. He is going up to the Ancient of Days, a reference to God the Father.

Third, when he goes up he is given dominion. He does not have to wait to receive the world or to become King. He is given rule when he ascends.

So when does this event occur? Let’s look at four verses that tell us, three from Matthew and one from Acts.

In Matthew 16:28 Jesus says that some of his disciples will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom. Some commentators think this refers to the Transfiguration in Matthew 17. However, this is unlikely since the terminus is the death of some of the disciples. If they were going to see the Kingdom in six days (17:1) this statement makes no sense. So some of the disciples would see Son of Man coming in his Kingdom before they die. Again the coming of the Son of Man is not some far off event.

In Matthew 26:63 the high priest asks Jesus to tell him plainly, “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” Jesus replies saying, “It is as you say. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The key phrase is “hereafter” or “from now on (ESV).” The word means from this moment on, at this exact moment, up until now. It does not contain any idea that this is some long off event. For example, it is used in 26:53 where Jesus says that the Father can send twelve legions “at once” (ESV).  (See Matthew 3:15, 9:18, 11:12, 23:39, and 26:39 where the word is also used.) So Jesus here is not saying that in some long off future 2,000 plus years away, I will come back to earth on the clouds of heaven. No. He is telling the high priest that from now on I will be seated at the right hand of the Father and coming on the clouds of heaven. It is a very near reality.

In Matthew 28:18 Jesus says that all authority has been (past tense) given to  him and therefore we should disciple the nations. Daniel 7:14 matches up exactly with this idea.

Finally, in Acts 1:9 Jesus goes up to the Father on the clouds of heaven and in 2:34-36 Peter makes clear that Jesus is now sitting at the right hand of the Father. We could also throw in Stephen’s vision of Christ at his death (Acts 7:56).

This does not mean Jesus will not return. Of course, he will. Acts 1:11, among many other passages, makes that clear. But it does mean the coming mentioned in Matthew 24:30 is not the second coming. It has already taken place.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 24 and Pastor MacArthur

Here is a quote from Pastor John MacArthur on why Matthew 24:1-35 cannot refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

When in 70 A.D., for example, was the sun darkened, the moon not giving its light, the stars all falling out of heaven and the Son of Man appearing in heaven in gathering the elect from the four corners of the earth? When in…at that particular time did all the tribes on the face of the earth mourn? No way, absolutely impossible. And in 70 A.D. it was the Romans against the Jews. It wasn’t nation rising against nation and kingdom rising against kingdom and earthquakes and pestilences all over the world. No. It’s impossible. It cannot refer to 70 A.D. so that also is an unacceptable view.

I want to make a couple of comments about this. I will not discuss the sign of the Son of Man because that is more complex. But Pastor MacArthur makes several bad assumptions in this section to support his view. 

First, there are numerous places in the Bible where the terminology “the sun was darkened…” is used. It never refers to this literally happening. Here are a few: 

Isaiah 13:10, here it refers to the destruction of Babylon (vs. 1). There was no literal fulfillment. 

Ezekiel 32:7-8, here it refers to the destruction of Egypt (vs. 2). Again no literal fulfillment. 

Amos 8:9-10, here it refers to God sending Israel into exile. Again no literal fulfillment. 

Acts 2:19-20, here it refers to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and fulfillment of Joel 2:30-31 and the prophecy found there. Peter seems to think this is being fulfilled right there in front of them. Again no literal fulfillment. 

My question is why would Pastor MacArthur assume that Jesus meant this literally? 

Second, why would he assume that “tribes” does not mean Israel mourning? He seems to think tribes means people all over the world. But in the NT tribes refers almost exclusively to Israel. Did Israel mourn when their city and the Temple was destroyed? In fact, one could argue that the repentance of the Jews in Acts 2:37 was part of this mourning. 

Third, his assumptions about nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom are wrong. Tacitus a Roman historian who lived between 55-117 A.D. speaks of wars in Britain and Armenia, as well as numerous disturbances, commotions, and insurrections all over the Roman Empire. Josephus another Roman historian writes that there were so many civil wars in Rome that he cannot even write about them, except in brief. What Pastor MacArthur has done is taken our perspective on nations and throw it back on the NT writers. 

Fourth, the Bible does not say there will be earthquakes “all over the world.” It says, “earthquakes in various places.” (Matthew 24:7) We have at least three earthquakes recorded in the N.T. One when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51). One when the stone rolled away (28:2). That one is called a great earthquake. And one when Paul and Silas escaped from prison in Acts 16:26. Again this one is called great. The historians of the time also list numerous earthquakes, include Pompeii, which was severely damaged by earthqake in 63 A.D.  Pastor MacArthur says this about verse 7

And notice what it says at the end of verse 7, ‘in various places.’ In other words, these things aren’t going to happen here and there from time to time. But they’re going to come in large doses in many places at the same time.”

Why does he interpret it this way? The verse does not say in many places or all over or in great quantity. In fact, the phrase “various places” could easily mean that they happen here and there and from time to time.

Fifth, Matthew mentions famines in 24: 7. Acts 11:28 specifically mentions a famine that covers the whole land. This famine may have been the reason for some of the relief effort mentioned in passages like I Corinthians 16:1-5 and Romans 15:25-28. Historians of the time also mention numerous famines as well. So 24:7 does not demand hundreds of famines happening all over the world. 

Sixth, after wars, earthquakes, and famines in Matthew 24:7 we read this in verses 9-10:
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” Pastor MacArthur does not address these verses in this paragraph, but he does in another sermon. In that sermon he makes it clear that this is referring to the persecution of Christians at the end of time. Again why this assumption?

Here are the parallel passages from Mark 13 and Luke 21

Mark 13:9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.

Luke 21:12  But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.

When I read these passages I can only think of Acts. All this stuff is in Acts. They were beaten (5:40) they were stoned (7:57-60), they were persecuted from town to town (8:1), they were thrown in prison (Acts 12:4, 16:24), and they were brought before councils and rulers (Acts 22:30, 23:1, 24:1, 25:1, and 26:1). Why is this not even addressed by Pastor MacArthur? 

Generation in Matthew Again

A fun  exercise with the previous post is to simply insert “whole Israelite race” in every place where Matthew says “generation.” You will find all sorts of absurdity when you do that and it proves my point exactly. What does it mean for Jesus to say in Matthew 12:41 that Nineveh will rise up against the Jewish race and condemn it? Clearly the whole Jewish race is not condemned. So what exactly does it mean?

Generation in Matthew 24:34

Every book of the Bible has difficult passages to interpret. Matthew is no exception. From the Sermon on the Mount, to the parables in chapter 13, to divorce in Chapter 19 (and 5), to eschatology in chapters 23-25 Matthew is demanding exegetically and pastorally.  I am finishing up my study of Matthew 19 and getting ready for the home stretch. Of course, eschatology comes the forefront in chapters 23-25, though it has been there from the beginning of Matthew. So this brings me to my study of the word generation in Matthew 24:34, which has been used by dispensational scholars to claim that Matthew 24 is not about the fall of Jerusalem, but is about Christ’s second coming.  Here is the fruit of my study of that word. 

Is it possible for the word “generation” in Matthew 24:34 to mean anything other than the generation that was living at the time of Christ?  Many pastors and New Testament scholars read Matthew 24 as a reference to the end of the world. All the references in Matthew 24:4-34 are assumed to refer to Christ’s second coming. However, verse 34 puts a wrench in this particular timeline.  Does the Bible give us the freedom to interpret the passage this way?
            To answer this question I have put down every passage in Matthew that uses the word generation.  Does Matthew ever use the word generation to mean anything other than the current generation? Here are the uses of generation in Matthew:
(Mat 1:17)  So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
(Mat 11:16)  “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
(Mat 12:39)  But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
(Mat 12:41)  The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generationand condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
(Mat 12:42)  The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generationand condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
(Mat 12:45)  Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
(Mat 16:4)  An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
(Mat 17:17)  And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”
(Mat 23:36)  Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
(Mat 24:34)  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Here are four reasons why generation in Matthew 24:34 means the people standing in front of Jesus and not the Jewish race as a whole or some future generation thousands of years away. 

First, every time generation is used in Matthew (expect 1:17) it is in the context of judgment.  Christ is clear that this generation will be judged. They will be judged for asking for a sign. They will be judged for refusing Jesus and John. They will be judged for being faithless.  If 24:34 is a promise that Israel will never pass away it is at odds with almost every other use of generation in Matthew.

Second,  Matthew 16:4 gives a specific time frame for this generation.  They will get a sign; the resurrection.  At least in 16:4, it is not referring to some future generation thousands of years away. It is referring to the generation who will see the resurrection. 

Third, generation always refers to a particular group of people at a particular time. Even in 1:17 it is talking about generations of men. It never refers to the Jewish race as a whole. The idea that generation in Matthew 24:34 means the Jewish race is without biblical and linguistic support.

Fourth, Matthew 23 is a clear condemnation of the current generation that rejected Christ and his teaching. Matthew 23:36 is a reference to the people standing right in front of Jesus. The unfaithful Jews of that day will be judged. They are whitewashed tombs. The reference to Jerusalem in 23:37 makes this even clearer.  It is hard to see how in 24:36 in the exact same context Jesus uses the exact same phrase, yet now it means the Jewish race will never perish.