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 24:40-42
Frequent Misuse: this is a description of the Rapture
From Jesus’ extensive end-times teachings comes this set of verses that deeply resonates with many Evangelicals today as they look forward to the Rapture – the day (they say) that Christ comes near the earth to take his people away to heaven with him. Although dealing with the many issues that this doctrine of the Rapture is beyond the scope of this little blog post, correcting this misuse of these verses will suffice.
Who will be taken?
The assumption that Rapture-believers incorrectly impose upon these verses is that those who “are taken” are the faithful people of God, being taken away to safety by Christ so that the judgment of condemnation can be dealt out on the sinners who “are left behind” on the earth. But, as usual, context clears up this misreading very quickly. Let’s back up and begin at verse 37.
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…
Our Lord is making a comparison between the Day of His Return and the Flood in Noah’s time. Life will be going on as usual until, all of a sudden, the wicked are taken away. Just as the flood swept away the sinners who rejected God in Noah’s day, so too will the Judgment sweep away the sinners who reject God at the end of our present age.
Who will be left?
Once we realize that it is the sinners who are being “taken away,” we realize that we actually want to be the people who are left behind! Several times throughout Jesus’ teachings he compares the Kingdom of God to a house or a banquet: when people are faithful to him, they are allowed to stay with God there forever. When people reject him, he will return “at an hour they do not expect” and they are “cast out” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 21:40-41, 22:13, 24:50-51, 25:10-13, 25:30, 25:46).
So if you believe in the Rapture, know that these verses do not describe the event of Jesus taking away his faithful people. Rather, this is a picture of the judgment of those who reject God, and their separation from the inheritance of eternal life at the end of this age.