Rethinking the Rapture

When Jesus says that some will be taken, he is saying that some will be arrested, taken into custody, beaten, and killed when the day of the Lord’s wrath comes. This day happened just like Jesus predicted, within a single generation, when the Romans came into the city, murdered, raped, and killed the Jews, and took the remaining survivors “into custody.”

You’ve Been Left Behind…

At the zenith of my choral career, circa the late 1990s, I was chosen to perform a solo in front of my entire private Christian high school. Apparently, the talent pool was a bit low that year. Either way, I was given the unenviable task of alerting all the would-be tares, sown into a Christian School wheat field, to repent or face their eschatological doom… With a Brady-bunch quiver ready to strike at my undeveloped teenage vocal cords, I crooned out the following warning to my classmates: “There’s no time to change your mind, the Son has come and you’ve been left behind.” If you are blanking on the reference, take a moment to enjoy some dispensational cringe and then come back for the article proper.

Wonkavator in the Sky

When it comes to eschatology, the most common view bumbling around pulpits and popular Christian literature these days asserts that at some point in the immediate future, believers will be whisked away from the world in a secret rapture. Christians will apparently vaporize, leaping invisibly into the heavens, leaving clothing, dentures, and plastic surgical additions piled neatly behind them. Planes will fall out of the sky. Unmanned cars will careen over cliffs. And all the world will be thrown into the kind of panic that only a cavalier Antichrist could rectify, which will jumpstart a seven-year tribulation that ends in Armageddon.

This kind of murky reasoning once seemed rational to me. That is until I left the eschatological bog of big Eva publishing swamps and started reading the Bible for myself. It is amazing how such a simple action can clear up so much confusion. Who would’ve thunk it?

With that, today, I want us to explore what the Bible says about the rapture in Matthew 24. Is it God’s heavenly dispensational wonkavator that is meant to zap us out of here before the world gets really crazy? Or, have we misunderstood what the Scriptures are saying about these things and need to adopt a better view? Let us begin!

A Brief Disclaimer

As I have mentioned before. Jesus is going to return at the very end of human history. The dead in Christ will rise. The living and the dead will be judged. Some will be thrown into the lake of fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And some will enter into the eternal kingdom with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth. All of that is true and is still in our future.

But, what we have also shown in this series, is that many of the most popular eschatological fantasies, peddled as the Gospel today, will not happen in the future, because they have already happened in the past. For instance, over the last several weeks we have shown that the rise of False Messiah’sWars and Rumors of WarsEarthquakes and FaminesTribulationsSigns of the Times, the Abomination of DesolationThe Great Tribulation, and the “Second Coming” (Part 1Part 2, and Part 3), all occurred in the events that happened in the Church’s first tumultuous forty years.

If you are all caught up on the series, today, we will examine how the events of Matthew 24:36-41, are not referring to a pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-tribulational “rapture”. But, instead is more evidence that Jesus was describing events that would happen in the first century. If you are not caught up, this post may be interesting, and I feel sure you will get something out of it, but, I would suggest reading the previous articles in the series for a fuller treatment. You can find those in blog form here, or in podcast form here.

The Text:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.
—Matthew 24:36-41

A Past Day in View

While many believe this section of Scripture is referring to a future rapture of a righteous church, the context of Matthew 24 makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is referring to events that have already happened in the past to the unrighteous nation of Judah. We know this for at least three reasons. First, the context bears it out. Jesus is answering the disciples’ questions about when the temple will be destroyed, what will be the sign this is about to occur, and how will that factor into the end of the Jewish age of redemption (Matthew 24:1-3). From verse 3 onward, Jesus is giving an unbroken answer to their question, describing events that must soon take place in their lifetimes, without deviating from that objective. There is not a single moment in verses 1-35, where Jesus jarringly shifts away from His audience to the distant future, to somehow wax proleptically. He stays on task and so should we.

Second, Jesus said a mere two verses earlier: “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (v. 34). This tells us unequivocally that Jesus believed everything in this prophecy would occur within a forty-year window. That alone should end the debate, right? Do we believe Jesus or not?

Third, whenever Jesus uses the word “day” in this chapter, He is not referring to an indeterminate day that will occur sometime in an undisclosed future. Instead, He is referring to a well-defined day, known as the “Day of the Lord”, which makes its Biblical appearance in the Old Testament prophetic writings. According to the prophets, the “Day of the Lord” was a special day when God uniquely brought His covenantal fury against His enemies. According to Jesus, that day had come in full when Judah rejected the reign of God (See Matthew 23:35-36). This undoubtedly served as the chiefest of all betrayals and pitted the Jews as mortal enemies with God. This is why Jesus alludes to, quotes from, and appeals to the very prophets who refer to this awesome and terrible day because that day would afflict the very generation He was speaking to (See for example Joel 1& 2; Amos 5; and Malachi 3 & 4).

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