January 24, 2017 by J.A. Hardgrave
Who Gets Left Behind?
Written By J.A. Hardgrave
“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.”(Matt. 24:40-41)
When many of us read these Bible verses, they appear to be describing two people walking through a field one day, when suddenly one good guy gets taken up out of his clothes and disappears to safely meet Jesus in the clouds, while the other bad guy is left scratching his head wondering what just happened. It doesn’t take long watching the left behind series to begin to replay this scenario over and over in your head as you contemplate a secret rapture, the rise of the antichrist, and the start of the apocalypse.
The great challenge when interpreting New Testament Eschatology (The study of Last Things), is to not let our doctrinal filters we were raised with cause us to miss the actual context that is being presented. I am about to show you how the doctrine behind the Left Behind series is actually opposite of what Scripture describes.
Setting the stage for Matthew 24
Let’s start with establishing the narrative of what Jesus had just said prior to the statements in Matt. 24:40-41. Bear with me for just a moment, because if we don’t lay some groundwork first, it will be very easy to miss the context of Matthew 24. Most people begin reading at Mathew 24:1, instead of reading the previous 3 chapters to set the stage for Matthew 24 which is what leads to so much misinterpretation.
As good Bereans (Acts 17:11), we always ask the question “What did these words mean to the Original Audience?“.
When we see the word “you”, we can’t always assume Jesus is talking directly to “us”. We have to get into the mindset of those who were standing there with Jesus when He spoke these words. When they heard Jesus say “you”, they thought “us standing here right now”. It’s highly unlikely they felt Jesus was speaking to a generation living 2,000 years in the future.
In Matt. 21, Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem. He walks into the Temple and turns over tables and drives out those who were buying and selling, boldly proclaiming they had turned their His Father’s house from a “House of Prayer, to a “Den of Thieves“(21:12-13).
Then Jesus proceeds to scold the Pharisees for their hypocrisy for 3 entire chapters, giving “The 7 woe’s“, calling them hypocrites 6 times (ouch), blind men, blind guides, snakes, murderers, and sons of those who murdered the prophets.
Why is Jesus focusing so much on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes?
Because He is announcing a soon coming judgement upon them.
Jesus gives parable after parable that clearly identifies that unbelieving generation as the recipients of a soon coming judgment.
The Pharisees and Scribes even picked up that Jesus was speaking about them in His parables.
“When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they KNEW He was talking about THEM.” Matt. 21:45
The Pharisees and Scribes knew He was talking about them, so why don’t we? We often read ourselves, and our generation into the text without considering Audience Relevance.
Remember, Matthew 24 starts once Jesus and His disciples had left the temple, so it’s important we understand what just went down right before they left the temple. What did Jesus say right before He and His disciples left the temple that would of stirred up the disciples?
“Therefore YOU are witnesses against yourselves that YOU are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of YOUR father’s guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can YOU escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send YOU prophets, wise men, and scribes:some of them YOU will kill and crucify, and some of them YOU will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on YOU may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel, to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom YOU murdered between the temple and the altar.
Assuredly, I say to YOU, ALL THESE THINGS will come upon THIS GENERATION.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather YOUR children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but YOU wee not willing! See! YOUR HO– USE is being left to YOU desolate“. (Matt. 23:31-38)
Matthew 24 & the End of the Age, Not World
“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.” (Matt. 24:1-2)
The disciples were probably shocked that Jesus was prophesying the desolation of their city and temple within their generation. They pointed out the temple buildings almost to say:
“Jesus, you’re not talking about THIS temple are you?”
Jesus states a second time that the temple with be “thrown down with not one stone being left on another” to make sure His disciples knew He was serious about His statement.
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”(Matt. 24:3).
When will what happen? What were the disciples asking about? What had they just heard in the temple?
1) The temple would be left “desolate”. (23:38)
2) Righteous judgment would be poured out in their generation. (23:35; 36)
3) The temple would be taken down one stone upon another. (24:2)
Nothing that Jesus said would of lead His disciples to believe He was prophesying the end of planet earth or the end of the so called “Church age”.
They were intimately familiar with the Old Covenant Age, it’s many laws, and it’s temple sacrifices since they were children. Jesus just declared devastating news of the complete destruction of the Old Covenant temple with it‘s leaders within their generation.
For you American’s, what if I was 100% accurate in my prophesies, and I prophesied that the following buildings would be destroyed/left desolate within our generation?
- The White House.
- The Pentagon.
- Statue of Liberty.
- Jefferson Memorial.
- US Capitol.
- Lincoln Memorial.
- Sears Tower.
- The Chrysler Building.
- Golden Gate Bridge.
- UN building.
- Washington National Cathedral.
- Federal Hall building.
- Wall Street Stock Exchange building.
The temple was the center of the Old Covenant world/order just like the buildings I listed are part of the center of the American world.
The big difference is that hundreds of Old Covenant Laws were contingent on the temple still standing. Without a temple, there literally was no way for the Levitical priesthood to offer animal sacrifices according to the standards of the Mosaic Law.
Jesus starts to give signs that would precede His coming in judgment within that generation, which is precisely why the disciples asked for the signs. They knew they would probably be alive when this judgment happened, and they wanted to be prepared.
Jesus was not vague with the timing of these events, He told them they would happen before “this generation” passed away, and then reiterates that in Matthew 24:34.
He did not give a specific time, He states “No man knows the day nor the hour” (Matt. 24:36;Matt. 25:13), but He does give specific signs and instructions for His disciples and followers to cling to once they observed the signs indicating the end of the Old Covenant age, and the soon coming destruction of the temple.
Jesus then starts to give the signs and He starts to describe the events that would happen right before His coming in judgment.
Signs & Instructions for That Generation
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation, ‘spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.”
What is “The abomination that causes desolation?” .
It’s debated who or what was the actual abomination that caused desolation, however in Luke’s account of Matthew 24, we see Jesus give a clear clear visible sign that “The abomination that causes desolation” was about to happen/come on the scene.
“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city“. Luke 21:20; 21
Jesus is saying that when they see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, GET OUT OF THERE! HEAD FOR THE HILLS! FLEE TO THE MOUNTAINS!
Using Matthew 24 and Luke 21 let’s break down a few of these instructions.
“Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains”
Contrary to the view that the great tribulation period will be a future, worldwide event near the end of time, Jesus states that people can escape the destruction/end of the age by simply fleeing to the mountains from Judea…
If this were describing a planet-wide event, this would mean everyone on earth would have to get to Judea and flee from the mountains from Judea to escape the destruction.
This is clearly a local judgment upon Jerusalem and is not speaking about a worldwide event, otherwise nobody could escape it since the world’s population could never fit inside Judea.
Most importantly observe Jesus’s instructions to “flee to the mountains”. Jesus is stating that when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, they need to run away to the mountains to escape the destruction.
“Let those in the city get out”
He is saying if they were in Jerusalem and saw armies surrounding Jerusalem, they needed to get out fast! Destruction would be near at that point!
“Let those in the country not enter the city”
Jesus is stating that when they saw armies surrounding Jerusalem, the city is not safe, and they did not need to enter the city because it’s about to be destroyed.
“Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house”
Most of the roofs in Israel at that time were flat and even had an outside staircase leading to the roof (Mark 2:4). Flat roofs were used for all sorts of uses such as hosting guest (Deut. 22; 8), Storage (Josh. 2:6), and resting (2 Sam. 11:2).
This is clearly a depiction of 1st Century Israel and not a depiction of modern day housing standards.
What is Jesus saying? He is essentially saying “Once you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, the desolation/destruction of the temple/the end of the Old Covenant age is near, don’t even chance getting caught up in the destruction by going back into your house to gather your belongings, you may end up getting destroyed with Jerusalem/the temple.
“How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!”
Clearly if a women was pregnant or nursing a baby around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, it would be very difficult for her to flee quickly enough to escape since she will have to safely carry the tender baby out of the destruction as well, or walk slowly since she would be pregnant.
“Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.”
There were strict travel laws in place at that time during the Sabbath that no person could walk more than about a quarter mile to ensure they observe the Sabbath rest (Acts 1:12). Jesus is stating that when they are fleeing from Jerusalem they better hope it’s not on the Sabbath day because those unbelieving Pharisees will be blind to the coming destruction, and will possibly arrest/stop them from leaving the city while it’s being destroyed because they are traveling more than a quarter mile.
Also we know from Nehemiah 13:15-22 and Jeremiah 17:21;24 that the city gates to Jerusalem were closed during the Sabbath, preventing people from bringing loads of food in and out and “working” when they were supposed to be resting. The Levites also guarded the gate to Jerusalem on the Sabbath, meaning if Jesus’s followers observed the signs prior to His judgement coming and tried to flee to the mountains, they would be locked in the city and destroyed along with Jerusalem.
If Jerusalem was about to be destroyed and it was winter it would be very difficult to push through the snow and the icy conditions to escape the destruction.
“Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.”
This is the verse I want to hang my hat on for the rest of the blog, this verse reveals what Jesus is actually describing when He says “two will be in a field, one will be left, one will be taken”. Jesus is describing a response, not an “event” of one person being sucked out of their clothes into the air, and the other left behind.
So far its clear Jesus is talking about the response His followers should have when they see the signs, especially Jerusalem surrounded by armies since that would occur just prior to the temples destruction/desolation.
He then states that if someone is fleeing in the field to the mountains, and remembers they forgot their cloak, they should not return to the city, because it is about to be destroyed.
His focus is for them to keep running, don’t stop, keep fleeing to the mountains and don’t look back or go back no matter how valuable something is that they left in Jerusalem, it’s not worth their life. Jesus is saying one person will leave the field and flee to the mountains and be “left”, the other person will go back into Jerusalem to get something valuable like a cloak, thinking they still have time, and will be caught in the quick destruction.
Pretend your house was burning down. You had just saved your family from the flames and were running away, getting your family to a safe distance before your house completely burned up, when you remember your Grandma’s Bible was still inside. You held this Bible to be very dear to your family so you decide at the last minute to risk your life and turn back to retrieve it, even though you had been warned it was to late at that point.
You end up getting your Grandma’s Bible, but you were killed when the roof collapsed on you.
Jesus is telling them that when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, it’s to late to turn back at that point, and if they turn back they will be destroyed just like Lot’s wife when she turned back to observe the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (we will talk about Lot’s wife in a moment).
WHO GETS LEFT BEHIND ?
Now let’s look at the nature of the one’s being “taken” and the ones being “left” by taking a closer look at “the days of Noah”, and “The days of Lot“, which Jesus states His judgement coming will be just like.
“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.”
So the flood came and took “them” all away. Who is “them”?
Noah? Or the ungodly wicked people that had taken over the world?
Hearing parallel passages of Jesus words allows us to see all sides to make sure we get the context, and thankfully there is a more explanatory version of “the days of Noah” in Luke’s account.
“And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” (Luke 17:26; 27)
Noah and his family were not destroyed by the flood, the unrighteous evil people were. Noah was not taken off guard when the flood came, he and his family prepared for it well in advance by building a huge boat. Noah knew they were living in the last days of that world order prior to the flood judgement, it was the rest of the unbelieving world that went on “marrying, eating, drinking” as if everything was normal.
I want you to see these two statements side by side, Matthews account, and Luke’s account of Jesus words.
“The flood came and took them all away“
“The flood came and destroyed them all“
Being taken=the unrighteous being destroyed, not the righteous being raptured.
It was not Noah and his family that were “taken”, but rather the wicked evil people of the earth were “taken” by the flood and destroyed by its waters of judgment.
If we compare both Matthew and Luke’s account, there is only one interpretation that works, the unrighteous people were not prepared for the flood and lived life as usual and thus were “taken”, and Noah and his family were left behind to begin a new world.
Let’s even go directly to the flood in Genesis 7:23 and see who is “left“.
“Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.
We have been taught for so long that being left is a negative thing, and the destiny of the unrighteous, that we miss the clear Scripture that shows without question the righteous get left, and the wicked taken.
Jesus also compared His second coming to be like “the days of Lot“. This is where we are really going to see the meaning unlock behind the two being in a field one “left” and one being “taken”.
“It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.”
The unrighteous people of Sodom and Gomorrah were taken and destroyed, and Lot was left behind and spared.
Lot did not get sucked up out of his clothes, he just kept running and did not look back and his life was spared. Lot was “left”, his wife was “taken” by the judgement fires that were engulfing Sodom and Gamorah.
Look in Luke’s account at one of the last examples Jesus uses to prepare his followers for the soon coming judgement.
“On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife!” (Luke 17:31-32)
What happened to Lot’s wife?
“By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.“
Jesus is following the same train of thought the entire narrative. He is giving them a warning about the consequences of going back to or remaining in Jerusalem when it was destroyed, and uses Lot’s wife looking back as Sodom and Gomorrah was being destroyed and turning into a pillar of salt as a warning that the same thing would happen to them if they also looked back.
Now that we have this understanding, let’s finally look at these verses and I think you will see with perfect clarity what Jesus is saying.
“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.”(Matt. 24:40-41)
Let’s use Lot and his wife as an example of two people who were in a field, one taken and one was left.
Lot’s wife looked back and was “taken”, because instead of continuing to run away from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as she was instructed, she looked back, and was taken/destroyed by the fires of destruction.
Lot was “Left behind”, was spared, and continued to live.
Lot did not look back, he kept fleeing when Sodom and Gomorrah was being destroyed, Lot’s wife did not.
“These Verses are Describing a Response Not an Event.”
These verses are describing a response that two different people will have once they observed the signs Jesus gives in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 31, not an “event”.
Look at one more example where we see this same reality in Luke’s account, and now interpret them through the foundation that we have laid in our study.
“I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.” (Luke 17:34)
Jesus is painting a picture of two people’s different responses that would be asleep in Jerusalem. One person will leave their bed, flee Jerusalem, and head to the mountains, the other will stay comfortably in their bed and remain to be taken captive or destroyed at the destruction of Jerusalem by armies.
Where are these people “taken?” Luke tells us in the next few verses.
The disciples then ask:
“Where, Lord?” they asked.
He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the Eagles will gather.” (Luke 17:37)
The fate of those who go back into Jerusalem, or stay in Jerusalem during it’s siege and destruction, is that they would be “taken”/ killed, and their bodies would be surrounded by “Eagles”.
The eagle was the sign of the Roman legion and the symbol of the Roman army’s power. Jesus was prophesying about when the Romans would come and completely destroy Jerusalem in AD 70, within their generation, just like Jesus prophesied, which is a highly documented and historic fact which can found in the writings of Josephus in almost every book store. Jerusalem was surrounded by armies, Jerusalem was destroyed, the events Jesus said would take place, did in fact take place.
I hope this has cleared up the identity of the one being taken and left, as well as shown these verses describe a response, not a rapture event as it is taught sometimes.
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