By: Dr Neal Patterson.
Since the writing of the popular “Left Behind” series by Hal Lindsay, the subject has been widely debated by many students of theology. Certainly, by close examination of the scriptures, there will be a people who are taken out and a people who will be left behind. The question that is open for debate is:
1. Are the righteous taken out and the unrighteous left behind, or, conversely
2. Are the unrighteous taken out, and the righteous left behind?
This is the question that this small article will address. The purpose of writing is not; one is right and the other is wrong (although ultimately that must one day be the conclusion), but rather the purpose in writing is to provoke the diligent student to closely examine the scriptures as to this subject.
We will begin by addressing the questions that were posed to Jesus by the disciples in what is referred to as the “Olivet Discourse” as recorded in Matthew chapters 24-25.
The questions were:
1. When will these things be? (The destruction of the temple)
2. What will be the sign of your coming?
3. And of the end of the age?
The first of these, as is commonly accepted, took place in 70 AD when the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.
The second of the above questions is the one that we will focus on pertaining to the subject at hand; “taken or left behind.” In answering the question as to the sign of His coming, Jesus replied in Matthew 25:36, dealing with the timing of the day of His coming by saying “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”
He then addressed the attitudinal behavior and situation of the world as it would be at that time. That is, very similar to the days of Noah, just prior to the time when Noah and his family entered into the Ark, just before the commencement of the flood. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. These were normal aspects of life and in themselves were not deemed sinful by the Lord in anyway. The Lord was pointing out that they were focused on routine matters of daily life, but completely oblivious to the signs of the time. Primarily that of the testimony of Noah, both in words of warning and his daily witness spanning 120 years in the building of the Ark.
Likewise the majority of people are, in today’s world, exuding an attitude of “life goes on,” the routines of daily living as the signs, spoken by Jesus, of floods, earthquakes, famines, wars and rumors of wars are happening all around the globe as we write. Regardless of these warning signs, as were the people in Noah’s day, so are the majority today, blinded to the fact that these signs are pointing to the urgency of the hour, the fast approaching coming of the Lord..
We now come to the point in the Lord’s narrative of the event itself. Being oblivious to the signs of the time, they will, like those in days of Noah, be caught unawares. He goes on to say “Then two men shall be in a field, one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill, one will be taken and the other left.”
The question now arises, who will be taken and who will be left? In answering the question we need go back and carefully examine verses 38 and 39. In verse 38 Jesus is talking about the attitude of the people, (not Noah and his family) how they were living as normal and giving no heed to the testimony of Noah entering the Ark. Jesus then goes on to say, “and took them all away.” The reader must decide, to whom is the pronoun “them” referring to, the people or to Noah?
As the Lord is focusing on the people and their nonchalant attitude, the pronoun “them” is obviously referring to the people: “and took them (the people) all away.” Thus leaving Noah and his family on earth, to repopulate it. Also the phrase “and did not know until the flood came and took them all away. Who did “not know?” The people, not Noah, for he did know. So, again the pronoun “them” is referring to the people who did not know.
If we decide to make the pronoun “them,” refer to Noah, Jesus mentions Noah in the singular, therefore the following phrase would have to read “took him away” not “them”. Some may say that “them” in this case is referring to Noah and his family. But to do that would contravene English grammar, for the third party, Noah’s family, are not referred to in the text.
To take the matter a little further, let us look at two of the Kingdom parables in Matthew 13. In the explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares, Jesus states in verses 39b – 42. “…the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The son of man will gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” So again it is seen that the wicked are taken out leaving the righteous.
Also the parable of the dragnet of fish as seen in verse 47 – 48. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which when it was full, they drew to shore, and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away.” Again we see the bad taken out and destroyed and the good remaining.
Still other examples may be referred to, such as the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, and the parable of the pounds in Luke 19:11-27. In both of these parables the Lord is speaking of delegated responsibility during His absence and then the day of accountability upon His return, the lazy and slothful are bound and cast out, leaving the faithful to enjoy the rewards. Likewise the man without the wedding garment is also cast out, and the five foolish virgins also being left out.
The reason for some to endeavour to insist the righteous are the “taken” is because they associate the words of Jesus in Matthew 24 to be pertaining to the rapture. Jesus is not talking of a rapture here but is answering the question as to the sign of His coming. The second coming and the rapture are two entirely different subjects, the rapture being pre-wrath, the second coming post wrath. It might be argued by some, that if the rapture has taken place pre-wrath, then there would be no righteous left to take out, or leave behind. My answer to that is the rapture only concerns a very small minority of believers, the dedicated fruitful overcoming company.
In conclusion, it is in my opinion that the scriptures lean favorably to the taking out of the wicked and the righteous remaining. Whichever way the student draws a conclusion after having examined the scriptures their decision is theirs to make. The important fact is, whichever way we decide, are we ready for that day? Giving all diligence to make our calling and election sure ……….. for, so an entrance will be supplied to us into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. That Kingdom being His Millennial reign here on earth for the one thousand years. Revelation 20:4-6.
For me, my desire is not to be taken out but to be left here on earth for the duration of that Kingdom. Revelation 3:21.”To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
Whatever the outcome, be it the righteous or the unrighteous who are left, we must make sure that we are in the company of the righteous.