The Coming of the Lord for the Church

The Parting at the Coming

Scripture has made it plain that believers who are alive when the Lord comes will be caught up for a meeting with Him in the air (1Thess 4:13-18). It has also been pointed out (Part 3 of this article) that the verb “caught up” (harpazo), generally implies a forceful removal and is translated sometimes “take by force” (Matt 11:12; John 6:15; Acts 23:10), or “snatch away” (John 10:28, 29). In each of the six times it is translated “caught up,” there is a very clear implication that the one “caught up” disappears from sight. A clear example is seen in connection with Philip and the Eunuch (Acts 8:39). Scripture records: “The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip and the Eunuch saw him no more.” Thus believers caught up at the Rapture will simply disappear from the earth.

It is difficult to grasp the terrible shock this will be to those left on earth. The news will swamp the centers of the world media on radio and television within minutes of its happening. Round the earth the news headlines will scream, “Millions Disappear.” The unbelievable has happened, and every news flash will tell of another disaster. Driverless cars on crowded highways, bullet trains with brakes afire, pilot’s seat empty on the flight deck of a jumbo jet as it enters controlled airspace – events that presage disaster! Headlines will speak of travel chaos around the world. The Lord coming to the air for His Church has separated those with life in Christ from those without that life. Every believer will be caught up to meet the Lord and to enter the Day of Christ in heaven. Every unbeliever will be left behind for the judgments of the Day of the Lord on earth, climaxing with the Tribulation period and the Lord’s return to earth as Son of Man.

When the Lord spoke directly of that period of special judgment, the Tribulation period, that will precede His coming to earth as Son of Man, He drew significant parallels with the last universal judgment to sweep earth – the Flood (Gen 6-8). His words are clear: “For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came and took them all away” (Matt 24: 34-42). Here the Lord stresses (a) the unexpectedness of the Flood – in spite of clear warnings and many signs, “they knew not;” (b) the unbelief of society marked by iniquity (Gen 6:1-8), independence (Job 22:15-18), and indifference; (c) the universality of its scope – it “took them all away.” These features will be reflected in the judgment scenes of the Tribulation period.

The important point to which the Lord draws attention here, in the “then” (v40), is that beyond the voice of Noah, the building of the ark and the behavior of the animals, that generation had received an earlier and unforgettable warning. Enoch did two things: he pleased God, and he preached of a Lord coming to judge the earth (Jude v14). Significantly, he disappeared from earth before the judgment arrived. The Scripture says “Enoch was translated that he should not see death.” Men searched but Enoch was gone; he was not to be found (Heb 11:5). The verb “translated” is rendered elsewhere “carried over” (Acts 7:16), “removed” (Gal 1:6), or “changed” (Heb 7:12); he had disappeared from earth. His translation marked the opening of a generation that closed with the Flood. His son, Methuselah, whose name means “when he is dead it shall be sent,” bears testimony to this. Methuselah was 300 years old, not yet in his middle years, when his father disappeared. Is it not remarkable that this is the man with the longest lifespan on record? It would seem that a longsuffering God withheld the judgment as long as possible. The generation that opened with the disappearance of Enoch closed with the Flood.

The understanding of the “then” in the next verse (Matt 24:40) is crucial. The Lord is still referring to the period connected with His coming as Son of Man, which climaxes a generation (v34) marked by judgment. In simple terms the generation that saw the commencement of this period would see the climax, the Son of Man descending to earth. In Noah’s day the generation that began with the translation of Enoch ended with the Flood. So it is suggested that while the Rapture has not been fully revealed, the Lord, in very careful language, is introducing it to show that the disappearance of saints at the Rapture would be the opening note of the generation that would close with His coming as Son of Man in judgment.

The statements that follow are startling: (a) “[then] shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” Clearly there are two working or walking together and one disappears, instantly and silently. (b) “Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken the other left.” Two women are engaged in daily chores and, suddenly, one of the women disappears; not a word of farewell. The parallel passage in Luke (Luke 17:34-36) presents a third picture: (c) in that night there shall be two men in the one bed; one shall be taken; and the other shall be left.” The walking, working and sleeping indicate that all the time zones of earth are affected at the same moment.

It has been a common interpretation to link the verb “taken” with the statement of judgment in the previous verse “the flood came and took them all away,” as if these individuals were the ones taken away to judgment and those left go into kingdom blessing. This is faulty exegesis. The verbs that the Lord used do not allow this. The verb “took” in verse 39 is airo the usual verb for simply moving something out of the way or to a different location. On the other hand the verb “taken” in these verses is paralambano, a word totally different with a very much warmer meaning. Vine’s Dictionary gives, “to associate with oneself another in intimate relationship.” It generally implies the idea of welcome. In this gospel, it is found addressed to Joseph, “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife” (1:20). It is the word used by the Lord of the Rapture, “I will come again and receive (paralambano) you unto myself”‘(John 14:2). Of the 50 times it is used in the NT, all but one demands a happy outcome. The only possible exception is “they took Jesus and led him away” (John 19:16) where the verb could still be translated “received.” Also note that the verb “left” is from apheimi which, with very few exceptions, refers to someone “left” or “abandoned” (Rev 2:4). Just before taking His seat on the Mount of Olives, the Lord uses it in the statement, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate” (Matt 23:38).

In light of the words used and the context, it is suggested this points without any doubt to the Rapture as the opening note of the Day of the Lord which takes unbelievers by surprise (1Thes 5:2). The Lord never comes to His own as a thief in the night. When this figure is used, unbelievers are always in view (Rev 3:3; 16:15). With later Scriptures now available it can be seen how the Rapture of the church, which introduces the Day of the Lord (1Thes 5:2), will be a terrible warning for the generation on which the Tribulation will break.

To interpret this passage as a summary of what happens at the entrance of the kingdom means to view the “taking” as a “taking for judgment” and the “leaving” as a leaving for blessing or the entrance into the kingdom. As shown, this interpretation does violence to the normal usage of the verbs. It also presents problems regarding the agency and the destination of the “taken.” It seems a strange way to refer to the judgment of the living nations (Matt 25:31-33) as well as being out of context. The interpretation given above fits the vocabulary and the context much more satisfactorily.