Who Gets Left Behind?

I’m thoroughly convinced that the Scriptures themselves, and a long history of the church doing biblical theology, simply doesn’t support the idea of a secret escape from tribulation and an abandonment of the earth.

If you’re a subscriber to the blog, you know that I have recently been challenging rapture theology. If you’re new to the blog or you just drop in from time to time, please know that the following posts should really be read as a series of my thoughts on the subject:

When I first posted on the topic, I had no plans to address the rapture systematically. I never really had a plan, and honestly I still don’t. I’m just sharing whatever I’m thinking as I reflect on my upbringing, pop-culture Left Behind ideas, and what some of you have written in response to my posts.

Thank you to those who have responded. You really do help cultivate ideas for future posts. You can expect that I will further address some of your questions and concerns that relate to key rapture passages and ideas.

So, here’s my next installment.

In a previous post, I wrote: “Pay careful attention to this truth. It’s those who are righteous that are “left behind” (Matt 24:38-41). The wicked will not inherit the earth. They will be swept away in a flood of judgment.”

Let me expound on this point as I continue to dismantle rapture theology.

I Wish We’d All Stop Singing This Song

Did you ever hear the song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” (1969) by Larry Norman? I remember hearing DC Talk’s (1995) version of it when I was in junior high. I admit that it was a moving song back then.

Life was filled with guns and war
And all of us got trampled on the floor
I wish we’d all been ready
Children died the days grew cold
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold
I wish we’d all been ready
There’s no time to change your mind
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind
A man and wife asleep in bed
She hears a noise and turns her head he’s gone
I wish we’d all been ready
Two men walking up a hill
One disappears and one’s left standing still
I wish we’d all been ready
There’s no time to change your mind
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind
Children died the days grew cold
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold
I wish we’d all been ready
There’s no time to change your mind
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind

It’s a catchy tune, no doubt. It can even spur someone on to trusting in Jesus. But it’s songs like this that often shape our theology for the worse.

And our theological ideas impact the way in which we live.

What’s the problem? Well, it’s a plain distortion of the biblical hope for the righteous, and the righteous judgment for the wicked.

Let’s take a look at our primary text.

The Righteous Get Left Behind

Where does the idea of “Two men walking up a hill, one disappears and one’s left standing still” come from anyway? It’s taken from Matthew 24:36-44. But notice that the one left “standing still” is not the wicked man.

It’s the wicked that are taken from the earth. The righteous are left behind.

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. 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.  Jesus, Matthew 24:37-42 (NIV)

See my post Then the End Will Come for the context of Matthew 24.

Jesus is talking about his imminent return at the end of the age, and he uses the story of Noah as an example of the judgment to come. So when he mentions two people in the field, and two people at the hand mill, it must be recognized that the ones taken are the wicked that reject God’s image in the earth. The flood of God’s judgment will remove the wicked from the earth.

It teaches the exact opposite of what rapture folks propose.

Therefore, the context of Matt 24:36-44 rules out a secret escape for Christians. Instead, as I have presented in my previous posts, Christians should expect God’s Kingdom to come to earth. As Jesus said, “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5) and God’s will is to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Heaven is coming to earth (Rev 21).

Christ will return in glorious fashion to dwell on the earth forever. We shall go out to meet him and parade our divine King back into his rightful domain (1 Thess 4:15-17). Let’s be clear about this…

Kingdom people aren’t going anywhere.

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Ps 24:1). We will receive resurrected bodies for a resurrected world. It’s the wicked that will not enter into God’s rest on the earth. Just like in the flood, the wicked shall be removed in judgment. They want no part in God’s new creation.

The righteous will be left behind.

Of course, this means that we should then expect to endure suffering and tribulation on the earth. You can’t offer a well-rounded challenge to rapture theology without addressing the matter of tribulation.

I suppose that’s where I’ll take us next.

Stay tuned!

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 20 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Pennsylvania. View all posts by David D. Flowers

24 responses to “Who Gets Left Behind?

  • ginderb (@globalcast)

    I am so grateful for your blogs on this topic! I believe that this one of the root issues in the Body of Christ that leads to the fruit of limited engagement in Gods mission to reach every nation, tribe, and tongue.

  • jimpuntney

    “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

    These words can take on new meaning, and we must not forget that our lives are not our lives. We have been purchased by the “blood of the Lamb”. We have lovingly relinquished ‘control’ of our lives.

    It seems quite clear that in our walk ‘in’ Christ we are to reflect His compassion, patience, and love to one and all. This is our daily mission.

    “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”

    Thank you again David for your ministry of love.

  • Howard Hopkins

    Hey, David! Howard here 🙂 I also believe that we are living in the days of Noe(Noah). I truly believe we are in ‘the last of the last days'(2 Timothy 3:1-7). I do not see the 1000 year millenial reign as being a literal 1OOO years. At least not according to our calendar. In Jewish history and writings, the writers agree to the tradition that the world was without the law(Law of Moses,10 Commandments, Mosaic Law) 2000 years, under the law two thousand years, and under the Days of Messiah 2000 years. They suppose that in six days God created and then rested on the seventh. I believe the millenium will be the day of Judgement. God’s relationship to time: God lives in eternity without limitations. He is outside of time, yet He knows and controls time. God is above time, yet He acts in time (Right on time, I might add; Galatians 4:1-7) He is a consuming fire. Note: He appeared in the same form time and time again to work in time, on time, on behalf of mankind..To Abraham,Jacob,Joshua,Moses… 2 Peter 3:8-10

  • nicholas

    If you research the roots of taken and left as used here, taken actually means to receive near, and left means to be sent away.

    • David D. Flowers

      Nicholas, where did you hear that? That’s not only contrary to the meaning of the words, but it also ignores the actual context of the passage.

      • nicholas

        “taken” Strong’s G3880, paralambano, to be taken, to join to one’s self, to recieve with the mind. “left”, Strong’s G863, aphiemi, to send away, to let go, to permit, not to hinder, to leave, to go away from. I got it from the roots. The root portrays a whole function, as opposed to translation and definition. That stuff is legalese.

        • David D. Flowers

          Nicholas, Strong’s Concordance can give you a lexical range, which you have shown. But the original meaning and intent is discovered in the context. There is no way the context of 24:40 allows for a rapture idea. In this case, the meaning is not hidden away behind Greek verbs as you propose.

      • nicholas

        I’m definitely not proposing the rapture idea, especially in the context of our surface understanding.

  • nicholas

    right, it’s a range…function isn’t a measurement…it wasn’t originally in Greek when He said it, correct?…the range is the options of functionality, and there is a core concept among those options…not proposing anything. 🙂

  • Jeff

    I have to confess that I never caught that, in all my years of reading this passage. I bought into the rapture theory for a brief time while I was in college (over 30 years ago), but have long since parted ways with that teaching. I just don’t see it in Scripture, and your explanation of the Matthew passage really opens my eyes to what Jesus was saying. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog.

  • Allen Green

    A fact so many do not understand. Keep up the good work.

  • Gioia Morris

    I’m very glad you wrote this post ! Really helpful – thanks David!!
    Looking forward to the ones to come…

  • Jon Sidnell

    I’m certainly not in favour of pre-trib rapture. As a historic pre-mill half-way through the conversion to a-mill, I’m still open to the idea of a post-trib rapture though your recent posts have helped me see how Thessalonians could be using metaphorical language that we woodenly interpret literally.

    I’ve also heard several people talk about this passage in Matthew 24 and use it to demonstrate how rapturist understanding is incorrect, but please allow me to ask a question I’ve always had in response to this:

    Can Matthew 24 not be read in a way that supports rapture theology? I see what you are saying in terms of the net effect of the flood being that the righteous were left on the earth, but I can’t help thinking that you could also say that Noah was taken away while judgement was poured out on the earth. In this sense, from the perspective of the people being judged, the righteous were the ones taken away until the judgement is completed.

    It seems to me that it could be said that Jesus supports this interpretation by pointing out that people carried on normally up until the time Noah entered the ark – seemingly taking the perspective of those who carried on normally. The implication seems to be that we should be prepared to act as Noah did, ready to make the Lord our refuge, trusting that He will take us up to safety.

    Does that make sense, or is there something deeper in the passage that I’m unaware of?

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Jon, thanks for sharing.
      I wouldn’t place my perspective in any of the pre-mid-post “rapture” views. I’m saying there is no rapture, i.e. stealing us away for some other place. I believe in the return and coming (parousia) of Christ to establish his Kingdom fully on the earth, bringing heaven and earth together. Therefore, I don’t use “rapture” since it conjures up all of the ideas I believe are foreign to the NT.

      I know that Matt 24 has in fact been read according to rapture theology. I grew up with that view. I simply do not believe that any serious treatment of the context, and the rest of the NT hope, allows for this reading. Even if you did read the Noah example the way you are suggesting, the Lord did not steal Noah away to heaven, or some other existence altogether. Noah was saved for life on the earth.

      So, I understand how a person could force a rapture reading, but I don’t believe Matt 24 or the whole presentation of the eschaton in the NT supports these relatively new ideas that have only been popularized in the last century.

      • Jon Sidnell

        Thanks for the reply David. We’re actually a lot closer than you may have thought given my comment. Like yourself, I certainly don’t believe in any kind of “rapture” that will ultimately take us away from the earth, nor do I believe in the dispensational theological innovations. A large part of my query was mostly due to the nagging voice in my head that has responded to people dogmatically saying “it can’t mean that!” even though I don’t really believe what the nagging voice is saying!

        Until recently, I have always believed that when the Lord returns, we will be caught up in the air, but in a way so as to meet Him and the rest of the church triumphant on their way down and be included in their number. Your recent posts have cast a bit of doubt on the legitimacy of this view, but in no way has my expectation of the Lord’s return diminished.

        As you do yourself, I also fully believe that God’s agenda is His Kingdom to reign over the earth – as Habakkuk 2 says, that “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea!” This started 2000 years ago, is coming to pass now through His people and will come to pass fully when He returns. That’s the blessed hope, and I thank you for highlighting that so clearly over the last month.

  • Stephen Rigg

    Hey David, really enjoy your writings, I am curious how does John 14:2-4 work into your beliefs? What do you think Jesus is talking about here? Forgive me if you’ve covered this already and I’ve missed it.

    “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Stephen, great question.

      Here’s what I wrote in another post:

      “In Rev. 21-22 we do not see believers flying off to a disembodied spiritual existence on the other side of the cosmos. No, we see heaven coming to earth. We see heaven, God’s realm, breaking through and fully consummating with the physical realm we call earth. We can see this in the resurrected body of Christ: heaven intersecting with earth.

      We must rid ourselves of this mantra that speaks of going to heaven when we die, as if we will have come to the end of our journey. Heaven is indeed where the Lord is presently, but it is not our final home (Ps. 14:2; 20:6; 33:13; Ecc. 5:2; Is. 66:1; Dan. 2:44; 7:27; Rev. 11:15). The finished work of Christ is not fully realized until God makes his home on this earth.

      If anything, heaven is only a temporal dwelling for those awaiting the resurrection of the dead. Jesus said there are “many dwelling places” in his Father’s house (Jn 14:2). The Greek word for “dwelling places” used here, monai, has regularly been used to refer to a temporary stop on an extended journey.

      Even when Christ was on the cross, he told the thief on his left that “today” he would be with him in “paradise” (Lk. 23:43). This too doesn’t speak of a final destination, but of a temporal garden of rest. All of the saints, past and present, still await the return of the King and the establishment of heaven on earth (Heb. 11:13-16; Rev. 6:10-11).”

      Thanks for reading, bro. I appreciate the question.

      • Stephen Rigg

        I guess I did miss it, I had read that post.

        I have a further question then. I am not a “Bible Scholar” per se or an expert in Greek or Hebrew, I do study the Bible however and dabble with Blue Letter Bible .org. 😉

        I looked up “dwelling places” or “mansions” from John 4:2 it says the word is Strong’s G3438 “mone” I guess your spelling “monai” is for pronunciation value. The only other time that word is used is John 14:23 where Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our HOME with them.

        Hopefully that is not a temporary dwelling place. 😉

        It did say the root of “monai” is Strong’s G3306 which is “meno” which was frequently used as a temporary dwelling place.

        Why do you think monai was used instead of meno in John 4:2?

        I am not trying to be argumentative, I am just curious. I am not exactly sure what I believe about the end of these times, I have studied it quite a bit and found that perhaps not everything is meant to be understood exactly. When Jesus spoke about future events, he frequently spoke in ways that were easy to understand in hindsight, but normally left the disciples scratching their heads.

        I do believe His Kingdom will be established on Earth, I also somewhat believe that there will be a joining somehow of the Heavenly Kingdom and Earth.

        However it happens, I am most definitely excited about it and so look forward to seeing it unfold and to spending eternity with our groom. 🙂

        • David D. Flowers

          Hey Stephen,
          Strong’s concordance is giving you the basic singular noun root for “home/dwelling” (n. mone). In John 14:2, “mone” is used with a feminine plural noun ending (monai).

  • shirl

    I’ve long held your view on the whole rapture “theory”. It’s refreshing to actually hear people starting to teach it publicly. I’m wondering what your take is on the whole “going to heaven when we die”? I recently did an in depth study of the new testament on the subject. What I found was that the only places that talk about “heaven” is in reference to Jesus or God. When it talks of man it’s always refered to as “the kingdom of heaven”, which I take to mean the New Jerusalem coming down. Interesting study, was wondering if you have any thoughts on that.

  • coracleman

    I also am interested in this discussion, in particular to hear an explanation of the view I have sometimes heard that the idea of the rapture is not scriptural. Although I am a long time fan of Larry Norman (RIP) I am not committed on the question of the rapture, but I cannot agree with your interpretation of Matthew 24:37-42. It is clearly the righteous or ‘chosen’ (TEV) who will be taken. The context starts at v20 and v31 states that angels will “gather his chosen people”. Surely that is the righteous. After the lesson of the fig tree in 32-35 Jesus warns us that no one knows when this will be, not even he. The story of Noah is to reinforce the fact that we do not know the time and life will go on until that day comes and does not teach anything about who will be gathered (I resist the quote ‘taken’ here for obvious reasons) which he has already covered.

    • kevin romeril

      In matthew it is clear that belivers will go thru the trib. And I think that the great turning away from the faith will be the result of pre trib belief. When the rapture doesnt take place ibelivers will shake their fists at God saying you lied to me when it was really man that taught the lie. So i think it is one of the more important part of bible teachings. It seams to be a strong tool for satan to steal some more souls from Christ.

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