“Brother Phiri I heard an Adventist preacher explaining that Matthew 24:39-40 is not about the Rapture. This passage of Scripture says, ‘For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking…and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.’ This verse shows that just like the flood of Noah took away the sinful people, so shall one be taken (into destruction) and the other left (for the salvation of God). This is further established by 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which states, ‘we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air’ “
This is a case of gross misinterpretation of terms and phrases used in Scripture. I also once saw an Adventist preacher use the above reasoning to rubbish the doctrine of the Rapture. The audience seemed so stimulated by the preacher’s eloquence and ability to connect the wordings of different passages of Scripture. Hearing him speak I came to learn that not all stimulation is of the Holy Spirit; some stimulation can result from a concoction of poorly mixed Scriptures. Let us approach this question beginning with 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
- Understanding the word “remain” in 1 Thessalonians 4
When a person only reads verse 17, which says “we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air”, and then tries to make a connection with the English wording in Matthew 24:39-40, it seems to suggest that the ones who remain actually meet the Saviour, and those who are “taken” actually go into destruction.
To have a correct understanding of what Paul was saying in the passage we should read the passage beginning with verse 13. When we do that what will immediately become clear is that Paul was encouraging believers not to lose hope when someone dies. In verse 15 he explained that at the time of the coming of Christ there will be two groups of people – those who died and those who will be alive at the time of Christ’s coming. Those who died will be raised with a changed body, and “we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord” will also be changed! So he says that there will be a group which will be alive, and will remain in this state of being alive (without tasting death) until the day of the coming of the Lord.
As well explained in the Cambridge English dictionary, the word “remain” has two meanings:
1) Remain means “to stay in the same place or in the same condition”. For example, his parents ordered him to remain at the house for a few weeks.
2) Remain also means “to continue to exist when other parts or other things no longer exist.”
It should be very clear that the phrase “remain unto the coming of the Lord” uses the word remain in the context of the second definition above. The word is not about a place but a state of being alive or dead! We can therefore paraphrase the verse to read, “We which are alive and will continue to exist (or be alive) up to the time of the coming of the Lord…”
Before we analyse Matthew 24:39-40 let us read the same message of Christ as was recorded by Luke.
- Looking at the record of Luke
In Luke 17 the Lord first mentions about Lot being taken out of Sodom before the destruction fell – “But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.” (Luk.17:29, cf. Gen.19:16). The Lord went further to say that it shall be so in that day when the Son of Man shall be revealed. And then he admonished: “Remember Lot’s wife” (v.32). Well, after telling them about Lot moving out of Sodom, what did he want the disciples to remember about Lot? Simply that at the time of the family being taken out of Sodom she remained because of her unbelief! It is from there that the Lord continued saying, “I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left” (v.35). In the context of the story of Lot and his wife, it is clear that the ones being taken out go into safety, and those remaining are left to destruction. Now, let’s move on and analyse the account in Matthew 24:39-40.
- Understanding the word “taken” and “left” in Matthew 24.
Apart from reading a passage of Scripture in its context, to gain a correct understanding of words used in the Bible, looking up words in Hebrew or Greek (languages that were used to write Scripture) can be of great help. Matthew 24:39-40 reads “And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”
In verse 39 the words “took them all away” were translated from two Greek words – airo and hapas. Airo means to remove, lift up or to keep in suspense as with what flood waters can do to a person. Hapas means everyone. So this speaks of a people being lifted up or blown away in suspense by flood waters. However, the phrase “shall be taken”, used in verse 40, has a different meaning: The Greek word used is paralambano and means “to receive near” as in an intimate act or relation, or to “take with.” It does not suggest anything destructive.
The word “left” (in verse 40) in Greek is aphiemi and means to be in a state of being forsaken, omitted, put (or sent) away, or suffering. So, to suggest that those who are left in the wording of Jesus are the good people who will experience the goodness of God is grossly misleading!
- “Wheresoever the body is…”
Finally let us look at what the Lord answered when he was asked by the disciples about where the people “taken” will go – “Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together” (Luk.17:36-37).
The question the disciples asked reveals that this wasn’t about being “taken” as in a flood! Consider this: if someone told you, “There will be a flood which will sweep across this place and may blow us away”, won’t it be preposterous to ask: “Where exactly will the flood take us?”
Now to suggest that those who are taken are unbelievers and are therefore likened to carcass to be eaten up by vultures (as was explained by the preacher I heard) would be incongruent with the thought portrayed by the words of the verse. The answer given by the Lord to the question of where the taken ones will go was – “wheresoever the body is [i.e. the place] thither will the eagles be gathered”. It should be clear here that the people being taken are represented by eagles (not the carcass!). So, contrary to the idea that they are taken into destruction, they are actually taken into a place where they will be feasting!