40 Then two will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour[f] your Lord is coming.
– Matthew 24:40-42
The rapture theory teaches the 2nd coming of Jesus to take away the church from the earth at the end of the church age. What follows that is the great tribulation and the revelation of the Anti-christ. We have seen movies and books produced in the last 200 years postulate this doctrine and at the same time numerous failed predictions about the soon coming of the Lord.
The idea of being left behind is one that has rather thrust fear than faith the heart of the audience wherever and whenever. Many are not assured of their salvation and hope the Lord would consider them worthy to escape the expected global tribulation and not be left behind.
In 1995, the first of the mega-bestselling book series, Left Behind, was released. Due to the fear and uncertainty regarding Y2K, Christians were tooth-prepared for rapture fever. After the year 2000 came and left , Y2K was discovered to be all hype, and 60 million copies of Left Behind had been sold including three terrible feature length films that were similar in nature and theology to the Thief in the Night movie series of the 1970s). Recently another sequel was just some months back at the time of the writing.
Now it is important to note that when Jesus mentioned this in Matthew 24 he prophesized about the demise of the Jewish world and the Mosaic age. It was not about the end of the world. He gave specific landmark events that would point the Apostles towards the day of vengeance upon a nation that crucified its covenant partner and rejected his mercy.
It is also vital note to see and interprete the scriptures in Hebraic terms. We communicate with certain idioms that relevant in our time and age. One of such idioms we use now is “It Costs an arm and a leg”. It doesn’t mean that you would literally pay with arm or leg. It simply means that something is very expensive.
The concept of being “taken away” or “left behind” is a very common theme in the ancient world. It was an idiom that connoted warfare and the invasion of an army upon an enemy kingdom.
When Jesus gave this prophecy, the Roman Empire was experiencing a general peace within its borders. Jesus explained to his disciples that they would be hearing of wars, rumors of wars, and commotions. Within a short time the Empire was filled with strife, insurrection, and wars.
Among the Jews, the times became turbulent. In Seleucia, 50,000 Jews were killed. There was an uprising against them in Alexandria. In a battle between the Jews and Syrians in Caesarea, 20,000 were killed. During these times, Caligula ordered his statue placed in the temple at Jerusalem. The Jews refused to do this and lived in constant fear that the Emperor’s armies would be sent into Palestine. This fear became so real that some of them did not even bother to till their fields.
At Alexandria, the Jews, aggrieved by the oppressions of the Romans, rose against them. But the Romans, gaining the ascendancy, slew of that nation fifty thousand persons, sparing neither infants nor the aged. And after this, at the siege of Jopata, not less than forty thousand Jews perished.
This all the led to the Jewish revolt that eventually caused the total destruction of Jerusalem.
But though there would be wars, rumours of wars, and commotions, Jesus told his disciples: “See that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the END is not yet.” The word “end” that is used here is not the same Greek word as in the expression “end of the world” but end of an age.
In ancient times when an army invades a kingdom in conquest they would take away with them the brightest, smartest, prettiest, strongest and most skilled people in that land. They will be made to be part of their economic, social and political structure to contribute to their growth, influence and development. We have such as example in Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego during the Babylonian invasion of Israel in the Old testament.
Lets look at 2 Chronicles 36:36 to support this:
20 And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
Look at what Jesus said in context in Luke 17:
26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
34 I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. [f]
The idea of being taken away was a strong negative theme. It was not of good significance that they would be captives who lost their freedom. The only thing they had was that were alive in a strange land.
The flow of events was to be like in the days of Noah when they ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage. They lived a normal peaceful life and never expected a sudden judgment until it too late.
By comparing Matthew 24:15-16 with Luke 21:20, we will understand that the abomination that caused the desolation of Jerusalem was the 20,000 Roman soldiers that lay siege to the city. Fortunately, Jesus told His followers that when they saw this, they should flee for the mountains.
George Peter Holford, The Destruction of Jerusalem stated the following “…history does not record that even one Christian perished in the siege of Jerusalem.”
This is confirmed by other well-known commentaries like Albert Barnes:
It is said that there is reason to believe that not one Christian perished in the destruction of that city, God having in various ways secured their escape, so that they fled to Pella, where they dwelt when the city was destroyed.
What about those left behind? Those left behind in the destruction of 70AD where left dead. The disciples asked Jesus where will they be? His answer:
So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” Off course the birds fed on their corpses.
The words in this verse are proverbial. Vultures and eagles easily ascertain where dead bodies are, and hasten to devour them. So with the Roman army. Jerusalem is like a dead and putrid corpse. Its life is gone, and it is ready to be devoured.
According to records of the war given by Tacitus and Josephus. The following transpired that fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus.
During the time that these things were transacted, 11,000 Jews, guarded by one of the generals, named Fronto, were literally starved to death. This melancholy occurrence happened partly through the scarcity of provisions and partly through their own obstinacy and the negligence of the Romans.
Of the Jews destroyed during the siege, Josephus reckons not less than one million and one hundred thousand, to which must be added above 237,000 who perished in other places and innumerable multitudes who were swept away by famine and pestilence and of which no calculation could be made. Not less than 2,000 laid violent hands upon themselves. Of the captives, the whole was about 97,000.
After the destruction of Jerusalem, 1,700 Jews who surrendered at Macherus were slain, and of fugitives, not less than 3,000 were killed in the wood of Jardes. Titus, having marched his army to Caesarea, there with great splendor celebrated the birthday of his brother, Domitian. And according to the barbarous manner of those times, he punished many Jews in honor of it. The number who were burned and who fell by fighting with wild beasts and in mutual combats exceeded 2,500.
At the siege of Massada, Eleazer, the Jewish commander, instigated the garrison to burn their stores and to destroy first the women and children and then themselves. Dreadful as it is to relate, this horrid design was executed. They were in number 960. Ten were chosen to perform the bloody work: The rest sat on the ground and, embracing their wives and children, stretched out their necks to the sword.
One was afterward appointed to destroy the remaining nine and then himself. The survivor, when he had looked round to see that all were slain, set fire to the place and plugged his sword into his own bosom. Nevertheless, two women and five children successfully concealed themselves and witnessed the whole transaction. When the Romans advanced to the attack in the morning, one of the women gave them a distinct account of this melancholy affair and struck them with amazement at the contempt of death that had been displayed by the Jews.
We don’t have fear to be left behind any more because the judgement has been carried out. We are to look forward to the expansion of God kingdom through the agency of His grace at work in our lives by Jesus Christ. Grace to you.