The Taken and the Left (Matt. 24.40-41)
Matt. 24.40-41 “One is taken, and one is left”—Why do we have these two verses? We know that all who belonged to Noah entered the ark and were therefore saved from the impending flood. According to strict typology, then, is not this to be interpreted that all the saints will be raptured together? Let us see that the Lord purposely adds the words of these two verses here lest we greatly misunderstand. Although it is true that as the days of Noah were, so shall be the coming of the Son of man, there is nevertheless this one exception which our Lord tries to explain here.
There are three different views on the men or women mentioned in verses 40 and 41: (1) they all refer to the Jews at that time; (2) the ones taken point to the regenerated, while the ones left point to the unsaved; or (3) both the taken and the left are Christians.
Let us first examine closely interpretations (1) and (3): According to (1) we must assume that the ones taken are the Jews who will be punished while the ones left will be those Jews who will enjoy the blessing of the kingdom on earth. But according to (3), we need to postulate just the opposite—that the taken are the saved who will enjoy the blessing of glory while the left are the saved who will go through the Great Tribulation on earth. Before we can settle on view (1) or view (3), we should investigate the words “taken” and “left” as to their meaning. If “taken” means good, then view (3) is more applicable since the rapture of Christians is a blessed thing. On the other hand, if “taken” means bad, then view (1) is more likely because these Jews will not be left on earth to enjoy the blessing of the kingdom.
The word “taken” is paralambano in Greek. Besides being translated “to receive” as its basic meaning, it can also denote the idea of “to take to (or with) oneself”—In the New Testament this word is used 52 times, most of which instances convey a good meaning. John 14.3 (“and will receive you unto myself”) is the only instance wherein our Lord speaks directly on rapture. Three times He took Peter, John and James along with Him (see Mark 5.35-43, Matt. 17.1 and 26.37). There, “paralambano” on all three occasions connotes a good idea. In John 1.11 (“they that were his own received him not”), the meaning will be good if people receive the Lord. The word “received” in Colossians 2.6, “received” in 1 Thessalonians 4.1, “received” in 2.13, “receiving” in Hebrews 12.28, “take” and “took” in Matthew 2.13-14, “took” in Acts 15.39, “took” in 16.33, and “took” in 23.18—all are paralambano and all suggest something good. Even in the Old Testament, the equivalent Hebrew word for “took” (laqach) in Genesis 5.24 refers to rapture; and the same Hebrew word for “fetched” (laqach) in 1 Samuel 10.23 means something good.
Though the word “left” has also its favorable implication such as in Genesis 32.8, Numbers 26.65 and Isaiah 24.6, yet it can be used in both the good and the bad sense. The question is decided by the identity of the one who leaves them behind. If they are left behind by the devil, nothing is better. But if they are left behind by the Lord, can anything be worse? It is woe to those who are taken by the devil, but blessed are those who are taken by the Lord.
However, the meaning of a word is not in itself decisive enough for making a judgment. We have to consider its context. According to Matthew 24.19, those who are left behind because they cannot flee are in bad trouble. Then, too, verses 42 and 43 tell us that the Lord shall come as a thief; what He steals away must therefore be the best. Even in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, the virgins who are taken inside are the wise, while the virgins who are left outside are the foolish.
Of course, whether taken or left, all the men and women spoken of here in 24.40-41 are saved—so that the ones left cannot be viewed as being unsaved because of the following reasons:
(1) “Watch therefore” (v.42). The word “therefore” connects with the preceding verses 40 and 41. Since you are saved and have life, you are expected to watch. Those who lack the Lord’s life cannot watch. The determining factor in rapture is not a being saved or unsaved but is a case of one’s works after regeneration. To say that all the regenerated will be raptured together is a serious mistake.
(2) “Your Lord cometh” (v.42). The unsaved do not have the relationship of servant and master with the Lord. Man may misuse this word, but the Lord never will. The unsaved person may consider himself to be a servant of the Lord, but the Lord will not carelessly use such a term as “your Lord” here.
(3) “The thief was coming” (v.43). If a thief comes to steal apples, he will take the ripe ones and leave the unripened ones behind. Thus it is not a difference in kind but one of degree.
(4) The five foolish in the parable of the virgins told of in chapter 25 are not false virgins. They are real, except that they are not wise as are the five wise virgins. The wise ones spare no effort to carry oil in the vessels whereas the foolish are too lazy to make such a provision. Nevertheless, both the wise and the foolish are virgins, and they all go forth to meet the bridegroom.
(5) Judging from typology, those who are left can be the saved as well as those who are taken. Both Enoch (who was raptured) and Noah (who entered the ark) were saved. Yet both Abraham (the intercessor) and Lot (who passed through tribulation) were saved too. But Elijah (the taken) and Elisha (the left) were saved. The disciples whom the Lord in His ascension left behind were all saved ones. Both Philip (the one taken away) and the eunuch (the one left behind) were saved.
We conclude, therefore, that the “taken” and the “left” in verses 40 and 41 are all saved.
v.42 Joining verses 40 and 41 with verse 42, one may readily see that the real issue lies in “watch” or “not watch”; otherwise the Lord cannot employ the word “therefore” nor can He exhort us to be watchful. If the condition for early rapture is regeneration and not watchfulness and proper works after regeneration, then there would be no reason for the Lord to enjoin us to watch. For in this verse He merely charges us to be watchful, with nothing being said about repentance, faith, or regeneration. Thus, both the taken and the left mentioned in verses 40-42 are saved ones. Surely our Lord will not advise the unregenerated to watch.
What is the significance of the word “watch”? Some people have suggested that this matter of watching concerns only the Jews, while we Christians need only to wait. Yet we know that the Jews will themselves have to pass through “Jacob’s trouble”: there is no way for them to escape the wrath of God. And hence they cannot avoid the Great Tribulation simply because they are watchful. But with the church, watchfulness is most useful. The meaning of watching is not to be careless. How prone Christians are to be overly self-confident. Watchfulness is the very opposite of carelessness. He who sleeps must be so confident in himself that he reckons nothing is going to happen, whereas the watchful person puts no trust in his flesh at all. The self-confident one is prone to fall, for to boast that “I am different from yesterday” opens the way to failure. Only the person who deeply senses his own inadequacy will be watchful. To watch is to be careful, guarding daily against the possibility of a fall. Whoever considers himself as unable to fall will not be vigilant.
We need to see from all this that if all believers were to be raptured together, what would be the need for our Lord to warn us to watch? Moreover, if we knew the time of His coming, we again would have no need to watch. But since the Lord has not told us the hour, let us ever be watchful and on guard.