Does the Bible predict a future “Rapture” of the Church when believers are suddenly snatched off the earth to meet Jesus in the air, and unbelievers are left behind to deal with airplanes without pilots, driverless cars and other assorted chaos? Is Jesus 2nd Coming a two-stage event in which he comes first for his Church, delivering them from the horrors of the Great Tribulation, and later to judge the world and usher in the Millennium?
The imagery of a world thrust into chaos by a “secret” rapture of Christians comes from imagining what surely must follow the sudden removal of millions of people from planet earth. This imagery comes mainly from Matthew 24:40-41, describing what will happen when Jesus returns:
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.
A whole theology has been built around not being “left behind” to go through the worst period of human history. This “truth”, in the minds of proponents of this view, increases both the urgency with which Christians evangelize and the motivation for unbelievers to place their faith in Christ.
Of course, proponents of a pre-tribulation or post-tribulation “Rapture” don’t base their beliefs solely on Matthew 24:40-41. However, it is important to address this passage since it plays such a central role in the widespread and popular theology expounded from pulpits and portrayed in print and film.
Who Really Gets Taken?
In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus compares the events surrounding his return with the events surrounding Noah entering the ark:
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.
We know that Noah, the one who escaped judgment, knew God was going to judge the whole earth (Genesis 6:13-14). The people who did not know the flood was coming were the ones who were taken in judgment while Noah was left on the earth to live. So, when Jesus says, “That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man,” should we not conclude that those who know that Jesus will bring judgment to the earth (i.e. believers) will be the people who are left on the earth (like Noah) and that those who don’t know (unbelievers) will be taken in judgment?
Thus, the man taken from the field and the woman taken from the mill will be taken in judgment, not to safety. This is consistent only with a post-tribulation rapture in which unbelievers are taken in judgment and believers are left to live with Christ in the Millennium.
Contrary to popular theology, it is better to be “left behind.”