June 28, 2009

Jesus predicted, "Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:40-42).  This is probably the second most quoted Scripture in the Bible used to support the doctrine of an invisible return of Christ and vanishing Christians.  Supposedly, "one will be taken and the other left" means that believers will disappear in an unperceived flash, while the rest of the world suddenly wakes up in a mystified ignorance wonders, Which way did they go?

Again, the key is in the context, Matthew 24 begins with our Savior quietly sitting upon the Mount of Olives.  His "disciples came to Him privately, saying, 'Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign of Your coming, and the end of the age?'" (Matthew 24:3)  Obviously, the disciples were thinking about Jesus' return and the end of the world.  Because of mental gaps and some loose ends, they asked the Master to clarify the truth.

Before we look at Christ's response, notice the little word "coming," in verse 3.  The original Greek word there is Parousia. While you don't need to be a Greek scholar to understand the Bible, that small word is of large importance.  As we shall soon see, the "Parousia Principle" will soon provide vital insights into the rapture question. 

In response to His disciples' please-clarify-the-end inquiry, Jesus' very first words were, "Beware that no one deceives you" (Matthew 24:4).  The forcefulness of this response should hit us like a tornado!  Why?  Because it clearly implies that when it comes to this exact topic of His "coming" or "Parousia," Jesus knew there was going to be a great deal of deception whirling around.  And what is even more dramatic is that Jesus raised His "Don't be deceived" warming flag four times in this singular sermon (see Matthew 24:4-5,11,24).  One gets the idea that end time delusions will someday sweep over Planet Earth like a massive tidal wave.  The only way to avoid being swept away in this sea of falsehood is to pay close attention to the exact words of Jesus Christ.

The Lord continued, "Because false christs and false prophets will come and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24).  It is here that Jesus said Satan's delusions will eventually become so subtle and powerful that only "the elect" will come through unscathed.  Who are the "elect"?  Based on this context, they must be a group of people who know the Truth Teller and the Bible so well that even the devil can't mislead them.  Verse 31 also tells us that "the elect" are people who are ready for the return of Christ.

Immediately after warning about tricky false prophets and deception, Jesus said, "Therefore if they say to you, Behold, He is in the desert; don't go out and look; if they say, look He is hiding here, don't believe it.  For as the lightening flashes in the east and shines to the west, so shall it also be with the coming of the Son of Man (verses 26 & 27).  Here Jesus draws a razor-sharp contrast between false views of His return and the truth.  Concerning false views, don't miss that little word "secret" in verse 26.  Jesus plainly warned that some will mistakenly promote a "secret" coming.  Based on the context, we discover that this will be one of those powerful delusions which only God's faithful elect will avoid.  How should we respond to the idea of a secret return?  The Lord's answer is stunning ... Don't believe it!  Why not?  Because "as the lightening flashes in the east and shines to the west, so shall it also be with the coming of the Son of Man" (verse 27).

Far from being a secret event, Jesus Himself compares His return to the brilliant flashing of electrically-charged lightening bolts hustling across the sky.  Now here is an important point to consider:  Guess what exact Greek word Matthew used for "coming" in verse 27?  It was the same one he used in verse 3 - "parousia."  This is clear evidence that the Parousia definitely applies to the highly visible second coming of Christ.  In Hollywood action movies, hidden files are sometimes labeled, "Top Secret."  When it comes to the Parousia, Jesus clarified it would be anything but secret!

Jesus' bewildered disciples had inquired, "...what will be the sign of Your coming (the Parousia), and of the end of the age?  After warning about secretive delusions, Jesus finally answered their exact question by lifting the curtain of history and fully unveiling what His cataclysmic return would be like:

At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other (Matthew 24:30-31).

This description of Jesus' return contains more punch than the highly speculative, evolutionary Big Bang theory.  There is no question about it.  His "coming" or "Parousia" will be unmistakably visible to "all the nations of the earth."  The dazed masses of humanity will literally "see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of the sky with power and great glory."  Certainly no one will miss it, and no one will wake up the next day wondering, Which why did the Christians go?  On that awesome day, the unsaved will "mourn."  Why?  Not because their loved ones have vanished!  They will mourn because Christ has suddenly come and their last chance for preparation is behind them.  Now it's too late.  They are lost forever!

This entire passage also parallels Paul's words in I Thessalonians 4:16-17.  Just like in Paul's description of what will happen when true believers are "caught up."  Jesus also said His coming would be a very noisy event that will include loud reverberations from "a great sound of a trumpet" throughout the sky.  When we place these sections side by side - without prejudice or preconceived ideas - the message is unavoidable, inescapable and irrefutable.  Both passages refer to the loud, climactic, highly visible, and glorious second coming of Jesus Christ!

Back to Matthew 24; Jesus, the Truth-Teller continued:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven; nor the Son, but only the Father.  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.  Then, 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.  But understand this: If they owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch, and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him. (Matthew 24:36-44)

Here, Jesus compared His return to the sudden descent of billions of tons of water upon lost sinners in Noah's day.  Those ancient people thought Noah was a crazy old man, that is, until "flood came and took them all away.  That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:39).  Guess what Greek word is used here again for "coming"?  It's "parousia" which, as we have already proven, unmistakably applies to the highly visible second coming of Christ.

Now notice, immediately after Jesus described His "Parousia" in verse 39, He continued without skipping a beat: "THEN two men will be in the field, one will be taken and the other left" (verse 40).  Remember, this is the second most widely quoted verse used to uphold the secret rapture doctrine?  Supposedly, when verse 40 is fulfilled, those who are "taken" will vanish without a trace, leaving only their clothes, shoes, false teeth, and wedding rings, while those who are "left" will have to endure a horrific seven-year tribulation and face the antichrist.  But is this what Jesus is really saying?

We don't need to depend on scholars to find the answer.  In fact, it is never safe to lean completely on any man, no matter how smart or educated he may be.  I would never teach, and no Christian should ever be taught, to rely solely on persons like Tim LaHaye, John Walvoord, Thomas Ice, Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, Grant Jeffrey, Chuck Smith, John Hagee, or any other popular teacher or preacher.  We all should open our own Bibles, pick up our own concordances, and find out for ourselves what truth is.  If you are willing to do it, here is what you will surely find:  Believers will be "taken" (verse 40) at the "coming" or "Parousia" (verse 39), which the Bible clearly applies to the loud, visible, and glorious appearance of Jesus at the very end of the world (see Matthew 24:3,27,30-31 & 39).

Jesus basically said, "It will be just like Noah's day" (verse 37-39).  Now think about it.  Did Noah and his family vanish before the flood?  No, they just walked visibly into the ark.  And what about those who were left behind after the door of the ark was shut?  Did they have a second chance?  No again!  How were they left?  They were left dead: they did not escape.  After saying, "the flood came, and took them all away," Jesus made His power-packed point, "That is how it will be at the coming (Parousia) of the Son of Man (verse 39).  And then, without a break, Jesus said, "THEN two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left" (verse 40).  Upon careful analysis, these words leave no room for Left Behind's ongoing saga about "tribulation believers" resisting the antichrist during a post-rapture seven-year period.  Why not?  Because those who are "taken" are transported up at the "coming" or "Parousia," which applies to the final second coming of Jesus Christ!

Immediately after saying, "One will be taken and the other left," the Lord them compared His second coming to the sudden arrival of a midnight thief, just like Paul mentioned in I Thessalonians 5:2 & 3.  Jesus said, "But understand this: If they owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch, and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him" (Matthew 24:43-44).  To "watch" doesn't mean spending endless hours in front of the television set, nor does it mean watching popular movies about the end times which take detours away from the straight truth.  Rather, it means to watch out for satanic temptations and end times delusions.

Matthew 24 and I Thessalonians 4 and 5 fit together just as perfectly as Adam and Eve before they sinned.  Both describe a noisy, highly visible, trumpet-blasting, and glorious return of Christ in the clouds.  Both describe believers being transported into the air.  Both declare this day will come with thief-like suddenness upon all sleeping sinners.  In Noah's day, when billions of tons of water came crashing down, there were no second chances for those who refused to enter the ark.  Similarly, Paul said the lost "shall not escape."  And both a Paul and Matthew use the same Greek word to describe this great and awesomely powerful "day of the Lord."  True believers are urged to watch, be ready, and to avoid all subtle, secretive, devilish tricks.

There is one other item we should look at before I conclude this article.  In I Corinthians 15:52 we find reference to an event predicted to occur "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye."  This is probably the third most quoted pro-rapture verse used to support the idea of vanishing Christians prior to the seven-year tribulation.  We have previously slowed down to look at our biblical speedometers, yet this time we must come to a screeching halt.  Context, context, context!!!  This is our safety zone.  Notice carefully what Paul really wrote:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (I Corinthians 15:51-52).

Is Paul saying believers will some day vanish while their loved ones blink?  Not at all!  He is simply saying that the dead will be raised and our sinful bodies will be changed "Ina moment, in the twinkling of an eye."  When will this "moment" take place?  Paul's answer is clear.  It will occur "at the last trumpet," when "the trumpet will sound," that is at the very end of the world.  This is the very same "great sound of a trumpet" Jesus said will be heard when He finally commissions His angelic friends to gather His people at His second coming (see Matthew 24:31).

To conclude, the Parousia Principle proves the "one will be taken" event occurs at the final second coming of Jesus.  And based on the full context of I Corinthians 15:52, "the twinkling of an eye" moment similarly occurs at the end of the age.

Around April 15th, even Christians sometimes need to file tax return extensions with the Internal Revenue Service.  Such extensions are allowed and usually approved.  But to add a seven-year extension to Jesus' words in Matthew 24:40, or to Paul's message in I Corinthians 15:52 is, quite frankly, an end time delusion.

In the next article, we will take a look at the penetrating question of whether the church will escape the tribulation.

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