Q46 : Matthew 24, Luke 17 and the Rapture

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Q46 : Matthew 24, Luke 17 and the Rapture

I wish to thank you for the two CDs received. I have been going through your Revelation Commentarya. Though I am still in the first chapter, I really appreciate your efforts. Preterismb had been a problem to me. Now that it is cleared, I really thank you.

For eight years I have been studying the Bible. In the initial periods, I used to read A. W. Pink. Later I started reading John Calvin. Both of them helped me a lot. I find your site also very useful. My many doubts on Dispensationalism got cleared.

May I request your help for an exposition on Mathew 24?

I hope Mt 24:31 does not speak about the rapture of Church. It says

And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

But who are 'his elect'? Do they include both Jews and Gentiles saved during tribulation period? Is this the time when Old testament saints and dead tribulation saints (both Jews and Gentiles) get resurrected? If so why is it not mentioned?

Is Mt 24:32 a prophecy about the present Israel nation?

The verse Mt 24:42-44 say the coming of the Lord is without warnings about the time :

Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. (Mt 24:42-44).

But verses 29, 32 say there are clear signs and warnings before His coimg. Is it the only 'exactness of time' that Mt 24:42-44 is all about?

I hope Luke 17:20-37 also talks about the coming of the Lord and not about the rapture of the Church. The verses 34 through 36 says

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. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

Verse 34 happens at night (one side of the globe) whereas others happen at day time (other side of the globe). Does it not prove a world wide impact of His second coming proving that both saved Jews and Gentiles of Tribulation period throughout the world are gathered by His angels? And what happens to these gathered ones?

Mt 27:52-54 says

And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

Who were these 'saints which slept arose?' What type were their resurrected bodies since their original bodies had already been putrified into the dust (anyway they could not have got glorified bodies since Christ is the first born from the dead)? And what was the purpose for their resurrection? Could the centurion and others have known of this incident adding to their fright?

Also in your commentary on Revelation 1:7c you have mentioned 'The recipients of the spiritual blessing [identical with those who mourn] will be . . .' What is the significance of the words 'identical with those who mourn' since all the people of earth would mourn at the coming of the Lord, some with godly sorrow and majority with terror. Am I correct? Can you please clarify.

Please forgive me if I have asked too many questions. I have many more doubts to get cleared though 'the secret things belong unto the LORD our God:' But always '.. those things which are revealed belong unto us . . .'

A46 : by Tony Garland

It is a great encouragement to me that the material on our website is helping you evaluate both Preterism and Dispensationalism in the light of God's Word.

  • The Rapture? - It is our view that Mat. 24:31 does not speak of the Rapture of the church. If it did, then we would have difficulty believing in a pretribulation rapture in light of verse 29 which indicates the events described in Mat. 24:29-31 take place 'after the tribulation of those days.' It is also clear from the context that the gathering of the elect described in this verse takes place after the sign of the Son of Man appears in heaven and all the tribes of the earth mourn when they see the Son of Man. This speaks of the Second Coming of Christ in judgment.
  • Identity of 'His elect' - The term 'elect' refers to that which has been chosen by God and can refer to the nation Israel (Deu. 4:34; 7:6-8; 14:2; 26:18-19; 2S. 7:23-24; 1Chr. 16:13; 17:21; Ps. 135:4; Isa. 44:1), angels (1Ti. 5:21), and believers (Ps. 65:4; Luke 18:7; John 13:18; 15:16; Eph. 1:4), including believing Jews (Rom. 11:5, 7). In Matthew 24, the term is probably used to describe all living saints at the time of His Second Coming. At the Second Coming, There will be a separation of the living righteous and unrighteous. The angels will participate in this separating process on behalf of the Lord (Mat. 13:41-43) leading to the sheep and goat judgment of the living following his return (Mat. 25:31). The righteous — believers — at the time of His return in judgment will enter the Millennial Kingdom as its initial human population (Mat. 25:31).

    It is reasonable to see this very Jewish passage of Matthew 24 as the fulfillment of various promises made to Israel in the Old Testament that in her obedience, she would be gathered back to the inherit her land (e.g., Deu. 30:3; Isa. 11:11-16; 27:12-13). Some have understood 'the elect' in this strictest sense: denoting believing Jews who survive the tribulation.

    Yet, to restrict the meaning of 'His elect' to Jewish believers only seems arbitrary and unnatural given the many New Testament passages which apply the same phrase to believers in general, whether Jew or Gentile. Thus, 'His elect' at His Second Coming, would most naturally be understood to include both Jews and Gentiles saved during the tribulation period as you suggest. These are the 'elect' for whose sake the days will be shortened (Mat. 24:22).

  • Resurrection of OT Saints? - Some, such as Walvoord, take the term 'elect' here in an even broader sense as including the saved dead:

    Some have taken the elect here to refer specifically to the elect living on earth, but it is more probable that this event will include all the elect, or the saved, including Old Testament saints, saved Israel, the church, and the saints of the Tribulation period leading up to the Second Coming. Some will need to be resurrected from the dead, such as the martyrs (Rev. 20:4-6) and the Old Testament saints (Dan. 12:2). The church was resurrected, or translated, earlier, at the time of the Rapture. At the second coming of Christ no child of God will be left unresurrected or unrestored, but all will share in the millennial kingdom. 1

    One argument against understanding 'the elect' as including dead saints is found in the near context:

    And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened. Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. (Mat. 24:22-25)

    It seems clear from the words of Jesus in the preceding verses that 'the elect' are (1) living, and (2) capable of being deceived. This argues against understanding 'the elect' as referring to those who have already died. On the other hand, it would hardly be necessary for Jesus to intervene on behalf of or warn those already dead so this could explain why a subset of 'the elect' could be in view earlier in the passage while the broadest meaning of 'the elect' is broadened to include the dead by verse 31.

    As you observe, the text is not explicit concerning whether this is a resurrection event for the OT saints. Although I believe they must rise in order to participate in the Millennial Kingdom to follow (Dan. 12:1-2; Mat. 8:11), not all understand this gathering event in Matthew 24 to include a physical resurrection.

  • Is the Fig Tree Israel? - There are many who want to make more out of this parable than it can safely support. One popular view is that the 'fig tree' in this verse represents the nation of Israel and that the modern reestablishment of Israel corresponds to the tree putting out leaves:

    [Hal] Lindsey taught that within a generation (a generation equals forty years) of Israel's becoming a nation again, the Lord would return (Late Great Planet, p. 43). This was based upon his interpretation that the fig tree in Matthew 24:32 is a symbol for the reconstitution of Israel as a nation. Thus, the generation (Mat. 24:34) that saw Israel become a nation would also see the Second Coming. Since Israel became a nation in 1948, many believe that Lindsey implied Christ's return would occur by 1988. . . . none of Lindsey's mentors agreed with his view. 2

    Such an interpretation, coupled with tendencies to 'date-set' have led to numerous problems. The issue mainly concerns interpretation (hermeneutics, the rules by which we interpret Scripture.) Although a fig tree is associated with teaching concerning Israel in numerous contexts (e.g., Hos. 9:10; Mat. 21:19; Mark 11:13; Luke 13:6), the focus of these passages is on using the fig tree as an illustration rather than an identifier for Israel. And so it is here. This can be seen by evaluating the meaning of the fig tree in terms of the immediate context. (As an aside, the immediate context is perhaps the most important element in determining authorial intent.) When we look at the larger passage, we see that Jesus is using the fig tree as an analogy, not for Israel, but for the principle that its leaves are a sign that summer is near. Similarly, "when you see all these things, know that it is near" (Mat. 24:33). When they see what things? The various signs and events that Jesus has just described in the preceding verses. Thus, the fig tree is an analogy which teaches how those at that time will know that the Second Coming is near. To couple it specifically to indicating the rebirth of Israel goes beyond what can be supported by the context.

  • Signs or No Warning? - As you observe, Mat. 24:42-44 indicates that the hour of the Lord's coming is not known, yet in verses 29 and 32 Jesus indicates there are clear signs and warnings before His coming. How are we to understand this apparent contradiction?

    One clue is to examine the manner in which the Lord is said to come in relation to the unknowable time of return. Jesus compares this return to being like that of a thief breaking into a house. Job also described this sort of thief (Job 24:14). It is certainly not the role Jesus plays when He returns for His own at the Rapture.

    Interestingly, both Paul and Peter use a similar comparison: they indicate that the Day of the Lord comes 'like a thief' (1Th. 5:2; 2Pe. 3:10). Jesus also indicated that He comes as a thief upon those who are not watching (Rev. 3:3; 16:15). Those who are watching will escape the visitation of the thief:

    But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:34-36)

    As we would expect, the same truths about this day are also taught by Paul:

    But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others [do], but let us watch and be sober.(1 Thessalonians 5:1-6)

    Notice that it is the day which comes as a thief upon those who do not watch. It comes at a time when they say, 'peace and safety.'

    This is similar to what Jesus says concerning the unbelieving world:

    For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24:38-39)

    The suddenness of the 'coming of the Son of Man' will be unexpected, during a time of normalcy (peace and safety prevail while marrying and giving in marriage). How could this possibly be so on the day of Jesus' actual physical advent at the end of a period of upheaval which Jesus (and Revelation and many other passages) describe?

    This is essentially the same question you raise: if signs precede the physical return of Jesus in judgment, how can the timing be unknown? The most common answer, which many have offered, is as you suggest: that although the general time of his return can be descerned from the signs, the exact time can't be known.

    If a person knows the approximate time a thief may come to break into his house, he takes precautions and prepares accordingly. Likewise believers in the Tribulation, who will be looking forward to the coming of the Lord of glory, should be alert. They will know generally, from the signs of the end, when He will return, but they will not know the exact time. 3

    Perhaps this is the explanation. Yet it doesn't seem to account well for precise time details concerning the physical return of Christ in relation to events associated with the Tribulation. These periods, measured to the day, concern the 70th week of Daniel which closes with the overthrow of the Beast at the physical return of Jesus in judgment (Dan. 7:25; Dan. 9:24-27; Dan. 12:6,14; Rev. 11:2-3; Rev. 13:5).

    A related puzzle would seem to be the relative timing of some of the cosmic signs related to the end. Do the cosmic signs precede. the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:30-31)? Or do they occur after this period of judgment has already begun (Mat. 24:29)? And if the signs precede this time, how can Paul and Peter say this period comes upon a world unaware?

    Which is it? Does the day come as a thief, unexpectedly upon a relatively tranquil world? Or does it come after dramatic cosmic signs and the first six seals (Rev. 6) wreak worldwide havoc? The answer appears to be . . . both!

    In understanding the various uses of the phrase 'Day of the Lord' which is associated with Christ's return, Dr. Renald Showers identifies both a broad and a narrow sense:

    The biblical expression 'the Day of the Lord' has a double sense (broad and narrow) in relationship to the future. The broad sense refers to an extended period of time involving divine interventions related at least to the 70th week of Daniel and the thousand-year Millennium. . . . Concerning this broad sense, A. B. Davidson wrote: Though the 'Day of the Lord,' as the expression implies, was at first conceived as a definite and brief period of time, being an era of judgment and salvation, it many times broadened out to be an extended period. From being a day it became an epoch. . . .in the narrow sense it refers to one specific day—the day on which Christ will return to the earth from heaven with His angels. 4

    Thus, the phrase, Day of the Lord, can denote the entire period from when the initial judgments of God are first manifested (at a time of relative peace and safety) through the end of the Millennium (the broad sense) or it can denote the specific day upon which Christ physically returns to earth to destroy the armies gathered against Him (Rev. 19:11-21).

    We discuss this matter in more detail in the Revelation Commentary section titled: When Does the Day of the Lord Dawn?a

    This difference in broad versus narrow references to the Second Coming may hold a key for understanding Jesus' use of the 'thief' motif in teaching about those who watch vs. those who do not. Those who watch are believers. They will not be surprised by the arrival of the Day of the Lord because they will be waiting for Jesus and 'counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man,' having been taken at the Rapture. (Luke 21:34-36)

    It is upon unbelievers whom Jesus comes as a thief. They will not be watching and when they think things are safe, Jesus will 'come in judgment' initiating the tribulation. This occurs when the Lamb opens the first of the seven seals from the scroll (Rev. 5:5; 6:1). It is a 'judgment coming,' but not His actual physical return which occurs at the end of the Tribulation.

    Jesus Himself described 'the coming of the Son of Man' as being like the flood. It came upon an unsuspecting world. This can only describe conditions prior to the Day of the Lord. Thus 'the coming of the Son of Man' could refer either to the beginning of the 'Day' of the Lord or to the precise day of His physical return at the Second Coming (Zec. 14:4), depending upon the context.

    This non-physical 'coming in judgment' at the beginning of the Day of the Lord would then be akin to His 'coming as comforter' when the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost:

    And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-18)

    This understanding provides a possible solution which reconciles the apparent contradiction between His unexpected 'coming' in judgment with no signs of warning initiating the Tribulation (Mat. 24:36-39) versus His physical coming (return) at the end of the Tribulation which is said to follow upon significant cosmic signs and upheavels (Mat. 24:29-30).

  • One Taken - We agree with you that Luke 17:20-37 talks about the coming of the Lord and not about the Rapture of the church. As you observe, some appear to be sleeping while others are awake when taken. This would indeed imply an event which is worldwide in scope.

    You ask: 'what happens to these gathered ones?' These ones are gathered, in contradistinction to the elect, for destruction. Remember that the context concerns the similarities between the judgment of Noah's flood and Sodom versus 'the day when the Son of Man is revealed' (Luke 17:26,29-30). So this is not about being taken to safety, but being taken in judgment. This is confirmed by the words of Jesus: 'Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together' (Luke 17:37).

    I believe Jesus makes a direct reference to a statement in Job concerning the eagle:

    Does the eagle mount up at your command, And make its nest on high? On the rocks it dwells and resides, On the crag of the rock and the stronghold. From there it spies out the prey; Its eyes observe from afar. Its young ones suck up blood; And where the slain [are], there it [is]. (Job 39:27-30)

    Notice especially the closing phrase — how similar it is to the words of our Lord! Jesus refers to the birds which will feast on those taken in judgment. This is a common element within judgment passages: (Deu. 28:26; Job 39:30; Ps. 79:2; Eze. 29:5; 32:4; 39:4,17-20; Jer. 7:33; 12:9; 15:3; 16:4; 19:7; Mat. 24:28; Luke 17:37; Rev. 19:17-18).

  • Graves Opened at Crucifixion - If these saints were raised at the time of the crucifixion, which is perhaps the most natural way to understand the text, then I concur with your assessment that those raised would have received natural bodies like that of Lazarus, also raised from the dead, and went on to die again. Like the rest of the faithful dead, they now await glorified bodies. It is also possible to read this verse in a way which allows the graves to be opened at the crucifixion, but the saints to be raised some time later, after Jesus rose. Proponents of this view note that although the Centurion experiences the earthquake, the text does not explicitly indicate he also saw the raising of the saints.

    The NIV suggests that these saints were resurrected when Jesus died and then went into Jerusalem after Jesus' resurrection. A number of commentators agree with this view. Many others, however, say that since Christ is the firstfruits of the dead (1 Cor. 15:23), their resurrection did not occur till He was raised. In this view, the phrase 'after Jesus' resurrection' goes with the words 'were raised to life and came out of the tombs.' This is possible in the Greek, and is suggested in the KJV and the NASB. The tombs, then, broke open at Christ's death, probably by the earthquake, thus heralding Christ's triumph in death over sin, but the bodies were not raised till Christ was raised.

    These people returned to Jerusalem, (the Holy City) where they were recognized by friends and family. Like Lazarus (John 11:43-44), Jairus' daughter (Luke 8:52-56), and the widow of Nain's son (Luke 7:13-15), they too passed through physical death again. Or some say they may have been raised with glorified bodies like the Lord's. 5

    As to the purpose of their resurrection, it appears to be a typological model related to a firstfruits offering (Lev. 23:10). Thus, they serve as an initial 'offering,' a demonstration (even a guarantee) of a much larger resurrection harvest to come.

  • Revelation 1:7 - The phrase you ask about in the Revelation Commentary at Rev. 1:7 is actually a quote that I included from Merrill Unger's commentary concerning Zechariah 12:10. 6 Dr. Unger is emphasizing that the ones that Zechariah identifies as mourning for having pierced the Lord are grammatically the same as 'the house of David' and 'the inhabitants of Jerusalem' identified earlier in that verse. The main point being that 'they who pierced' cannot be a subset among the Jews as some teach, but is identified as the entire Jewish nation by a figure of speech (metonymy) where the capital (Jerusalem) represents the entire nation.

    I do believe that all people will mourn at the coming of the Lord, but scripture makes clear that Jews will mourn in a special way because it is their own Messiah Whom they bear unique responsibility for having pierced. Yes, all mankind (and your and my sin) put Jesus on the cross, but only a Jew can say, in the fullest sense, that Jesus is 'my nation's Messiah.' Thus, those who bore greatest responsibility for recognizing Messiah also will exhibit the most pronounced grief when they come to understand how their nation pierced their own mMessiah Him at His first coming.

I am encouraged by your attention to detail concerning the Scriptures and know that the Lord will reward you for your continued diligence studying His Word.

1 - John Walvoord, The Prophecy Knowledge Handbookb (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1990).

2 - Thomas Ice, 'Harold L. Lindsey,' in Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theologyc (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 242.

3 - Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., 'Matthew' in John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testamentd (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985).

4 - Renald E. Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Comee (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1995), 35,39.

5 - Barbieri.

6 - Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testamentf (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 2040.

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