Monday, 29 November 2010

One Will Be Taken, One Will Be Left (Matt 24:36-44)

When I was taught New Testament it was still the rage to think Jesus was an apocalyptist. And not just that he was an apocalyptist, but that his expectation was that he would be returning shortly in apocalyptic style. Clearly he didn't, so therefore he got that wrong. And the church, perhaps out of out of embarrassment, or maybe to fool everyone for 'its' own self -interest, changed the preaching and expectation of the apocalyptic Jesus into something more palatable for a church that would ride out the storms of history. Sort of like the whole debate about the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. (You know how it goes; Jesus preached the kingdom, the church preached Jesus, etc.) This kind of false duality with its interpretation that saw Jesus as getting it terribly wrong and the church altering his memory to suit itself, is over mostly. Jesus wasn't an apocalyptist, and although he used the language of apocalyptic style at times, his teaching and expectation runs counter to the usual dualities of apocalyptic and subverted it within. More of that later in the week.

Matthew 24:36-44 hasn't figured large in my head for quite a while. Probably the last time I looked at it seriously I thought it was part of the apocalyptic expectation of Jesus that he got wrong. "One will be taken, one will be left." (vv. 40-41) Taken into heaven, right? The fundamentalists love this kind of stuff. But look at the whole passage again. The analogy for the meaning of "taken" and "left" is Noah. (vv. 36-39) Noah was left, not taken. Contrary to the escapist theologies so prevalent amongst us and in us, Jesus in vv. 40-42 is saying the faithful disciple is left, not taken. This raises all sorts of questions like, "Taken where?" Sure. But notice how the usual interpretation of the passage makes it say exactly its opposite! Jesus was not an escapist, and not an apocalyptist.

I, like just about everyone, thought that Matt 24:40-42 meant that people were plucked from earth into heaven.


  1. Hello Warren. Thanks for your thoughts. I find this passage from scripture (two in the field, two grinding, one taken, one left) utterly confusing. I do not find that it is used as one of the MAIN
    scriptures supporting the translation of the Church (sometimes called the Rapture). Other passages are clearer.
    This one simply is confusing to me.

    Yesterday in Church the priest expressed your point of view about it. This was an Episcopal church.
    The Calvary Chapel up the hill would interpret it oppositely, but they do not usually use this particular scripture.

    I think there ARE scriptures showing that Jesus expected us to know the signs of the end times. But to put them here would require
    me looking these up and I can't see
    very well this morning. The main one being Paul's remarks in Thessalonians. Isaiah had some interesting things to say about praying to be taken to a safe place while the tribulation raged.

    In any case, God bless you.


  2. Personally I do not wish to be taken to a safe place, I will be where I am needed. (where the Father sends me)

  3. "One will be taken, one will be left."
    Could also refer to when humanity splits into two streams at the end of the Earth evolutionary stream.