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Left Behind?


Table Talk: Left Behind? 

Text. Matthew 24:35-44 

When we talked about ‘The Rapture’ we saw that some Christians, – amillennialists for example, believe that the Bible teaches that there is a day of General Resurrection, – one day when the Lord will return with his saints and for his saints, to initiate the Judgement day, to bring about the end of this world and the recreation of the new heaven and new earth.  But if the day of Christ’s return is the very last day of life on this earth, what about these bible passages that talk about one person being taken and another left behind?  Don’t they suggest that after the second coming of Christ some people will be left on this earth to face a further period of earthly time?  That’s what we’re going to look at in this study.    

Left Behind?

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1 The Trustworthy Word Vs This Temporal World.  V35 

This is the purpose and context of this passage, so it is important to grasp it. Jesus is warning us about the unexpected nature of his return to this earth at the last day.

  • The stark comparison.   Note that when God gives us a promise it never fails, and he never goes back on it.  1 Kings 8:56.  Jesus reminds us in our Matthew passage that when he tells us something, when he gives us a promise, that promise is secure for ever and ever.  Compare and contrast that with everything in this world!  
  • The sudden collapse.  There will be a day, – we are promised in God’s word, which never fails, that everything in this world will end, will collapse under the terrible weight of God’s judgement. V37  But look at how this is described in the passage, – as being the Days of Noah.  What were ‘the days of Noah’ like?
    • Normal life!  V38,   Look, they are doing everyday things, just like us! Luke records Jesus speaking of Lot’s days too,  Luke 17:28-29  
    • Godless Life!  Noah pleaded with the world’s population to turn from their godlessness – yet in their preoccupation with their own happy self-fulfilled lives, they had no time to stop and consider that one day everything they held dear would be taken from them.  Until it happened and it was too late.  V38b-39 

We have a dangerous situation. The godless life is, and always was about materialism. About being totally preoccupied with the perishable things of this life, that will wither and die and rot away with everything else in this life.  No-one knows when that day, that hour will come, except our Heavenly Father, who has our times in his hands.  

2 The Tragic Divisions that Day Will Bring.  V40  

Now here is our main subject.   The common opinion held among evangelicals, at least here where I live, is that when Jesus comes again, the living saints will be taken to heaven, and the living lost will be left here on this earth, to face the awfulness of a period they call ‘the Great Tribulation.’  This fits nicely with the dispensationalist theology that underlies most American evangelicalism, the product of J Nelson Darby, and CI Schofield, and completely unheard of prior to the 19th century. But is it true? What does Jesus mean when he speaks of one being taken and one left behind?  There are two possible applications, and both involve separation:

  • Matthew Henry, the well known and much loved commentator notes that this could well be applied to the effect of the Gospel.  It’s really hard to know why, in families, or groups of close friends, some are saved, and others, with all the same privileges, the same church background (or lack of it) are left cold while their peers are surrendering to claims of Christ, accepting his as their saviour and Lord.   Luke 12:51-53  
  • The separation which will occur at the Lord’s Return.  We all agree on this.  When Jesus returns one shall be taken and one left, but the real question is, “Left to What?”  In Matthew 24, the disciples were with Jesus at the temple.  It’s a truly magnificent building, yet when His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. In V2 Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”  How could such a thing be?  To a Jew of that era, the end of the temple would mean the end of the world.  Jesus puts them right in the equivalent passage in Luke, 21:9-20.  9 But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.”  The destruction of the temple is NOT the end of the world, but it is SYMBOLIC of the end of the world.  So, we have here in Matthew (and in Luke), three separate time-frames.  
    • Firstly, the time and day when Jesus was speaking to his disciples. That’s obvious, Jesus is speaking with his disciples on the Tuesday before his crucifixion.  It’s the final week, and they are in Jerusalem, for the feast of the Passover.  It’s a historical point in history.  
    • Secondly, the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.  Jesus is describing this event, some 30 years before it will happen, and warning his disciples about the horror of it.  In AD66, the governor of Judea, was a man called Gessius Florus.   He hated Jews but he really loved money, so he raided the temple and looted all the temple silver.  The Jews were outraged, and Florus sent troops into the city and massacred 3,600 people.  The Jews revolted, and that revolt resulted in the siege of Jerusalem and its defeat and bloody destruction under the Roman army in AD70.  The slaughter was horrendous.  But it’s not the end… 
    • Thirdly, the very last day, when Christ will return.  We call this teaching technique ‘prophetic foreshortening.’  Jesus is using the coming fall of the temple to warn in advance about the terrible destruction of the world on the very last day, when God will pour out his terrible judgement, burning up everything that is evil and wicked, before establishing the new earth.  Now, remember, that when the Romans attacked Jerusalem, there was no escape for the residents of the city.  It was THE END OF THEIR EARTHLY LIFE.  Those who were left in the city were mercilessly slaughtered.  Being LEFT was not a prelude to a new dispensation, it was BEING LEFT TO DESTRUCTION.  Jesus is likening that destruction to the last day.  Like the men of Noah’s day, like the men of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Lot, when sudden, unexpected judgement falls, no-one is LEFT BEHIND on the earth.  They are LEFT to God’s terrible wrath upon sin.

The real lesson from this passage is found in the repeated words of Jesus, Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  That the Lord will return, when we least expect it, and we must be ready for that momentous event.  

© Bob McEvoy March 2021

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