As Christians, we understand that we are undoubtedly called to obedience by God in the Scripture, but we are not yet perfect. Yes, we will one day be perfect in glory, and yes, we are positionally perfect before God right now because we have trusted in our perfect Savior, but here on the earth, we are not perfect yet.
There’s a lot of talk in the church world about being “left behind.” There have been books, both fictional and nonfictional, written on the subject. Add to them the movies, the computer games, the sermons, and the articles, and you’ve got a topic that people like to think, talk, and hear about. Preachers especially love to talk about it at the invitation time of the service. The summary point of all this talk is: You don’t want to be left behind when Jesus comes. So, give your life to Jesus Christ.
I have to admit that this point is very motivating. In fact, God used such teaching to bring many faithful Christians whom I love to salvation, but does the Bible teach that we shouldn’t want to be “left behind”?
Let’s look at the two parallel texts where the “left behind” teaching is found. Look at Matthew 24:40-41. Speaking about His 2nd coming, Jesus says, Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.
Luke 17:34-36 essentially says the same thing, I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.
Those who believe the Bible teaches “Don’t be left behind” say, “See there, Jesus has come and snatched up His church and left behind the nonbelievers,” but as you know, context is everything when it comes to interpreting Scripture!
When we look at the broader context of Matthew 24:36-42, we find that this is not a rapture passage, but rather a judgment passage:
- But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.
When Jesus returns, it’s going to be just like the days of Noah. Who was TAKEN away in the days of Noah according to Jesus? It was those eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage who did not understand that judgment was coming. In other words, it was the unbelievers who were TAKEN. These unbelievers weren’t ready for the judgment that was coming. They were going about life as usual and did not understand until the flood came and TOOK them away to destruction in the floodwaters. Noah and his family, the believers, were left behind.
Jesus says that the same thing will happen when He returns. Some will be TAKEN away. If it’s going to be same as Noah’s days and if it was the unbelievers who were TAKEN away in the days of Noah, then it will be unbelievers who will be TAKEN away when Jesus returns as well.
When He returns, unbelievers will not be ready for the judgment to come. They’ll be going about life as usual and won’t understand until Jesus comes and TAKES them away to destruction like the flood waters did. One will be TAKEN to destruction, and the other will be left behind. The stunning thing is, in opposition to much preaching today, when we look at the context here, you actually want to be the one left behind because that means that you’ve not been destroyed by the judgment of Jesus.
Not convinced yet? Then let’s look at the context of Luke 17:34-37, which further confirms this understanding:
- “I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.” And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”
This passage echoes the Matthew 22 passage but gives us more information. When the disciples ask Jesus, “Where, Lord?” they mean, “Where are those being taken taken to?” Jesus’ answer is chilling. He implies that those who are taken are being taken to death—where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered. According to these passages, you don’t want to be the ones taken because they are taken to death. Instead, you should want to be left behind because it’s the Christians who are left behind and escape judgment!
The entire “left behind” scenario of the rapture as popularly taught is not found in the Bible. I’m not trying to argue against a pretribulational rapture in this article, even though I don’t believe the Bible teaches a pretribulational rapture. I argue against that doctrine here. In this article, I’m just saying that even if you hold to a pretrib rapture doctrine, you can’t use Matthew 24:40-41 or Luke 17:34-36 to say, “You don’t want to be left behind,” because the passage teaches that you actually should want to be left behind.
But even more, “Don’t be left behind” preaching aims at the wrong fears. Matthew 24:36-42 and Luke 17:34-37 are certainly meant to evoke fear, but “Don’t be left behind” preaching aims at the fear of being abandoned and the fear of having to endure great tribulation. How often I’ve had to counsel young persons who are afraid their mommy and daddy are going to be taken and that they’ll be left behind all alone. It’s sad. It’s sad because they are scared of the wrong thing. Instead of being afraid of being abandoned and of enduring great tribulation, they should be afraid of Jesus coming to judge their sin and unbelief.
Friend, don’t be afraid of being left behind. Be afraid of being found without Jesus as your Savior and Lord when He returns. You’d better be ready because it’ll happen quickly. Jesus describes His return in Matthew 24:27, For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. So, in light of Matthew 24:36-42 and Luke 17:34-37, don’t be taken to destruction! In fact, upon the authority of Scripture, I pray that you’ll be left behind.
I leave you with a scripturally correct version of that famous return of Jesus song from the ’70s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”:
A man and wife asleep in bed;
She hears a noise, turns her head; he’s gone.
I wish we’d all been ready.
Two men walking up a hill;
One disappears, and one’s left standing still.
I wish we’d all been ready.
There’s no time to change your mind.
The Son has come;
I HOPE YOU’RE LEFT BEHIND!
I caught a glimpse of something terrible Monday night. The imagery came straight from the pages of Scripture, but what the Scripture says affected me. Suddenly I felt what was being described. And it scared me. It broke my heart.
The Scripture passage was Malachi 4:1-3:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the LORD of hosts.
Malachi is prophesying about the end of the age when Jesus Christ will return to judge the world. For those who die while still in rebellion against God, for those who never repent of their sin and trust Christ as Savior and Lord, destruction awaits them. They’ll be like chaff this passage says, which means that they’ll be blown away. Their end will be a fiery end as promised by this passage, but more explicitly detailed in Revelation 20:11-15:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
But I’ve still not gotten to what I caught a glimpse of. As the preacher was preaching on the Day of the Lord, which is the day when Jesus comes in judgment, my mind and heart immediately went to Matthew 24:36-41:
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.
Now we’re getting to what I caught a glimpse of. As the preacher was preaching on the Day of the Lord, I saw in my mind people unprepared to face judgment. They were going about their everyday lives—eating, drinking, marrying, working—giving no mind to the destruction at hand, just as in the days of Noah. They were unaware that destruction was looming on the horizon. They were in no way afraid that they were standing upon the precipice of eternal hell. And when the Lord suddenly came upon the earth in judgment, bringing destruction to the unrepentant, it was too late. IT WAS TOO LATE!
The glimpse that I caught left me fearful, not for myself but for those who stand without the covering of Jesus Christ. What I saw in my mind, straight from the pages of Scripture, leads me to say two things.
First, if you have not repented of your sin and trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, I beg you to consider the eternal danger that you are in. Jesus certainly talked about heaven, but even more, he talked about hell. Jesus talked about hell so much because He wanted to keep you from going there. It is a dreadful place from which there is no escape. It’s eternal spiritual death and destruction. It’s devoid of goodness. Please, I plead with you to turn to the only lifeline that you have. Turn from your sin and to Jesus Christ in life-long faith. Please, do not go to hell!
Second, if you have repented of your sin and trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you should have no fear of hell, but I want to persuade you to be afraid for others who are heading to hell. Those who are heading for hell right now are not afraid. They probably don’t even believe in the existence of hell. They’re not one iota scared. Therefore, you must be scared for them. And when this emotion happens inside of you like it did inside of me last night, you’ll tremble for them. You’ll weep for them. You will with hurriedness, boldness, and love go tell all that you can about the salvation from hell found only in Christ Jesus. I beg you to go and tell your family, your friends, your coworkers, your classmates, your neighbors, and even strangers.
I’ll leave you with the words of William Booth who was the founder of the Salvation Army:
“Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face — whose mercy you have professed to obey — and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.”
Come to Christ and be saved. Proclaim Christ so that all who will believe will be saved!