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!