In this video at the time stamp 55:00, preterist Jeff Durbin mishandles the context of the “Left Behind” passage in Jesus’s Olivet Discourse. He claims that it is the righteous who are left behind and the wicked taken to judgment. He has it completely backwards as the context will clearly show.
(Incidentally, I don’t suspect that Durbin will encourage his readers and listeners to read my article in this post. That is what preterists have in common with pretribbers. Prewrathers, such as myself, encourage others to read the other side and actually provide a link to their material, as I am doing in this blog post. Perhaps this is why preterists and pretribbers are not too willing to debate publicly on the topic of eschatology—and prefer to talk only to those who agree with them.)
(37) For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (38) For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, (39) and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (40) Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. (41) Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. (Matt 24:37–41 ESV)
Amillennialists, preterists, posttribulationalists, and most pretribulationists argue that the ones who are taken are the wicked, and the ones who are left are the righteous.
They base their argument mainly on the Noahic illustration in vv. 37–39. They contend the judgment of “the flood came and took them [the wicked] all away” parallels the event of “one will be taken.” But identifying “the wicked” with “those who will be taken” is mistaken for the following reasons:
First, the domestic and agricultural illustrations in vv. 40–41 (two men in the field and two women grinding grain) parallel the Noahic illustration, so they are not intended to illustrate the other illustration of Noah in verses 37–39. Rather, vv. 40–41 are intended to illustrate the climax of the Olivet Discourse, which is the separation event with the gathering of God’s people at the parousia (Matt 24:30–31):
“Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left. There will be two women grinding grain with a mill; one will be taken and one left.” (Matt 24:40–41)
“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt 24:30–31)
Matthew 24:31 states that it is the righteous (elect) who are taken (gathered) at the inception of the parousia. That is the point of invoking the agricultural illustration in vv. 40–41. The illustrations in vv. 36–44 are linked to v. 31. While Jesus describes the narrative from vv. 4–31, he then illustrates those events with similitudes, similes, and parables from v. 32 on for the remaining part of the Olivet Discourse.
Thus, the interpreter who fails to link the illustrations back to v. 31 misses Jesus’s purpose for invoking them in the first place!—which is to highlight the great separation between the righteous and the wicked. Therefore, it is the righteous who are taken in v. 31, not the wicked, and the illustrations are used by Jesus to illustrate this point.
Second, the “wicked are taken” interpretation breaks the parallelism of the illustrations. Noah’s family is described as being delivered first (“the day when Noah entered the ark,” v. 38), while judgment upon the ungodly is described second (“the flood came and swept them all away,” v. 39). Accordingly, to preserve the agricultural parallel and make sense of Jesus’s use of it, a man in the field and a woman grinding at the mill should be construed as being taken for deliverance, while the other man in the field and other woman grinding at the mill are left for judgment. To read it the other way, breaks the parallelism with the Noahic illustration as well as the elect being taken in v. 31.
Third, some translations render the action of the flood illustration in verse 39 as, “the flood came and took them [the wicked] all away.” The rendering “took” is unfortunate because unsuspecting readers who may not know the underlying Greek may assume it is the same “taken” used in vv. 40–41. There are two different Greek terms behind the English, which contain nearly opposite meanings. The English Standard Version recognizes this and accordingly replaces “took” with “swept away”: “and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:39 ESV). The Greek term in verse 39 is airō, which, in this particular context of the judgment-flood illustration, means to “take away, remove.” In contrast, the Greek term in vv. 40–41 is paralambanō, typically carrying the sense “to take into close association, take (to oneself), take with/along.” Some claim paralambanō does not always carry this intimate sense of taking in a positive sense. This is true, but misleading. Of the forty-nine times this term is used in the New Testament, it is used three times negatively (Matt 27:27, John 19:16, Acts 23:18). This rare negative sense is found in a specific narrow context of a prisoner being handed over to the jurisdiction of soldiers, a context not relevant to our parousia illustration. It is a strained lexical argument to apply this unlikely meaning to our target passage (See Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies for this particular word fallacy).
Fourth, as mentioned above, vv. 40–41 contains the term paralambanō for “taken,” which conveys a positive receiving. This receiving is contrasted with the one who is “left.” The Greek term behind “left” is aphiēmi, which in this context means, “to move away, with the implication of causing a separation, leave, depart from.” Thus there is a Greek positive term for “taken” that is contrasted with a Greek negative term for “left.” Therefore, the notion of one who is “left” is more in keeping with the idea of separation and judgment rather than of deliverance. Not surprisingly, just a few days later after Jesus gave his Olivet Discourse, he used the term paralambanō to reassure his disciples that when he returned he would take them to be with him: “And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take [paralambanō] you to be with me, so that where I am [heaven] you may be too” (John 14:3). Both of these teachings then are found in the same context (Christ’s return), same audience (his disciples), and same terminology (paralambanō).
Fifth, in the same parousia context, Jesus provides another illustration for being prepared for his coming (Matt 25:1–13). The five wise virgins who were prepared are taken to be with the bridegroom; the five foolish ones who were not prepared are left out. Therefore, the parable of the ten virgins is consistent with vv. 37–41 and by extension v. 31, supporting the interpretation that those who are taken are for deliverance, and those left are for judgment.
Sixth, Luke gives an account of the illustrations describing Jesus’s coming: “’I tell you, in that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.’ Then the disciples said to him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He replied to them, “Where the dead body is, there the vultures will gather” (Luke 17:34–37). The last statement containing the disciples’ question of “Where, Lord?” is insightful, because Jesus responds that dead bodies attract vultures, a judgment imagery representing the ungodly, not the righteous. Thus this comports better with those who are “left” for judgment than it does with those who are taken for deliverance.
In summary, when the interpreter recognizes that the illustrations in vv. 36–44 link back to the parousia event in v. 31, it illuminates the meaning that the righteous will be taken (delivered) and the wicked left behind (judged). Thus, the “taken” is a positive action and the “left” is a negative action. To recap these six reasons:
- The Noahic and agricultural illustrations in vv. 37–41 intend to illustrate the separation of the elect from the wicked at the parousia in v. 31.
- The parallelism is consistent among the illustrations as well as the parousia-separation event.
- The usage of the Greek words paralambanō and airō support that the “taken” are for deliverance and the “left” for judgment.
- The usage of the Greek words paralambanō and aphiēmi support that the “taken” are for deliverance and the “left” for judgment.
- The parable of the ten virgins is consistent with the point that one is taken for deliverance and one left for judgment.
- Jesus’s use of the vulture proverb is consistent with the point that one is taken for deliverance and one left for judgment.