CONTEXT IS KEY
I used Jan Luyken’s illustration of the Rapture in connection with this post. It is meant to illustrate Matthew 24:40. That verse and the one that follows it are often used to support the doctrine of the Rapture, the idea that Jesus will take the righteous out of the world before subjecting the wicked to a time of tribulation.
40 Then two men shall be in the field, the one is received, and the one is left; 41 two women shall be grinding in the mill, one is received, and one is left.
Luyken’s illustration shows an angel taking a blessed field hand off to heaven while his unrighteous partner falls to his knees, covering his face in misery. So what is wrong with the picture?
These verses can only be used to support the doctrine of the Rapture if they are taken out of context. Reading them in context, we find that it is not those taken who are blessed, but those who are left. Matthew 24:37-39, the verses immediately preceding these:
37 and as the days of Noah--so shall be also the presence of the Son of Man; 38 for as they were, in the days before the flood, eating, and drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, till the day Noah entered into the ark, 39 and they did not know till the flood came and took all away; so shall be also the presence of the Son of Man. (Emphasis added).
I have quoted these verses from Young’s Literal Translation, not because I have any great fondness for that version, but because, in this case, it preserves the fact that “taken” in verses 4-41 and “took...away” in verse 39 are forms of the same verb. In Noah’s case, those “taken” were the wicked who drowned. Only by reading verses 40-41 apart from their immediate context can one conclude that the ones “taken” are the blessed!
Historical context also argues against the idea that this passage describes a “rapture” of the righteous. In her excellent book The Rapture Exposed, Barbara Rossing reminds us that Jesus preached in Palestine during Roman occupation. When the Roman troops rode into town and took some people away, it was those “left behind” who were the fortunate ones.