It’s a common view, as it once was mine, that when Jesus said, speaking of the future time of distress that, “one will be taken, the other will be left” (Matthew 24:40-41) he was speaking of a surprise rapture at some time before the tribulation. The one taken would be the raptured believer: the one left behind would be the one….left behind.
This idea first leads me to ask what this says about “the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus” during the tribulation (Revelation 14:12)? As some of those “left behind” in a pre-tribulation rapture are going to be believers in Jesus Christ, and as I discussed previously, will be saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ just as we are now Revelation 12:11) why is it that we pre-tribulation believers are blessed with escape from the perceived outpouring of the wrath of God on the earth, while those future saints will have to live through it? Are they to be subjects of God’s judgment, as it is claimed we all would be if there were no early rapture? The claim that God would not pour out his wrath upon his Church rings a little hollow if we realize that by this standard all those saints saved by grace through faith and by the blood of the lamb during the tribulation will suffer the wrath of God on the earth! Are they appointed to wrath? Are they “left behind” because they just didn’t make the grade, so God is going to punish them for it?
A far more logical explanation is that we will all be treated equally; that all believers will be called upon to be witnesses to Christ during the tribulation, and that, as I wrote in early excerpts of my book, the wrath of God which we believers will all escape is eternal judgment, not temporal earthly suffering. Refer again to the millions of believers who have suffered persecution around the world through the centuries, and continue to do so: did they incur the wrath of God? No, it was the wrath of man and the devil.
Verses about one being taken and the other left, while possibly speaking partially of the rapture- are far more likely to be warnings of the judgment of the godless. In his Olivet Discourse Jesus gave the example of a wicked servant who, on the realization that his master is staying away for a long time, begins to beat his servants and to get drunk. In response to the servant’s actions, Jesus said:
“The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites… “ (Matthew 24:48-51).
The wicked servant, who did not expect his master to return, was the one being judged. He was not aware of the day or the hour of his master’s return, and was taken by surprise. He was not raptured: he was judged.
Before saying that one would be taken and the other left, Jesus had just given the example of Noah and the Flood to show that it was necessary for his followers to be ready for his coming (verses 38-42). The two subjects are related. Jesus, speaking of those destroyed in the Flood, said:
“…and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (verse 39).
The wicked were “taken away” by the waters in the judgment of the Flood, said Jesus. It was Noah and his family who were left behind. The wicked servant was punished when his master suddenly returned. Therefore, the phrase “one will be taken, the other left” is not speaking of a pre-tribulation rapture. Instead it’s speaking of the time of wrath and judgment, which will occur at the end of the tribulation.