Oct 9, 2014

Do Pretribulationists See Matthew 24:37-41 as a Rapture Text?

The recent release of the Left Behind movie has the critics of a pretribulational rapture out in full force. I will leave judgment of the artistic merits of the movie to the box office and movie critics, but I do want to challenge those who frequently misrepresent at least some of the pretribulationist’s textual positions. I encounter this so frequently that it seems evident that such critics have never actually read what pretribulational authors are actually saying.

A case in point is this video. According to this video there are three main texts that pretribulationists have misunderstood or misinterpreted. The first of these texts is Matthew 24:37-41. Here is a transcript that I have created from part of the video (the discussion of the Matthew text begins at about the 1:35 mark).

“The left behind folks have actually taken this text and flipped it right on its head to make it say the opposite and mean the opposite of what it in fact says and means. In the story, Noah and his family are those who are spared, those who are saved, those who are left behind. And those who are taken, the rebellious, are taken by the flood. So the coming of the Son of Man you actually want to be like Noah and his family. You want to be left behind. This is a good thing.”

The problem here is that many, if not most, pretribulationist authors actually hold that Matthew 24:37–41 is a Second Coming text and not a rapture text. Furthermore, pretrulationists often assert that the one’s taken away are taken away in judgment and those left behind therefore are the righteous. Consider the following examples from actual proponents of pretribulationalism.

John Walvoord: 

“Like the days of Noah, the time of the second coming will be a period of judgment on the earth. Just as the flood came ‘and took them all away,’ referring to the judgment of unbelievers, so at the second coming, some will be taken away. According to Matthew 24:40-41, ‘Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the ill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.’ Because at the rapture believers will be taken out of the world, some have confused this with the rapture of the church.

“Here, however, the situation is the reverse. The one who is left, is left to enter the kingdom; the one who is taken, is taken in judgment. This is in keeping with the illustration of the time of Noah when the ones taken away are unbelievers. The word for ‘shall be taken’ in verses 40-41 uses the same word found in John 19:16, where Christ was taken away to the judgment of the cross. Accordingly, no one can know the day or the hour, but they can know that when the second coming occurs, it will be a time of separation of the saved from the unsaved” (John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 193-94, my bold).

Walvoord was considered one of the leading voices of pretribulational eschatology and note that Walvoord published this forty years ago! 

Stan Toussaint: 

“A problem exists as to the identification of the ones who are taken in verses forty and forty-one. Is this a description of the rapture of the church or of the taking of the wicked to judgment? Those who take the former position argue that ‘to take’ (παραλαμβάνω), the verb used here, is to be differentiated from ‘to take’ (αἴρω), the verb used here in verse 39. It is asserted that παραλαμβάνω signifies the act whereby Christ receives His own to himself. However, παραλαμβάνω is also used in a bad sense (cf. Matthew 4:5, 8; John 19:16). Since it is parallel in thought with those who were taken in the judgment of the flood, it is best to refer the verb to those who are taken for judgment preceding the establishment of the kingdom” (Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew [Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1980], 281, my bold).

Toussaint goes on to quote from another pretribulationist, Charles Feinberg, in support of his view. Feinberg states, “It will be taking away judicially in judgment. The ones left will enjoy the blessings of Christ’s reign on earth. This is the opposite of the rapture, where those who are left go into the judgment of the great Tribulation” (Charles Lee Feinberg, Israel in the Last Days: The Oliver Discourse [Altadena, CA: Emeth, 1953], 27, my bold).

Once again, observe the respective dates of publication (1980 and 1953 respectively). 

John MacArthur: 

“When the Son of Man appears in His second-coming judgment, then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Jesus is giving a figure parallel to the unbelievers of Noah’s day being taken away by the judgment through the flood. When He returns, one will be taken to judgment and the other will be left to enter the kingdom. This is the same separation described in the next chapter by the figures of the sheep and goats (25:32-46). The ones left will be Christ’s sheep, his redeemed people whom He will preserve to reign with Him during the Millennium” (John F. MacArthur Jr., Matthew 24–28, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1989], 75, my italics).

MacArthur is one of the best known preachers in America today. Please note that I am not selecting obscure proponents of pretribulationism. 

Louis A. Barbieri, Jr. 

“As it was in Noah’s day, so it will be before the glorious coming of the Lord. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Analogous to Noah’s day, the individuals who will be ‘taken’ are the wicked whom the Lord will take away in judgment (cf. Luke 17:37). The individuals ‘left’ are believers who will be privileged to be on the earth to populate the kingdom of Jesus Christ in physical bodies. As the wicked were taken away in judgment and Noah was left on the earth, so the wicked will be judged and removed when Christ returns and the righteous will be left behind to become His subjects in the kingdom” (Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985], 79, my italics).

Barbieri may not be as well-known as some referenced here but The Bible Knowledge Commentary was authored by Dallas Seminary faculty and is one of the best-selling commentaries since its debut in 1983 (NT) and 85 (OT). 

J. Dwight Pentecost: 

In his refutation of the partial rapture view, Pentecost states, “Matthew 24:41-42, ‘Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one taken and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.’ Again, this passage is in that discourse in which the Lord outlines His program for Israel, who is already in the tribulation period. The one taken is taken in judgment and the one left is left for the millennial blessing. Such is not the prospect for the church” (Dwight J. Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958], 162, my bold). 

Things to Come was originally Pentecost’s doctoral dissertation (1956). According to the cover on the Amazon link this volume has sold 215,000 copies. Things to Come is also considered by many dispensational pretribulationalists to be the go to text for eschatology. 

Charles Ryrie 

In arguing against posttribulationists, Ryrie states, “By contrast, the pretibulationalist sees the verses [Matt 24:40-41] as a general statement of the results of the specific judgments on surviving Jews and Gentiles at the Second Coming. Those who are taken are taken into the judgments and condemned, and those who are left successfully pass the judgments and are left for blessing in the kingdom.”

Ryrie states a paragraph later, “Pretribulationists support their view by pointing out that according to verse 39 the Flood took the people of Noah’s day into judgment; therefore, those taken at the Second Coming will also be taken into judgment” (Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth [Wheaton: Victor Books, 1988], 492, see also the table on 493, my bold).

Ryrie’s theology is a popular reference work for dispensationalists and pretribulationists. 

Tin LaHaye and Thomas Ice 

LaHaye and Ice do not deal specifically with many of the details in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24, but they do at least hint at their understanding of Matthew 24:37-41 in stating, “However, just as the people of Noah’s day did not know the day or the hour when the Flood would come to take them all away into judgment, so will unbelievers not know or be prepared for the glorious appearing of Christ” (Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, Charting the End Times, Tim LaHaye Prophecy Library [Eugene: Harvest House, 2001], 37, my bold). The authors earlier assert that, “One common mistake many Christians try to make when they study this discourse is that they try to find the Rapture in this message” (Ibid., 35).  

Dallas Theological Seminary Doctrinal Statement


Article XX—The Second Coming of Christ 
We believe that the period of great tribulation in the earth will be climaxed by the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth as He went, in person on the clouds of heaven, and with power and great glory to introduce the millennial age, to bind Satan and place him in the abyss, to lift the curse which now rests upon the whole creation, to restore Israel to her own land and to give her the realization of God’s covenant promises, and to bring the whole world to the knowledge of God (Deut. 30:1–10; Isa. 11:9; Ezek. 37:21–28; Matt. 24:15–25:46; Acts 15:16–17; Rom. 8:19–23; 11:25–27; 1 Tim. 4:1–3; 2 Tim. 3:1–5; Rev. 20:1–3).

My bold. Notice that under article XX, Matthew 24:37-41 is listed as a Second Coming text. Furthermore, article XVIII, “The Blessed Hope,” i.e. the rapture does not list Matthew 24 at all. 


This survey has sought to be thorough but is not exhaustive. Nonetheless, there seems to be sufficient grounds for offering the following four observations.

First, at best critics of a pretribulational rapture can assert that some pretrib proponents understand Matthew 24:37-41 as a reference to the rapture. But I have yet to hear a critic actually cite a pretrib proponent of the view that they claim pretribulationists hold. This is true with the video mentioned above. Indeed, the survey above suggests that there are significant voices in dispensationalism that do not hold the view that critics assert that they do.

Second, the view of many (if not most) pretribulationists that Matthew 24:37-41 is a Second Coming text and that those taken away are taken away in judgment and those left behind are the faithful is not new or obscure. Pentecost wrote nearly sixty years ago and many well-known advocates of a pretribulational rapture affirm this view (as noted above). I would challenge those that argue otherwise to make their case by actually referring to pretribulational advocates. If such a view is as widely held as the critics say, then doing so should not be difficult.

Third, the survey above does not imply that there are no pretrib advocates of Matthew 24:37-41 as a rapture text or that those taken away are the raptured. Frankly, I would be surprised if there were none. But I have struggled to find them and the critics have not been much help. But even if such voices could be found, I think that this survey has demonstrated that one cannot argue with accuracy that pretribulationists in general see Matthew 24:37-41 as a rapture text.

Fourth, the doctrine of a pretrib rapture is certainly open to challenge and examination. But such challenges should be done fairly and charitably. Critics should not mischaracterize or straw-man the view.


Jared Queue said...

But also in fairness, I used to hold to dispensational, pretrib theology, and I was commonly taught that Matthew 24 was a rapture text.

I don't think everyone who points this out is necessarily building a straw man. There are a lot of people that hold this view. And not everyone knows of or researches all the theologians you reference.

Bottom line: I guess I'm saying, be careful not to make the same mistake you may be accusing someone else of.

Charles Savelle said...


I hear you, but this is what I have been saying elsewhere. You have your experience and I have mine. Whose experience trumps whose? In the end it is all anecdotal. But what we can do is look at written sources where we can both examine it. Cite a source that I can check as I have done numerous times in this post. I have provide quotations, names, page numbers, etc. This is a crucial difference between what I an doing and what I am critiquing. If the view that you heard is so prevalent, finding a source should not be that hard. If I am cherry picking the evidence this will become clear. I have laid my cards on the table. It is about time that those who are making the claims about what pretribulationists believe to do the same. And if one can't back it up, maybe there should be great hesitation in telling someone that you disagree with what they supposedly believe.

Todd Bolen said...

Thanks for this, Charles. I'm still waiting for one non-dispensationalist to accurately represent dispensationalism. They simply seem unwilling to be troubled with getting it right.

Charles Savelle said...

I appreciate your comment, Todd. It is exactly right. The fact that such mischaracterizations are often carried out by scholars who should know better is especially troublesome. It sure seems that these critics have simply not done their homework.

Richard Stals said...

John F. Hart, professor of Bible at Moody, does in his paper "Should Pretribulationists Reconsider the Rapture in Matthew 24:36-44?", (p 49) and references Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Zane Hodges, Dave Hunt, J.F. Strombeck, Ray C. Stedman, Allen Beechick, and Leon J. Wood as also supporting his view.

Charles Savelle said...

Thanks, Richard. I appreciate the heads-up on the article. Hart does note that "a few, but only a few, pretribuilationists argue that the Rapture is taught in Matthew 24, specifically in Matthew 24:36-44." So this implies that majority of pretribulationists do not. This article is dated to 2007. I have seen little evidence that much has changed regarding the majority position.