The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:40—51

We conclude our close look at the amazing account of Jesus answering the questions of His disciples.

Verses 40-41. 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. 

  • Here these pairs of people at work with one of each pair taken and the other left, are claimed by some to support a secret rapture, ‘snatched up to heaven’. There is no reason at all to link this scene with a ‘rapture’ and there are many uses of the word taken (Grk. paralambano) in the NT, none of which have the usage suggested by ‘rapture’ teachers.
  • It is unclear for the casual reader who is ‘taken’ and who is ‘left’, but when we look at the whole discourse e.g., v.39, it is much more likely that those ‘taken’ means the wicked.
  • This is confirmed by Jesus’ parable Matthew 13:49: “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous . . . .”  
  • The context here –as we saw in verses 16 and 19–clearly shows this is a Judean agricultural scene that cannot fit with modern times. This proves that dispensational teaching is error.

42-44. Therefore be on alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.For this reason, you also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. 

  • The parousia of the Son of Man means judgment. Jesus does not use the phrase ‘I will return’ which suggests a visible, physical coming like his first. Rather he consistently declares to the disciples ‘I will come!’—see his warnings of his coming to four of the seven congregations in Rev 2:5,13; 3:3,8.
  • These sentences stress the suddenness of his coming, so alertness is constantly needed.
  • Luke’s parallel account adds that the believers will escape all that is about to happen by watching and praying (Luke 21:36) —and not through any ‘secret rapture’!

45-51. “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect himand at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

  • ‘Note ‘not coming for a long time’—even the servant in the story would not be expecting the timing of this advent to be 2000+ years in the future but certainly within his lifetime! This urgent warning confirms the true intent of Jesus’ prophetic word that ‘this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (24:34)—it will not be ‘a long time’.
  • To stress further, Jesus again hints that he will come on a day when he does not expect himand at an hour which he does not know, repeating what he said already (in verse 36).
  • The Lord expected His disciples to be active and ‘put in charge’—He had given them authority and urgent work to do amongst the Jews—see Matthew 10:23: ‘But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes’.
  • After He comes at the end of the age, that is the current Mosaic age, His servants who have acted sensibly and faithfully will be blessed and given extra responsibilities (Eph 4:11ff, Rom 12:6ff) in the proclamation of the risen Christ and his kingdom. Life will continue beyond the end of ‘this’ Mosaic age and into the New Covenant age, and is not the end of the world.

Conclusion

It is absurd to think that what was ‘near’ for these disciples can be ‘near’ for us today.

The end which the Jews expected was not the end of the world but the end of an age—they understood that there was ‘this age’ and the ‘age to come’—see Matthew 12:32.

Many believers today vainly suppose that the “last days” refers to the end of the gospel era. Such a belief leads to expecting a future of defeat with many people falling away and an apostate church while Satan’s kingdom triumphs, then leading to a powerless army of God and the disappearance of authentic Christianity as time goes on. Such a view promotes despair and an escape mentality.

Instead, we are called to bear witness to Jesus and his matchless character and power and authority at the right hand of the majesty on high. He is present with us, his new creation, his holy nation, within our lives, at home in our hearts, in a new covenant! We can be glad we do not face what they call ‘the great tribulation’ and that we will not be ‘left behind’. We rejoice at the way that all Jesus’ predictions, all of them, that we read here in the Olivet discourse have come true in amazing detail. Glory to God and to the Lamb forever for He shall reign forever, His kingdom an everlasting kingdom.

Of course, there will be still an ultimate ‘last day’ when Jesus will exercise His royal judgment overall. For Christians, a significant portion of that future judgment will concern what we have done in the meantime, during the messianic age. Instead of wasting our time, waiting for Jesus to ‘return’ and longing for a rapture, we are to be busy about His business, expectant of the Holy Spirit at work in the world through us.

4 responses to “The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24:40—51

  1. jenny curtis

    Where do you see The New Jerusalem being? Spiritually “in Heaven” or down here on earth? Jen 

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    • Good question Jen. The apostle Paul gives us the answer I think in his letter to the Galatians. See Gal 4:25-26: “…. Mount Sinai in Arabia corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.”
      This fits in with Revelation 21:2–“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” and also 21:10-26. Verse 27 “and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

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  2. jenny curtis

    Really well done Ian! 

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