Matthew 24:35-51 (Part 2 of 2)
This post is a continued addendum to the 4-part Olivet Discourse series posted between April and August 2011. That series featured a parallel study of Matthew 24:1-34, Mark 13:1-30, and Luke 21:5-32. It can be seen here, here, here, and here.
In the last post (Part 1 of our study of Matthew 24:35-51), we extensively looked at Matthew 24:35, showing that when Jesus said heaven and earth would pass away, He was using covenant language already used elsewhere in Scripture. In doing so, He spoke of the soon-to-come passing of the Old Covenant world. That post also included an examination of Luke 21:34-36.
In this post we will finish covering the last 17 verses of Matthew 24 (verses 35-51), the text of which is below. The first two verses in this text are also found as direct parallels in the gospel accounts of Mark and Luke (highlighted in red), and several other verses seem to allude to similar statements in Mark and Luke (these are highlighted in blue):
Parallels and Similarities in Mark 13 and Luke 21
|35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 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. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.||
1. Direct Parallels
Verse 35 –> Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33
Verse 36 –> Mark 13:32
Verses 42-44, 48-50 –> Mark 13:33-37, Luke 21:36
Verse 36: Jesus’ disciples are now told that only the Father knew “that day and hour.” According to the context, Jesus Himself, at that time, did not know the day and hour of  the passing of “heaven and earth” (verse 35), and  the judgment upon Jerusalem which He had just predicted (verses 1-34). Again, the passing of Jerusalem, and the passing of heaven and earth, were spoken of as one climactic event. The generation in which these things would happen was known and revealed—i.e. it was to be His own generation (verse 34). However, the exact day was not known when Jesus spoke these words in about 30 AD. James Stuart Russell, writing in 1878, made the following point:
To have specified the day and the hour, to have said, ‘In the seven and thirtieth year*, in the sixth month and the eighth day of the month, the city shall be taken and the temple burnt with fire,’ would not only have been inconsistent with the manner of prophecy, but would have taken away one of the strongest inducements to constant watchfulness and prayer—the uncertainty of the precise time (The Parousia, p. 90).
*(Russell apparently supposes that Jesus spoke these words in 33 AD, that is, 37 years before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem.)
Verses 37-39: Jesus compares the time of His coming to the time when Noah built an ark in preparation for a great flood. That story is recorded in Genesis 6-7. During those days of preparation, those who would be swept away spent their days eating, drinking, marrying, and carrying on as normal, as if there was no tragic event just around the corner. Only righteous Noah and his family prepared in faith. It would be the same for Jesus’ own generation, He said. The implication was that His followers would prepare in faith for the perilous events that Jesus had predicted, but those outside of God’s family would not do so.
One early church father indicated that Christ’s followers did indeed behave differently leading up to the days of Jesus’ coming in judgment and in His kingdom. Athanasius (296-372 AD) once said:
“And when [Jesus] appeared in the end of the world [age], He also gave this commandment, saying…, ‘When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation…then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains…’ [Matthew 24:15-16]. Knowing these things, the saints regulated their conduct accordingly.”
I understand Athanasius to mean that the early believers lived very simply, in order to be prepared for that time when they would need to suddenly vacate Jerusalem. That’s why we read in the book of Acts that the believers in Jerusalem “had all things in common,” they “were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45), and “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own” (Acts 4:32).
They took seriously Jesus’ words that His doomsday predictions for Jerusalem and Judea would be fulfilled in His own generation (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32). They didn’t know the day or the hour of these events (Matthew 24:36), but they did know the generation when it would all take place, and they knew it was their own. As it was for Noah and his family, this knowledge affected their behavior.
History then tells us that Roman armies did come and surround Jerusalem in 67 AD (see also Luke 21:20-24), and at that time the believers remembered what Jesus had said. Remigius (437-533 AD) explains:
“[For] on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us, miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time.”
The city of Pella was like Noah’s ark to these 1st century believers.
Verses 40-41: At the time of His coming, Jesus said, some would be “taken” and others would be “left.” Jesus used the illustrations of two men in a field, and two women grinding with a hand mill, to demonstrate this point. This has been interpreted in various ways. Some believe, as I do, that this prophecy was fulfilled during the Roman-Jewish War of 66-73 AD, while many teach and believe that this prophecy remains to be fulfilled.
In this section, though, we will focus more on another variant among these interpretations. Some believe that to be “taken” was to be a blessed event, while those who were “left” would face great horror. This was the opinion of John Wesley (1703-1791), who said in his commentary on verse 40, “One is taken – Into God’s immediate protection: and one is left – To share the common calamities.”
Others believe that to be “left” was instead to be desired, while those who were “taken” were the unfortunate ones. This was the opinion of Albert Barnes (1834), who said, “The word ‘taken’ may mean either to be taken away from the danger – that is, rescued, as Lot was (Luke 17:28-29), or to be taken away ‘by death.’ Probably the latter is the meaning.” Likewise, John Gill (1746-63) said, “the one shall be taken; …by the eagles, the Roman army, and either killed or carried captive by them: and the other left; …by the Romans, being by some remarkable providence, or another, delivered out of their hands.”
Here are some reasons which might be given by proponents of both views (whether they see this as a past or a future event):
WHY IT’S GOOD TO BE “TAKEN”
WHY IT’S GOOD TO BE “LEFT”
|The picture of being “taken” mirrors the picture of being gathered “from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:31). Jesus said this would happen to the elect.||In the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:36-43), Jesus said that the angels would first gather (take) the weeds and burn them with fire. As Jesus said, “so will it be at the close of the age.” That age ended in Jesus’ own generation, as He predicted (Matthew 24:3, 34).|
|This text speaks of “the Rapture,” a time when living believers will be literally caught up in the sky in an instant to be with Jesus. Therefore, being “taken” is a good thing.||A study of the history of the Roman-Jewish War reveals that from 67-70 AD the Roman armies swept through Judea and Galilee massacring large populations. In this way, they were “taken” by the Romans. Finally, Rome laid siege on Jerusalem for five months and burned that city with fire.|
|Noah is pictured as entering the ark first (Matthew 24:38). This corresponds to being “taken.” Only then were the wicked, the ones “left” outside of the ark, swept away (verse 39).||The reference to being “taken,” which occurs twice in Matthew 24:40-41, seems to correspond with being “swept away” (verse 39), the description used for those who perished in the flood in Noah’s day. In the case of Noah, those who were left behind (i.e. spared by taking refuge in the ark) were the fortunate ones, but those who were taken/swept away (i.e. destroyed) were not.|
|Of the 10 virgins spoken of in Matthew 25:1-13, the five wise virgins were “taken” in to be with the bridegroom, but the five foolish virgins were “left” out and the door was not opened to them.||In another example, Isaiah 6:11-12 speaks of cities lying “waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land a desolate waste,” and the Lord removing people far away (which was an act of judgment upon those people). The verses preceding these were quoted by Jesus concerning His own generation: “’Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive…’” (Isaiah 6:9-10, quoted in Matthew 13:10-17).|
The reader may decide which option is more convincing. The challenge is that we are not told explicitly in this text who “takes” the one, and who “leaves” the other. Other clues to this mystery, however, might come from the parallel text given in Luke’s account (Luke 17:28-37):
It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. “Where, Lord?” they asked. He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”
In Luke’s account, Jesus connected the “taking” and “leaving” with His command that His people should flee without delay. This was specific to people living in Judea. We know that this flight was in conjunction with Jerusalem being surrounded by Roman armies (see Matthew 24:15-20, Mark 13:14-18, Luke 21:20-23, and Part 3 of our Olivet Discourse series). Those who believe, then, that being “taken” instead of “left” speaks of a future, worldwide Rapture should take note that it actually has to do with a promised invasion of Judea, one that history tells us already took place in the same manner (and within the same timeframe) that Jesus said it would.
This text also pokes another hole in the position of the partial-preterist who says that Matthew 24:1-34 is fulfilled, but Matthew 24:35-51 remains unfulfilled. For when does Jesus say that “one will be taken and the other left”? He said it would be “on that night.” What night was He speaking of? It was clearly the same night when His followers would need to flee with great haste from Jerusalem. That flight was foretold in Matthew 24:15-20, within the portion of Matthew 24 that partial-preterists affirm has been fulfilled. Luke 17 ties these events together in such a way that no amount of time can separate them, let alone 2000 years.
According to Strong’s Comprehensive Concordance of the Bible (KJV version), the Greek word which is translated as “taken” is “paralambano.” It comes from two root words:  “para,” meaning near/beside/at the vicinity of/on account of, and  “lambano,” meaning to take/to get hold of/have offered to one/to seize or remove. The suggested meanings of “paralambano” are to receive near/to assume an office/receive/take (unto, with). This word is used 16 times in the book of Matthew. These entries are listed below so that the reader can see how this word is used in other contexts outside of Matthew 24:40-41.
 “…fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife…” (Matthew 1:20)
 “Then Joseph…took unto him his wife…” (Matt. 1:24)
 “Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt…” (Matt. 2:13)
 “When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night…” (Matt. 2:14)
  —same usage as in the two previous examples (Matt. 2:20, 21)
 “Then the devil taketh Him (Jesus) up into the holy city…” (Matt. 4:5)
 “Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain…” (Matt. 4:8)
 “Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits…” (Matt. 12:45)
 “And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John…” (Matt. 17:1)
 “But if he will not hear, take with thee one or two more [witnesses]…” (Matt. 18:6)
 “And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the 12 disciples apart in the way…” (Matt. 20:1)
  “…the one shall be taken, and the other left…” (Matt. 24:40, 41)
 “And He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee…” (Matt. 26:37)
 “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall…” (Matt. 27:27)
The Greek word which is translated as “left” in Matthew 24:40-41 is “aphiemi,” meaning to send (forth)/cry/forgive/forsake/lay aside/leave/let (alone, be, go, have)/omit/put (send) away/remit, suffer, yield up. According to the Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, this Greek word appears in Matthew a total of 40 times, being translated in various ways. It’s only translated as “left,” however, a total of 10 times in the book of Matthew:
 “And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:20)
 “And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him.” (Matt. 4:22)
 “And He touched her hand, and the fever left her…” (Matt. 8:15)
 “When they had heard these words, they marveled and left Him…” (Matt. 22:22)
 “…the first…[died and] left his wife unto his brother.” (Matt. 22:25)
 “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Matt. 23:38)
 “…There shall not be left here one stone upon another…” (Matt. 24:2)
  “…the one shall be taken, and the other left…” (Matt. 24:40, 41)
 “And He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time…” (Matt. 26:44)
In Luke’s account we see another connection that we don’t see in Matthew’s account. When Jesus says “one will be taken and the other left,” the disciples ask, “Where, Lord?” His response is striking: “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” It’s not made explicitly clear whether His answer is in regard to those who are “taken,” or in regard to those who are “left.” The options are:
 The disciples asked where the people would be taken.
 The disciples asked where the people would be left.
Does the surrounding text answer either one of these questions? Yes, it does. In the examples Jesus gives, those who are “left” are still (1) in bed (2) at a grain mill (3) in a field. Therefore, the disciples had been told, and already knew, the whereabouts of those who were to be “left.” It then could make more sense that they wanted to know the destiny of those who were to be “taken.” It would then be this question which Jesus answers when He speaks of vultures gathering around dead bodies. If this is the case, then it was not a good thing to be taken at the time of the fulfillment of this prophecy, for those who were taken became a meal for the vultures.
There is also the possibility, however, that Jesus is not answering a question about what happens to those who are taken, but rather gives a clue as to what will happen to those left behind. From an already fulfilled-perspective, there would be a way to view this as the meaning behind Jesus’ words. As pointed out earlier, we have historical records showing that Jesus’ followers did indeed flee from Judea and Jerusalem and take refuge in Pella, while those who remained behind were ravaged by the Romans. If it was a good thing to be “taken” at the time of the fulfillment of this prophecy, it can be seen in Christ’s followers being “taken,” i.e. brought by God’s providence, to Pella where they dwelt safely during this very tumultuous time.
In the end, it’s up to the reader to decide which proposal holds more validity.
Verses 42-44: Jesus’ followers were urged to stay awake in anticipation of His coming. Take note again that they, living in the first century, were to hold this expectation that He would come in their lifetime (compare with Matthew 16:27-28). Some indeed lived until that time; others were martyred in advance.
They had already been warned about false prophets who were soon to come, of false signs and wonders, of betrayal, of lawlessness, of the love of many growing cold, of fearful signs, etc. As we saw earlier in the Olivet Discourse series, these warnings certainly became a reality in the years following Jesus’ ascension. We also know that apostate Judaizers plagued the church in the decades that were to come, something that we see Paul addressing often in his epistles. This is evidence, then, that many did not stay awake. Jesus said that the hour (precise time) of His coming would not be according to expectations, and therefore staying awake was of great importance.
Verses 45-51: Jesus gives an analogy contrasting a faithful and wise servant with a wicked servant. The faithful servant would be given joyful responsibilities at the time of the master’s coming. On the other hand, the wicked servant would be unpleasantly surprised at the coming of his master, and would experience agonizing punishment. It’s interesting to note that Jesus refers to the servant who would say, “my master is delaying his coming,” as evil. Yet many believers today are fond of using the expression, “if the Lord tarries.”
The reference to weeping and gnashing of teeth goes back to Matthew 8:10-12, where Jesus said that many outsiders would dine in the kingdom of heaven with the prophets and patriarchs of old, but many “sons of the kingdom” (Jews) would find themselves in outer darkness with “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This, of course, would have been a shocking statement to many Jews who believed, that by virtue of their ethnicity, they had an automatic place in God’s economy. Weeping and gnashing of teeth was also to be the destiny of the tares thrown into the fire at the end of the age (Matthew 13:41-42).