I remember hearing and reading about the song and series, “Left Behind”, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in the early 2000,s, based upon the song produced by Larry Norman in 1989 titled, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” Both the song and the movie received huge positive reviews and viewership. It was based upon the belief that there will come a time when Jesus will secretly return to “take” his children home and leave the unbelievers “behind.” And therefore, you don’t want to be “left behind” but rather “taken”.
I believe that the entire premise of the song and movie are biblically inaccurate, misunderstanding the meaning of “taken” and “left”. Let’s look at the scriptures.
Matthew 24:27, 28 “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
Matthew 24:36-44 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 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, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 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. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
The question is: who will be taken and who will be left? The other question is, who is “taken” to what? and “left” to/out of/from what? And also, is Jesus calling us to be ready to be “taken” or is he calling us to be ready to be “left”?
We do know that Jesus is connecting those who were “unaware” and were “swept away” to those who were “taken”. How do we know this? Because Jesus used the analogy of those in Noah’s time. In the days of the flood, those who were taken, were taken, swept away into judgment. And those who were “left behind” were those who were left safely in the Ark.
This leaves us with the question, “Who is it then that the vultures depicted in verse 28 are feeding on, clearly a sign of judgment?”
As always, scripture interprets scritpture when there is any ambiguity. Turn to Luke 17:20-37:
“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot–they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all– so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
Much like the account of Matthew, but Luke gives us more. Are the disciples asking where the one will be left in bed and at the mill, or are they asking where the one will be taken? Jesus’ answer reveals that they are not asking where the one will be left, but where the one will be taken. The one left is still in the bed and at the mill stone – the disciples cannot be asking where the one at the bed and millstone are – because that is where they are. They are asking where is the one taken to. The one taken is “where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather”, which is what Matthew said, though with not the same clarity as Luke. They are taken into judgment.
The point is: those who will be taken, swept away, like those in Noah’s day and those in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, are taken into judgment while Noah and his family, Abraham and Lot and their small family are left behind, that is, left out of the judgment. That is the point that Jesus is making. When he returns, you don’t want to be taken into judgment, you want to be left behind, that is, left out of that judgment.
Jesus is helping the church to get ready for his return by telling us that many normal things will be taking place in our lives (eating, drinking, getting married, buying and selling, ect.), but that his coming will be so sudden that those who are not ready will not know what hit them until it’s too late. You don’t want to be taken into judgment; you want to be left behind, left out of his coming judgment!
A few good things:
- Jesus promises that his elect will be left out of the judgment (Luke 17:37; Matt. 24:22, 28).
- Jesus promises that those who “remember” Lot’s wife and lose their lives in this lifetime, will not be taken into judgment. (Luke 17:32, 33).
- Jesus promises that after the “tribulation of those days” that he will gather his elect, with a trumpet sound, from the entire corners of the earth (Matt. 24:31).
- Jesus promises that in those days when the trumpet sounds, that those who are not ready will “mourn” when they see him coming on the clouds to take them away in judgment (Matt. 24:30).
Therefore, your hope in Christ is that when he returns you will be left behind, left out of his judgment, and not taken away, swept away into his judgment. For everyone knows: judgment is where the vultures are feeding! Thank God that when Christ returns, and the trumpet sounds, the elect are gathered together, that we will not be fed upon, but will rather feast with Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-8).