Thursday, February 21, 2013

MATTHEW 24-25, PART 10



MATTHEW 24:36-51


            I shall use the writings of J. S. Russell as representative of the Preterist position.  This passage is straightforward, for the most part, in interpretation.  It lends itself to whatever interpretation has been given to the earlier part of chapter 24.  So, in the two positions which I shall represent, the representatives simply apply their respective viewpoints in interpreting the passage. 

            Russell states:  “All the representations given by our Lord of the coming catastrophe…imply that it would take men by surprise.”  (Russell, 91)  Although the “consummation was to fall within the term of the existing generation,” (Russell, 89-90) the exact day and hour was unknown, even by Jesus.  This “consummation” Russell defines as “the city taken and the temple burnt with fire” (Russell, 90).  So, Russell does not see a challenge in 24:36-51 to his position.  That position is that the “Parousia” of Jesus was the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple within a generation of those living at the time of Jesus’ ministry.

            The “lesson” that Jesus derives from this suddenness of the catastrophe was the need for the disciples and their followers to watch and pray—for their own safety (Russell, 92).  He substantiates his position—that the siege of the Romans was a sudden event—by referring to Josephus.  Josephus gives the number of killed by the Romans as about 1.1 million.  This large number was due, he says, to the fact that many had come to Jerusalem for the Passover at about the time the Romans surrounded the city.  (Whiston, 749)  This confirmed to Russell that those who were “watching” could understand the approaching events and escape in time before “the consummation would fall on the Jews like a trap.”  (Russell, 92-98)

            Russell discusses the warnings to be ready, lest one fall under judgment, in 24:43-51.  He notes that Luke 12:39-46 is a parallel passage, but has a different setting, which he believes is the accurate setting.  Matthew uses these words as part of the Olivet Discourse, but Russell believes that Matthew’s use of it makes it into the “warp and woof” of the Discourse.  He argues that the passage continues Jesus’ discussion of the AD 70 “consummation” and has nothing to do with future judgment:  “The finest instrument cannot draw a dividing line between the parts of the discourse, and assign one portion to the judgment of the Jewish nation and another to the judgment of the human race.” (Russell, 97)      

            In summation, I would say that Russell considers the entire sub-passage, Matthew 24:36-51, to be a continuation of Jesus’ prediction of the AD 70 destruction by the Romans.  The warnings are to His disciples and their followers to be watchful of events and avoid falling into the Romans’ trap.  He sees no reference to future events.



MATTHEW 24:36-51

            Pentecost refers to all or parts of this span of verses several places without detailed comments.  He summarizes the whole passage to be “exhortations” to watchfulness (Pentecost, 281).  The references to Noah’s day depict people who were preoccupied with daily life.  Christ was not necessarily pointing toward licentiousness but their carelessness:  “In each of the three illustrations…the individuals concerned were occupied with the usual round of life without any thought of Messiah’s return.”  (Pentecost, 281)

            Walvoord gives more detailed commentary on the passage.  He recognizes the seeming contradiction between Jesus’ predictions of events leading up to the Parousia and yet saying no one knows the “day and hour.”  (Verse 36)  However, Walvoord says, one can recognize that events are leading up to the Second Coming but “details are not given in such clarity that one can determine the day or the hour.”  Just as there were signs the flood was coming, so there will be signs of the approach of the Second Coming.  (Walvoord*) 

            Walvoord clarifies that, in his view, these signs “are in relation to the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation, not to the [Pretribulation] rapture of the church, which has no signs and is always imminent until it occurs.  (Walvoord*)

            He reviews the approach of the flood in Noah’s day when people “carried on their normal activities” (as Jesus described in Matthew 24:38), yet many signs of the approaching flood (such as animals coming to the ark) were visible.  In the same way, as the Great Tribulation progresses “and those who understand the prophecies of the end time realize that approximately three and a half years have passed, they will…expect Christ to come even though the prophecies are not specifically detailed to allow them to know the day or the hour.  Such people will know the year.”  (Walvoord*)

            He comments on Matthew 24:40-42, which has the familiar “one will be taken and one left.”  “Because this event is somewhat similar to the rapture in that some are taken and some are left, Posttribulationalists almost universally cite this verse as proof that the rapture will occur as part of the second coming of Christ after the tribulation.  However, a careful reading of the passage yields exactly the opposite result.  At the rapture of the church, those taken are those who are saved, and those who are left are left to go through the awful period…Here the situation is just in reverse.  Those who are taken are taken in judgment, and those who are left are left to enter the millennial kingdom.” (Walvoord*)

            Walvoord goes on to contend with Posttribulationalists who argue on the basis of a difference in the Greek words translated “taken” or “took” in verses 39 and 41, etc.  He points to Luke 17:34-35, which contains very similar wording to Matthew 24:40-41.  The verses in Luke are followed by the interchange between the disciples and Jesus:  And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”  (Luke 17:37, English Standard Version)  Walvoord comments:  “In other words, the ones taken are obviously put to death in judgment, in contrast to what will happen at the rapture when the ones taken are brought to heaven. There is no scriptural basis for reading the rapture into Matthew 24. The occasion is entirely different.”

            He comments briefly on the parable of the owner of the house and his need to set a watch:  “Not knowing the exact hour, he would have to watch continuously. Jesus applied this to those waiting for the second coming with the exhortation, ‘So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’ (v. 44).”

            Walvoord comments on the parable of the good and bad stewards (24:45-51):  “The implication of this passage is that belief in the second coming of Christ is linked to belief in the first coming of Christ. If one accepts who Christ was and what He did in His first coming, he will also accept who Christ will be and what He will do at His second coming and, accordingly, will live in preparation.”  It is not clear how the good or bad behavior of the stewards links up to belief in the “first coming” and the “second coming.”  My interpretation of Walvoord’s interpretation is that acceptance of Jesus as the Christ means anticipating that Christ will come a second time to respond to faithful and unfaithful living.




            In some ways there is not much new ground that is broken in the commentaries from these sources.  Each of the writers uses his comments to reinforce his own position.  For Russell, he sees the warnings of suddenness and the need for watchfulness to be appropriate for the “consummation” that came in AD 70.  Pentecost and Walvoord understand the material to relate to the Jews (and other tribulation converts) living in the Great Tribulation who will see the signs of the approaching Second Coming. 

            Russell’s focus is on the practicalities of certain people, having been forewarned, escaping the siege of Jerusalem.  So, he refers to Josephus’ statement that many Jews were visiting Jerusalem for the Passover at the time the siege began and the Romans snapped the trap shut.  Those who were aware of Jesus’ warning would be able to avoid that trap.  However, the warnings of Jesus are really more warnings concerning moral and spiritual living than simply being “in on” the plan to destroy Jerusalem.  It is true that Jesus’ comparison to the people before the flood is not a direct condemnation of their licentiousness (24:36-39), as Pentecost points out.  However, Jesus is commenting on their spiritual obliviousness. 

Jesus goes on to discuss the good and bad servants in 24:45-51.  He directly connects attitudes about delay of the Lord’s coming with behavior.  The good servant displays in his behavior an attitude of expecting the Lord to come at any moment.  The bad servant does not expect that coming and takes that delay as a license to bad behavior.  In the entire span of 24:36-51, Jesus is concerned with heart attitudes and external behaviors.  The idea of the approaching coming of the Lord creates a fervency of love and service to the Lord which is displayed in faithful servanthood.  See I John 3:2-3:  Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (English Standard Version)

These warnings of Jesus do not correspond very well with a group of Christians reading Matthew 24 and watching current events and thus escaping the siege of Jerusalem.  It corresponds better with a more widespread set of warnings to all humankind.  In addition, as I have argued in another article, Russell continuously goes back to a single event, the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, as the fulfillment of all that Jesus says in the Olivet Discourse.  Yet, the Discourse has given a series of events—one can begin, for example, with verse 15—that occur in sequence—the Abomination of Desolation (24:15), the Great Tribulation (24:21-22), the Celestial Signs (24:29), the Parousia (24:30), and the Gathering of the Elect (24:31).  The commentaries in 24:36-51 appear especially to refer to the Parousia and the Gathering of the Elect.  Russell ignores this and continues to hammer on his one theme of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Almost anyone who studies the details of prophecy have a difficult time with 24:36:  But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”  The difficulty is that study of prophecy yields considerable detail about events as the time of the Parousia approaches.  Yet, there is this element of uncertainty.  Walvoord deals with that seeming contradiction, I think, quite well.  His point is that we can know a lot, yet we cannot pin point the date.  And, of course, he would say, we can know a lot about timing once certain milestone events come about.  For example, there are statements about time dating from the Abomination of Desolation.  However, one cannot date the Abomination of Desolation, or any other milestone event from the present.  I shall use an example that may not be tasteful to some.  One may not know when a woman will get pregnant, but, once she is pregnant, one can time with some accuracy when the baby will be born. 

The other issue is that, in the minds of many, this verse (24:36) is talking about the Rapture.  It is the most definitive statement of an “imminent” event in the Scriptures.  (I shall, I hope, discuss that topic in more detail elsewhere.)  Yet, the Dispensationalist who holds to the Pretribulation Rapture rejects this verse as a description of the imminent Rapture of the church.  Walvoord is careful to instruct his readers that Jesus is not talking about the Rapture.  He does not develop proof for that, but takes it as already established.  The consequence is that, in the Dispensationalist/Pretribulation Rapture theory, these words of Jesus—and the whole passage, 24:36-51—are relating to “Tribulation Saints.”  These are Jews and Gentiles who are converted to Jesus during the Tribulation period.  They are the ones who cannot know the “day and hour.”  They are the ones who much must “stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (24:42) and who must heed the warnings to be faithful in 24:45-51. 
The wording of much of this passage makes this scenario difficult to accept.  I encourage the reader to imagine a people who are converts in the Tribulation period.  They, according to most teaching, will have been won by the most dynamic and ardent evangelists in history (including, perhaps, the 144,000).  They will receive and cling to Christ in the face of harsh persecution from the Antichrist/Beast.  Some of them, by some accounts, will be given miraculous safe haven from persecution (as related in Revelation 12:14-17).  It is difficult to make these pictures congruent with the concern of Christ that people may lose vigilance and
become spiritually bankrupt as related in these passages.  Note that Jesus first characterizes those who are “of the world” (as comparable to those who lived in Noah’s day (24:37-39).  Then, he gives warnings to God’s people:  to keep watch (24:42-44) and to be faithful (24:45-51).  It strikes me that the Tribulation Saints would not need these kinds of admonitions.  On the other hand, the people of the church, who have been around for 2,000 years and counting, certainly need these admonitions, to be ready for the Rapture, yes, but also to be ready for the dark days before the Second Coming.  These statements come from a Posttribulation Rapture perspective.

            I want to react to one other comment from Walvoord.  He discusses the word “taken” in verses 39-41.  In verse 39, the Greek word airo is translated “took” to describe the action of the Flood.  In verses 40-41, the Greek word paralambano is translated “taken” to describe the fate of certain people at the time of the Parousia.  The following is Walvoord’s comments on this:


 …posttribulationists sometimes point out that the Greek word airo, used to express “took them all away” (v. 39), is a different word than used in verse 40 and in verse 41 (Gr., paralambano : “will be taken”). Though admitting that in verse 39 at the time of the flood those taken were taken in judgment, posttribulationists claim the change in wording justifies reading the rapture into verses 40–42.


Walvoord argues from context and from a parallel passage in Luke (as I describe above) that the use of the different Greek words is not significant.  Although it is certainly true that the Greek New Testament often uses synonyms in the same passage in what seems to be a way of giving variety, I think a case may be made that the two Greek words used here are not exact synonyms.  I have listed all of the uses in Matthew for paralambano and for airo in the table below.  Note that the uses are really different.  Paralambano is used consistently to mean “take along with” whereas airo is used to mean “get,” “pick up,” “take upon one.”  The first emphasizes the idea of bringing someone with oneself to a place.  The second emphasizes (usually) the physical act of picking up.  See the following table:

Do not fear to take Mary as your wife
Take to yourself X as a wife
Took his wife
Took to himself X as a wife
Rise and take the child and his mother
Take along X
Rose and took the child
Took along X
Rise and take the child and his mother
Take along X
See 2.14
Took along X
Then the devil took him to the holy city
Took along X to…
Again the devil took him to a high mountain
Took X to…
Will take with himself seven other spirits
Take with oneself X
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James…
Take along X
But if he will not listen, take one or two others along
Take along X
He took the twelve disciples aside
Take X aside
One will be taken and one left
Present passage
Present passage
He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him
Took X along
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium
Took X along to
…will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot
Lift up X in their hands
Take your mat and go home
Pick up or carry X
The patch will pull away from the garment
Take my yoke upon you
Put upon yourself X as a burden
Even what he has will be taken from him
Take X from Y
John’s disciples came and took his body
Get, pick up, carry
Disciples picked up twelve basketfuls
Pick up X
Disciples picked up seven basketfuls
Pick up X
Take up his cross and follow me
Pick up X
Take the first fish you catch
Take, get, procure X
Take your pay and go
Take along or receive and keep what you have
Be taken up (NASB) and cast into the sea
X be picked up and thrown
The kingdom of God will be taken away from you
Take X away from Y
Let no one on the roof…go down to take anything out of his house
Get, pick up, procure X
Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak
Until the flood came and took them away
Sweep away, take away by force
Take the talent from him
Take X away from Y
Even what he has will be taken from him
They forced him to carry the cross
Carry, put upon oneself as a burden, take up


I believe that Walvoord is incorrect in dismissing the use of these two words.  In verse 41, Jesus is describing the action of the flood to take the evil people away.  A flood’s action is to float an object off its mooring to the ground, and, then, if there is a current (and there usually is), to push the object away from its original location.  There is a physical picking up and carrying off.  This is very different from taking someone with oneself to another location. 

            We need to inquire:  What is the point of Jesus’ illustration of the flood?  Verses 36 and 37 introduce the illustration.  First, Jesus makes the point that no one knows exactly when “that day and hour” will be.  Second, He says in that day, the times will be as in the days of Noah.  What were those days like?  People were involved in the daily business of life.  They were oblivious to Noah and his ark.  They were oblivious to the signs of their times—that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5, English Standard Version)  So, they were “unaware” (English Standard Version) (“knew nothing about what would happen”—New International Version) until the flood came.  Jesus is saying that people—the people “of the world”—will be like that at the coming of the Son of Man. 

            But Jesus divides humankind into two groups.  Though He uses equal proportions in His illustrations, He does not necessarily imply that the groups will be equal in number.  Some people will be like those of Noah’s day who were oblivious until the Flood came.  But in that day there was a remnant who were not oblivious—Noah and his family.  So, at the coming of the Lord there will be those who will be received by the Lord.

            Having examined the difference in usage of airo and paralambano, I believe that the Lord’s intention is to say that those who are taken are the ones who will be received by the Lord to Himself  and those who are left will experience judgment.  In John 14:3, Jesus said:  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  The word translated “will take” is paralambano.  In a Posttribulation Rapture scenario, Jesus would return to earth and the saints would be raptured and meet Him in the air as He descends to earth.   And “so we will always be with the Lord.”  (I Thessalonians 4:17b, English Standard Version)  Two people will stand side by side; one will be taken along by the Lord and the other left.  I recognize that there are still some unanswered questions in this exegesis.  For example, the Rapture will lift people up to Jesus, rather than Jesus taking them along.  However, if we think of the Spirit participating in the Rapture (He is the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead), then, in a sense, Jesus, by the Spirit, takes the Saints along to meet Him in the air and then He takes them along with Him wherever He may go, so that they will always be with the Lord.

            In this same analysis, Walvoord discusses Luke 17:37 (“Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”).  This passage is similar to 24:37-41.  He makes the point that verse 17:37 proves that those who are taken, are taken in judgment.  However, the use of the term “corpse” and reference to vultures do not necessarily imply judgment.  Jesus uses the same expression in Matthew 24:28 and it does not appear to refer to judgment there.  Rather, it seems to reinforce the idea of the public display of Jesus’ Second Coming.  I think that the expression in Luke 17 is used in the same way.  It is referring to the gathering of a throng around Himself at His coming.

            I do not believe Walvoord’s analysis of the Posttribulationist argument regarding the two words for “take” is adequate.  Nor do I believe his argument that the “taken” are taken in judgment is adequate.  His ideas fit well with his Pretribulation Rapture theory, but do not fully explain the Scripture.  This is also true when one examines the idea that verses 24:45-51 are directed toward Tribulation Saints rather than to the church. 



Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 252650-252654). Good

            News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Pentecost, J. Dwight.  Things to Come.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publish. House, 1958.

Russell, J. S.  The Parousia, A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our

            Lord’s Second Coming.  (Google Internet Book)  London:  Daldy, Isbister

            & Co., 1878.

Walvoord, John F. (2011-09-01). Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain

            Times.  David C. Cook.  Kindle Edition.

Whiston, William, trans. The Works of Josephus, by Flavius Josephus.  N. p.:  Hendrickson

            Publ., 1987.

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