Matthew 24:35-41; Mark 13:31-32; Luke 21:33
All three of the Gospels record the warning to watch at the end of the parable of the fig tree. They clearly start by making a declaration of certainty. Christ says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” This is a statement of divine assurance. These events will happen before the 1000 year Kingdom of our Lord is established.
Still many want to find past fulfillments in history, and to spiritualize events to which there is no historical fulfillment. To spiritualize this discourse into a past fulfillment destroys the tone and certainty of these words. Spiritualizing the text places the fulfillment on unstable ground. It makes the mind of the interpreter the authority, not the facts in the text. For example, those who see the fulfillment of the discourse including the second coming of Christ have a problem. They try to solve this as being a visitation of judgment at the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. This destroys the literal sense of the prophecy for no other reason than to uphold their view that the discourse had to be fulfilled in 70 AD. They have to spiritualize this second coming because there was no visible, bodily return of Christ. This prophecy calls for such a fulfillment before heaven and earth pass away, which is the customary, ordinary meaning of the passage.
EXACT TIME UNKNOWN
Matthew 24:32-25 deals with what the disciples can know with certainty. The text reads, “when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33). The purpose of the Tribulation is not simply a time of judgment, but a signal to the nearness of the second coming of Christ. When one sees these events being fulfilled one can know the nearness of His return to earth. Although certainty of His return can be known, the exact time cannot be known. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my father only” (Matthew 24:36). To speculate about the exact time of the Lord’s return is unfruitful and undesirable. No one knows, nor can anyone know the time.
EXHORATION TO WATCH
The reader not to speculate as to the time, but to watch and be ready. Both Luke (31:34-36) and Mark (13:33) record the exhortation to take heed and watch. Cranfield observes that “ignorance of the date of the End is not an excuse for being unprepared, but a reason for unceasing vigilance.”
Watchfulness is not simply needed because of the certainty of these events, nor their seriousness, but because of their suddenness. The word “suddenly” in Luke 21:34 is the word aiphnidious in the Greek and is used only twice in the New Testament. It is used here and 1 Thessalonians 5:3. Both texts deal with the same events, the tribulation of those days. In 1 Thessalonians 5:3 the word has a place of emphasis. It carries the idea of very, very sudden destruction. The idea is that this will come so suddenly, that it will catch many completely unprepared. Believers of that day must be diligent to watch so they will not be caught unaware. All believers in all dispensations are to be waiting, watching, and working for the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus, besides warning the readers to be watchful, illustrates the need for such watchfulness. Two examples are given:
Days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39)
Many look upon this illustration as simply a comparison concerning the corruption in Noah’s day and the last days. The comparison is that history will repeat itself. They state that “if ever there was a time in the world’s history which resembles the days of Noah, this is it” (meaning our own day). While this observation may be valid and true, it seems to me the main point is their unpreparedness for the judgment of the flood. While Noah was a preacher of righteousness and warned of the judgment, his message was unheeded. This unpreparedness came because of unbelief and disobedience.
As judgment came suddenly upon the generation of Noah, likewise it will come suddenly during the Tribulation. Even with all the signs being fulfilled in that day, men will not recognize what is happening, and will be unprepared. They will continue to eat, drink and be merry as if nothing is going to happen. They will continue in the unpreparedness of unbelief, just as in the days of Noah. The Tribulation saints are not to be caught unprepared. They are to watch, pray, wait, work, and be prepared as Noah was in his day.
One taken, the other left (Matthew 24:40-41).
Next Jesus gives the illustration of the two in the field and the mill. In each case one is taken while the other one was left behind. The theme of suddenness is continued in this illustration. The event happens without warning.
Because of the suddenness of this event, many have confused this as an illustration of the rapture of the Church. Alexander Reese argues the rapture on the basis of suddenness and the word “taken.” He says the Greek word paralambano is opposed to any idea of judgment for the word is used “exclusively in the sense of taken away with, or receive, or take home in a friendly sense.” However, that is not the case. In John 19:16 the same word is used of the soldiers who “took charge of” Christ. Christ was not taken in a friendly manner, he was taken to judgment. These who are taken in this illustration are taken in judgment, not raptured.
The two illustrations are related in that those taken were judged and received the just reward of their unbelief. Just like in Noah’s day unbelievers received the judgment, only Noah and his family were left. Noah was left to inherit a new earth. Likewise, the ones left in this illustration are left to inherit the Kingdom. I believe that this applies directly to the end of the Tribulation, not the church age. The theme of these illustrations is the suddenness of the events and the importance of being prepared for the coming of the Lord to set up His Kingdom on earth.