“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.
(Matthew 24:36-44 ESV)
After telling us that He will return after certain visible heavenly signs and earthly events Jesus told us that no one can know when He will return. However, the prophet Daniel tells us that Jesus will return 1,290 days after the abomination of desolation [Daniel 12:11]. One would think that people would easily be able to calculate the exact date of Jesus’ return from this information and that the Bible must, therefore, contain a contradiction. Not so fast.
A careful examination of Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse reveal that He is likely referring to two separate events. That is, Jesus will return twice. As we previously learned, it is not unusual for prophetic Scripture to reference two separate events as if they were one. This is known as “prophetic foreshortening”.
Up until now Jesus has been describing His ultimate return – when He comes down physically to earth on the Mount of Olives (from which He left earth 2,000 years ago) [Zechariah 14:4]. But in today’s passage He will describe an arrival that will precede that one.
During this earlier arrival some will be taken and others left. The Greek word for “taken” here is παραλαμβανο (pronounced: par-al-am-ban’-o) which means “to take with as a companion”. This sounds very much like the concept of the Rapture when Jesus will return to (but not set foot on) the earth and “take” believers off the earth so they will not have to go through the seven-year Tribulation while leaving non-believers behind [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
It is this return of Jesus that will catch people off-guard. He will come like a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3]. A thief comes unexpectedly. He does not announce his plans in advance. If he did then the master of the house would have stayed awake to prevent his house from being broken into.
Julius Caesar had a policy of never telling his soldiers in advance when they would be on the move so they would always be in a state of readiness. This is how God wants His children to be. He wants us to be constantly living in light of Jesus’ return. He doesn’t want us becoming lax in our witness. Rather we should continue to shine like a light to the dark and unbelieving world around us.
But likewise, God does not want unbelievers to put off salvation until the time they know Jesus will return because they may not live that long anyway. Rather they should believe now, while they are alive and still have the opportunity to be saved.
The Rapture is signless event. It can happen at any time. The best preparation is to be ready now and to stay ready until we die or until Jesus returns, whichever comes first.
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