Matthew 24:31 as the Key to the Question of Who Is Left Behind and Who Is Taken

Most interpreters believe “one will be taken” in Matthew 24:40–41 refers to the ungodly person taken to judgment, and “one will be left” refers to the righteous person left for deliverance. This understanding is not exclusive to a particular eschatological viewpoint. Amillennial, postmillennial, historical premillennial, and, to the surprise of many, about half of pretribulation interpreters hold this view. The reasons, however, for this interpretation are often framed from outside the Olivet Discourse and imported back into the context. And arguments that have been framed within the Olivet Discourse are strained. This paper, instead, argues that the immediate context reveals a cluster of exegetical points that construe the righteous as taken and the wicked left. The paper explicates the following five points: (1) Matthew 24:31 is the key to resolving this question as it narrates a process of the elect being gathered (i.e., taken). The parables, including the Noahic similitude, that immediately follow v. 31 illustrate the climax of the narrative (the main point of Jesus invoking the parables and similitudes in the first place). Commentators virtually ignore this first point. (2) The “taken to judgment” interpretation breaks the parallelism of the illustrations. (3) English translations blur contrasting Greek terms that support the conception of the righteous being taken and the wicked left behind for judgment. (4) The Parousia context in Matthew’s Olivet Discourse presents five wise virgins as taken and not left behind. (5) Luke’s account (21:34–37) records the disciples’ question of “where,” which depicts judgment imagery comporting more coherently with the ungodly being “left” for judgment.

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