Chapter Outline Contents Next Home

 

"The one shall be taken, and the other shall be left" (Luke 17:34).
 

9

Luke Seventeen

Luke 17 provides further powerful proof of the order of gatherings, as if the harmony of several passages so far were not enough. "I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left" (Luke 17:34). Who is the one taken? Who is the one left? At the rapture, of course, believers are taken. But at the end of the tribulation, it happens again, only the other way around. Unbelievers are taken. It is like a rapture in reverse.

Surprising? Let us see what Luke 17 says.

When I first read Luke 17, I ran into some interpretive problems, and I couldn't figure out what it was saying. Why does God allow problems in the Bible? Problems we find in the Bible are not there to tease us, but to cause us to dig deeper to find solutions and thereby to discover things we would otherwise never dream of. Problems make us study the Bible. If it were easy we wouldn't study it as much. Once we solve the problems in Luke 17, we will have another strong evidence for pre-tribulationism.

 

"DAY" AND "DAYS"

The first problem I had when I read Luke 17 is the confusing use of "day" and "days" (verses 22–37}. What time period is meant? Is it the tribulation period, the end of the tribulation, or the millennial kingdom? Does "day" mean one thing and "days" mean another? The usage is not consistent, and this bothered me until I finally came to accept the fact that "day" and "days" are used in a loose sense, not in a technical sense. Luke uses the words in different ways, depending on the context, just as we do sometimes. Once I stopped getting bogged down in tight meanings, I discovered that each context makes each word clear. Luke was not a careless writer because, as we shall see, he compiled Jesus' words in a beautiful and orderly manner which makes the meaning clear in the end.

As an example of the loose terminology, "the days of the Son of man" in verse 22 refers to the kingdom period (see verses 20–24). On the other hand, verse 26 uses "the days of the Son of man" for the tribulation period because of the comparison to the days of Noah before the flood. But in verse 24 "day" pinpoints the end of the tribulation. If we hold to strict terminology we become hopelessly confused. If we allow the context to interpret the terms for us, everything remains clear.

A particularly tough case is verses 30–31. Is the time after the tribulation or during the tribulation?

26. And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.
27. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
28. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;
29. But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
30. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
31. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.

Verse 30 is after the tribulation because that is when "all the wicked" are destroyed (see verses 27 and 29). On the other hand, verse 31 stretches the term "day" to include the tribulation period because it takes us back to the abomination of desolation (see Matthew 24:15–21). So we have to let the context rule and let the terminology be flexible. Context is rule number one in interpretation.

 

NOAH AND LOT

With the flexible use of "day" and "days" in the back of our minds, we learn from Luke 17 the answer to two questions concerning Noah and Lot. First, who do Noah and Lot typify? Church saints or tribulation saints? They typify tribulation saints. Here is why.

Jesus is explaining the events which immediately precede the visible aspect of the kingdom. The days of Noah and Lot immediately precede the total destruction of the wicked (which happens at the end of the tribulation), not partial destruction (which happens during the tribulation). In other words, Noah's flood symbolizes Armageddon, not the tribulation itself. (In another application of Noah's flood, 2 Peter 3 makes the destruction by water a foretaste of destruction by fire after the millennium—both water and fire cleanse the old world preparing the way for the new.) Lot's wife who was slow to flee Sodom typifies those who are slow to flee at the abomination of desolation, and this is during the tribulation. Verse 37 mentions the eagles being gathered together over dead bodies, and this happens at the end of the tribulation (see Matthew 24:28). All these considerations from the context reveal that Noah and Lot represent saints during the tribulation period.

Second question, what does the escape to safety of Noah and Lot represent? "Noah entered into the ark" and "Lot went out of Sodom." What parallel do these escapes have in the latter days? Is it the rapture? Primarily Luke applies it to those who escape at the abomination of desolation at the midpoint of the tribulation (compare verse 31 to Matthew 24:15–18). Lot's wife represents those who hesitate at this time while Lot typifies those who quickly flee without turning back (see Genesis 19:26).

Why does Luke make a special point of escaping at this time? Why this time rather than some other time? As we discussed in chapter two, the abomination of desolation is the point when antichrist assumes world prominence and this is when he begins his persecution of the saints. At the abomination people are forced to decide. Will they follow Christ or antichrist? They are forced to decide because at this point, or shortly thereafter, they are forced "to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads" (Revelation 13:16). Since "no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark" (Revelation 13:17), men will be tempted to save their lives by accepting the mark. Those who refuse the mark may lose their lives. It will be a tough decision for many and that is why Luke records in verse 33:

Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

The truth of these words comes to light in Revelation 14:9b–10:

If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.

In other words, Jesus is saying in Luke 17:31–33, "Do not give in to antichrist and the temporary security his mark offers. Don't remain behind and become part of the system, but flee; seek eternal salvation rather than temporal salvation. Lot's wife is an example for anyone who wants to remain a part of the system." Of course, the disciples did not understand all these implications when Jesus spoke, but He spoke through the disciples to the saints who would be alive at that time.

Although Luke applies the escapes of Noah and Lot primarily to those who flee at the midpoint of the tribulation, it is evident that all those saved during the entire seven-year period also "enter into the ark of safety" since they also escape the destruction. The flexible use of "day" allows for this extended time period. Just as the abomination of desolation occurs the "same day"—so to speak—as the day the Son of man is revealed (verses 30–31), so also believers "enter the ark of safety" the "same day" the final destruction comes (verses 27,29,31). The usage of "day" in these verses indicates that the seven-year period is all one day of entering the ark as far as God is concerned. The seven years of entering might be illustrated in that Noah took seven days to gather everything into the ark (Genesis 7:1–10).

One more observation. If the entire seven-year period amounts to "one day" of entering the ark of safety, and if all the saved of that period are like Noah who enters the ark, then those who "enter the ark" at the very beginning, namely those raptured, might also be included in the ark of safety. We cannot be positive of this, but since "day" is used of the entire period it may include the beginning also. I include this, not as proof, but as a matter of interest.

 

"ONE SHALL BE TAKEN"

Now we come to the crucial question. The previous questions about the escapes of Noah and Lot have prepared us for this one.

I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left (Luke 17:34–36).

The question here should not be "When?" but "Who?" We already know when. Since Noah and Lot represent tribulation saints, and since this entire section is in a tribulation context as we have pointed out earlier, then the time has to be after the tribulation. Of course, I happen to believe that "the one shall be taken, and the other left" before the tribulation also, but that is not what this passage is talking about. This passage is after the tribulation. Remember verse 37 compared with Matthew 24:28 nails down the time pretty tightly.

Now let's get to the crucial question. Who? Who is the one taken? And who is the one left? Post-tribs say believers are taken in rapture. But pre-tribs say unbelievers are taken in judgment since the rapture occurred seven years earlier. Who is taken? Believers or unbelievers?

The disciples asked where they are taken, and Jesus' answer is revealing. He said, "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together" (verse 37). "Eagles" is better translated "vultures" (birds of prey), and "body" is explained in Matthew 24:28 as "corpse." Vultures. Corpse. What does that tell you about who is taken? "Vultures" and "corpse" are not exactly a fitting description for the destination of believers. Those taken are unbelievers.

Further evidence. I want to show from the context, from the flow of thought in this entire section, that there is only one possible answer to who is taken. When we finish you will not only see the answer to our question, but you will see that Luke is a very organized writer, living up to his name as a reputable historian.

I've found that in trying to figure out the flow of thought in a passage, an outline helps me best. The outline is a valuable tool in the interpreter's kit. Notice from the following outline that Luke recorded Jesus' words in a very organized manner.

 

OUTLINE OF LUKE 17:20–37

  1. Answer to the Pharisees—you expect the kingdom wrongly (20–21)
  2. Answer to the disciples—here is how to expect the kingdom rightly (22–37)
    1. Do not expect it to come gradually (22–23)
    2. Do expect it to come suddenly (24–37)
      1. It's suddenness and its delay (24–25)
      2. The sudden coming illustrated (26–37)
        1. The examples of Noah and Lot—escape and destruction (26–30)
        2. The explanation of the examples (31–37)
          1. The escape from destruction (31–33)
          2. The taking in destruction (34–37)

 

Beginning with the examples of Noah and Lot we notice two main threads of thought, escape and destruction. Read closely: "Noah entered into the ark [escape], and the flood came and destroyed them all [destruction]." "The same day that Lot went out of Sodom [escape] it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all [destruction]." That's not all. Both threads of though have their parallel in the last days, for "according to these things [literal Greek] shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed" (verse 30).

The latter-day parallel includes both escape and destruction, just as the examples of Noah and Lot did. Escape is explained in verses 31–33 ("let him likewise not return back ... whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it") while destruction is explained in verses 34–37 ("one shall be taken"). It is all very organized. Jesus mentions the escape of Noah first; afterwards the destruction of the flood. He mentions the escape of Lot first; afterwards the destruction of Sodom. Likewise, in the latter-day parallel, He explains the escape first (31–33); afterwards the destruction (34–37). It matches perfectly. See how the passage fits together into a smooth flow of thought?

 

Escape (verses 31–33)

Destruction (verses 34–37)

Noah entered into the ark

the flood came and destroyed them all

Lot went out of Sodom

it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all

Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed

In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot's wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together, the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Where the corpse lies, the vultures will gather.

 

The outline makes it clear that verses 34–37 explain destruction rather than escape. For if they explained escape, then the entire section (verses 31–37) would dwell on escape and where would be the reference to destruction? The explanation would not fit the example; it would make the entire section disjointed. The escapes of Noah and Lot would have latter-day parallel, but the destruction would have no parallel.

Rather than omitting the destruction of the latter days, it is given the stronger emphasis in verses 34–37. Of the two themes, destruction is more prominent than escape. In the example of Noah, destruction is a main part of the sentence, while Noah's escape is confined to a subordinate clause. Identically with Lot.

And likewise with the latter-day parallel. Even the escape paragraph (31–33) has destruction in close view in the background as though to make the reader expect an account of the destruction shortly. Our expectations are met as verses 34–37 answer how the one who saves his life shall lose it. As destruction is prominent from the beginning, so the passage winds up with destruction as the climax.

Now that we understand the point of verses 34–37, that it explains the climactic destruction of the latter days, it becomes clear that "the one shall be taken" in judgment, not rapture. Who is taken? Unbelievers. Who is left? Believers.

It is like a rapture in reverse. And since believers are not "taken" after the tribulation, this is formidable evidence that there is no rapture after the tribulation!

One post-trib to whom I have written surprisingly agrees that the wicked are "taken" and the righteous are "left." It is surprising because if the righteous are "left" they are not left for long according to the post-trib scheme. Only seconds later they too are "caught up" at the rapture. He may solve one problem this way, but he runs squarely into another problem: "Who will populate the millennium?" If all the wicked are "taken," then by his own admission no one is left with natural bodies to populate the millennium. He has run from a lion and into a bear.

It might be objected that Luke is emphasizing the destruction of the "one left" instead of the "one taken." This cannot stand, however, because the disciples ask, "Where?" In other words, "Where are they taken?" It makes no sense to ask, "Where are they left?" The disciples' question assumes the prominence of "taken"; so unbelievers are taken in destruction rather than left for destruction.

Since believers are not the ones taken after the tribulation, evidence for a post-trib rapture has vanished. Rapture in reverse? Yes. Rapture? No.

To sustain a rapture after the tribulation, post-tribulationists would have to make an adjustment or two in Luke 17. They would have to interrupt Luke's smooth flow of thought by making "one taken and one left" represent escape rather than destruction. Thus the escape of Noah and Lot would be paralleled twice (verse 31 and verses 34–37) and the destruction by the flood and the destruction of Sodom would be deprived of a latter-day parallel. Or they may prefer to adjust the disciples' question to mean, "Where are they left?" Finally, they would have to adjust the Lord's answer and change the meaning of "vultures" and "corpse."

Even if the succeed in making all these adjustments, they still have to reckon with the WINEPRESS....

 

Chapter Outline Contents Next Home