The confusion seems to be rampant between identifying characteristics of the coming of Jesus for the believers at the Rapture and His coming to conquer the enemies of righteousness at the end of the Tribulation. There are key descriptive phrases and wording that can only fit into the context of the Rapture and not the Second Coming.
If you’ve ever worked on a jig-saw picture puzzle and tried to fit a piece into a spot that seems to work, “if you squeeze it in just a bit,” you know it will trip you up before you finish the puzzle. The Word of God does not contradict itself but requires thoughtful, common sense consideration of what is said on balance with corresponding passages.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, Paul describes the Rapture and goes on in the context, which continues into chapter 5, to summarize concisely how it will come about, even the triggering event:
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).
The Day of the Lord appears as an introductory phrase to those days of the end-time prophecies, beginning with the Rapture/Tribulation as it is used here. Paul uses it again in his second letter, verse 2, as an introduction to those things that follow regarding the beginning of end-times wrap-up. Peter also writes in like manner as Paul, above, in 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…”
This introduces the next phrase that is common to the Rapture, as a thief in the night. Any context that refers in any way to the coming of Jesus, the Son of Man, in the likeness of a thief must have an explanation of how that could be referring to the Second Coming. One who comes “as a thief in the night” does not come on a white horse with a multitude of saints accompanying him on white horses…and stays there, as the Messiah will at the actual physical coming to the earth, so reported in Revelation 19.
The trigger phrase that Paul reports here is in verse 3, “For when they shall say, ‘Peace and safety,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them….” With that exultant statement, one would think that things were beginning to look up, but no, “sudden destruction” is next on the agenda. And, we do not know what day or hour God will cause that triggering event to happen.
In the context of those verses, beginning with Luke 17:26, Jesus compares the days of Noah and Lot as they will be with the coming of the Son of Man:
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”
That final phrase, “when the Son of Man is revealed,” has been taken to mean His revealing to the whole world at His Second Coming, thus this is proven to apply to the Second Coming. Yet, there is a definite revealing of the Lord to those who will meet Him in the air at the Rapture. It’s a “believers only” revealing, perhaps similar as that after His resurrection, when only believers were witnesses of Him in person.
No non-believers saw Him then. Perhaps 1 John 3:2 touches on that issue. Though it could be applied to His appearance at His Second Coming, it definitely will be the case as we see Him at the Rapture:
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
Times before the flood and before the destruction of Sodom were not evidences of moral integrity and righteousness, if you read those accounts in Genesis 6 and 19, respectively. Yet, there is no reporting of judgments of God in those days. It was after Noah and Lot had been taken out of the way that God’s judgments came.
In the comparison of those days before the flood and before Sodom’s destruction, common sense would surely conclude that it does not fit the Second Coming of Christ. His coming, at the end of the years of heavy tribulation, is to wrap up the judgments and set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem.
In the cases of Noah and Lot, the judgments began after they were out of the way and in safety. In Paul’s account above, “sudden destruction” comes after the “coming of the thief in the night” upon the cry of “peace and safety.” The sense of Revelation 3:10 is borne out here, too:
“Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”
The next comparison issue arises with consideration of the couplets of twos—one will be taken and the other left. First, the various hours of the night and day identify that the action will happen at the same time, but around the world, in the various time zones. It is a worldwide event.
It seems beyond common sense to maintain that those who are taken are taken away to judgment, when the comparison with Noah and Lot would indicate that those taken would be those who are rescued from the judgments coming. And those who remain will face the judgments, just as those who were left behind to suffer the judgment of the flood and the destruction of Sodom. The common phrase in both instances was “and destroyed them all.” But there are those who do not recognize the integrity of the comparison, “as it was in the days of Noah and Lot, so it will be in the day of the Son of Man.”
If the one taken is to judgment, and the one left also suffers judgment, then the comparison with the days of Noah and Lot has no meaning and is useless as a likeness for comparison. The “sudden destruction” comes upon those who are left, and it is worthy of recognition that those judgments in the days of Noah and Lot were physical actions taken on earth, just as those of the Tribulation will be—judgments on the earth, not those like the coming “great white throne judgment.”
It is also worthy of note that those heavy judgments, such as the bowl judgments and the war of Armageddon, followed by the marriage supper of the Lamb will have already happened before the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of Revelation 19.
Finally comes that strange answer Jesus gives the disciples when asked, “Where are they taken?”
“And they answered and said to Him, ‘Where, Lord?’ So He said to them, ‘Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together’” (Luke 17:37).
The variations of translation of this verse reveal the confusion on how it fits into this comparison of the days of Noah and Lot with the day when the Son of Man comes. Some translate the “body” as a “dead body” where the “vultures” will gather. It also leads some to believe, apparently, that those “taken” are taken away to judgment.
It brings the continuity and integrity of the comparison—made by Jesus, if you recall—into question, as contradictory and meaningless. It would make sense if those taken are taken to judgment., but that is a contradiction to what happened to those taken away from the judgments of the flood and of Sodom.
The Greek word for the type of bird here is aetos, the word for “eagle,” not “vulture,” according to Strong’s Hebrew and Greek dictionaries. An eagle will not feed on decayed flesh, but vultures find that food their favorite menu. The Greek word for body, here, is soma and does not indicate any kind of physical body, dead or alive.
Perhaps a more consistent interpretation and connection with the total illustration that Jesus portrayed is that these believers are taken to be with the body of believers already in His place of safety—the redeemed in Christ. It seems that any interpretation that is contradictory to the integrity and consistency of the preceding illustration would be totally out of place in the inspired Word of God.
There is a parallel passage to this Luke 17 context that also gets its share of misinterpretation, as I see it, by even leading Bible teachers. Matthew 24:37-41 introduces three illustrations Jesus uses to alert His servants that He will be returning and will be taking an accounting of what those servants have done as stewards of His commitments to them while He has been gone. The Matthew 24:37-41 passage, following, should be read in the total context of this passage and on into chapter 25, disregarding the chapter break, to include the two other passages regarding the ten virgins and the unfaithful servants:
“But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:37-41).
An observation that we cannot let go by without comment is that this passage is bracketed by two statements that are always associated with the coming of the Lord “as a thief in the night,” suddenly and without fanfare—at the Rapture:
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (verse 36), and:
“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (verses 42-44). (This may explain more of the secrecy issue—that the “master of the house, the devil,” will not know when Jesus is coming, as well.)
What follows are three scenarios that continue into chapter 25, pointing out that the Lord is expecting good stewardship of His servants while He is gone—the faithful servant and the evil servant, the ten virgins or bridesmaids, and the ten talents. All of these speak of an unannounced return of the Master to take an account of His servants’ stewardship.
Again, I emphasize the importance of maintaining the integrity and consistency of context and the intent of the parable or scenario that is presented. Holding to this standard, it seems that neither the Luke 17 passage nor the Matthew 24 passage are dealing with the Second Coming of our Lord. I rest my case.