Before getting to the topics, some groundwork should be laid in order to understand the “why” of tackling anything with this article’s brashness. Jude wrote and admonished believers to “earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) So, how can you contend without being contentious? In another context, Paul wrote, “If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, how shall we prepare ourselves for the battle?”
He also admonished us to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” that we might receive God’s approval. As truth-seekers, we want to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and excelled to greater levels of insight into scriptural truth. However, as Luke said of the Bereans, “they were more noble than the Thessalonians in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind but searched the scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was so” (Acts 17:11).
It is my understanding that the hallmark of Bible interpretation is this reasoned approach:
The Golden Rule of Interpretation
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicates clearly otherwise.
The consistency and integrity of a context should be adhered to so that confusion and disarray does not render the passage meaningless. Above all, God’s character and method of operation based on predetermined plans must be acknowledged and followed. Specifically, as noted in Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man, that He should lie nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do, or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”
In other words and in simplistic terms from man’s viewpoint, God does not wake up some Monday morning and decide, because of the trend of circumstances, that a certain promise made just isn’t working right, so He changes His mind. God’s plans were set in place before time began and unfold according to His “appointed times.”
Now, to the passages to be considered:
The Question of Who Is Judged in Luke 17:26-37
The passage, as follows:
“And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
Likewise, as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
‘In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.
I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.’
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.’”
Let’s take it bit by bit. The setting of the scenario “in the days of the Son of Man,” points to a future time that hints of the time called the “Day of the Lord.” That is a period of time, not a single day, beginning with the Rapture of believers and the sudden destruction that follows immediately, as Paul told the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3, “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….”
When I first started looking into this topic in view of writing about it, I thought I was contending only with lettered theologians at the seminary level. However, to my amazement, a footnote to the first verse 26 in the Amplified Bible reads, “This refers to the beginning of the Millennial kingdom when Christ returns physically and rules on earth.”
There is more in its parenthetic expansions of meaning in the context and in other footnotes that lead me to conclude that the translators did so according to their pre-conceived notions of what the passage is about. For instance, where in Revelation 20 or Zechariah 14 (two chapters that deal with the Millennial kingdom) can you find any indication of a scenario “as it was in the days of Noah?”
Let’s continue. It was business as usual, right up to the time Noah entered the ark. Then “the flood came and destroyed them all.” Where was the judgment? It was right there, starting in Noah’s front yard, and Noah and his family were taken away from that judgment. Those left behind were victims of the judgment.
A parallel passage for this part of the context is found in Matthew 24:36-44, and it follows the same thought process. The judgment comes upon those left behind. It is a fact, incidentally, that all of the judgments having to do with the end times, including those told in the book of Revelation, are all done here on the earth—think about it! Believers are taken out in the Rapture and those remaining here will endure the judgments of those seven years of the tribulation. None are taken out somewhere else for judgment.
Next we see the plight of Lot and his family in Sodom. The astounding picture of those taken out of the way of judgment while those left behind are the victims of judgment cannot be denied, honestly. The account also demonstrates the completeness of God’s redemption and justification not based on man’s performance—Lot had no noticeable good works to acclaim. It is also a clear rejection of the “partial rapture” theory, that only the obedient and faithful will be transformed at the Rapture.
Lot was even resistant to efforts of the angels to get him out of the city so they could carry out their assignment of judging the city. (See the full account in Genesis 19.)
Was Lot taken to judgment? No, obviously not, so “as it was in the days of Lot, so it will be in the day of the coming of the Son of Man,” and those taken away are not taken to judgment!
The next part of the context is a warning to believers that when He comes there will be no time for anything, like packing a bag, saying “goodbye,” or even looking back! That very picture ties this passage with the description Paul gives of the transformation called the Rapture in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53:
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
The conclusion is this: When Jesus comes, we are out of here! That warning in the Luke passage is to believers, not non-believers, obviously, for the Lord does not spend any time on the welfare of non-believers. His outlook on them in that scenario is, “Depart from Me, for I never knew you!”
Then the section begins where the theologians have decided that Jesus has switched directions on the straight-forward flow of consistency and integrity of the account. Yet, there is no change in the continuity of the thought line. In Luke’s account, above, Jesus continues with, “I tell you in that night…,” when the warning is given to those who are taken, not to look back. And then He tells of the different situations where one is taken and the other is left.
I must say, here, that it is deeply troubling that there is such a senseless and insistent interpretation that one is taken away to judgment and the other is left behind…and no one can say what happens to them, with any balanced Scriptural support. So, I have these questions:
Where is the judgment they are taken to and of what does it consist?
If the setting is as described, “as it was in the days of Noah, and of Lot,” and those two were not taken to judgment, why are you declaring that the opposite is now true?
If you noticed, each paragraph of the Luke narrative starts out inseparably linked to the former paragraph. Here are those first words:
“As it was in the days of Noah….”
“Likewise, as it was in the days of Lot….”
“In that day, he who is on the housetop….”
“I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed….”
You can see therefore that the same people who are in those first “as it was in the days of Noah and Lot” groupings are those of whom He warns them not to turn back and from whom one is taken and one is left. If Noah and Lot are taken to safety and not judgment, then so are the others who are taken.
The righteous are never taken to judgment, and in a sense, neither are the unrighteous. Judgment comes to them, as it was in the days of Noah and of Lot. Those left behind experienced the judgment that God brought to them.
When the disciples asked Jesus, “Where are they taken?” the answer He gives is perhaps the main reason for the reversal of direction that is often taught as proper interpretation of the passage. That verse is mysterious beyond expression and very strangely leaves the reader with a “What, say that again” reaction. He said this, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together” (Luke 17:37).
Why such a strange answer that seems to complicate an otherwise straight-forward narrative? One Bible analyst would tell us, perhaps, that it is in keeping with God’s way of hiding the gospel throughout the Scriptures so that the enemies of Christ cannot easily find and corrupt it. Perhaps it is also a way to weed out those who are not very serious in their pursuit of the truth, a test for those who would like to think they are “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”
If one is intent on maintaining consistency and integrity of the context, as I have indicated earlier, he cannot possibly come up with an interpretation that is contrary to the setting which begins the account—“as it was in the days of Noah.”
Many of the translations render His response as, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” Yet, many others, apparently having already made up their minds by the time they get to this verse that those taken are taken away to judgment, come up with this result, “where the corpse, or dead body, is, there the vultures will be gathered.”
If the Golden Rule of Interpretation has any merit with its emphasis on the use of common sense, it seems to have been lost with those latter translations of the verse. Let’s face it, eagles are not vultures or buzzards. Eagle3s are of the birds of prey family and do not find their food where dead bodies are located. The stature of an eagle displays a likeness to the stature of a believer in Christ, of strength, perseverance, integrity, quality of character.
And if those taken away are taken together with the body of Christ, as at the Rapture, we have consistency with the whole passage. God’s judgment, in the eternal sense, seems to point to a solitary, individual manner where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness.” There is never a sense of them gathering together. It is a time of abject loneliness and suffering, forever and ever!
So, the twisted treatments of these tenants of truth are deeply troubling to me, and possibly also to the reader. James writes this caution, “…Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). I, too, hear that caution.
(The topic will be continued in Part 2.)
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