(Co-host at Prophecy Watchers Ministries)
The Answer Shows that the Rapture Could Be Sooner Than We Think
There are generally two perspectives when addressing the question of whether Jesus discusses the rapture in the Olivet Discourse (hereafter “OD”). One line of thinking is that the OD (found in Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21) does not address the rapture, nor the church, but is exclusively in reference to the nation of Israel during the final 7-year tribulation (the 70th week of Daniel). The other interpretation notes that Jesus does indeed address Israel, but His language in the OD addresses a far broader audience not only in topic but also in those events which affect the entire world, including the church.
Notice the universal cosmic language of Luke 21:25-26, ” 25 And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (compare also, Matthew 24:14, gospel being preached in the whole world).
These are just a couple of examples that Jesus’s teachings in the OD are much broader than just Israel alone. There are excellent Bible teachers on both sides of the debate, and this article is intended to provide evidence that the rapture is indeed addressed in the OD. It is offered in a spirit of gentleness and respect with those who might have a different perspective (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). I will address some parallel passages that shed light on the OD, as well as examine the ways in which the descriptions of the tribulation period in the book of Revelation provide a background for understanding the consistency of end-time prophecy.
One of the most important aspects in trying to answer our question about the rapture is seen in a comment made by Jesus, right in the middle of Matthew’s rendition of the OD. Jesus says, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). It appears only twice in the gospels (also in Luke 12:40). We will examine this verse contextually in two sections and how it helps contribute to understanding the OD. Further, what does it mean when Jesus says, “the Son of Man is coming”? How does an “hour you do not expect” contribute decisively to the timing of the rapture and its presence in the OD? We will address these in two parts.
Parallel Passages in Luke Which Help to Understand the ‘Coming of the Son of Man’
In addition to the OD chapters as noted above, Luke has included two other sections which deal with eschatological themes spoken by Jesus. Based on a harmony of the Gospels, it is reasoned that Jesus preached Luke 12:35-48 approximately 5 months before the OD. As His passion week came closer, He preached Luke 17:20-37 about 2 weeks or less before He gave the longer OD two days before His death. This is important as we compare the particular themes and angles that each gospel writer intended.
“Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44; Luke 12:40). Remember, this teaching appears in two versions and two different time periods. When contemplating the Matthew version of this verse, it is logical to ask, “Who is Jesus talking to here?” Is He giving this as an admonition to the world? To unbelievers? To believers? In the OD and two days before His death, Mark 13:3 reveals that Peter, James, John and Andrew asked Jesus privately while on the Mount of Olives to explain His comments about the temple being destroyed. In a narrow sense, Jesus was speaking to those four privately.
This reveals that the primary (not only) intended audience for the OD were believers. Jesus had already given encouragement to those disciples who would be persecuted for their faith in the early years of the church. Those that endured to the end would be saved (Matt 10:22). Further, Jesus revisits this theme and gives encouragement for those that became believers after the rapture. They would find themselves in the early part of the 70th week of Daniel and the persecution which would happen during that period (Matt 24:13).
Who is Jesus’ audience in the other parallel passage? In the Luke 12:40 version, it is revealed exactly who Jesus is addressing. Notice the likeness in language and further expansion by Luke.
“39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ 41 Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?’ 42 And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions'” (Luke 12:39-44).
I am so glad that Peter asked who the intended audience of the parable was supposed to be. No doubt, there are truths and warnings for everyone in general, but Jesus responds with an answer, albeit indirectly. The parable is for the one who is claiming and or seeks to be a “faithful and wise manager” of the master’s household. Unbelievers do not claim or seek to be wise managers of Jesus’s household. This parable is for those claiming to be believers.
Now, here is the point. Jesus makes it clear that we have the responsibility to be ready so that His coming is not like a thief to the wise and faithful manager. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that He will come like a thief upon believers who are ready. At the same time, Jesus said to us that He is coming at an hour we do not expect. How can this be true? Even though we know the general times and seasons (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4) and that the tribulation period (day of the Lord) will not surprise us, there is still an element spoken of by Jesus that His coming will be at an hour that we do not expect.
In order to get to the bottom of this puzzle, the next question that needs to be explored is whether Jesus is referring to His coming at the rapture or His 2nd coming in great glory at the end of the 7-year tribulation period. If we can shed more light on this question, we will be able to more fully understand the context of Jesus saying that “No one knows the day nor the hour” in the OD (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). We must remember that Jesus had given a mini-sermon concerning His return in Luke 17:20-37 about a week or so before the longer sermon of the OD. This mini-sermon uses similar language to that which Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives a couple of days before His death (Matthew 26:1; Mark 14:1; Luke 22:1).
Let’s begin by examining the context of Luke 17:20-37. Luke writes, “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21).
Jesus makes sure the Pharisees know that the kingdom of God arrived in the person of Jesus Himself. However, He declines to reveal to them any more information about the nature of the kingdom but does turn to explain more details to His disciples. One of the most important aspects of this kingdom comes in what He describes next. I want to highlight some of the more important points through underlining.
“22 And He said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in His day. 25 But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (Luke 17:22-25).
The phrase “days of the Son of Man” only occurs in 17:22 and 17:26 (using a plural for “days”). This is extremely vital to connect this idea with the next illustration about Noah and Lot. But first, Jesus shares with His disciples standing in front of Him that they would long to see the events of the 2nd coming, but they were not going to observe it. It was far off into the future after their deaths.
This helps to understand what He meant by telling the Pharisees that the kingdom had already come in some way. Yet He reveals to the disciples that indeed the kingdom has come, but the end of the age fulfillment of that kingdom (“the days of the Son of Man”) would occur in the distant future. Therefore, they should not be deceived if someone tells them it has arrived in their lifetimes. Jesus assures them that it will not, but when it does happen in that distant future, it will be unmistakable.
Further, Jesus reveals that the concept of His future (2nd) “coming” happens over a period of “days.” This is not accidental and can only be interpreted in parallel within the subsequent context. The entire theology of the “2nd coming” of Jesus is equated to be a period of time that Jesus labels as “the days of the Son of Man.”
Before giving the comparison with Noah and Lot, Jesus warns a future generation against being deceived that His coming in great glory would be in secret (17:23). In fact, His final return will certainly occur on a specific day (“in His day”- Luke 17:24) and involve tremendous luminescent displays of cosmic glory (like lightning) in the midst of darkness (cf. Matthew 24:27-30). Yet He reminds them that even though He will come in glory on a future day, He must first be killed by that generation (17:25).
What we learn from this passage so far is that the entire scope of Jesus’s 2nd coming involves a period of “days” up to and including the final culmination of His return on a specific single day. Jesus continues by providing an illustration to help us understand the nature and conditions of the “days of the Son of Man.”
“26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 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. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot— they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-29).
Even though Matthew brings up Noah in his version of the OD (Matt 24:37-39), this is the only place where Lot occurs in the context of comparison to the period of time involving Jesus’ 2nd coming. The “days” of each person that Jesus mentions includes descriptions of the immediate period of time before judgment came but also includes the judgment itself. The flood judgment came in the days of Noah. The fire and brimstone judgment came in the days of Lot. The judgment of the Son of Man (the 7-year tribulation) arrives in the days of the Son of Man. Jesus provides the two illustrations of Noah and Lot and then summarizes the “days of Son of Man” when He says, “It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:30).
Some people can get confused as to why Jesus switches to the singular “day” in this verse. We already know from the context of 17:22 that Jesus is discussing the “days of the Son of Man.” He began by using a plural to guide the rest of the discussion and is also confirmed by the pattern. Additionally, it is well known in the Old Testament that the coming 7-year tribulation is called the “day of the Lord” but reflects a period of time and not just one day.
This same usage is found in the New Testament and includes the entire 7-year tribulation period, which comes as a thief in the night on an unsuspecting world (1 Thess 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). We are not left guessing of Jesus’s use of the singular “day” because He explains how we are to interpret it in the two illustrations of Noah and Lot. In 17:30, we read, “It will be just the same.” The Greek is “kata ta auta” and literally reads, “according to the same,” which is in reference to Noah and Lot.
Another way to translate it is “according to this pattern.” The Greek auta is plural and helps show that the pattern involves that which is more than one. The phrase only occurs 3 times total in the entire New Testament, and the other two instances are also in the gospel of Luke, which is very helpful in understanding Luke’s meaning.
When you read Luke 6:23 and 6:26, both are discussing the manner/pattern in which the Jewish forefathers operated. Notice how the NKJ translates the phrase “kata ta auta.” I will underline the Greek phrase as it appears in English, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:23). In other words, “according to this pattern” of the ancient forefathers is how many believers will be persecuted, which results in great reward.
It would be helpful to address an objection at this time raised by some Bible teachers.
Dr. Andy Woods, with whom I have great brotherly respect, has an excellent series on the Olivet Discourse on YouTube. I agree with Dr. Woods on 99%, but as it regards to whether the rapture is found in the OD, I do not see it the way he does. He does not believe the rapture can be found in the OD or in Luke 17. One of his objections in his video (Rapture Sermon Series 28) addresses the parable of Noah and Lot (Matthew 24:37-39). He references Dr. Roy Zuck’s book on Bible Interpretation concerning parables (page 215). He quotes Dr. Zuck saying that parables only usually have one major point. The point of the parable of the days of Noah, according to Woods and Zuck, is simply the idea of being unprepared. I agree this is a major point, but not the only point.
In the following paragraph of the same book, Zuck writes this:
“However, in support of the major point, some details in the parables are analogous to certain spiritual facts. Sometimes this is necessary for the major point of the parable to be fully drawn. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the shepherd obviously represents Jesus, the 1 sheep represents a lost sinner, as Jesus explained in Luke 15:7, and the remaining 99 sheep represent “righteous persons who do not need to repent.” And yet other details such as the open country, the shepherd’s shoulders, and his home and friends and neighbors should not be made analogous to some spiritual elements. They simply are parts needed to make the story lifelike and to add local color….
Sometimes Jesus did explain a number of the details of a parable, as in the Parable of the Sower in which He explained the meaning of each of the four places where the seed fell (Matt. 13:18–23; Mark 4:13). He also interpreted several details in the Parable of the Weeds, including the sower, the field, the good seed, the weeds, the enemy, the harvest, and the harvesters (vv. 37–39). Since Jesus did not normally point up analogies in all parts of His parables, these examples in Matthew 13 should be seen as exceptions” (page 215-216- my emphasis).
Who decides which elements are the exceptions? No doubt, Dr. Zuck is correct in providing some general guidance in interpretating the genre of parables. Nevertheless, Zuck acknowledges that Jesus’s extra details concerning the parable of the sower are important aspects of understanding the full message of this parable. Interestingly, Jesus teaches the disciples that His true interpretation of the parable of the sower provides some level of a pattern to understanding the rest of the parables. Mark writes, “And He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?'” (Mark 4:13).
In responding to Dr. Wood’s objection, we respectfully disagree by noting that even Dr. Zuck (which he quotes) acknowledges that parables can have subpoints that are analogous to spiritual lessons. Additionally, Jesus teaches us that parable of the sower provides a pattern to interpreting other parables. This means that parables can have a major point and some minor points that are meant to be analogous and provide spiritual truths. Finally, as I mentioned earlier, in Luke 17:30, Jesus uses a plural (auta) in describing that to understand the pattern of the days of the Son of Man, the illustration of the days of Noah and the days of Lot involves a pattern which has plural points of similarity. Let’s see how these plural points in the pattern and parallelism look visually.
DAYS OF NOAH
Description of Daily Life:
Eating, drinking, marrying, given in marriage- normal activities
Noah preaches in the time period prior to judgment (2 Pet 2:5)
Description of Rescue:
Noah and family commanded to enter ark-
They escape and are rescued from judgment
Description of Direct Judgment:
Judgment began only after Noah went into ark, but came quickly and interrupted daily normal life.
Windows of heaven opened. Rain began on a certain day and lasted forty days.
DAYS OF LOT
Description of Daily Life:
Eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building- normal activities
Lot vexed in the time period (“day to day”) prior to judgment (2 Peter 2:6-8)
Description of Rescue:
Lot and family commanded to leave Sodom-
They escape and are rescued from judgment (except Lot’s wife who was left behind).
Description of Direct Judgment:
Judgment began only after Lot fled the city, but came quickly and interrupted daily normal life.
Fire from heaven came on a certain day.
DAYS OF THE SON OF MAN
Description of Daily Life:
The pattern shows us that before the judgment comes, people will be living normally.
Two types of people will be living side by side under these normal conditions.
The pattern shows one group of people will be preaching and also vexed prior to the judgment arriving.
Description of Rescue:
The pattern shows us that there should also be a group to be rescued and escape coming judgment.
Rapture generation commanded “to be ready at all times”-
They will escape and be rescued from the coming judgment.
Description of Direct Judgment:
The pattern shows us that the judgment will begin only after believers are rescued, but will come quickly and interrupt daily normal life.
The heavenly judgment begins on a specific day and will last 7 years, based on other passages.
This comparison shows that there is a clear plurality in the pattern, parallelism, and consistency in understanding Jesus’s description of the days of the Son of Man. The days of the coming of the Son of Man include the description of people experiencing normal life, the rescue of a specific group, the quick beginning of direct judgment by God from heaven, which interrupts daily normal life and then brings destruction to the many left behind.
Jesus continues His mini-sermon about the days of the Son of Man. It is possible to outline this sermon as follows: The Pattern concerning the days of the Son of Man (17:26-30), The Perspective concerning the days of the Son of Man (17:31-33), and The Payoff concerning the days of the Son of Man (17:34-37).
We have seen the pattern, but Jesus goes on to explain that those who seek to be rescued need to have the proper perspective (or attitude). Jesus gives an illustration in verse 31 about the need to be single-minded in regard to kingdom readiness. I always take the Bible literally and straightforward unless the context shows me otherwise. Some people could argue that Jesus is being very literal in this situation by giving instructions concerning if you are on a housetop or in a field in a future end-time scenario (it is literal advice in Matthew 24:16-20 based on context there). However, the next two verses explain the illustration in that it is not necessarily an exact instruction for a future perilous situation.
Jesus tells us to “remember Lot’s wife” (17:32) and then goes on to say, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (17:33). This phrase has already occurred in Luke 9:24 in the context of being a true committed disciple. Our attitude at all times should be so single-minded that we will not be double-minded like Lot’s wife. She actually was led outside of Sodom by the angels with the rest of her family, but she lingered behind as Lot and the two daughters continued on without her to the city of Zoar (Genesis 19:16, 26). She sought to preserve her own life and lost it.
We need to have the proper perspective so that when the days of the Son of Man come, we will follow the pattern and be one of those who are rescued. If we have this perspective, we will always be ready and avoid being caught by surprise when the Son of Man does indeed come at an hour we do not expect.
The conclusion to Jesus’s mini-sermon involves the payoff which will happen in the days of the Son of Man. Jesus discusses two types of people in 17:34-35: the one who is taken and the other who is left. Both words are used in a passive sense. Jesus says, “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” This language appears also in the OD of Matthew 24:40-41.
The question is commonly asked, “Is the taken one saved, or is the one left behind saved?” Jesus just encouraged us to remember Lot’s wife (17:30). With that imagery in mind, the answer becomes obvious when comparing Lot and his wife. Clearly, Lot was taken to refuge (salvation), and his wife was left to judgment. This is the classic left-behind scenario and also applies to Noah and his family. Noah was taken in the ark (in salvation) and the others left to the judgment of the flood.
Darrel Bock, in his massive commentary on Luke, notes that this understanding of “taken” and “left” is consistent with Luke’s use of the Greek words elsewhere. In Luke 13:35, the leadership of Israel was “left” for judgment because they rejected Jesus (Luke 13:35; cf. Matt 23:38). Also, other disciples who were “taken along” denotes a close relationship or association in a positive sense (Luke 9:10, 28; 18:31). This is not the only way to interpret these words for sure, but in the context of this passage and the gospel of Luke itself, it makes good sense.
Jesus finishes the payoff section by answering a question by the disciples. “And they said to him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather'” (Luke 17:37). This phrase also appears in the Matthew OD (Matt 24:27-28). There, the context is referring to the end of the tribulation as Jesus is returning in great glory. Here in Luke, it is in reference to the judgment of 7-year tribulation period, which certainly will involve much death. Jesus tells the disciples through His illustrations that the group which is “left” to die in judgment (like Lot’s wife) will be where the birds gather to feast. Context is very important, and when people die and are left on the ground, we are very aware that vultures or other birds gather around to eat the carrion.
Let’s summarize this part of the article. We are ultimately considering whether the rapture is in the OD and also Jesus’ comment, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). We learned from the patterns in Luke that the days of the coming of the Son of Man involve the whole scope of the rescue (rapture) of believers before the beginning of the 7-year tribulation judgment, the entire tribulation itself, and the 2nd coming of Jesus in great, obvious glory (like lightning across the sky).
It is interesting that the book of Revelation begins with the words, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” (1:1). As most are aware, the word revelation comes from the Greek noun apokalupsis. We get the English “apocalypse” from this word, and it generally means to unveil, to make known, or to reveal. The book of Revelation is the revealing of Jesus Christ in His full glory.
Something to ponder before we go on to the next part of this article. Most futurists believe that the 7-year tribulation occurs between Revelation 6-18 with the opening up of the seals of the scroll, which leads to the trumpets and the bowl judgments. Jesus is the only one worthy to open the scroll (Rev 5:1-5). This process of opening the fullness of the scroll takes 7 years and is part of the revealing of Jesus.
This verb form of this same Greek word appears in the passage we discussed above in the patterns of Noah and Lot (Luke 17:30). “It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” This matches well with the process as seen in the book of Revelation, which takes 7 years. The “day of the Son of Man” being revealed involves the rescue, the 7-year tribulation judgment, and His return to earth in Great glory (Rev 19:11-16). This is quite consistent in understanding that the days of the Son of Man involve a period of time lasting at least 7 years.
In part 2 of this article, I want to explore what Jesus means by “coming at an hour you do not expect.”