Co-host at Prophecy Watchers Ministries
The Answer Shows that the Rapture Could be Sooner than We Think
In Part 1 of this article, I addressed the pattern that Jesus gave in Luke 17:26-32 and its contribution to how we should understand the Olivet Discourse (hereafter “OD”). I also showed that the “days of the coming of the Son of Man” refer to a period of time which includes the rescue/rapture, 7-year tribulation judgment, and the physical return of Jesus in great glory after the tribulation. In part 2, I will address the specifics of what Jesus means when He says He will come at an hour we do not expect. Additionally, I will give a detailed exegesis of Matthew 24:36-42, taking into consideration the context of 24:1-35 while at the same time addressing objections by those who do not see the rapture in the OD.
The Son of Man is Coming at an Hour you do not Expect
There is not enough room in this article to do a full verse by verse study of the Olivet Discourse (OD), but some preliminary comments need to be made before we get into the various details of the OD.
One important hermeneutical principle that needs to be shared at this point concerns the distinction between when the Olivet Discourse was spoken by Jesus and when it was written down through Holy Spirit inspiration (2 Tim 3:16). The three renditions of the OD we have in the gospels were all written decades after the church and the spiritual kingdom had been introduced by Jesus and fulfilled/begun in Acts 2. These writers had years of practical, theological, early church-age development in their minds before they finalized their gospels in written form. No doubt, each gospel writer had their own specific themes and intentions in their respective gospels. Those themes should not be ignored, but we also must remember not to force an interpretation on any passage.
For example, some Bible teachers are quite strong on requiring that Matthew’s emphasis in the OD is only about Israel and not about the church in any way at all. We might ask that if this is true, then why did Matthew avoid the most “Jewish” part of the words spoken by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse? Namely, the details of the destruction of the Jewish temple, which was only included by Luke (21:20-24). These Bible teachers that claim that Matthew 24 and 25 are only Jewish in context are asserting a limit on the passage that is not stated overtly and has the glaring omission of one of the most Jewish aspects of the entire O.D.
I am not denying that there is a general Jewish context in Matthew and all of the gospels. However, to eliminate any church or other NT theological truths in embryonic form right at the start of interpretation is an aspect of eisegesis and biased pre-supposition. Further, it should be noted that Matthew is the only gospel which specifically writes using the Greek term ekklesia (church- 16:18 and twice in 18:17). Matthew even brings up the typical Jewish epithet “Son of Man” in connection with his introduction of the church in 16:13-18. This guides us to realize that Matthew might have a broader theological emphasis in the OD than some claim.
As we seek to understand fully the entire OD, it would be helpful to think in terms of the similarities we will see from what we have already explored in the gospel of Luke and comparing it with Matthew’s rendition of the OD. Let’s focus on the phrase and context of “that day and hour” with a few other highlights.
“36 But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:36-44).
Our main goal is to understand Matthew 24:36 and whether it refers to the rapture or the Second Coming. Arnold Fruchtenbaum has an excellent harmony of the Olivet Discourse in the appendix of his book, The Footsteps of the Messiah, in which he brings together all that is written in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. His harmony is helpful as we continue this part of the article. We will keep our focus primarily on the version of the OD found in the gospel of Matthew as it provides the context for Matthew 24:36-44.
Matthew is presenting his material in answering the questions about the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem and the signs of the end of the age and Jesus’ return (Matthew 24:1-3). Several items are missing from Matthew’s version, which are important. For example, he leaves out the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20-24) and the personal tribulations to be experienced by the apostles in the first century (Luke 21:12-19). Neither Matthew nor Mark mention the eschatological material about the days of the Son of Man and the days of Lot (Luke 17:22-32) in their books, even though Luke uses it in chapter 17 rather than chapter 21.
There is no way to grasp the full understanding of the OD unless one consults all three synoptic gospels and all the eschatological material. It will be helpful to follow Matthew verse by verse as we build the context to 24:36. I will highlight in bold the Matthew 24 verses as we build to verse 36 (along with the parallel passages).
From Fruchtenbaum’s harmony, we learn that Matthew has been presenting material that covers the general characteristics of the church age (Matthew 24:4-6; see also Mark 13:5-7; Luke 21:8-9). He then gives Jesus’s answer concerning the signs of the end of the age (Matthew 24:7-8; also, Luke 21:10-11; Mark 13:8). Matthew proceeds to give Jesus’s teachings on the first half of the tribulation (Matthew 24:9-14) followed by the events of the second half of the tribulation. This includes the abomination of desolation, which Luke omits entirely (Matthew 24:15-28; also, Mark 13:14-23). Matthew provides information about the events of Jesus’s return after the tribulation (Matthew 24:29-30; also, Luke 21:25-27; Mark 13:24-26) and then the regathering of the elect (Matthew 24:31). Finally, he presents the parable of the fig tree (Matthew 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33). This summarizes the context up to our current focus on 24:36.
Returning to Jesus’s words, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Is this referring to the rapture or the specific day of Jesus’s coming in great glory at the end of the tribulation? As mentioned in the first part of this article, excellent Bible teachers disagree on this issue. I have over two hundred commentaries just on the gospels, and, by far, my favorite is once again by Fruchtenbaum (The Life of the Messiah from a Messianic Jewish Perspective in four volumes). To keep this short, he mentions five reasons why this section (Matt 24:36-42) refers to the rapture and not Jesus’s 2nd coming in great glory at the end of the tribulation. I will list each of Fruchtenbaum’s points and add my own commentary while also addressing objections by other Bible teachers.
First, the Greek phrase peri de translated as “But concerning” can often refer to the start of a new topic or a change of subject (see 1 Corinthians 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 5:1). In this case, Matthew has discussed in full the signs of the end of the age all the way up to Jesus’ 2nd coming in great glory after the tribulation (24:29-35) and is now introducing the new topic of the rapture.
Some will object and assert that the concept of the rapture was not revealed until two days after the OD during the last supper (John 14:1-3). I have already shown that the concept of a rescue before judgment was taught in Luke 17 as a pattern to understand the “days of the Son of Man” revealing. This happened a couple of weeks before the OD sermon was given. Further, Matthew has already brought up the concept of the church (16:18; 18:17), and so it would not be unprecedented to have some theological teaching concerning the future church without denying a general Jewish context of the OD. Moreover, Jesus had given a full explanation from the general characteristics of the church age all the way to His 2nd coming in great glory (Matt 24:1-35).
Now that He has finished answering their questions, He introduces and gives more detail of the rescue/rapture event, which He previously taught approximately a week or two earlier (Luke 17). In this new topical discussion, Jesus even uses similar language of the days of Noah and one of two people being taken or left so that the connection to a rescue is unmistakable (compare Luke 17:26-27 with Matthew 24:36-42).
Some Bible teachers object and state that those who advocate peri de are misinterpreting and force this construction to refer to some new topic that is completely foreign to Jesus’s previous teaching. I do agree that this construction is used to introduce topics that are new, but related. The introduction of the new topic of the rapture/rescue at this point in the OD goes along with understanding the other details Jesus just got done teaching concerning the days of the Son of Man and His coming. It certainly is a related subject and is not completely foreign or remote to the subject of the OD. It is eschatology 101.
Second, no one but the Father (neither the angels nor the Son – Mark 13:32) will know of the timing of the rapture. This has been the key element of the entire rapture doctrine and the warnings to always be ready. Why? Because Jesus is returning at a time we do not expect (Matthew 24:44). The tribulation is exactly 2,520 days, and the 2nd coming of Jesus in great glory on a specific day after the tribulation can be calculated with precision from the confirmation of the covenant with Israel (the beginning of the 70th week). Additionally, from the time of the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15) and the casting down of Satan from heaven (Revelation 12:6, 14; 13:5) is going to be 42 months or 3 ½ years or 1,260 days exactly.
Some Bible teachers argue that not knowing the “day nor the hour” (Matt 24:36) is referring to the coming of Jesus in great glory state that it was only true back in the 1st century. The inability to “know the day or the hour” no longer applies in the present or future tribulation period. There is no doubt that Jesus knows the timing now that He has moved beyond the limits of His earthly ministry. But He is God, and this would be expected once He ascended (cf. Philippians 2:4-11).
These same Bible teachers posit that the tribulation saints will indeed be able to calculate the exact date of Jesus’s coming in great glory at the end of the tribulation. Even if this is true for tribulation saints, this seems like a stretch and blunts most of the other teachings of Jesus about His coming arriving unexpectedly like a “thief” on an unsuspecting world. There are numerous parables of Jesus (Luke 12:35-48; Luke 17:20-37; 19:11-27; Matthew 24: 37-51; 25:1-30) that teach that the master or groom would be coming at a time that is unexpected with disastrous results for those not ready. This seems very difficult to put into a context of Jesus’ 2nd coming at the end of the tribulation.
The typical response by teachers affirming a 2nd coming application of Matt 24:36 is that the unbeliever during the tribulation is unaware or dead to the things of God, and therefore it still will be a surprise. My reply is that the unbeliever might indeed be spiritually dead to receiving the gospel, but it contradicts what we know about the tribulation. The unbelievers in the tribulation still reject God and do not repent (Rev 9:20-21; 16:9, 11), but they clearly know that the horrible judgments of the tribulation are from God. In fact, John quotes them:
“15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'” (Rev 6:15-17).
Since they are aware that the wrath of God has arrived, it would be easy for them to get a Bible and/or read a prophecy book to gain some quick understanding if they desired to calculate the date of Jesus’s 2nd coming in glory. Therefore, Jesus’ return would not be like a thief nor a surprise to these unbelievers during the tribulation. They have already demonstrated the aptitude to recognize the signs of the times. In fact, these people are not atheists. They have heard the gospel (Rev 14:6-7), know God is sending the judgments, and they curse Him for it (Revelation 16:9, 11, 21); nor did they repent, but continued to worship demons (Rev 9:20-21) and the dragon/beast (Rev 13:4, 8, 12; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).
In addition, we must remember that Jesus told Peter in Luke 12:39-42 that the parable of the thief was intended to encourage those seeking to be a “faithful and wise manager.” Unbelievers are not seeking to be wise stewards. The thief imagery is most explicitly intended for believers seeking to be wise managers and not specifically to unbelievers. Granted, Jesus’ message is given generally for all, but Jesus answered Peter directly on to whom the parable was meant (Luke 12:41-42). The thief imagery requires a surprise, and the most logical timeframe of when a surprise would happen is prior to the arrival of the 7-year tribulation, not at the end of it.
Moreover, Jesus says to the believer that “it will come at an hour we do not expect” (12:40). This is consistent with 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5. Paul writes, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness” (1 Thess 5:1-5).
The summary of this passage accords with the teachings in the gospels and demonstrates that Paul taught the Thessalonians well. He has informed them that the day of the Lord’s judgment (7-year tribulation) will come upon an unsuspecting world like a thief in the night. This can only refer to the timing of a pretribulation rapture event. The world is living the normal life of peace and safety (similar to Luke 17 and the days of Noah, Lot, and the son of Man) when sudden destruction comes. This group living in the days of the Son of Man prior to the tribulation will not escape any more than the people living in the days of Noah and Lot. Yet Paul says in 5:4 that the Thessalonians are not in darkness for that day to “surprise them.” Jesus never says it will come upon believers like a thief but at an hour we do not expect.
Do we have a contradiction? The Bible never contradicts itself, but sometimes we need to look a little closer. The Greek verb used in 1 Thess 5:4, “to surprise,” is used in what is known as the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood often has the nuance of possibility or intentionality in contrast to the indicative mood, which indicates certainty. Paul is saying, “You are not in darkness, brothers, with the intention that the day (of judgment) will not result in surprising you like a thief” (see Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 473). This is consistent with Jesus’s words in the gospels.
Yes, Jesus is coming like a thief in the night, but the wise and faithful steward will be ready at all times and escape this day of judgment (Luke 12:39-44; 21:34-36). The day of judgment is intended to bring destruction on unbelievers, but since we are not of darkness, our readiness is intended to mitigate any surprise judgment. This agrees with Jesus’s use of the phrase in the book of Revelation. Notice, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you” (Rev 3:3).
Jesus gives further clarification, which is in harmony with Paul. If a believer is awake and ready, then it will mitigate any surprise judgment like a thief. However, there is a risk for those that are not awake and show themselves to be false professing believers (Titus 1:16; Matt 7:21-23). For them, the destruction will indeed be certain and overtake them like a thief.
What about the use of the thief imagery by Jesus? “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (Rev 16:15).
Some Bible teachers comment that this is proof that Jesus’s use of “thief” is in reference to His 2nd coming in great glory because it appears in the context right before the battle of Armageddon, which happens at the end of the tribulation. It is almost universally understood that this comment by Jesus is a parenthetical comment. Is Jesus giving a warning to the tribulation saints living in the last weeks of God’s tribulation wrath, or is it meant as a reminder to the original recipients of the seven churches as found in chapters 2-3?
Robert Thomas, in his excellent commentary on Revelation, answers, “The possibility of this being an encouragement to the faithful to persevere could serve no useful purpose at this point. By the time of the sixth bowl, those not in a place of refuge (12:13–17) have suffered martyrdom (13:15; 14:1–5, 13; 15:2). The beast’s oppression of the saints has run its course. Therefore, this announcement is a repetition of excerpts from the two earlier messages to Sardis and Laodicea (3:3, 18); it is a call to genuineness of faith” (p. 267). This again reaffirms that Jesus’s use of the thief imagery throughout the NT is in reference to the rapture and not the 2nd coming in great glory. The judgment which begins after the rapture is far more extensive than Jesus’s 2nd coming. When He returns in great glory, there is very little judgment left.
For sure, Jesus will be judging those that survive the tribulation, but it will be quick and over within 75 days. The 7-year day of the Lord is a horrible time and is that which overtakes the thief according to Paul (1 Thess 5:1-5). That is what Jesus said is possible to be rescued from (Luke 17:22-37).
Third, the idea of “no one knows the day or the hour” denoting the rapture makes perfect sense when looking at the following verses of Matthew 24:37-39 referring to the days of Noah. As we observed in the Luke 17 passage, the days of Noah, Lot and the Son of Man, the rescue (rapture) occurs during a time of normal life activity. We saw in the patterns/parables in part 1 of this article that it is legitimate to focus on the minor points of these parables as Jesus said (Luke 17:30). Visuals are helpful in showing the state of humanity during the tribulation period leading up to the 2nd coming of Jesus in great glory versus the descriptions connected with the phrase, “But concerning that day and hour, no one knows.”
Does it refer to the rapture before the tribulation or the coming of Jesus in great glory at the end of the tribulation? This cannot be exhaustive, but I encourage you to list out all the descriptions of the 7 seals, 7 bowls, and 7 trumpets. Also, list out the descriptions of the “day of judgment” and Great Tribulation as found in the Olivet Discourse. We then can compare them to what I believe is the rapture as found in Luke 17:22-37 and the OD (Matt 24:36-39). Observe the following.
Revelation 6-18 “living”
- War, massive inflation (2 loaves of bread costing a full day’s wage).
- One-fourth of world killed by sword, hunger, disease, martyrdom, great earthquakes, cosmic astronomical disturbances.
- One-third of earth burned up, sea turned to blood, sea creatures and ships destroyed, wormwood, more cosmic disturbances in sun, moon, stars.
- 5 months of demon locust plague where people seek death.
- 200 million demons killing 1/3 of humanity.
- Painful sores on those with the mark of the beast.
- All sea creatures die, rivers and springs turn to blood,
- Sun scorches mankind, periods of darkness, greatest earthquake in history, 75-pound hailstones, cursing God.
Olivet Discourse “living”
- Birth pains that increase in frequency and intensity. These include great earthquakes in various places, famines, pestilences, fearful sights and great signs from heaven, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, tribulation, betrayal by family, hating of one another, false prophets and deception, love of many growing cold, people fainting from fear, and Jews fleeing into the mountains to hide from the antichrist. It is the greatest time of tribulation in the history of the world. It is so bad that if God did not limit the time period of Great Tribulation, all humanity would be eliminated. There will be great signs and wonders to deceive, and final war before Jesus returns.
The Day and Hour “living”
- Matthew 24:37-39; Noah’s Day- “In the days before the flood”- unaware (oblivious), eating, drinking, marrying, giving in marriage.
- Luke 17:26-27 Noah’s Day- eating, drinking, marrying, giving in marriage.
- Luke 17:28-29; Lot’s Day- eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building
- Normal everyday living
Jesus said, “But concerning that day and hour, no one knows” and then immediately gives the descriptions of Noah’s day. These people were completely oblivious and unaware of the judgment of the flood. If we bring in the other parallel passages in which Jesus uses Lot as an example, it becomes obvious. Think of it. They were planting their crops, planning weddings, putting deposits down on the wedding venues (in our modern parlance), making business plans, having celebrations, building new barns, adding landscaping. We could go on and on.
There will always be times of generic “trouble” in our world (John 16:33). Yet the descriptions seen in the examples which Jesus gives are the normal circumstances that He said would be occurring also at the time of the coming of the Son of Man. His coming involves a rescue, the arrival of the day of the Lord, judgment, and sudden destruction. If we compare this normal living with the living happening during the tribulation period right up until Jesus’s 2nd coming in great glory, there is no comparison. Life is anything but normal!
Using Jesus’s words in 24:38-39, “For as in those days before the flood…so will be the coming of the Son of Man,” we can ask if this in reference to the days before and leading up to the 2nd coming. Are these people during or at the end of the 7-year tribulation period going to be planning a wedding, having house parties, working on their landscaping, building their shed in the backyard? People are seeking death in the tribulation, not planning a wedding (Rev 9:6). They are fainting from fear, not celebrating. They are suffering from scorching heat, hunger, thirst, darkness, and 75-pound hailstones, not concerned with building a shed or planting (cf. Rev 7:16).
“But concerning that day and hour, no one knows” clearly refers to the days prior to rapture and the beginning of the 7-year tribulation judgment and not to the 2nd coming of Jesus in great glory at the end of the tribulation.
Additionally, Jesus said that they are unaware of the impending judgment (Matt 24:39). Paul describes them as saying “peace and safety” (normal living) and also unaware of imminent judgment. We already saw that the unbelievers during the tribulation are very aware that they are living under the wrath of God (Rev 6:17).
One final thought for those Bible teachers that desire to maintain that the entire OD is Jewish in nature and does not make reference for a Church rapture in 24:36. We know from Matthew 24:15-21 that after the abomination of desolation, the Jews will be fleeing for their lives into the mountains from the antichrist (see also Rev 12:6, 13-16). Matthew 24:36-37 describes normal living conditions, but the Jews are certainly not living under normal conditions. In fact, Zechariah 13:8-9 indicates that only a third of the Jews will survive until the end of the tribulation. When Jesus returns after the Jews call Him blessed (Matt 23:39; Hosea 5:15-6:2), it will be on a rescue mission (Micah 2:12-13; Isaiah 63:1-6). The Jewish remnant will not be planting, building, selling, or planning weddings. Matthew 24:36-39, even in a Jewish context, cannot be referring to the 2nd coming.
Fourth, another reason “day and hour” must refer to the rapture is in reference to the separation that takes place between those that were ready and those that were not. We have already seen from the more extensive imagery used by Jesus that the ones taken are to salvation/rescue and the ones left are left to judgment (Luke 17:26-32). This teaching in Luke was given less than two weeks before Jesus gave the fuller OD two days before He died.
In his commentary, Fruchtenbaum sees the two different Greek words for took/taken as being evidence of a difference between being taken in judgment and taken in salvation.
It is true that The NASB reads, “and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left” (Matt 24:39-40). The ESV reads, “until the flood came and swept them all away.” He sees the second “taken” with a different Greek word as meaning the one is taken to salvation. Interestingly, the Greek word for “taken” in Luke 17:34, 35 and here in Matthew 24:40 is paralambano and just happens to be the same word used by Jesus in the clear rapture passage of John 14:3, “I will come again to take (receive) you to Myself.” The ones taken are to rescue/rapture/salvation to Jesus and the ones left are to the heavenly judgment (like Lot’s wife).
Bible teachers like Dr. Woods object to this interpretation based on the Greek words. For him, focusing on the word took in the NASB, the flood judgment took (Greek airo) them away; and to be consistent, the man in the field “taken” (Greek paralambano) would also be in judgment, and the one “left” would remain to be saved. Dr. Woods demonstrates convincingly that these two Greek words are used in close proximity synonymously in John 19:15-16. I agree with him and do not see that much is to be gained at all by focusing on the Greek words themselves.
However, the exegetical contribution of Luke 17:26-32 reveals conclusively that Matthew 24:39-40 should be interpreted in a similar way. Noah was taken in the ark to salvation while the flood did come and sweep people away after they had been left behind. The imagery of Lot is even stronger, and we discussed that in part 1.
Furthermore, Matthew 24:40 begins with the Greek word tote and is known as a temporal adverb that has very specific ramifications. When a phrase begins with the word tote, it is showing that it is connecting sequentially with that which is preceding. Steven E. Runge explains this thoroughly in his Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis, page 37. In plain terms, it means that verse 40 is illustrating clearly the principle found in verse 39. We know that during Noah’s day, those that were left behind were swept away by the flood (v. 39), and this sets a pattern for those that are “left” in verse 40. They are left for judgment, which is similar to Luke 17:34-35.
Dr. Woods mentions another objection in his video which needs an answer. He believes that those taken in Matthew 24:40 are in judgment. He says that in the gospel of Matthew, those that are gathered/taken are always in a negative context. He gives Matthew 13:28, 29, 30, 40, 41 as examples of where the wicked are gathered and then brought to fire (or judgment).
It is true that the Greek word gathered (sullego) is used negatively in those verses. However, in Matthew 13:48-49, this same word is used in the context of the angels gathering the “good” (righteous) at the end of the age. Additionally, Matthew uses a synonymous Greek word (episunago) in showing that the angels are gathering the elect after the tribulation (24:31). Therefore, his argument is not taking into consideration all the biblical data and cannot be used as a legitimate objection to seeing those taken (24:39-40) as being taken to salvation.
Fifth, the many passages and or parables by Jesus that teach a watching attitude are indicative that “But concerning that day and hour, no one knows” is a clear reference to the rapture and the ability to escape the coming day of judgment.
Notice the language of Luke’s OD passage, which occurs in the same sequential order immediately after the parable of the fig tree, which is also written in Matthew’s OD version. For some reason, Matthew did not include this section recorded by Luke. “34 But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may be in a position to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand in front of the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).
Jesus gives clear instruction that believers are to watch and not get distracted with the cares of life so that the day of judgment will not come upon them suddenly like a trap. This is similar teaching to what Luke previously presented as to the days of Noah and Lot (Luke 17). Here in 21:35, this “day” of judgment will come upon the face of the whole earth and not just Israel. Even more, Jesus says that there is the possibility of escaping this “worldwide” day of judgment and to stand in front of the Son of Man (cf. Rev 3:10).
We know that the coming day of judgment is not just one day but many years. Jesus has already mentioned a time of great tribulation coming on the earth, which was so bad that the days were shortened for the sake of the tribulation elect saints (Matthew 24:21-22). When we are raptured and escape this time of judgment, we will stand in front of the Son of Man at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10). Seeing this passage’s location in Luke’s version sure does give evidence of a rapture (or escape) being included in the Olivet Discourse.
For the sake of argument and for those that might object, let’s put Luke’s 21:34-36 passage at the end of the tribulation period and on the specific day that Jesus is returning in great glory with His holy angels. There is very little, if any, “day of judgment” remaining when Jesus returns. He is bringing an end to the tribulation period and the wrath of God as seen in Revelation 6-18. How can “that day” be considered a trap if it is at the end of the tribulation? Why pray to escape this “day” that will come “upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth” if it is already over?
Remember, the “day” that is “like a trap” includes “all these things,” which are the horrible birth pains and great tribulation which Jesus just got done explaining in the previous sections of the OD. There is no time to escape “all these things” if Jesus is referring to His 2nd coming in great glory at the end. The only logical conclusion based on all the evidence is that the “day or the hour” that no one can know is in reference to the time of a possible escape for those who are watching and praying. In other words, the rapture.
The remaining sections (Matthew 24:42-25:30) provide similar illustrations that we have already addressed in Luke 12:35-48 and 17:20-37. However, it would be good to close with the specific reminders that Jesus gives.
“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42).
“Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44).
We have seen that as long as the believer is awake and ready, the day of judgment will not overtake them as a thief in the night. At the same time, there is some element that it still comes at a time we do not expect. Many people expect the world to descend into absolute chaos, and then the rapture happens. This cannot be so.
It has been the goal of this article to provide a variety of evidences showing that the rapture does indeed occur in the Olivet Discourse. The subtitle is: “The Answer Shows the Rapture Could be Sooner than We Think.” I chose this subtitle because the world is getting inherently more evil, and chaos is rising on a worldwide scale. Yet, Jesus tells us that the rapture would happen in a period of relative stability when most of the world is living normal life, unaware of the approaching and sudden day of judgment. Jesus is clearly encouraging believers to be ready because His coming in rescue is at an hour we do not expect (Matt 24:44; Luke 12:40-41).
As the world transitions from relative “normal living” to something worse each day, the rescue is showing itself to be even closer than we expect. Maranatha!