Re-examining the Olivet Discourse
By Jack Kinsella
In an earlier brief we examined the Olivet Discourse from Matthew 24 through to Matthew 24:31. While it answered some questions, ending the discussion where I did evidently raised some new ones.
What about v. 36-44? I’ve never understood about the unknown day and hour, the comparison to the days of Noah and especially the points about two men/women and one being taken and the other left.
Do these verses refer to the rapture or the tribulation? The unknown hour seems to refer to the rapture, but does it really mean that a time of great tribulation will come upon all the people of the earth at an hour unknown to them?
To briefly recap, we left off with Matthew 24:31:
“And He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
As I noted in the first column, this is not a reference to the Rapture of the Church. The Church is not “gathered from the four winds and from one end of heaven to the other” it is ‘caught up’ (Latin= rapios, Greek=harpazo: “to pull, pluck, take [by force]) from the earth.
The “gathering” (Gk episunago – to collect upon the same place) referred to here is of the saints who are already in heaven that Jude says will return with Christ at the 2nd Coming.
“And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints…”(Jude 14)
The question the Lord was addressing throughout His Discourse is “what will be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3). The question was posed to Him by Jews, from their perspective on the Mount of Olives.
So His reply was given from the same perspective. He outlines history from the perspective of Israel from its rebirth to His Second Coming when His elect is gathered from the heavens for His triumphal return. Then He switches gears and addresses the Church.
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:” (v.32)
The “fig tree” is symbolic of Israel as a nation. To “sit under one’s own vine and one’s own fig tree” became a proverbial expression among the Jews to denote national peace and prosperity. (Micah 4:4)
The picture of the fig tree coming into bloom is a picture of Israel restored to her land after millennia of Disaspora. The restoration of Israel is unique in the annals of history. No ethnic nation of antiquity has ever reconstituted itself even one generation after its conquest and dispersal, let alone after 19 centuries.
The national restoration of Israel is a Church Age event that the Lord said will be the definitive sign of His Return.
“So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” (v 33-35)
So what is near, even at the doors? Everything. Speaking from the perspective of the Jews, Jesus outlined the signs of the times including the rise of the antichrist, the abomination of desolation, warning the Jews to flee the persecution to follow, as the great tribulation begins.
He describes the gathering of the elect and His return in power and great glory. He says that the generation that sees the fig tree blossom will witness His return after the Tribulation.
But then He shifts gears. After giving the exact signs that will precede His coming, the time frame shifts.
“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (v 36)
So we can know when His return is near, even at the doors. But Jesus says the day and hour will remain a mystery. But is the Lord referring to His Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation? Or to the Rapture and the end of the Church Age?
Still speaking to the Jews’ flight from Jerusalem, Jesus said of the Tribulation Period that it will be worse than any time in history;
“such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (v 21-22)
Jesus says that He will return in power and great glory (His 2nd Coming) “immediately after those days”(of tribulation) (v.29-30)
Now jump forward again with me to the unknown hour and day. Could this be a reference to the Return of Christ at the Battle of Armageddon? In the first instance, He comes in power and glory – everybody will know exactly when He comes.
In the second description, it is a secret.
Now let’s turn to the prevailing conditions of the Secret Coming and see if the Lord is describing conditions at the end of the Tribulation, after billions have died from the various plagues and judgments, the earth is scorched and blistered, the seas are all dead and the armies of the world are gathered at Megiddo in preparation for the final battle.
“But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark…” (v 24:37-38)
Hmmm. Eating and drinking. Marrying and giving in marriage. Life goes on, seemingly normally. Everybody will be totally unaware until, to use the Lord’s metaphor, it starts to rain.
That doesn’t sound much like 100 lb hailstones, flying scorpions, scorched earth, dead seas, famine, starvation, total global economic collapse and tribulation so terrifying that without Divine intervention, “no flesh would be saved” to me.
Can this possibly be describing the same event? In what way would the events of the Tribulation be unremarkable, as in the days of Noah? Trust me. By the time the 21st judgment falls at the conclusion of the Tribulation, nobody will be eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage.
“And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (v 39)
In the days of Noe, the flood took them by surprise. They didn’t know it was coming until it took them all away. But when Jesus comes at His Triumphal Second Coming, life will be anything but normal, and nobody will be surprised.
“Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” (v 40-41)
This does not fit the description of the angels gathering the elect from the four winds and from one end of heaven to the other. THAT is the Second Coming.
THIS is the Rapture. It says that where two women are working, one shall be taken. Where two are in the field, one shall be taken.
This doesn’t mean that every other person on earth will be Raptured. Half the planet isn’t saved.
Neither is it a metaphor for every other person being killed during the Tribulation. The math doesn’t add up.
The Tribulation claims at least ¾’s of the earth’s population by the time of the Lord’s return, and untold millions more during the final Battle of Armageddon.
What this indicates is that there is a separate event, unique from the 2nd Coming, at which some will be taken and others left behind. Jesus confirms that this is a secret, signless event by saying,
“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” (v 42)
The Lord even goes so far as to explain why the Rapture is a secret and signless event and not the visible Second Coming.
“But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.” (v 24:43)
This clearly can’t be referring to the Lord’s Second Coming – He doesn’t arrive in secret like a thief in the night – He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him. (Revelation 1:7)
“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (v 44)
Again, this only makes sense in the context of a secret and signless Rapture. The Tribulation lasts for seven years and consists of twenty-one judgments. Those are pretty precise markers for calculation.
There are none for the Rapture. No markers whatsoever. The Thessalonians thought that they had missed it — back in the 1st century.
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his Lord hath made ruler over His household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when He cometh shall find so doing.” (v 45-46)
I’ve heard interpretations of these verses that run the gamut from supporting the concept of a partial Rapture (those saved but backslidden at the time of the Rapture will be left behind) to defending salvation by works.
“But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (v 48-51)
Look closely at what the Lord expects of the wise servant. To rule His household and feed His sheep – a word picture describing the Great Commission.
The evil servant is ‘cut asunder’ and shares his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Clearly, since both are pictured as servants of the Lord, it describes Christians.
Does this mean the evil servant has lost his salvation? The evil servant stopped looking for the Lord’s return. He fell back into the world. But notice that evil servant and the good servant are both called at the same event.
Not all will be found feeding His sheep. But Jesus still refers to him as the Lord’s servant. Just not a good servant.
The Apostle Paul said that at the Bema Seat, our works will be tested by fire to see what sort they are, and we will receive certain crowns as rewards.
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” (1st Corinthians 3:14-15)
Paul speaks of one crown in particular;
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” (2nd Timothy 4:8)
The Apostle Paul describes the fate of the ‘evil’ servant when he stands before the Bema Seat.
“If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1st Corinthians 3:15)
Jesus describes the Rapture of the Church as occurring at such a time as we think not. To the world, things will appear to be rocking along normally, as in the days of Noe. Warnings were ignored until the ark’s door closed and the rains came.
The ark closed BEFORE the floodwaters rose. (Or the Ark would have sunk.)
Jesus pictures two separate comings – one with clouds and great glory where the elect are gathered from the four winds and from one end of heaven to the other — and one in secret in which one is taken and the other left behind.
One event occurs after the “tribulation of those days” whereas the other is likened to the time before the flood. In one event, we will know that it is near, even at the doors. In the other event, “no man knoweth the day or the hour,” but instead, “in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh.”
So where does that leave us today, at this moment? We are not in the Tribulation or any part of it. Not yet. The Lord not only says we can’t know the day or the hour, but that when He does come, it will be when we least expect Him.
That seems to rule out linking the Rapture to the Seventh Seal or the Blood Moon. It also seemingly rules out a mid-Trib or post-Trib interpretation. None of them fit the bill, as they are neither secret nor signless and certainly not as unexpected.
Luke’s Gospel records Jesus’ admonition:
“When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” (Luke 21:28)
Note the timing. “When these things begin to come to pass.” Not half-way through. Or at the end. When they begin. He doesn’t say to prepare for the antichrist to take your head, but instead to look up and lift up your heads.
“These things” He describes coming to pass don’t begin with the Tribulation – they begin with the Balfour Declaration, wars and rumors of wars. They end when the Gospel is preached into all the world.
Then the preaching stops and the antichrist makes his appearance.
Jesus says that starting from the wars and rumors of wars and forward, our redemption draws nigh. It’s been almost a hundred years since Balfour. The signs of the coming tribulation are all around us and it seems like the Lord is late.
There is an old joke about the timing of the Rapture. No matter which view is right, it will come as a big surprise to the others.
There is a growing movement within the Church that has concluded that He must not be coming until after the Tribulation starts.
“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 24:44)
The Lord is coming! He’s not late. The Rapture comes first and then the antichrist. That’s the way the plain reading of the Scripture lays it out. And since it makes sense just the way it is, I see no logic in trying to interpret it to read differently.
The Lord is just holding off until the last possible moment to give us time to fulfill our Great Commission.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2nd Peter 3:9)
May we be found faithful until He comes. Maranatha!