Where, Lord?

vulture

Vultures?

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells His followers what His future coming will be like and how He will appear.  The first section in Chapter 17 concerns how many may grow tired of waiting for His coming or may be enticed to follow another leader who claims to knows where Christ is:

22 And He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away, and do not run after them. 24 For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day. 25 But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 

The next section describes the conditions in the world before His coming.  Many people will be living a life of carpe diem or living a life of “eat, drink, and make merry, for tomorrow we die.”

26 And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; 29 but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 

This final section is the one that is often taken out of context and used to prove a belief that is based on misreadings elsewhere, in particular the idea that Jesus will come secretly to gather His elect, an idea that is contradicted in verse 24 above that says His coming will be like lightning flashing from one part of the sky to the other.  Therefore, we need to look at this passage carefully:

30 It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. 35 There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left.36 [Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”] 37 And answering they *said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

Taking a Passage Out of Context

This is a lengthy passage as a whole, yet taken in its full context, it seems fairly easy to follow.  However, many Bible teachers today wrest certain portions out of their contexts in order to promulgate their own views.  Doing so is called “proof-texting.”

The portion of this passage that is often used to proof-text for a certain position is verses 31-35, where Jesus says two people may be performing certain tasks together, yet one of the two will “taken away.”

Clearly, the question may remain as to the destination of those who are taken, and even some of Jesus’ disciples ask Him, “Where, Lord?”

The context itself should provide enough clues for an interpretation, for Jesus alludes to the days of Noah and to the destruction of Sodom in the previous verses.  Yet still the possibility exists that Jesus may be referring to an escape from these disasters, a meaning that is clearly advocated by many “secret rapture” Bible teachers.  Recent books and films have depicted such an escape provided believers before the dreaded Tribulation period, and many in the Church today have accepted this teaching.

However, Jesus answers the disciples’ question by saying, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered” (37).  His statement implies, however, that those taken are taken in death.  The image Jesus uses is of a vulture, not a dove or a pigeon.  When I see a vulture rise from the road ahead, I know that there will be a dead animal there when I arrive.

Again, this passage is often used by secret rapture teachers to persuade Christians that they will escape the conditions of this world during a Great Tribulation, one which these teachers believe is depicted graphically in the Book of Revelation.  In the parallel passage in Matthew’s Gospel, however, Jesus’ statements about being “taken” come after His description of the  Great Tribulation, and His description depicts graphically how all will see His appearing, coming out of the sky with “power and great glory.”

29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

This Second Coming to gather His elect will not be secret by any means, but very visible, and a trumpet will sound, signalling His coming.

An Example

Recently, Tim LaHaye, the author of the very popular Left Behind series of novels, responded to criticism, specifically that his films about the Rapture are not biblical.  (Article from Charisma Magazine)   Understandably, since LaHaye  has become extremely popular because of his books and films, he has a lot at stake if his rapture theories are ultimately rejected.

LaHaye responds by saying that anyone who rejects the rapture obviously does not believe God’s Word, the Bible:

God’s Word is just that—God’s words, and He meant what He said. Those who do not believe in the rapture do not understand that the first teaching of the rapture dates back to the first century when the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write it into the Holy Scripture.

Lahaye says that his critic, William Lane Craig, believes the Bible should be taken spiritually, allegorically or symbolically.  LaHaye opposes this view:  “The problem with this is it eliminates 28 percent of the Bible from our understanding and removes the ‘blessed hope of Christ’s return’ for His church, which is clearly taught in Titus 2:12-14.”

The problem here, however, is that the passage Tim LaHaye refers to from Titus does not even remotely describe the rapture, for Jesus is described as appearing in “glory”:  

12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession,zealous for good deeds.  (Titus 2:12-14)

Also, we have seen in previous blogs that reading the Bible only literally is inadequate (see my blog titled “Seeing Beyond the Literal” from May of 2014).  Jesus Himself, the Logos, the Word of God incarnate, spoke in parables, used analogies, used metaphors and other forms of imagery to communicate to His disciples.  And the Apostle Paul himself constantly used analogies that are not intended to be taken literally, but figuratively.

In addition, Paul’s teaching in I Thessalonians 4 describes the Second Coming of Christ, not the rapture as so many dispensationalists have decided to proclaim, again taking this passage out of its true context:

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

This is clearly not a description of a secret rapture, but instead a description of the Second Coming of Christ.  Note the shout, the voice of the archangel, and the sounding of the trumpet of God.  

Likewise, the Apostle Paul relates in I Corinthians 15:51-58 a very similar teaching, one which offers specifics on the fate of those who have already died:

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Note again the sounding of the trumpet, a common feature of the Second Coming descriptions, yet the trumpet is inconsistent with the secret rapture teachings of LaHaye, Hal Lindsay, and others (see, for example, this website: Rapture Site).

While these “Secret Rapture” teachers may be well-meaning, the Word of God needs to be interpreted meaningfully and thoroughly, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:13).

This is what I hope we will do in these blog postings.

 

 

1 Comment

  • By Patrick Kennedy, August 23, 2014 @ 8:34 pm

    I can see the logic in this and it calls into question a lot of things that I ‘thought’ I knew concerning end-times. It’s definitely against the ‘conventional wisdom’ but I can’t help but agree that a straightforward reading of this leads me to think that the one taken is taken in death, not in the mystical vanishing.

    Come to think of it, if a pre-tribulation rapture was true (which it still may be) then those would go up to meet Jesus above, and then after the tribulation Jesus would be coming again, which would make it a THIRD coming.

    Thank you for at least causing me to think about this and not take the status quo thinking as automatic. I need to examine this subject a LOT deeper.

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