Parable of the Fig Tree

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Q. I’ve had theological discussions with friends and family for years who insist that Matthew 24:40-41 refers to the “Rapture” if you will, of the “saved” prior to the tribulation. Can you speak to these passages as far as what you believe they mean?

40 "Then there will be two men in the field ; one will be taken and one will be left.
41 "Two women will be grinding at the mill ; one will be taken and one will be left.

R. [name withheld for privacy]


A. First of all, I no longer personally believe the Church’s teaching about the rapture; here's why. That being said, the two most important principles of Biblical interpretation are (1) always let Scripture interpret Scripture, and (2) never try to interpret Scripture removed from its textual, historical, and linguistic context. [“Any text taken out of its context is pretext.”] So let’s look at these two verses in their complete context and see if we can figure out what they mean.

The context of the entire chapter is “Signs of Messiah’s Return,” all of Chapters 24 and 25 are about Messiah returning in judgment, and these two particular verses are in the textual context immediately following the “Parable of the Fig Tree.”

Parable of the Fig Tree (Matthew 24:32-42 NASB)

32“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.

34“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

35“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

36“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

37“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.

38“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

40“Then there will be two men in the field ; one will be taken and one will be left.

41“Two women will be grinding at the mill ; one will be taken and one will be left.

42“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

Verses 32 and 33 tell us to take a lesson from the fig tree. When we see that the literal fig tree is starting to bud, we can reasonably know literally that summer is near. Likewise, when we start to see the things start to come to pass that Yeshua is talking about in this message, then we should “recognize that He is near, right at the door” (v. 33). So he is talking about the signs of His coming, and telling us that we need to be observant of the things that are going on around us.

Verse 34 can be a bit problematic, in that if we accept the word “generation” to mean everyone who is living at a specific point in time, it would seem that Yeshua was saying that His return would be as soon as 30 or 40 years, or as late as 78 or 80 years or so. Since He didn’t return within that period of time, we know that can’t be the correct interpretation (or He was either mistaken or misleading those to whom He was speaking.) However, if we understand “generation” to refer to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which is well within the possible meaning of the word genea (genea), then we can understand that Yeshua was assuring the continuance of the family of Abraham until His return.

In verse 35 He confirms that we can rely on the validity — and the eternity — of His words. His words will remain long after heaven and earth pass away, and presumably into the “new heaven and new earth.”

In verse 36 He says that HaShem’s angels do not know the exact time of His coming. Not even He Himself (ADONAI HaBen) knows; only the Father (ADONAI HaAbba) knows.

In verses 37 and 38 He says that at the time of His coming people will be living just like they lived in the days of Noah. Genesis 6:5-12 tells us what men were like “in the days of Noah.”

5Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. ...  11Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Yeshua adds: “... in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away.” Noah had warned them of the coming judgment, but they ignored his warning and continued living life as usual, as though nothing unusual was going to happen. When the promised judgment came, it took everyone by surprise except those whom God had chosen to be rescued.

So we can know several things about the time of His return:

  1. The wickedness of man will be great on the earth.

  2. Every intent of the thoughts of men’s heart will be only evil continually.

  3. The earth will be corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth will be filled with violence.

  4. Life will be going on just as usual: people will be “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”

  5. People will not be understanding (they will not be understanding how evil the earth is, and nobody will be expecting His coming). Although they have been warned, nobody will pay any attention except those who had been chosen to be rescued.

  6. The judgment (the “flood”) will come and “take them all away.”

In the last phrase of verse 39 He says, “... so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” It will be sudden, it will be swift, nobody will be looking for it, life will be going on as usual, and sudden judgment will come and take them all away. In verse 40 He tells us to “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

 Now we can look objectively at the two verses in question:

40 “Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
41 “Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.”

In the days of Noah, it was judgment that came and took them all away. That being so, then we can safely interpret verses 40 and 41 to be speaking of those who will be taken away to judgment and those who will be left.

I have no idea exactly how they will be taken away to judgment. But these two verses, due to their context, cannot possibly be talking about the righteous being taken away in “the Rapture” because “the Rapture” speaks of an escape from judgment, and Yeshua is specifically talking about people being taken away to judgment.

I hope this exercise helps to show how we need to use Scripture to interpret Scripture.

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