Winter, Plant, Branch, Tree, Green, Nature, Snowflakes

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner 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. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” ~ Matthew 24:36–44

The Left Behind series of books are some of the most popular to ever grace the bookshelves of American Christian bookstores. This is a shame. And a sham. Why? Because they are bogus. Bunk. Christian fiction of the highest order. And while there is biblical merit—if we want to even call it that—it takes a twisting and manipulation of the texts in order to get to a place where we seriously think the Bible argues that in the last days, Christians will be raptured up to heaven while the rest of humanity is left to face the destruction of the planet, and thus, their own miserable deaths. Sadly, today’s text is one of those that gets used to place Christians into the shackles of fear.

This doesn’t have to be the case, however. If we look closely at the text, we’ll actually see that the opposite of what the Rapture theologians teach is true. So, to begin, let’s compare the Greek words for “taken” (paralambano) and “left” (aphiemi), because this is where things get rather interesting. The Friborg Lexicon has this to say about the word we translate to “left,” as in “left behind:”

(1) send off or away, let go (MT 27.50); (2) as a legal technical term divorce (1C 7.11); (3) abandon, leave behind (MT 26.56); (4) of duty and obligation reject, set aside, neglect (MK 7.8); (5) of toleration let go, leave in peace, allow (MK 11.6); (6) of sins or debts forgive, pardon, cancel (LU 7.47); (7) give or utter a loud cry (MK 15.37).

Did you notice that? To be “left behind” is to be forgiven. Rapture theology teaches the opposite: those left behind are those who are left to face life without peace, mercy, forgiveness, and so on. But the text in Matthew 24 teaches that those left behind are really those who, like Noah before the flood, are faithful and thus are those who are spared from the coming destruction.

So, what, if not a flood of epic proportions sent by God to smite the wicked, is this passage all about? To answer that, we’ll have to get anthropological because, if you aren’t yet aware, the flood that happened in the days of Noah is completely due to the rising tide of violence that humanity—not God—caused. We’ll also have to take a look at the “son of man” phrase because that will be key in understanding what is really going on here.

First, let’s look at what causes the flood in Genesis. In Genesis 6:5, the writer states that “every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil all the time.” So, in other words, as Michael Hardin points out in The Jesus Driven Life, this is a psychological explanation for the problem of evil.[1] To put it simply, it’s an issue of the heart: the inclination of the heart is mediated desire derived from the imitation of those around us. In Genesis 6:11, the writer then tells us what this leads to: “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and full of violence.” Corrupt hearts, full of evil inclinations, and saturated with human violence. This is the cause of the flood.

Now, I will admit that the writer(s) of Genesis indeed state that God sends the flood to wipe out humanity because of our propensity toward violence and corruption. But that need not be our theology. We have Jesus, and if there is one thing that we’ve learned about Jesus, it’s that he tends to do a number on our theological presuppositions. This is where the “son of man” phrase comes into play.

You see, the phrase “the son of man” was, first off, Jesus’ favorite self-designation and secondly, only used by him. No one else calls him that. Why is this important? Because the phrase is used by him as a corporate designation, meaning that when Jesus uses it, it’s to say that he is a stand-in for all of humanity. And if Jesus is God, as any good Trinitarian theologian would suggest, then that means that God—Jesus—identifies with humanity in spite of our violence and corruption. He doesn’t imitate our violence by bringing about even bigger violence; he stands with us in the midst of it, refusing to imitate it all the while. This is important because, on the one hand, Jesus is the key figure who doesn’t get caught up in the rising tide of violence that was around him. Although corruption and violence were going to be coming down onto Jerusalem within that generation, Jesus was going to be the beacon of hope, the ark, that withstands such a flood. But on the other hand, the invitation is sent out to anyone who wants to join him in being “left behind” to stand in solidarity with the nonviolent Lord. As Paul Neuchterlein writes, “We are called to follow in the footsteps of his [Jesus’] faithfulness. Baptized, we are those who die and rise with him so that we might also be left behind when the next rising tide of human violence rolls our way. We are those who resist joining in. Living in faith, we do not get carried away.”[2]

Amen to that. Resist corruption and violence, and be left behind with Jesus to confidently face the evil of this world.

[1] Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life, 189.

[2] Neuchterlein, “Advent 1A,” sec. 4, para. 7.

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