Are the good or the wicked taken first when Jesus returns?

by Matt Slick
1/20/15

Most Christian churches, at least here in America, teach that when Christ returns the Christians will be removed from the earth and the wicked will be judged. Some hold to a pre-tribulation rapture view where, seven years before the return of Christ, Christians are taken out of the world and the wicked are left. In the post tribulation view, the rapture occurs at the time of Christ's return at the end of the seven year tribulation period.  Some common verses used to support the idea that the good are the ones taken first are found in Matthew 24:40 and Luke 17:34-36 which say that there will be two men are in the field and one is taken and one is left.  But, when we analyze the context of these verses we see that it is not the good who were taken. Instead, it's the wicked. Let's take a look.

Matthew 24:37-41 Luke 17:26-29
37 “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 26 “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days 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 that Noah entered the ark, 27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark...
39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 27...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."
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."  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.

As you can see, the ones who were destroyed in Luke 17:27 were the ones who were eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage. The same phraseology is used in Matthew 24:38-39 where the ones who were taken (verse 39), were the ones who were eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage (Matthew 24:38).  So, the context of those who are taken are the wicked, not the good.  Therefore, these verses are not about the rapture (which does happen and is described in 1 Thess. 4:16-5:2). In addition, the disciples asked Jesus where they are taken and he answers them.  "Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered," (Luke 17:37). Those who were taken go to a place of judgment, a place of death.

 But that's not all. Jesus tells us more about this.

"Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. 26 But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 “And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 29 “But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 ‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn,"'" (Matt. 13:24-30).

You'll notice that Jesus says that at the time of the harvest the first ones taken are the tares (v. 30).  The tares are the "The sons of the evil one" (Matthew 13:38).  So, Jesus clearly says the first ones taken at the time of the harvest are the wicked.  But, now we have to ask what is the harvest?

The Harvest

The word "harvest" occurs 18 times in the New American Standard Bible.  It is used in different ways.  It refers to people being saved (Matthew 9:37-38; Luke 10:2; John 4:35; Revelation 14:15).  It refers to something that happens at the end of the age (Matthew 13:39).  It is in reference to harvesting the vineyard/crops (Matthew 21:34; Mark 4:29; 12:2; Luke 20:10; James 5:4).  And, it is figuratively used of righteousness (2 Corinthians 9:10).  What is important here is that the harvest occurs at the "end of the age" (Matt. 13:39). Now, we have to look at what the phrase "end of the age" means.

End of the Age

There are two ages in the Bible:  this age and the age to come.

  • "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come," (Matt. 12:32).
  • "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come," (Eph. 1:21).

There are characteristics attributed to "this age" and also to "the age to come".

  This Age Age to Come
Blasphemy Blasphemy not forgiven, Matt. 13:32 Blasphemy not forgiven, Matt. 13:32
Cares Cares of this world (Greek "age"), Matt. 13:22  
Eternal Life   Receive Eternal Life, Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30
Marriage Marry and Given in Marriage, Luke 20:34 No marriage in age to come, Luke 20:35
Power and Superiority of God Power and Superiority of God in this age, Eph. 1:21 Power and Superiority of God in the age to come, Eph. 1:21
Present age is evil Evil in present age, Gal. 1:4  
Receive 100 times in the present age (Greek "time"), Mark 10:30  
     
Rulers Rulers of this age, 1 Cor. 2:6  
Satan god of this world (Greek "age"), 2 Cor. 4:4  
Wisdom Wisdom of this age, 1 Cor. 1:20  

So, to sum up, in this age we have cares, marriage, endure evil, are subject to rulers, and experience the wisdom of the world.  In the age to come we received eternal life, are not married, and experience God's power.  It appears that in the age to come is when the full revelation of Christ occurs at his return.  Of course, we have eternal life now (1 John 5:13) but in the age to come this is referring to the full redemption which includes our physical resurrection.

Conclusion

So it appears that the harvest of the Christians happens at the end of this age but it is preceded by the taking of the wicked to place of destruction.  Now, obviously this is not accepted by most denominations. But, the question is whether or not it's biblical.  The scriptures seem clear that the ones taken in Matthew 24:37-41 and Luke 17:26-29 are the wicked and not the good. Therefore those verses are not about the rapture. Furthermore, when Jesus said in Matthew 13 that the wicked are taken first, then we must conclude that the end of the age the first ones taken by the wicked. What do you think?

 

 

 

 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.