Day 223: Matthew 24:37-41

The coming of the Son of Man will be like what happened in the time of Noah. In the days before the flood people ate and drank, men and women married, up to the very day Noah went into the boat; yet they did not realize what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away.

That is how it will be when the Son of Man comes. At that time two men will be working in a field: one will be taken away, the other will be left behind. Two women will be at a mill grinding meal: one will be taken away, the other will be left behind.

[The disciples want to know when Jesus will return and the New Age will begin.  Jesus replies, “No one knows the day or the hour.”  This is one of several scriptures that further illustrates this statement.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

Here it is.  The “rapture” scripture that launched Left Behind,  a highly successful series of 16 best-selling novels dealing with a fictional end of the world scenario that were published between 1995 and 2007.  The series was also adapted into three action thriller films, as well as a series of fun-for-all video games.   Oh, and a children’s book series. Can’t forget about that.

The plot chronicles the time described in this scripture when all of the true believers are suddenly “raptured,” or whisked away to heaven.  Those “left behind” are victimized by a political leader who is really the Antichrist described in the Book of Revelation.  Some of those who are left behind convert to Christianity and begin a quest to save the lost and prepare the world for the “tribulation” when God terrorizes the earth.

I remember the end of the world fever that broke out when the Left Behind books started coming out.  Everyone seemed to think that if they pored over these books they would be able to pick up some tips on how to keep from being left behind.  I tried to read one of the books but I thought it was boring and kind of juvenile.  My understanding is that as the series moves on it gets more and more violent.  I wouldn’t know.  I never made it that far. What I do know is that the Left Behind franchise has been a huge commercial success and that its creators made a ton of money.

Although I was bored by Left Behind, I was intrigued by an episode of Frontline called Apocalypse that described the Western world’s fascination with the end of the world.  I find it intriguing that although people in this country are almost pathologically afraid of death, they seem to almost gleefully look forward to the end of the world.   Apocalypse described the basis of apocalyptic (end of the world) philosophies, the influence belief in a coming apocalypse has had throughout history, and the degree to which the apocalypse remains such a resilient and compelling sensibility in Western thought.  Fascinating stuff.

Personally I don’t understand the Left Behind interpretation.  When I look at this scripture I don’t see people being swept up into heaven.  I see people getting swept away, but it doesn’t say where they went.  The first part of the scripture refers to the story of Noah in the Book of Genesis.  In that story God was mad at the world and decided to destroy all of the people except Noah and his family so he sent a flood that swept away everyone except those who were saved.  Noah and the saved ones got to stay on the earth.  They were the ones who were left behind. The bad ones got swept away and drowned and we don’t know where they went after that.

If you relate the rapture part to the Noah story and the parable above, then it seems that the ones who are left behind are the virtuous ones who then inherit the earth and get to live a great life.  So instead of waking up one day to find out that you have been rejected and abandoned by God, I think the scripture says you wake up and find all of the evil stinkers who have made life on earth miserable for everyone else are missing.  Not quite as scary as the scenario described in the novel.  I don’t think it would sell nearly as many books.  And unfortunately there are many people out there who feel like the Christians are the evil stinkers.  So sad.

Also, as my pastor pointed out, why would we want to be raptured up into the heavens if Jesus was coming back down to the earth at the same time?  Ummm….I’d rather be where Jesus is.  I don’t want to miss him in transit.

I don’t know why people like to scare each other so much.  There’s something exhilarating about it I guess.  Ghost stories, scary movies, dangerous sports, the end of the world.  Chill running up and down your spine.  Rapid heartbeat.  Hair standing on end.  Fun?  Maybe.  Spiritually healthy?  Probably not.  True inner peace is what we need, not emotional exhaustion.  It’s a cheap substitute.

Oh, and by the way, contrary to popular opinion and the musings of best-selling authors, almost all religious scholars agree that all the trials and tribulations described by Jesus, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Zecharaiah, Jeremiah, and all the rest relate to events that happened a long time ago.  Same for Revelation.  They can point to all of the metaphors used and explain that they all relate to the ups and downs of ancient Jerusalem and the Jewish nation and its many conflicts with enemy states.  Of course you don’t have to trust their opinion but it’s important to take it into consideration and perhaps study and pray about it.  Especially if you find this whole subject to be a source of anxiety or misgivings.

What I know for sure is that God has never said anything apocalyptic to me. In my experience he seems to say these things to people who have anger issues.  Coincidence? I think not. But no one knows anything for sure because it’s all pretty cryptic.  Of course the one prophecy that hasn’t come true is the one about the Kingdom of God being established here on earth.  I know for sure that one has not happened.  The world is not a peaceful place. There’s still a lot of suffering and violence and injustice out there.

Or maybe those ancient prophets made exaggerated claims about the relatively prosperous periods in Jewish history.  Maybe they had low expectations.  I think we can do better and should set our standards a little higher.  I’d like to think humanity’s best days are ahead of us.  It think God has some really great plans for planet Earth and all of its present and future inhabitants.  I believe we are coming along, but instead of waiting to get whisked away I think we need to get to work using the knowledge and directives we’ve been given about how to make things better.

Just remember – Jesus says no one knows the day or the hour. No one. Not even the Son.  Not even those Left Behind guys.  But if you want advice about how to make a lot of money, those guys could probably offer a lot of sage advice.

What does this scripture say to you?


One thought on “Day 223: Matthew 24:37-41

  1. Josus- It’s for sure that it was a better deal to be left behind on the ark than to be swept away by the flood. It seems obvious. Then I remember that after the flood God said, “Never again will I put the earth under a curse because of what people do….Never again will I destroy all living beings, as I have done this time…. ” This is not the way to be God, to destroy the world when us humans fail.
    But to return to the reference in Matthew, I would connect the days of Noah to the fact that despite the Pax Romana these were tumultuous times in Palestine filled with bands of zealots, arguments about how to interpret the Torah and how to run the Temple, all sorts of persons claiming to be the Messiah, and a cruel Roman occupation crucifying any opposition. It was as if they were the days of Noah echoed in these words of Isaiah, “The foundations of the earth do shake. Earth breaks to pieces, earth is split in pieces, earth shakes to pieces, earth reels like a drunken man, earth rocks like a hammock; under the weight of its transgression earth falls down to rise no more!” Isaiah 24:18.
    It was about the present time. As the Jews including Jesus were dealing with radical change, Jesus is saying to be alert and to engage in what is coming. Anyone could easily be swept away. Don’t be swept away. Build the ark of compassion that is the earth itself where peace, justice, love, and joy embrace the entire planet with enough left over to flood the galaxies.

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