Does Matthew 24:36-44 teach the rapture?

Matthew 24:36-44 says,

Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels of heaven nor the Son—except the Father alone. As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark. They didn’t know until the flood came and swept them all away. This is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding grain with a hand mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. But know this: If the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed alert and not let his house be broken into. This is why you are also to be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

As I considered this passage in light of the teaching about the Rapture, it helped me to slowly think through the story of Noah that Jesus uses to anchor his teaching.

In the days of Noah, who was taken? The wicked people who were swept away in the flood.

Who remained on earth? Noah and his family.

So if this passage does teach a rapture, then we do not want God to take us. When the Son of Man returns to earth, we want to be left here so that we can be with him.

However, in Tim LaHaye’s books, it is the opposite: the believers are taken, and the “left behind” are unbelievers.

In his Matthew commentary in the New International Greek Testament Commentary series, John Nolland summarizes the significance of this passage:

Whereas 24:36 has asserted the unknowability of the timing of the coming of the Son of Man, vv. 37–44 press the need, in light of this necessary ignorance, for constant readiness.

That seems to be the most straightforward reading. What does Jesus want his disciples to do in light of his teaching?

  1. “Be alert” (v. 42)

  2. “Be ready” (v 44)

In each case, why? Because we don’t know when the Lord will return.

Notice also how Nolland mentions “the coming of the Son of Man.” That’s because this passage is about Jesus’ second coming.

How do we know that? We look at the broader context. We go back to Matthew 24:3, where this event begins. There we read:

While Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

As Nolland comments here, “In the NT only Matthew uses the phrase ‘completion of the age’ (συντελεία τοῦ αἰῶνος) — see at 13:39. This will be the time when the Son of Man arranges the final separation of the wicked from the righteous.”

In his Matthew commentary, D.A. Carson notes,

“The end of the age” is used six times in the NT (13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20; Heb 9:26), five of which are in Matthew and look to final judgment and the consummation of all things. (Heb 9:26 sees the cross as introducing the coming age and thereby marking out “the end of the ages” [NIV].) Parousia (“coming,” GK 4242) is found twenty-four times in the NT, four of which are in Matthew 24 (vv. 3, 27, 37, 39). The term can refer to “presence,” “arrival,” or “coming” — the first stage of “presence” — and need not have eschatological overtones (2Co 7:6; 10:10). Yet parousia is closely tied with Jesus’ glorious “appearing” or “coming” at the end of human history.

So here’s how I’d summarize Matthew 24:36-44:

The timing of Jesus’ return is beyond our comprehension. When he returns, he will take away the wicked and remain with the faithful. So be alert, be ready, and live in anticipation for the return of Christ.

This video by Dr. Ben Witherington is also helpful (referenced in Revelation for the Rest of Us):

And this video provides some historical context on this theology:

I look forward to learning from other insights and perspectives.

(This post is continuing the conversation from Does John 14:1-3 support the rapture? - #4 by lakshmi)


Thank you for continuing this look at whether certain passages of scripture support the rapture. I have been raised with a very strong rapture theology which I’ve always found too much to really process, so I appreciate the viewpoints you’re putting forward here as they’re all brand new to me, and I find that refreshing.

Those 2 videos were very interesting, and I had no idea about the history of ‘rapture theology’ as it is described in that second video, so thanks for sharing!

As for supporting the idea of a rapture of believers before the millenium - also known as Pretribulational Premillennialism (or Dispensational Premillennialism), the passage in 1 Thess 4:16-17 is certainly used to teach this idea. There are some who hold there will be a secret return of Christ to rapture his people before the time of tribulation, the 7 years of suffering and testing on earth. This is said to be before Christ’s public second coming to rule on earth for a millenium. However, the Thess passage speaks of cries of command, archangels’ call, and trumpets sounding which doesn’t sound very secret!

Taking a look at Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology on the Millenium, he shares another insight that I have not recognised before:

One further characteristic of pretribulational premillennialism should be mentioned: This view is found almost exclusively among dispensationalists who wish to maintain a clear distinction between the church and Israel. This pretribulational viewpoint allows the distinction to be maintained, since the church is taken out of the world before the widespread conversion of the Jewish people. These Jewish people therefore remain a distinct group from the church. Another characteristic of pretribulational premillennialism is its insistence on interpreting biblical prophecies “literally where possible”… Finally, one attractive feature about pretribulational premillennialism is that it allows people to insist that Christ’s return could occur “at any moment” and therefore does justice to the full force of the passages that encourage us to be ready for Christ’s return, while it still allows for a very literal fulfillmenet of the signs preceding Christ’s return, since it says these will come to pass in the tribulation.

@Carson , have you read anything that specifically addresses the Jewish nation with regards to the church in arguments for and against the rapture? Is it not strange that the church and Israel are considered separate when so many of Paul’s teachings say that we are grafted in together? Does the New Testament support this distinction between the church and Israel? With regards to what Matthew 24:36-44 teaches; Jesus was addressing his disciples in particular, and not the church, when warning them of persecution and suffering.

There seems to be an argument for the rapture based on Rev 3:10 which puts forward the idea that this verse means that the whole church will be protected from the hour of trial, and therefore implies the church will have been raptured upwards before the tribulation. Grudem argues against this though, saying that this verse does not imply strong enough evidence that the entire church will be taken out of the world just because Jesus promises faithful believers in Philadelphia that he’ll keep them from the hour of trial but that it simply suggests they’ll be guarded from being harmed during that period of suffering and testing.

Also as a comment on the quoted passage from Grudem above, he points out that the pretrib view is not the only one consistent with the idea that Christ could come back at any time. Similarly, it seems unlikely that the New Testament teaches two separate returns of Christ (once for his church before the tribulation and then seven years later with his church to bring judgement on unbelievers).

He says:

The doctrine of a pretribulation rapture is an inference from several passages, all of which are disputed. Moreover, even if one believes this doctrine to be in Scripture, it is taught with such little clarity that it was not discovered until the nineteenth century. This does not make it seem likely.

He later concludes

with the great majority of the church throughout history, that the church will go through the time of tribulation predicted by Jesus. We would probably not have chosen this path for ourselves, but the decision was not ours to make.

There is such a theme in the NT of enduring suffering for the sake of Christ “so that we may be glorified with him” (Rom 8:17).

from the time of Noah to the time of the martyrdom of the early apostles, it has frequently been God’s way to bring his people through suffering to glory, for thus he did even with his own Son.

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer… Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10


Yes, the more I look into this doctrine, I keep seeing references to 1 Thessalonians 4 as a central passage. I thought Dr. Imes addressed this passage well in our event:

Yes, I agree. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 seems like a very public event.

Further, this passage says that Christ will descend from heaven. But it never says that Christ will go back up. It says that believers will meet the Lord in the air. But as Dr. Imes and others explain, this is so we can join Christ as he descends to earth.

Finally, 4:18 says we are to encourage one another with these words. Sometimes, the doctrine of the Rapture appears to frighten people, especially kids. But the purpose of this teaching is to comfort the Thessalonians and us that all believers will be joined together at Christ’s return.

Let’s create a new Topic to discuss this! Great question.

I’d love to start a conversation on this verse too!

Dr. Grudem has definitely produced some helpful resources. However, I shy away from quoting him for a few reasons. In his defense of the eternal functional subordination of the Son to the Father, he appears to have veered into heterodox teaching:

If God is one in essence, power, and will, then the submission of one divine person to another in the inner life of God is a category error and a significant one at that. We believe that Grudem has misread, not just a few obscure theologians in church history, but the ecumenical creeds as well and, most importantly, Scripture itself.

(Another possible new Topic!)


A post was split to a new topic: What systematic theologies would you recommend?

Hi @Carson,

Thank you for starting the discussion on Matt 24:36-44, a verse that I have seen used in support of pre-tribulation rapture of the church.

In the beginning of Matt 24, the disciples ask two questions - 1) What will be the sign of Jesus’ coming and 2) What will be the timing of the end of the age? I find it interesting that as opposed to a secret rapture of the church, Jesus says his coming will be as visible as lightning (Matt 24:27) and it will happen after the gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed to the whole world as a testimony to the nations (Matt 24:13-14). Though his coming is visible, it is also described as the coming of a thief in the night (Matt 24:43, 2 Peter 3:10, 1 Thess 5:2). Jesus then compares his coming to that of the days of Noah, to emphasize that he is coming at an unexpected day and hour and his judgment will catch the final generation unprepared like the flood did in Noah’s time (Matt 24:44). The idea of ‘thief in the night’ does not appear to convey secrecy of Jesus’s coming as much as unexpectancy.

However, I have seen other interpretations of this chapter. There are several reasons for it -

One reason is that if God rescued godly people in the day of Noah from his wrath, he would do so again for all believers (Gen 7:1). The church is not considered a target of God’s wrath (Rom 5:9-10) and God’s wrath is unleashed right at the beginning in Revelation, starting in chapter 5. Also, the church (ekklesia) is not mentioned or pictured on earth in Revelation chapters 4-19 when the wrath of God is loosed. If the church is left on earth, it would have to face the consequences of God’s wrath (Rev 6:15-16), contrary to the promises of protection from God’s wrath (1 Thess 5:9).

If the coming of Jesus has to be like a thief in the night i.e without warning, but Jesus comes after the Antichrist is revealed, and after the great tribulation, then Jesus’ coming would no longer be a surprise to the church. So, to retain the suddenness of Jesus’ coming, it is argued that Jesus will come secretly to rapture the church. 2 Thess 2:6-7 is another verse used to support the idea of rapture. If the church is taken away secretly, it is argued that the restrainer of the lawless one (Holy Spirit who resides in believers) will be mostly out of the way allowing the lawless one (Antichrist) to be revealed.

Finally, Daniel’s prophecy that Jesus refers to in Matt 24:15 is part of God’s plan for Israel, not the church (Dan 9:27). This is another reason the church is out of the picture for those who take the rapture view. Paul too in the new testament shares a mystery about Israel turning to God after the fullness of Gentiles come in at the end of age. (Rom 11: 25-27). What makes Israel suddenly turn to Christ? Would there be a significant event like the rapture of the church that causes Israel to come to Christ at the end of age?

I also wanted to mention that Thomas Ice in his article, “A brief history of rapture” has references from the early church period with teachings that support rapture and it stands in contradiction to Ben Witherington’s explanation that rapture idea started only in the nineteenth century.

There is so much to discuss here, and if I have to delve into any greater depth at this point, I would need further study. Hopefully, this post helps understand some of the reasons for the pre-trib rapture view. I am not able to provide a proper reference for this pre-tribulation view as what I have shared comes mostly from teachings I heard in churches I attended.


Hi @lakshmi,

I learned so much from your post. Thank you for helping me see how some of these passages are tied together in pre-tribulation teaching.

I am in agreement with you that Jesus’ second coming is described in ways that are public, visible, and unexpected rather than in secret.

I think the difference in interpretation starts further back than specific verses. Of course, we’re all reading the same verses and trying to make sense of them. Everyone invested in this discussion is taking the Scriptures seriously.

For instance, Scot McKnight argues in Revelation for the Rest of Us:

The Apocalypse is not about prediction of the future but perception and interrogation of the present. It provides readers with a new lens to view our contemporary world … As Nelson Kraybill, in his exceptional study of this book, says it, “The last book of the Bible is not a catalog of predictions about events that would take place two thousand years later. Rather, it is a projector that casts archetypal images of good and evil onto a cosmic screen.

What we need is a generation, not of speculators about the rapture and the millennium and the role of Israel in the end times, but of double dissidents. A dissident is someone who takes a stand against official policy in church or state or both, who dissents from the status quo with a different vision for society

The book of Revelation, when read well, forms us into dissident disciples who discern corruptions in the world and church. Conformity to the world is the problem. Discipleship requires dissidence when one lives in Babylon (12-13).

So take, for instance, the idea of the millennium.

One way of reading this is a literal thousand years. But we first have to ask, what kind of genre is John writing in? In his cultural context, with the way in which apocalyptic literature was understood, is “millennium” a reference to “1,000 years”?

McKnight offers,

The millennium symbolically demonstrates the triumph of the allegiant witnesses: those who have suffered on account of the Jesus Christ witness will in the end rule universally and receive the special rewards promised to those who have paid the highest price (first resurrection, reign, escape from second death). John uses the symbol of the millennium to depict “the meaning, rather than predicting the manner of their vindication" (271-272).

But there are textual reasons to support this understanding. For instance, McKnight also notes,

To begin with, the word “prophetic” does not have to mean “prediction.” Pick up your Bible, read the prophets of Israel, and you will see immediately that they are speaking to their own day as much as they are speaking to the future. It’s a both-and way of speaking. Furthermore, dispensationalists often argue their reading is “literal” and other views are “spiritual,” but the scare tactic of calling one’s reading “literal” and the other side as either “spiritual” or “symbolic” doesn’t mean every image in Revelation happens exactly as described, word for word, in the letter. No one literally thinks any of these beasts have seven heads or that some sword will zoom from Jesus’s mouth when he speaks. Some things are “literal” and others “symbolic,” and both sides interpret in both ways. Not to mention that John himself does not see what he is describing as future but considers himself to be a fellow participant in the so-called great tribulation (1:9) (95).

In Revelation 1:9 we have the Greek word “θλῖψις” which is also the word we find in Matthew 24:9 and also in Revelation 7:14.

Similarly, Michael Gorman writes in Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Followingthe Lamb into the New Creation:

Popular dispensationalism, disseminated by such best-selling sources as the Scofield Reference Bible, Hal Lindsey’s writings (e.g., The Late, Great Planet Earth), and most recently the “Left Behind” series of books and movies by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, interprets Revelation as portraying, in literal and linear fashion, the course of historical events…

But prophecy, in the biblical tradition, is not exclusively or even primarily about making pronouncements and predictions concerning the future. Rather, prophecy is speaking words of comfort and/or challenge, on behalf of God, to the people of God in their concrete historical situation

Since Revelation is a word of prophecy in the biblical tradition, we must take care to understand that its primary purpose is to give words of comfort and challenge to God’s people then and now, not to predict the future, and much less to do so with precise detail. Visions of the future, that is, are not an end in themselves but rather a means—both to warn and to comfort (40-41).

I also wanted to mention the question of how the church experiences difficulty. John himself wrote from exile, and he wrote to churches that, in various ways, were experiencing difficulties because of their counter-cultural claim that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord.

I remember that Shane Claiborne did a tour called “Jesus for President” in an effort to make a similar point. Someone says, so-and-so is the President, and you respond, well, actually, Jesus is my President, and I owe my exclusive loyalty to him. It’s confrontational. That doesn’t mean we don’t show appropriate honor to political leaders, but it is heavily contextualized by our commitment to the Lordship of Christ.

For instance, imagine trying this in North Korea, Russia, or Saudi Arabia. Jesus, not Kim Jong Un, is the Supreme Leader. Jesus, not Putin, is the President. Jesus, not Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is the King.

Gorman also notes,

The protection, symbolized in Revelation by the ancient practice of sealing (7:3–8; 9:4; contrast the antithetical marks/seals of the beast in 13:16–17; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4), does not mean that the church avoids temptation and tribulation, but that it is protected from defeat by these inevitable realities. That is, it is and will be victorious (177).

In these readings of Revelation, the church is depicted on earth throughout the book. For instance, here’s Gorman on chapter 7:

These two states of the church—as a persecuted pilgrim people now and as a vast triumphant heavenly people later—are on graphic display in Revelation 7, one of the most important texts about the church in the entire New Testament. Its dramatic and rhetorical function as an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals does not diminish, but rather enhances, its theological prominence.

In the first part of the chapter (7:1–8), we see the church on earth, situated in the midst of the tribulation associated with the seven seals of judgment. It is depicted as 144,000 sealed people from the tribes of Israel (7:4), establishing continuity between the church and the original chosen people. These 144,000 have had their foreheads sealed, a mark of their identity as God’s people and of God’s protection of them during tribulation (7:3 versus 13:16–17; see OT precedents in Exod 12:23; Ezek 9:4). Here, as later in chapter 12, “[f]aithful Christians are preserved through (not from!) the great persecution that is about to be unleashed upon them" (177-178).

As I continue to sort through these different interpretations, here’s one question for consideration:

Is Revelation mainly written to tell us, in extensive detail, what will happen one day?

Or is it a discipleship manual to help Christians be faithful to Jesus amidst suffering and even persecution in every age?

I look forward to continuing to learn from you and others!


Hi @Carson,

When it comes to pre-tribulation teaching, I am merely stating some of the reasoning behind the views I have heard to know how they hold up when compared to other perspectives.

I have often wondered why God gave us the book of Revelation with so many difficult passages to understand. So, I appreciate the reasoning Scott McKnight offers – to form us into dissident disciples who discern corruptions in the world and church. But how exactly does the book of Revelation accomplish that purpose? I think it is by making us aware of the judgement that is to come at an unexpected hour and by providing hope of a time when unrighteousness will no longer reign (Rev 22:12, Rev 22:3).

Apocalypse gives us a new lens to view the present world with, as described in 2 Peter 3:11-12. But I find it hard to accept that the book of Revelation is not about prediction. Revelation starts off with Jesus asking John to write the things he has seen, those that are, and those that are to take place afterwards (Rev 1:19, Rev 1:1) and the book also ends with similar words (Rev 22:6). So, I see the book of Revelation doing both - predicting future and perception into the present.

What is not clear are the specifics of the timeline, perhaps because God is interested in us always being prepared for his return. As I read the prophecies related to the day of the Lord in the Old and in the New Testament, the authors seem to move quickly from a discussion of their current distress to that of the judgement from God on the day of the Lord. So perhaps a clear chronology of events will be difficult to decipher if we don’t know the original context and understand how the author shifts from one age to the other.

Yes, I agree we don’t know the length of the millennium. The nature of the millennium as a period of time when Satan is bound and is not able to deceive the nations is however clear (Rev 20:3). Recently I came across intriguing calculations for literal interpretation of the years in Daniel’s prophecy that seem to accurately predict the arrival of Jesus. I am aware that there are different ways of looking at Daniel’s seventy weeks and need to critically study the different views on this prophecy. If literal interpretation of the years in Daniel’s prophecy lead to accurate prediction of Jesus arrival and crucifixion, perhaps it is possible for the millennium to be interpreted literally.

I appreciate the readings from Gorman you shared about how the ‘church’ is depicted throughout the book of Revelation. There seem to be other words used for church if not ‘ekklesia’ as is claimed. When I asked a local pastor about this, I was told that the believers who are described in Revelation are new converts after the rapture and include both Jews and Gentiles who were part of the tribulation (Rev 7:14). What I didn’t understand was why God would preferentially allow rapture of only some believers and protect only some but not all the believers from the tribulation, if the rapture reasoning of being protected from God’s wrath is correct.

I like how you ended your post with two questions to consider. The main point indeed is about how we live our lives. Yet, I feel the need to understand the details of Revelation to have good responses to those who are drawn to exclusive groups who use/misuse end times theology for their own agenda.