Immediately after the tribulation of those days… And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. – Matthew 24:29a, 31
There is a growing number believing that the rapture will take place in the middle or after the Great Tribulation. One of the verses referenced is Matthew 24:29-30, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days… And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” But is that what this passage is talking about?
I’ll try to keep this short as Matthew 24 is packed. The Olivet Discourse is Jesus sharing with the Jews the “sign” of His second coming and the tribulation prior to it (v. 2). Remember, the Jews require a sign (1 Corinthians 1:22). This was a part of Christ’s final offer to the Jews to receive the Kingdom. After this, He began speaking of the cross. Throughout the discourse, Jesus is speaking of several things pertaining to the Jews and the Kingdom.
Notice the following:
There will be false Christs that will deceive; the Jews are looking for the Christ.
The Sabbath was being followed by those to whom this is pertaining.
The gospel of the Kingdom would be preached to all the lands, which is what will be preached during the Great Tribulation.
Today, we are preaching the Gospel of Grace. Jesus is describing the Tribulation. In Jeremiah 30:7, it is called the time of “Jacob’s trouble,” as God is dealing primarily with Israel (Jacob) in the tribulation. Verse 30 describes the actual second coming of Christ, not to be confused with the rapture as Christ is not dealing with the church yet. In verse 31, it says he shall “gather his elect.” In the context, the elect could only be referring to Israel as God’s “chosen” people. To what are they gathered? (I’ll come back to that)
Verse 37 compares the second coming of Christ as the days of Noah. Verse 39 says that they did not know, or understand until the flood came and took them away, “so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Who was taken away in Noah’s day? The righteous or the wicked? In that day, you would want to be one of the ones that were left behind. They were taken away in judgment. When people speak of “As in the days of Noah,” they often refer to the wickedness of the day and that the people were rejecting God’s message. Though there is a parallel aspect there, the context is speaking of something different. It was not so much the condition of men, but historical events that unfolded.
Verse 40 talks about the the two men in the field and one is taken and one left. Verse 41, two women grinding at the mill, one is taken one left. Where were they taken? Is this the rapture? I don’t think so. The context is judgement. How could it be a bad thing to be taken in verse 39, and a good thing to be taken in verses 40 and 41 when they are tied together in the same context? The parallel passage in Luke 17:36 mentions the two men in the field and one is taken. The disciples asked the Lord where they would be taken to in verse 37 and Jesus answered “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” Similar to Matthew 24:28, “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” It is speaking of death and the scavengers gathering around their body.
These verse are about the second coming of Jesus. In that day, there will be those who are taken away into judgement and others who will be left behind to be ushered into Christ’s millennial Kingdom.
Matthew 24 never speaks about the rapture because it is a message to the Jews. The rapture at this point is still a mystery and has not yet been revealed. It is about the second coming and as in the days of Noah, they’ll be coming and going, given in marriage, not understanding, until suddenly, Christ returns. Some are taken into judgement, while others are left. Noah and his family were left behind to be ushered into the new world and those left behind at the second coming will be ushered into the new kingdom.
I know I didn’t spend much time on the specific verses initially mentioned (vs 29-31), but the context of the whole chapter is very important to understand. We can’t just pull one verse out of context and build a doctrine on it.
The elect that are gathered in verse 31, are possibly those Jews who rejected the Messiah. In verse 33 it says “when ye shall see these things,” inferring that they were left behind to witness it.
I’ve heard some compelling arguments for different positions and have had to wrestle through them. I was unstable on the topic of the rapture for a long time, but I believe the pre-tribulation rapture is the position that lines up with a proper study of the Bible. I have also found that a post tribulation or even a pre-wrath position inevitably turns into replacement theology (the Church is the new Israel) which in some places has even led to antisemitism, which is a whole other discussion. I do not take this position because I don’t want to suffer, but because it is what the Bible teaches.
This is a clear example of the importance of properly understanding the context of a passage before directing the passage as well as “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). If we are going “study to shew [ourselves] approved unto God,” then we need to learn to rightly divide the contexts as well as the dispensations. Otherwise we get trapped in contradictory theology based on cutting and pasting v various proof texts together to prove our points. Let us not be sloppy, but diligent in our study and pursuit of God’s truth.