Jesus' Parables for Disciples
76. One Is Taken, the Other Left (Luke 17:26-37)
James J. Tissot, 'The Two Women at the Mill' (1886-96), gouache, Brooklyn Museum, New York. Larger image.
"26 'Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 "It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.
30 It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot's wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.' 36 37 'Where, Lord?' they asked. He replied, 'Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.'" (Luke 17:26-37, NIV)
This lesson needs to be considered in light of the last lessons study of Luke 17:20-25. Both sections of this passage teach that Jesus' Second Coming will bring both victory and judgment -- instantly. (See Appendix 2G. Introduction to Eschatology.)
Jesus talks again and again of a particular time, as "day," "days," and "night."
- "... the days of the Son of Man.... (17:22)
- "The Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning...." (17:24)
- "... so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man." (17:26)
- "It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed." (17:30)
- "On that day no one who is on the roof of his house...." (17:31)
- "on that night two people will be in one bed...." (17:34)
The day that the Son of Man is revealed seems to be the same day on which destruction comes, the day when one is taken and another left. A lot seems to be happening in a very short scope of time.
One obvious key word in our passage is "day" and "days," Greek hēmera. In Greek, the word has the same kind of flexibility that our English word "day" has. It can mean (1) the period between sunrise and sunset, (2) civil or legal day, including the night, (3) a day appointed for very special purposes, and (4) an extended period of time.726 Here it refers to the special appointed day of God's final judgment and the coming of the Son of Man.
We see the concept of the Day of Judgment many times in the Old and New Testaments. It is often called "the day of the Lord" and is consistently referred to as a day of vengeance, of wrath, of punishment.727
Jesus relates two incidents well-known to his hearers: the great flood in Noah's time (Genesis 6-7) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19).
"Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also
will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying
and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood
came and destroyed them all.
"It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. " (17:26-30)
These two events have two elements in common:
- People are going about their normal lives as if nothing is going to happen.
- On a particular day, destruction from God occurs suddenly and without further warning.
Now Jesus warns his disciples that when this Day suddenly appears they aren't to rush off or turn away to get something.
"On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it." (17:31-33)
Those who are concerned about material things will be destroyed. Only those who look forward to the Lord's coming will be saved.
What is Jesus' point about Lot's wife? Let's look at the passage in Genesis that Jesus refers to:
"As soon as [the angels] had brought them out, one of them said, 'Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!' ... By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah -- from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities -- and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." (Genesis 19:17, 23-26)
What happened to her? She paused and turned, transfixed by the destruction raining upon the city of her birth. How long she paused we don't know. Lot and his daughters kept hurrying on, but Lot's wife paused and looked, disobeying the angel's clear command. It was probably something like what happened in Pompeii in AD 79. First, a volcanic gas settled over the city, asphyxiating many while they slept. Then the city was covered with heavy deposits of volcanic ash and the chemical action of the ash hardened the bodies of the dead, causing the surrounding ash to retain a perfect cast of the bodies.728 Perhaps her body became caked with the chemical salts raining down from the cataclysm. We're not sure.
But how tragic! She was so close to deliverance and salvation, but her longing for her home was too much. Jesus warns us not to worry about our "things" on that Day, else they become a snare to us and cause us to miss out on his deliverance.
Now comes an awesome and cryptic passage:
"I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left." (17:34-35)
Now the Day shifts to nighttime. There is a division, even of individuals who are in close physical proximity -- two people in a bed, two women grinding grain together with a hand mill, no doubt chatting as women do while doing their routine chores. Without warning one is taken and the other left.
The word "taken" is Greek paralambanō, which means "to take into close association, take (to oneself), take with/along," usually in a positive sense.729 The word "left," Greek aphiēmi, on the other hand, means "leave, depart from ... abandon."730
Taken where? Left to what purpose? The context in Luke is pretty vague. When we look at the parallel in Matthew 24 we get a hint of what Jesus might have meant.
"As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left." (Matthew 24:37-41)
In Matthew, Jesus has just talked about Noah entering the ark. We know that he took his family and a pair of every animal with him. Those who are taken along with him are saved from the catastrophe, but those who are left are destroyed by the impending judgment.
Neither in Matthew nor in Luke are we told that this "taking" is the Rapture. In fact, Luke doesn't refer explicitly to the Rapture, except perhaps in this verse. But it seems to fit with what we're told elsewhere about the Rapture or great gathering of God's people:
"And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." (Matthew 24:31)
"And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens." (Mark 13:27)
"Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed -- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
"After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
"Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers...." (2 Thessalonians 2:1)
Though we can't be sure that Jesus is speaking of the Rapture in Luke 17:34-35, it seems that one group are taken away to be saved, and other are left to experience terrible destruction and punishment. There won't be time to get right with God. This separation will take place instantly, without warning. We must be ready now for the coming of the Son of Man.
The final passage is framed by another question from Jesus' disciples:
"Where, Lord?" they asked.
He replied, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather." (17:37)
This passage is difficult for us to understand -- particularly the city-folks among us. Jesus doesn't answer the disciples directly with a location, but tells a mini-parable of the vultures. The KJV rendering seems somehow grander than the NIV: "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together" (Luke 17:37). Eagles are more glorious than vultures. After all the Bald Eagle is the national symbol of the USA! But when you study it out, you find that the "eagle" here probably refers to the vulture.
Eight species of eagles and four species of vultures appear in Palestine, most probably described by the same Hebrew word neser or Greek word aetos. In the Near East, eagles and vultures both ate carrion and hunted prey and were considered unclean (Leviticus 11:13; Deuteronomy 14:12).731 In this parable Jesus is referring to the common pattern of vultures circling high above a carcass. Where I live in the dry foothills of California's Sierra Nevada, the sight of circling vultures is exceedingly common, as it must have been above the hills and deserts of Palestine. These birds are huge, with a six-foot wingspan, and are majestic in their effortless soaring flight. First, one vulture will spot a dead or dying animal. Soon, from far off, others will see the lone vulture circling and join it in its vigil. When the animal is dead, the vultures descend for a meal.
In Jesus' parable he is referring to the gathering and circling of vultures where a carcass is found, marking its location and making it obvious from miles around. The carcass doesn't somehow represent Jesus' body -- that is pushing the parable beyond its intent. The point is that high circling of the vultures makes the location obvious from afar. In Matthew's parallel this verse is immediately preceded by a verse on the visibility of lightning from the west to the east at the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:27-28). I believe that in his parable of the vultures, Jesus is saying that there is no need to pinpoint a location now; when Jesus comes it will be obvious to all. As Green puts it, "Just as the presence of carrion is indicated by circling vultures, so will his presence at the end be clearly evident."732
Jesus' words were not intended for outsiders but to instruct disciples. What do we learn here about Jesus' coming?
- Jesus will come when everything is going on normally, when nobody is expecting him.
- Jesus will come suddenly and without warning.
- When Jesus comes it will be too late to do anything or get anything. Material possessions have no meaning at that time, and those for whom they do have meaning are destined for judgment.
- When Jesus comes people side by side will be separated, one for salvation, the other for judgment.
- When Jesus comes his location will be immediately obvious from far away. It will not be hidden or secret.
We disciples must be ready and watchful, lest we be lulled into spiritual lethargy by the progress of life from one generation to the next and assume that Jesus won't return after all -- that there must have been some mistake. The Apostle Peter issues such a warning for us:
"First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this "coming" he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' ... But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness." (2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-13)
Father, since the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, our generation is now very aware that things going on as they always have doesn't mean that sudden and terrible destruction cannot take place in an instant. Shake me awake. Help me not to be lulled to sleep by the unbelief and scoffing around me. Help me and my brothers and sisters to be ready for Jesus' sudden coming. Teach me the true value of material things so that I do not cling to them. Help my eyes to be ever looking for his appearing. In the holy name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
"I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left." (Luke 17:35-36)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- What two things do the "days of Noah" have in common with the "days of Lot"? What point is Jesus making by comparing his coming to those events? (17:26-30).
- At his coming is Jesus going to bring peace or punishment?
- Jesus warns those on the roof or in the field not to go back to get their possessions. Why? What does this have to do with Lot's wife? (17:31-32)
- What does "trying to keep one's life" have to do with turning to get one's possessions? What is the paradox here that trying to save one's life results in losing it? Explain. (17:31-33)
- Jesus tells of people in close physical proximity to each other, and warns that one will be taken and the other left. What does this teach us about the nature of Jesus' coming? Where will they be taken? What happens to those who are left? (17:34-35)
- What does Jesus' parable of the gathering vultures teach us about his location when he comes? (17:37)
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 Hēmera, BDAG 436-438.
 Malachi 4:5; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:14; Isaiah 2:12; 13:6, 9; 34:8; Jeremiah 46:10; Lamentations 2:22; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 2:1; Amos 5:18; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:8, 18; 2:2-3; Zechariah 14:1.
 Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Eerdmans, 1995), p. 48, fn. 16. D.J. Wiseman, "Lot," ISBE 3:171-172.
 Paralambanō, BDAG 767-768.
 Aphiēmi, BDAG 156.
 Harold van Broekhoven, Jr., "Eagle," ISBE 2:1-2. R.K. Harrison, "Vulture," ISBE 4:999.
 Green, Luke, p. 636.
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