There are quite a number of interesting things to consider in Jesus' instructions here. First, this is not instruction given generally to the public, but rather it was directly to His disciples. Second, He says that we should know from the signs given that His return is near. Our predictions may not be specifically accurate, but at least in the ballpark—near. Third, He emphasizes the element of surprise, even terrifying surprise. The impression is that the world will be taken completely by surprise. Fourth, the overall point of this instruction is that by being alert to the signs and taking advantage of them, we should be ready. The fifth is a final warning in verse 44, because He feared that even the attention, the alertness of His disciples, would be threatened: "Therefore be you also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man comes."
Are we getting anxious about Christ's return? I do not mean anxious in a sense of being fearful, but anxious in terms of seeing it come to pass. First, because things are getting so bad one wonders at times whether it can get much worse, and yet we know that it can. Second, as a result of the pressures of enduring life, there is some measure of concerned anxiety because the end seems to be taking so long to come to pass. We are undoubtedly in "the time of the end," but at the same time we feel that we have been on the gun lap a very long time.
Part of our anticipation exists because we have had it drilled in our minds to watch for certain events to happen. Sometimes it looks as though those events indeed are coming to pass, and right now some of the more important events we had drilled into our minds just are not happening in a clearly visible way. If they are, they are being worked out in a way that we are not prepared for, and therefore probably do not see.
Jesus meant this admonition in the sense of a soldier on guard duty, alert to what is going on around him, and so watch we do! But what if our point of view—the perspective we are looking from—is not correct? We might be alert, diligently and sincerely looking in that direction, but at best, we are only getting a part of the picture. We might be likened to a soldier on guard duty who is alert, but looking in the wrong direction, and so the enemy sneaks up from a blind spot and surprises him, despite him looking intensely in a particular direction.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 1)
In essence, these verses are Christ's opening salvo on how to be prepared and how to use your time and energy when the evidence of His return begins to appear.
Although we definitely know that we are living in the time of the end, we do not know exactly when Christ will return. So we have to live in readiness every day. The theme of this brief parable is expectation. Knowing the general signs of His coming, we live expecting the unexpected.
He illustrates this by comparing His coming to that of a thief. We normally do not look for thieves. Understandably, thieves do not advertise their coming, but by taking precautions, we prepare against their coming. All of us lock our houses and hide our valuables in safe places. Some of us have installed security alarms and exterior lighting to discourage burglary.
In the same vein, Jesus urges His people to be vigilant, alert, wakeful, and constantly watchful because a thief's principal weapon is surprise. Even to those who are aware, His coming will occur with jarring suddenness—and more so to those who are distracted by ordinary occupations, "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage." The teaching in this parable is that to live without vigilance is to invite disaster.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
This passage provides a concrete description of the circumstances surrounding Christ's return, emphasizing that His return will be at an unexpected hour. We can tie this to His warnings about becoming caught up in the cares of the world, so that end-time events commence when we are spiritually unprepared (Matthew 25:13; Mark 13:35; Luke 12:39-40; 21:34).
Verses 40-41 describe two men working in a field and two women grinding at a mill. In each case, one is taken and the other is left. Subscribers to the theory of a secret rapture use these verses as support, though the only “secret” part of Christ's return will be the timing—the event itself will be visible to all. Rapture advocates also assume that taken here means “snatched up to heaven.” However, in the 49 New Testament usages of this Greek word (paralambano), nowhere does it contain that idea.
The only verse that even approaches that sense is John 14:3, but even it does not actually support the idea of being taken off to heaven: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive [paralambano] you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Notice that He says He will come again—to earth—and receive His followers to Himself there, not in heaven. Earth is where His Kingdom will be established.
Thus, Matthew 24:40-41 speaks of a divine distinction between peoples in the future: Some will be received near to Christ and associated with Him in a familiar or intimate way. The word can even imply they assume an office.
Those under judgment, however, will be left and not allowed to accompany Christ. This “being left” may be what happens to the foolish virgins who are left outside the wedding feast (Matthew 25:10-12); to the “sons of the kingdom” who will be “cast out into outer darkness” instead of entering into the Kingdom (Matthew 8:11-12); and to others who are found to be unworthy to enter the Kingdom (see Matthew 24:48-51; 25:30; 25:31-46).
David C. Grabbe
Where the Eagles Are Gathered
Jesus' comments about the thief point out that His disciples must be ready because the Son of Man will come unexpectedly (Matthew 25:13; Mark 13:33; Revelation 3:3). The story as a whole, not the individual characters in it, provide the comparison. The unwise servant makes two mistakes. First, he says, "I'll do whatever I want while my master is away," forgetting that the day of judgment must come. Human beings have a habit of having two different attitudes toward God. Sometimes, we remember that God is present, and at others, we may not think of Him at all. Second, he says, "I have plenty of time to put things right before the master comes." Nothing may be more harmful than to assume we have more time (I Thessalonians 5:3). Jesus says, "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4).
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servants
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 24:42: