Jesus is saying that, at the very time people should be most concerned about events and conditions around them, they may be totally unprepared, living life normally. II Peter 3:1-12 adds that, not only will there be those who are totally oblivious, but also those who may be vaguely aware of what is going on but are so anti-God and anti-Christ that they willfully mock and ridicule to discourage those who are fully aware.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Our Uniqueness and Time
Some feel we have reached a time in history that parallels the period just before the Flood. God recorded what conditions were like as Noah was building the ark: "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). What a horrifying thought! What danger and oppression must have lurked at every turn!
Yet Jesus predicts in a prophecy regarding the time of the end—the time we live in today, "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be." In a larger, more general context, Jesus meant that, despite the dangerous, portentous events occurring all around them, people will be going about their normal routines without seriously considering the meaning of these events (Matthew 24:38-39). They will not take the time to wonder if these cataclysmic events are affecting them personally.
How about you? Even though we are living in momentous times, we are easily distracted from their importance by our high standard of living and convenient access to just about anything we desire. The nations of western Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States are, for the most part, wallowing in unprecedented technological luxury. Much to our spiritual detriment, our lives are caught up in our possessions and keeping our noses above water economically.
But we must not allow this to happen any longer! Time and prophecy are relentlessly marching on. The book of Amos records an almost exact parallel account to what is happening in our day. It chronicles the social, political, economic, military, and religious conditions and attitudes prevalent in ancient Israel in about 760 BC. This was about forty years before Assyria invaded and completely devastated the nation. So awesome was Israel's defeat that, as far as the world is concerned, her people disappeared from history! They are known as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel today.
Amos is not a happy book to read. It does not contain the encouraging, soaring, and hope-inspiring prophecies of Isaiah. No, Amos speaks of almost unending gloom and doom. This presents an interesting contrast when seen against Israel's surging power, wealth, and influence. During the days of Amos' ministry, the nation was undergoing a burst of prosperity second only to Solomon's time. On the surface, it appeared that Israel's prosperity indicated God's pleasure, but Amos' words prove beyond any doubt that God was not pleased at all! He was deadly serious! If the people would not repent, they were doomed!
The Israelites did not repent. They suffered war, famine, pestilence, and captivity as a result. Tens of thousands died. They learned the hard way that God means exactly what He says through His prophets (Amos 3:7).
Though Amos describes what was literally happening in ancient Israel, God intended the message for us, the physical and/or spiritual descendants of Israel. It was written to stir us to action, seeing that the times indicate Jesus Christ will return soon.
Amos clearly shows that our nations are headed along the same path to destruction as ancient Israel. There is still hope that we will turn around and avoid the wrath of God, but as each day passes, it becomes more unlikely. We have many lessons to learn, and we seem determined to learn them the hard way.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
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)
Noah's pre-Flood contemporaries were ignorant of their spiritual wretchedness. Revelation 3 makes it plain that we can be in the same boat. Thinking we are "rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing" (verse 17), we are blind to our true spiritual state.
A Basket of Summer Fruit
Though our present day rivals Noah's in corruption and evil, this meaning of Matthew 24:36-39 is actually the secondary interpretation. The primary meaning is more simple: Christ would come at a time when most of the world was busy doing its normal activities.
Notice verse 36: "But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." This is the subject sentence of the entire paragraph. Verse 42 repeats the thought: "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming." Jesus rephrases it in verse 44: "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him."
Luke's version makes this especially clear:
And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26-30)
People will be involved in their normal activities, not realizing such a momentous event is about to occur!
Paul writes that "the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape" (I Thessalonians 5:2-3). Just when men begin to think they have a handle on society's problems, total chaos and destruction will erupt.
Peter reminds us of scoffers coming in the last days who would say, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation" (II Peter 3:4). The apostle goes on to cite the example of the Flood—which came on suddenly and unexpectedly—as an event that broke the natural cycle of life (verses 5-6). Such is the time of Christ's return.
All of these prophetic warnings include the admonition to watch and be ready for it when it comes. As Paul says:
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. . . . Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober, . . . putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. (I Thessalonians 5:4, 6, 8)
Christ's return will not be sudden and unexpected to the church. We may not know the day or the hour, but we will be somewhere "in the ballpark." Jesus says His day "will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth" (Luke 21:35). But, as verse 34 says, if we "take heed to [our]selves," not being mired down by sin, we will be expecting it.
We are certainly living in times very like those of the days of Noah, so the return of Christ could come anytime soon. Knowing this, our job is to watch and pray and overcome so "that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (verse 36).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'As It Was In the Days of Noah'
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
No matter who or what a man is—he is never actually going to know when the return of Jesus Christ will occur. Nobody will know until it happens. So why waste time trying to figure it out? Is it not flying in the face of what Jesus says here? He is warning us, "Don't fix your mind on this."
He is not saying, "Don't be aware of events that are happening." He is saying, "Don't get distracted into an exhaustive study that will get you nowhere." It is an illustration of the kind of thoughts our Lord and Master thinks. "Keep your mind focused on the most important things." The timing of His return is secondary. No one will ever figure it out, so why waste time trying to do something that will ultimately prove futile? We can watch the world news and see the events and trends that are occurring. We know we are on track. But we should make sure it does not get out of hand.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 1): God and HWA
The thrust of Jesus' message is clear beyond question. He is concerned that when He returns, people will be so focused on—and thus distracted by—the secular concerns of life that they will be unprepared for the climactic events of His return. His concern is enhanced by three parables that follow this section, each dealing with the state of urgency and readiness we need to have as that time approaches.
Why would a Christian not be prepared as the end nears, when we should know full well that we are close? The answer is fairly obvious. Those caught in this "pre-flood syndrome" have their minds on something else.
The Parable of the Sower and the Seed addresses this clearly: "Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world . . . choke the word" (Matthew 13:22). "The cares of this world" catch the people's attention as the "flood" begins and contribute to their deterioration.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Flood Is Upon Us!
God told Noah that He would destroy the earth by a flood, and He gave him instructions on how to be prepared so he and his family could survive. God told him what He would do but not when. What did Noah do? He prepared, though nobody else did. Noah believed God and acted according to his belief. When the Flood came, he was ready, even though he did not know when it would come.
The parallel to today is astounding. Noah's actions define a Christian's responsibilities. Putting the lesson into his life, one can also "[b]y faith . . . being divinely warned of things not yet seen, [move] with godly fear . . . and [become] heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Hebrews 11:7). Not putting this lesson to work is the attitude that leads to spiritual disaster, saying by one's conduct that there is plenty of time.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 24:37:
1 Thessalonians 5:1-4
2 Timothy 3:13
2 Timothy 3:13