Biblical doctrines Book of Revelation hermeneutics The Papacy

At the resurrection who is left behind?

Recently I have been studying the book of Luke, and especially the passage on the resurrection “...I tell you, in that night there shall be two men [people] in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left” (chapter 17:34-37). I asked myself when one person (note ‘men’ is not in the original) was taken by Christ at the gathering of the saved, the resurrection, and another was left, what happened to those who were left?


The standard explanation today is that this is a description of the so-called Pre-Tribulation Rapture, the secret Rapture, like portrayed in the “Left Behind” series of books and movies. But that doctrine, which is attributed to John Nelson Darby, an early pioneer of the Exclusive Brethren (early 1800’s), in fact, had its beginnings much earlier with the Jesuit Francisco Ribera and later Cardinal Belamine. And this was independent of those who claim Darby had developed the ideas himself. Maybe he did. He certainly developed the system of theology called Dispensationalism, where he linked the restoration of the land and nation of Israel–God fulfilling His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–to a scenario of the Church being caught away from the earth, leaving only the Jews as God’s people and that they would fulfil Millennium prophecies (e.g. Isaiah 65:25) during the subsequent 1000-year reign of Christ on Earth. The only part I agree with him on is that God will fulfil His promise to Abraham.

The Jesuit Francisco Ribera originated the idea to divert attention away from the pope being identified as the AntiChrist, which was the standard belief during the 16th through 19th centuries with protestant Bible scholars. The Jesuits did not hold to the idea of physical Israel being restored nor a Pre-Trib Rapture, but they developed the notion of futurism, that most of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation would come to a future end-time fulfilment in a final AntiChrist figure, who would rule the world from Jerusalem under some sort of 7-year peace agreement. This was to push attention away from the Papacy as the AntiChrist. But then the Papacy had and still does have all the hallmarks of the AntiChrist in the prophecies.

Up to this point in my thinking I considered that there are only two possible scenarios for the resurrection of the believers. They are either a premillennial or a postmillennial resurrection of the believers. The Millennium is a 1000-year period (Revelation 20:3-6) where Christ either literally reigns on Earth with the resurrected saints of God in the premillennial case, or, where Christ spiritually reigns with the living believers at that time in the postmillennial case.

The more I study this, the less and less do I find the premillennial scenario even plausible. One major reason is that Scripture clearly points to a single final resurrection of all both living and dead at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).  Look at chapter 19 of the book of the Revelation and it becomes obvious that Christ rules from the throne room of God until the final judgment, which is at the last trump, which is when the saved (living and dead) are resurrected and when also the unsaved (who are not found in the book of life) are judged. As a consequence of what follows below I realised that I needed to significantly revise my Revelation 20 study. I now no longer hold any credence in the notion of a premillennial resurrection. And also the question must be asked what does the thousand-year period really mean? Is it a literal 1000 years or is it symbolic, and if so of what.

But for now I want to deal only with this question of what does the Scripture mean when it says that some were taken and some were left. It does not actually say some were left behind as the Pre-Trib secret Rapture believers would have you believe.

Luke 17 and those left behind

Reading the context of the passage, Christ is talking to His disciples and describing the conditions of His return–the Day of the Lord, as the Bible often calls it. He tells them that they personally will not see it, but that when He does return everyone will see. Just like lightning shining in the sky His return will be glorious. (All bold are my emphases added. Square brackets [ ] indicate meanings of words. King James Version Easy-Reading Bible (KJVER) used.)

Luke 17:22-24 And He said to the disciples, The days will come, when you shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you shall not see it. 23 And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. 24 For as the lightning, that lightens out of the one part under heaven, shines to the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of Man be in His day.

Christ then tells them that people on Earth won’t see it coming. They will be behaving like in the days of Noah before the global flood or in the days of Lot before God destroyed the city of Sodom.

Luke 17:26-30 And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. 30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 

What is Jesus saying by likening the coming events “in the days of the Son of Man” when “the Son of Man is revealed” to His Second Advent?  We need to be clear here.  There are two examples of major destructions, and Christ is saying that at His next coming it will be the same. At the global flood in Noah’s day there were 8 souls saved (Noah, his wife, their 3 sons and their 3 wives) on board the ark, and the rest of the total world’s population alive at that time were destroyed in the flood waters. At the total destruction of the city of Sodom there were 4 souls saved (Lot, his wife, initially, but she looked back and died after leaving the city, and their 2 daughters). They were ushered out of the city by God’s angels, and the rest of the total city’s population, living in the city, were destroyed by fire and brimstone. There is no third class of people, only the saved and the damned. Keep this in mind as you read the next part. Then Jesus says….

Luke 17:34-37 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men [people] in one bed; the one shall be taken [παραλαμβάνω paralambano], and the other shall be left [ἀφίημι aphiemi]. 35 Two women [people] shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 36 Two men [people] shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  37 And they answered and said to Him, Where, Lord? And He said to them, Wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

There is the parallel passage in Matthew 24, which gives us some additional information.

Matthew 24:36,42-44 But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only. 42 Watch therefore: for you know not what hour your Lord does come. 43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken up [through]. 44 Therefore be you also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of Man comes.

We do not know when these events might happen. Our preparation therefore can only be to be ready always. This is not a secret Rapture though, because it will be a worldwide global event and every one shall see Christ’s return.

Revelation 1:7 Behold, He comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail [mourn] because of Him. Even so, Amen.

In Luke 17 verses 34, 35, and 36 Christ used the same expression “… the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.” On the surface that certainly sounds like those who are not taken by Christ are left on Earth, but to really examine the Scriptures one must look at the original Greek wording to get the full meaning intended.

The English word ‘taken’ is translated in each case from the Greek word paralambano, which means ‘to receive near, i.e. associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation).’  The English word ‘left’ is translated in each case from the Greek word aphiemi, which means ‘to send forth‘.

Thus the expression “… the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left” means “… the one shall be taken [to Christ’s bosom or under His wings], and the other shall be left [to their destruction].” The believers are received into intimate fellowship with Christ at the resurrection. While the unbelievers are sent forth to their destruction. This is what happens at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). They are sent forth into the lake of fire that burns with brimstone. Being sent away is the same as being left by Christ when He collects His own, because what follows for those who are not gathered to Christ is damnation at their own judgment.

Thus the event of Noah’s family being saved and the rest damned, and the event of Lot’s family being saved and the rest damned is consistent with this event. When Jesus returns He will take the saved; He rescues them from destruction, just like from the flooded world or from the burning city of Sodom. But those who remain are sent forth to, or, left for   judgment and destruction in the same way that the world was destroyed by water, or that the city of Sodom was destroyed by fire and brimstone.

The unbelievers like the tares (weeds), in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43), are gathered and burned up in the fire. The fire symbolises this final judgment of the damned whereas the wheat symbolises the saved who are also gathered at the same time by the Lord and taken into His barns, symbolising the mansions in heaven prepared for the believers.

The unsaved at Christ’s return, which is just before the final judgment on mankind when all are judged, both living and the dead, are ‘left‘ alright but in fact ‘left to the consequences’ of their unbelieving hearts and judged according to their unrighteous actions. As the Scripture record “…whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). Only in this sense is anyone left behind at the resurrection.

It is interesting the passage ends with the disciples asking Jesus not when, but where, because He has already told them no one knows when. Christ’s answer is “wherever the body is”, wherever the believers and the unsaved are, this event will occur. It is likened to eagles (or vultures) circling a dead body. Certainly the unsaved are a dead body, actually dead men walking, and the vultures circle their prey. I believe the word ‘eagles’ (translated from the Greek ἀετός aetos) symbolises the angels who collect the saved for their heavenly abode and the damned for their hellish destruction. The Greek word aetos has the meaning of ‘an eagle (from its wind-like flight)‘. This fits the angels quite well.

The event will be global, seen by all, and there are only two classes of people who experience it: the saved who go on to eternal life, and the damned who go onto destruction. There are no living humans left alive on Earth.


I would like to thank and acknowledge Jim Gibson for insight here. I took information from Chapter 2 of When Jesus Returns — What Then? (as PDF). The following chapters are available here: Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4 and Chapter 5.

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.