Watch and Be Ready For the Coming of the Lord

by Thomas W. Finley

Lesson Four: “The coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah” (Matthew 24:36-51)

This passage, part of a long section in Jesus’ talk on end-time events, contains three admonitions to watch, or be on the alert, and be ready (24:42, 44; 25:13). The context of these three admonitions will give us much understanding for our need, as disciples, to be on the alert and be ready for Christ’s return. Remember, the audience for these words was strictly His disciples (specifically four apostles per Mk. 13:3), so we must take these warnings as directed to the church. Since this is a lengthy section, for the sake of space all of this text will not be reproduced here. Please open your Bible to this portion and follow it as we look at this most important passage.

Let us first look at the important section where the Lord tells us that His coming will be just like the days of Noah:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. (Matt. 24:36-44)

“One will be taken and one will be left”

From this passage we see that the days of Noah consisted of three phases: 1) the time before the flood, which was characterized by the normal activities of man, 2) the entry of Noah (and those with him) into the ark, 3) the coming of the flood that swept away the people. The coming of the Son of Man will be like this (v. 39). The next verses tell us about two men in the field and two women at the mill. The work in the field and at the mill portrays the normal activity of life, just as in Noah’s day before Noah entered the ark. Then suddenly something happens to one of the men and one of the women. They are taken away while the others are left in the field or at the mill. This picture is immediately followed by the Lord’s warning: “Therefore, be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” The Lord’s warning is definitely connected to the taking of one person and the leaving of the other person. Does it not naturally follow the picture of Noah that the one taken is like Noah who went into the ark, leaving the others behind? The ark pictures a place of safety and escape from the flood of judgment that came upon the world. Jesus is admonishing His disciples to be spiritually alert and prepared. In verse 43 He shows that if the head of the house knew when the thief was coming he would have been prepared and not have suffered loss. Then, He immediately says, “For this reason you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” This is the same warning we saw in Luke 12. The line of argument is that if you are not prepared, you will suffer loss. Since we do not know the hour of the Lord’s return we must then be constantly prepared, spiritually ready for His return. What is the loss? The loss here is to be left on the earth during the time of tribulation. The one “taken” is the one who escapes (by rapture) the scene of judgment, as did Noah. The one “left” is left at the scene of judgment.[1] Scripture tells us that Noah took heed to the warning of impending judgment and prepared for escape: “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household” (Heb. 11:7a).

“Who then is the faithful and sensible slave”

Immediately following the Lord’s warning that we must be ready (v. 44), Jesus states: “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master will put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?” It is clear that Jesus is here telling his apostles (and other spiritual leaders) how they are to be ready. “Who then” indicates a connection between believers being “taken” or “left” and with the responsibility of the slaves who carry out stewardship to feed the saints. These leaders must be faithful and sensible slaves who feed and care for the believers, laboring to help them be ready for the coming of the Lord (see this truth also in 2 Tim. 4:1-2). The section on the faithful and sensible slave (vs. 45-51) exactly parallels what we have already covered in Lk. 12:42-46. The teaching is that the slave (or “steward” in Luke) must be faithful to carry out his responsibilities to care for the other slaves. If instead he thinks in his heart that the master’s coming is delayed and begins to mistreat his fellow slaves and live in self-indulgence, then he will be severely judged by the master at his return. There are some slight differences from Luke in this verse on judgment, and this verse in Matthew states:

“and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 24:51)

Whereas Luke says that the steward will be placed with the “unbelievers” (the Greek word is Strong’s #571), Matthew uses the word “hypocrites” (Strong’s #5273). “Hypocrite” means actor, one wearing a mask and playing a role. This word in the NT was almost exclusively applied to the religious Jews who practiced their religion outwardly, but whose heart was not right with God (Matt. 15:7-8). If the penalty of being cut in pieces equals physical death, then after that death the failed leader would appear at the Judgment Seat of Christ, which will be set up during this period. Luke notes the placement with unbelievers, which would be outside the glory of the millennial kingdom, as exemplified by unbelieving Jews in Matt. 8:5-12, who miss this coming kingdom participation even though God had intended them to possess it. Matthew notes a placement with the hypocrites, which would signify a more severe judgment beyond that of not possessing the coming millennial kingdom of Christ.[2]

If the “cutting in pieces” is a severe judgment other than death, then we must note that hypocritical Jews at the end of the age are left on the earth to endure the trial of great tribulation, which will surely be the time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble (Jer. 30:7). We should observe that this judgment is certain upon any failed servant who fits this description. There will be no chance to change one’s status through repentance once the Lord suddenly comes. These failed slaves will experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The “weeping” indicates profound sorrow and regret over one’s loss, and the “gnashing of teeth” indicates self-blame over one’s failure.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] Those who hold to the pre-tribulation rapture of the whole church teach that the one “taken” is taken in judgment and the one “left” is left to enter the millennial kingdom. They say that this passage deals with Israel and the two people are already living in the tribulation period. We must question the logic of such statements. The warning of being on the alert in order not to suffer loss is clearly linked to these people and the context of the escape of Noah from the flood of judgment. The sudden coming of the flood here is clearly intended by Jesus to picture the sudden onset of the coming tribulation era, so these people are not in the tribulation before one is taken and one is left. The admonition to be on the alert can only be given to people who have the spiritual capacity to be spiritually alert - believers. Why would there be a warning to the church here if the context has nothing to do with the church? If the ones “left” are “tribulation” saints (who are “saved” after the whole church is raptured according to the pre-tribulation teachers), who are destined to endure the period of tribulation and then enter the millennial kingdom, of what benefit is the warning to them? Some of the same teachers who take this view also teach that the admonitions to be alert and be ready in Matt. 24 and 25, Mark 13 and Luke 12 are indeed exhortations to watchfulness for the church. This is utterly inconsistent with their interpretation that the two men and the two women have nothing to do with the church and that Matthew 24 only pertains to Israel.

[2] Matt. 24:51 notes that the failed slave would be placed with the “hypocrites.” The Jewish leaders in Matt. 23 were “hypocrites” (v. 29), whom Jesus said would not escape the judgment of gehenna (Matt. 23:33). Unfortunately, the Greek word gehenna is mistranslated as “hell” in most versions. This word specifically refers to a valley outside of Jerusalem that was used for a garbage dump. The highest court of the Jews sometimes issued a judgment that called for the body of an executed criminal to be cast into this valley. The use of this word simply pictures a severe judgment. Throughout Scripture gehenna was a place for judgment upon God’s people, not the nations, and in the future era of judgment it belongs to the millennial age, not eternity. The eternal judgment of hell for men is described by different terms: “the eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41) and “the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14, 15). For further study on this complex subject please refer to Chapter 8 of the author’s book entitled, “Worthy of the Kingdom,”.