Jesus’ words can often be challenging, and many scholars face interpretive difficulties with the part of the Olivet Discourse where Jesus says, “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 24:40–41). The same teaching is found in Luke 17, with the added illustration that “two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left” (verse 34).
Jesus made the statement that “one will be taken and the other left” in His response to the disciples’ questions over the signs of His coming and the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). Prior to this statement, Jesus told His disciples that “about that day or hour no one knows” (verse 36). Then He pointed to a historical parallel: “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” (verses 37–39). So, the context is one of judgment. The time is Jesus’ second coming.
Some have tried to press this passage into teaching the rapture of the church. While it’s true that the rapture will also result in some who are “taken away” and others left behind, it is better to understand Matthew 24 as speaking about the second coming, not the rapture. Jesus’ reference of Noah’s flood suggests that those who are taken away are taken in judgment. The taken will be destroyed, just as the ungodly of Noah’s day were swept away by the flood. Furthermore, they won’t even know what hit them. They will be continuing with life as normal when judgment suddenly befalls them. Jesus’ second coming and the accompanying judgment will be sudden and surprising for the unprepared.
So, our view is that those who are “taken” in Matthew 24:40 are destined for judgment, while those who remain are righteous individuals who will survive and enter the messianic kingdom. This happens at the end of the tribulation, when Jesus arrives with the armies of heaven (see Revelation 19:11–16). Regardless of one’s stance on who will be taken and who will be left, one thing is certain: the return of Jesus will be momentous, resulting in a clear separation between the righteous and the wicked. This world is temporary, and all people will face the Righteous Judge some day, and all need to be ready for that judgment.