The second picture Jesus paints to describe the nature of things at his return is in verses 40 and 41. “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.” Here the suddenness of Christ’s return introduced in the reference to the days of Noah is carried forward, but there is the additional thought of a sudden separation. Two men working in the field would be coworkers. Two women working with a hand mill would be closely related, most likely a mother and daughter or two servants in the same household. Outwardly they would seem to be in identical situations and even identical in their relationships to Christ. But at his return one will be taken and the other left behind.
The verbs “taken” and “left” raise questions that Jesus does not answer in this passage. Does “taken” mean taken away in judgment and “left” mean left behind to prosper? That would not be an unreasonable way to understand these words. Or does “taken” mean taken to heaven when the Lord returns in glory with his angels and “left” mean being left behind on earth. Those who believe in a sudden “rapture” of the saints before a final return of Christ and the final judgment choose this second possibility.
Quite apart from the rightness or wrongness of the rapture idea, it does seem clear that the idea of being taken to be with Christ at his return best fits the chapter, since Jesus had earlier spoken of sending his angels to “gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (v. 31). Yet the verses do not specify how this will happen, and they certainly do not say when. The point is only that “persons most intimately associated will be separated by that unexpected coming,” as Broadus says.1
That alone should encourage serious soul searching. For one thing, it demolishes any fond hopes that in the end everyone will be saved since God could never send anyone to hell. No one in the entire Bible speaks of hell as much as Jesus. In fact, he does so in this very chapter, saying in verse 51 that the servant who is found to have been unfaithful when the master returns will be “cut…to pieces” and assigned “a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” So there is no doubt that this is talking about hell. So when Jesus says that “one will be taken and the other left” he means that not all will be saved. Many will be lost. Be sure that you are not among those who will perish when Jesus returns.
And there is this point too: No one will be saved simply by being close to or even related to another person who is a Christian. Salvation is not a hereditary matter. On the contrary, you must believe on Jesus yourself, and you yourself must be ready. Are you? Are you watching for his return?
1 John A. Broadus, Commentary on Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990), 495. As far as this context is concerned, “It is neither clear nor particularly important whether ‘taken’ means ‘taken in judgment’…or ‘taken to be gathered with the elect,’ ” says Carson (D. A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, Matthew, Mark, Luke [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984], 509).