Summary: Is the gathering in Matthew 24:31 the rapture? Are those "taken" in Matthew 24:40-41 raptured? Message examines dominant views on Matthew 24:31-44 seeking understanding of end time events as predicted by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse.
We are studying the Olivet Discourse, looking for insight on the question: Will Christians go through the tribulation period? Matthew 24 provides a chronological outline of events from the first advent to the second advent. It is therefore an essential part of eschatological revelation. Our objective at this point is to provide some guidance in understanding the main issues in that teaching. What did Jesus reveal in the Olivet Discourse that will help us understand more about the timing of the rapture?
Last week we concluded with the Second Coming recorded in Matthew 24:29-31. To set today’s message in context we will begin by reading those verses from the New International Version. “Immediately after the distress of those days [the tribulation period] ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' 30 At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”i
I. GATHERING OF ELECT (24:31)
In verse 31 what is included in this gathering of his elect?ii Who are the elect being gathered? The answer to that question is particularly relevant to our current study.
Pretribulationist Dwight Pentecost interprets this verse as indicating the gather of Israelites with no reference to the rapture. He provides several statements by Old Testament prophets supporting God’s promise to regather the Jews in the last days.iii For example, Isaiah 43:5-7 promises the nation, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth-- 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”iv
John MacArthur does not identify the rapture of the church with this verse either. He writes, “The gathering ones will include the 144,000 Jewish witnesses, their converts and the converts of the angelic preachers. They will include the Old Testament saints, gathered out of their graves and joined with their redeemed spirits. Those will all be assembled together before Christ and ushered into the glory of His eternal kingdom.”v So pretribulationists usually see the gathering in our text as a fulfillment of God’s promise to restore the scattered Jews to their homeland. They do not associate the text with the rapture.
Other scholars see a reference to the rapture of the church in Matthew 24:31. Of course, this would include the resurrection of the just as well. Bruner writes, “This gathering is what the church calls the rapture. Notice that the biblical rapture occurs after the cosmic, public, and visible coming of the Son of Man. There is no such thing in Scripture as a secret rapture before his coming. The coming and the rapture happen together and, in that order, here and everywhere else in Scripture (cf., in addition to our vv. 30-31, also vv. 39-40 and 1 Thess. 4;16-17)” (emphasis his).vi Commenting on the parallel verse in Mark 13:27 Ladd writes, “This appears to be the same event described by Paul as ‘the rapture’ of the saints, when the dead in Christ are raised from the graves and the living saints shall be caught up (rapiemur) in the air to meet the returning Christ (1 Thess. 4:17).vii Posttribulationists tend to include the final gathering of the Jews back to Palestine as part of the Matthew 24:31 event.
Douglas Moo is probably right in saying this gathering is for all God’s people. This is the climatic event which concludes the current age.viii Therefore, God is not only fulfilling his promise to complete the regathering of Israel to their homeland in preparation for the millennium but is also resurrecting/rapturing the righteous.
Certainly, such a conclusion involves some interpretation which is subject to debate. But it seems strange that Matthew would leave out such an important event as the resurrection of the just in his chronological account of coming events. A pretribulation rapture would have fit in before verse 15 in this chapter. If verse 31 includes the rapture/resurrection of the church, then it is posttribulational.
Before moving on we will read Matthew 24:30-31 again to make sure we maintain the flow of thought. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”