What did Jesus mean when he told his disciples that: “at that time two will be out in the field; the one is taken away, and the one is left; two grinding at the mill; one is taken away, and one is left”? Was Jesus speaking about people being taken to a place of safety, and was he telling his disciples that those left behind would suffer through a great tribulation?
While Jesus was on the Mount of Olives the disciples approached him and asked him about the signs of his coming and the end of this age because they understood from Jesus’ teachings, and from his proclamation of the gospel, that momentous events would occur in the future that would impact the whole world, and in particular the future of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Expectedly then when Jesus responded to his disciples’ concerns, he did indeed emphasize what would happen to the twelve tribes of Israel in world affairs as they will at some time in the future—as modern nation-states—become embroiled in a worldwide conflict that will require the intervention of Jesus. And this is understood, in part, from the fact that Jesus was sent as a messenger to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” as also were the apostles who followed Jesus (Mt. 10:6; 15:24). (The identities of the twelve tribes of Israel—for the most part—are presently unknown to the world.)
Thus, Jesus answered the disciples’ questions by addressing the scope of certain global forces that would at some time dramatically shape the geopolitical landscape of the world. And so Jesus spoke of wars and rumors of wars that would bring political and economic stress to the nations, and he also spoke of disease, and famine, and deception, all of which would continue to escalate to an unprecedented scale before his return. And to help the disciples grasp the nature of these events and geopolitical changes, Jesus reminded the disciples of events that were connected to ancient Israel’s history, when Jesus said: “Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Lk. 17:32-33).
Adding also that: “as the days of Noe [Noah] were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Mt. 24:37-42). [Author’s emphasis throughout.]
Bringing us then to consider that even though this present world is—prophetically speaking—living in the shadow of a coming worldwide calamity according to Jesus, it is evident from the historical example given by Jesus that common customs and traditions will nonetheless continue to receive their usual attention even in the face of the prophets’ warnings—including the warnings of Jesus—just as it was in the days of Noah before the people were destroyed by the Flood. (The sense is that people will live their lives without serious contemplation of what was spoken by the prophets, including Jesus.)
Now it is not uncommon to find that the warnings of the prophets and the geopolitical issues addressed by Jesus have become subject to various interpretations, which have at times led some people to discard Jesus’ statements and relegate them to mythical status or to incorporate them into works of fiction, causing some people to speculate on what Jesus meant when he said that: “the one shall be taken, and the other left.” (This verse is sometimes used to support various interpretations of the “rapture doctrine,” which has no support in Scripture.)
So, what then did Jesus mean when he said that: “at that time two will be out in the field; the one is taken away, and the one is left; two grinding at the mill; one is taken away, and one is left”? (Mt. 24:40-41, LITV.)
The answer is found in Luke’s account where we find the disciples responding to Jesus’ statements about those taken and those left behind, when they asked: “Where, Lord?” Because the disciples wanted to know what would happen to those who were “taken,” especially as the context of Jesus’ prophecy was about the geopolitical events that would certainly involve the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the world (Rev. 3:10).
Then Jesus answered their question in the form of an expression, and said: “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together” (Lk. 17:37). Which is a statement that is also found in Matthew’s account where Jesus’ was quoted as saying: “For wheresoever the carcase [carcass, dead body] is, there will the eagles [vultures] be gathered together” (Mt. 24:28).
Simply, Jesus responded to his disciples’ question by expressing the end result of what would happen to those being taken, which is to say that they would to be taken “to their death,” to be found where the vultures are gathered.
Now it should be understood that Jesus was not using a metaphorical expression that would allow us to create analogies associated with his statements, such as assuming that the eagles would be representative of the church, or the “body” would represent “Jesus.” And it should also be understood that even though there will be those taken to their death, it does not mean that those left behind will escape all the events that will occur before the return of Christ (Mt. 24:5-9). (History tells us that we can expect national, religious, racial and ethnic profiling to occur in a future worldwide conflict that will eventually bring many nations to focus on the Middle East before the return of Christ.)
But, there is more.
Because Jesus also told his disciples that this “gospel”—the good news of the coming kingdom of God—would be made known to the world even to the time of his return so that there would always be a message of hope about how this world will be delivered from its troubles beginning with the return of Christ.
For Jesus stated that: “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Mt. 24:14). And Jesus also preached at that time that the kingdom of God was at hand because of the “firstfruits” who would receive the holy spirit, and in this context Jesus called upon people to “repent” and to “believe the gospel” (Mk. 1:15).