God’s Word for You
Luke 17:35 and the other left
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, November 28, 2018
35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”
This verse should be applied in the same way as the previous one, but we have more to say about it. First, Luther pointed out that in Classical literature, to be forced to grind grain at the mill is a description of slavery, not the usual work for free men or free women. He quotes the Roman playwright Terence, whose line, “I will give you up to the mill,” is another way of saying, “I will lead you into slavery” (LW 17). Samson was forced to grind at the mill in Gaza for the amusement of the Philistine nobles (Judges 16:21). Isaiah uses grinding with the millstone as a symbol of disgrace (Isaiah 47:2), and Job describes slavery or some other disgrace when he says, “May my wife grind another man’s grain” (Job 31:10). So whether a person is a slave or free, what matters is the faith in one’s heart, not in the labor one was forced to do in life.
Another issue we need to address with this verse is its misapplication in a dangerous and false doctrine. This is the teaching of dispensationalism. Since many Lutherans and other Christians are not familiar with this teaching, I will summarize a few of its points and how this passage is involved. Professor Thomas Nass of Martin Luther College calls dispensationalism “the most complicated and bewildering type of millennialism” (End Times p. 291). In this teaching, God is thought to have dealt with mankind is various periods or systems. They are:
- Innocence (from Creation to the fall of Adam)
- Conscience (from the fall to the flood)
- Government (from the flood to Abraham)
- Promise (from Abraham to Moses)
- Law (from Moses to the first coming of Jesus)
- Grace (from the first coming of Jesus to the second coming)
- Kingdom (from the second coming to eternity)
I would argue that God deals with us, his people, in all of these ways all the time. This is what the Scriptures say. In addition to this, all dispensationalists are “premillennialists,” which means that they believe that there will be a millennium or thousand-year period before the end of the world comes when Christ will reign from its beginning until its end, following the second coming of Jesus into the world. Now, as we have seen, the Bible only describes two arrivals of Jesus on earth, the first at his birth two thousand years ago, and the second on the Last Day. This verse in Luke is describing the Last Day. Dispensationalists, however, take this to mean that there will be a rapture or assumption of believers into heaven. Furthermore, this rapture will not involve all believers, but only some of them. The rest of mankind will be left behind. Without drawing a picture, the timeline of this interpretation of the New Testament age goes something like this (this is an expanded view of points 6 and 7 above, so we will use Roman numerals):
- The first coming of Christ
- An indefinitely long period of time until the rapture (the present age)
- The rapture (taking up of some believers to heaven)
- Seven years of severe tribulation (based on a tenuous interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27)
- The second coming of Christ (second of three)
- The millennium, or thousand-year reign of Christ
- The final judgment
Passages like this one (Luke 17:35) are often used to support parts of this doctrine, especially the rapture. The rapture is the millennialist teaching that Christians will be caught up into the heavens while other people remain behind on earth. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says: “The dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together (Latin rapiemur, ‘raptured’) with them in the clouds…” However, this is a description of Judgment Day. This is clear from verses 13 and 18 of the same chapter. More importantly, just three verses later in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, Paul repeats Jesus’ warning: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (cp. Revelation 3:3, 16:15).
Let’s restructure the New Testament timeline above to match what the New Testament actually tells us will take place:
- The first coming of Jesus (his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection)
- The New Testament era, in which there are many trials and troubles for God’s people but during which the risen Christ reigns over his earth. This is what the Bible means by “the great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21).
- The second coming of Jesus (the Last Day), during which all Christians, past and present, will be taken into heaven forever and all unbelievers will be cast into hell.
Since we do not know when the end will come, we put our faith in Jesus. “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 146:11). All of us who have faith will be taken up to heaven, all at once (1 Thessalonians 4:15), and we will be with our Savior Jesus in heaven forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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