We who are left behind
Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44
23:34Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.
37 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you, desolate. [Other ancient authorities lack desolate] 39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’
24As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ 4Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” [Or the Christ] and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines [Other ancient authorities add and pestilences] and earthquakes in various places: 8all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
9 ‘Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10Then many will fall away, [Or stumble] and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13But anyone who endures to the end will be saved. 14And this good news [Or gospel] of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.
15 ‘So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), 16then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 17someone on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; 18someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 19Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 20Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23Then if anyone says to you, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” [Or the Christ] or “There he is!”—do not believe it. 24For false messiahs [Or christs] and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25Take note, I have told you beforehand. 26So, if they say to you, “Look! He is in the wilderness”, do not go out. If they say, “Look! He is in the inner rooms”, do not believe it. 27For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
29 ‘Immediately after the suffering of those days
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
30Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
32 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33So also, when you see all these things, you know that he [Or it] is near, at the very gates. 34Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
36 ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son [Other ancient authorities lack nor the Son], but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women [women is implied; it is not in the text] will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day [Other ancient authorities read at what hour] your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
45 ‘Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves [Gk to give them] their allowance of food at the proper time? 46Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 47Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 48But if that wicked slave says to himself, “My master is delayed”, 49and he begins to beat his fellow-slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. 51He will cut him in pieces [Or cut him off] and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Verse 37: ὥσπερ γὰρ αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ Νῶε, οὕτως ἔσται ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου
lit. just as for the days of Noah, so will be the coming - parousia of the son of man. NT Wright says parousia was the word those living in the Roman Empire used to describe a state visit by the Emperor, and also for when a god or goddess did something dramatic. (Matthew for Everyone Part 2, pp114) In verse 13, when the end will come, the word for come is simply hēxei. So in verse 27 the lightning is exerchetai, but the Son of Man is parousia.
Verse 38: the word that NRSV translates as flood is κατακλυσμοῦ - kataklysmoû. At its base a cataclysm is a flood or deluge. Wiktionary says: "From κατακλύζω (kataklúzō, “I wash off, wash away, deluge, inundate”) (from Proto-Indo-European *ḱlew- (“clean”)) + -μός (-mós)." In Genesis 9:11 God says to Noah and his sons (in the Septuagint Greek translation) " And I will establish my covenant with you and all flesh shall not any more die by the water of the flood, and there shall no more be a flood of water to destroy all the earth." The Greek says: ὕδατος τοῦ κατακλυσμοῦ, καὶ οὐκ ἔτι ἔσται κατακλυσμὸς ὕδατος
Verse 41: I have quoted Mark D Davis's Greek introduction in full below. In short, the Greek for "one will be taken, one will be left" paralambanō and aphíetai are "extremely versatile."
People in the “Left Behind Theology” camp have argued that παραλαμβάνω means “swept away’” and ἀφίημι means “left behind.” At the level of possible word choices, that would be possible. (The further conjecture that “swept away” means the “rapture” and “left behind” means “facing the tribulation” is a move that goes well beyond this text.) But, also at that level of possible word choices, it is equally warranted to translate παραλαμβάνω as “taken away as a prisoner” and ἀφίημι as “forgiven.” ...
Read the quotation from David Froemming in the section Worth the Read for some history on this area of interpretation.
We who are left behind
It helps to consider a couple of things before we wonder what the text was trying to say to its original listeners and readers.
One thing we often ask ourselves in our church Bible study, is what the church has taught us about a text. This is not only a question for those who've been to theological college. We all come to many texts and, consciously or not, think, "This means…. " Our received reading of the text is perhaps the culmination of years in church, or of a particularly influential minister, or perhaps even the route of a relatively recent entry into the church. What we bring to the text will influence what we hear in it. In our Bible studies we don't initially critique the things we find the church has taught us; we place them on the table so that we can be aware of their influence as we begin to read.
One particular influence upon the reading of Matthew 24, for me, is that it was a text of identity and belonging. When we sang, "I wish we'd all been ready," we were not only learning a particular theological interpretation of Matthew. We were identifying ourselves as part of a group. The interpretation of the text found in Larry Norman's song is one of the marker texts of fault lines that run through the church. It sits with a certain view of the means of creation, the "how" of the Virgin Birth, the mechanisms of Resurrection, and with the method of interpreting Scripture, as a group of identifiers which we are all tempted to use to assess the veracity of the faith of others; whether they have really been saved by grace, or not. We use these texts as measures of holiness.
So, our text this week concerns a "hot button" issue. We will inevitably be part of a congregation where there are discernable groups of people. Ronald J Allen describes three groups: "preachers (and listeners) [who] believe we are living in the last days." Those who "believe a final manifestation of the Realm is ahead, though they are ambivalent as to when." And others, who
take apocalyptic language as figurative and as tied to a first-century world view that is no longer their own. They do not anticipate a singular event that will instantly transform the world. Instead, they believe God is constantly present, luring the world toward Realm qualities.
I doubt any congregation lacks members of any of these groups— and there will be other opinions, too: some folk, privately or otherwise, will admit they have no idea what's going on here!
Many such groups will build up their own sense of identity; which is to say, their own existential security both as group, and as individuals finding security in the group, by holding to the "correct" group interpretation of these marker texts. To leave such an interpretation is to betray the group, which is to put one's own existential security at risk. We are hurt by rejection not because of the rude things people say, but because the rejection those rude things creates threatens our being.
All this is to say that some folk in our congregation, and perhaps we ourselves, will have a lot riding on the text this week.
There is more at stake here: When we read "hot button" marker texts, they read us. They show us the content of our faith. James Alison says
Holiness is our dependence on the forgiveness of the victim. That is to say, our being holy is dependent on the resurrection of the forgiving victim.... what is given in Christ's victim death is a subversion of the old human way of belonging, and the possibility of our induction into a new human way of belonging, of being-with, without any over-against. This means that justification by faith belongs, in the first place, to the new community, the group receiving as a given its unity from the forgiving victim. It is exactly this making present of the beginnings of a new reconciled humanity which is the making present of justification by faith in the world.... [Not only is there] no such thing as individual justification by faith. Such a justification would imply a rescue of an individual from an impious world, over against which the individual is now 'good' or 'saved.' However, while the individual is still locked into some or other form of over-against, they are not yet receiving the purely gratuitous victim who has nullified all over-against. All justification by faith (that is, all faith) is a relational reality, flowing from, and tending towards the purely given unity of humanity in the victim. There is no grace that is not universal, that is not constantly creating and recreating the purely given unity of all humanity from the body of the victim.
Salvation, therefore, as it became present to the disciples at the resurrection, involved from the beginning a recasting of their way of relating to others, such that they were able to receive the purely given, without any appropriation to themselves of what was given as if it were somehow 'theirs.' (Knowing Jesus, regarding "justification by faith," by James Alison (Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1993), pages 80-84, 89-93. Quoted here by Paul Nuechterlein)
What Alison is implying here is that if we use texts as markers of our group holiness, and as measures of loyalty, we are stepping out of the Faith and re-entering the old way of being which is the way of violence and exclusion from which the Christ comes to rescue us. Indeed, if we go here, we will find a unity of some humanity, but we will be creating yet more victims rather than trusting the victim who is Christ. Alison is warning us that Matthew 24:36-44 can be a dangerous text for the church.
The second influence I seek to become aware of is what is happening in my environment now, for that too will influence how I interpret what the text was trying to say to its original listeners and readers. In the recent fires in Australia the government has sought to hose down any suggestion that these unprecedented events have anything to do with climate change. Yet Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt speaks of "a generation that is terrified and aghast with what they are seeing with the climate crisis. What we are seeing has happened with one degree of warming and they know we are on track for three." This is not only the case for young people. As a nation we are, privately or publicly, terrified or in denial. The text this week is ripe for apocalyptic interpretation driven by fear of fire and climate change. Who will be our victim?
For Matthew's community in the 80's of the first century "the situation was dire... People knew all about "cataclysm," in other words. They lived in "cataclysm" every day." (John Petty) Matthew is writing Chapter 24 to the people who, like us, have every reason to feel they been left behind.
But anyone who endures to the end will be saved. 14And this good news [Or gospel] of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.
But we don't know when things will be made complete. No one knows the day; "neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Someone who knows is, by definition, wrong. And that includes those who try to weasel around this by saying "soon" and "imminent" and "last days."
Jesus and Matthew expected that things would be going on just the same as usual… business as usual… perhaps it would not even seem to be a time of great emergency. It might seem for some to be the best of all times as in the days of Noah. In the emergency and horrors of his own time, Matthew recalls the siege of Jerusalem.
23Then if anyone says to you, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” [Or the Christ] or “There he is!”—do not believe it. 24For false messiahs [Or christs] and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25Take note, I have told you beforehand. 26So, if they say to you, “Look! He is in the wilderness”, do not go out. If they say, “Look! He is in the inner rooms”, do not believe it. 27For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
In other words, you will not need to be told.
So, what if our perception of the world is suddenly aflame with lightning, and we are convinced that now is the time, and that this is the Messiah? Well, how are we living? If we are claiming to be of an elect yet rejecting others, we are following one more min-min into the desert, not the True Light. If we are glad some are left behind, or soon will be, then we have been left behind, for we have stepped away from the faith, and our whole view of the world is perverted and twisted by our original human sin of violence and exclusion. Indeed, if we have seen Messiah, but those next to us are in doubt, that may be sign enough that we have not seen.
Matthew deals with the fear of being left behind in all these things by referencing the terrifying events of his recent history; the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, in Chapter 23:34-24:8, and the persecution of his Christian sisters and brothers in 24:9-14. The next verses, 15-28, clearly refer to flight from a city under siege, and may remember some of the early Christians who were reputed to have fled Jerusalem just before its destruction, to the city of Pella. (Davies Matthew pp424)
Matthew also deals with the fear of being left behind by interpreting the events of recent history through the Book of Daniel, "an extremely popular book in the first century." (Wright pp 117) The "son of man" is itself a phrase used in Daniel. In Daniel it says of the Greek leader Antiochus IV Epiphanes that "he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.’" That tyrant had set up an altar to Zeus in the temple. (Dan 9.27. See also 11:31, 12:11 ) About 40AD the Roman Emperor Caligula tried to set up a statue of himself in the temple, but was assassinated before it could happen. The words "let the reader understand" tell us to read Daniel if we want to understand Jesus in this chapter, and keep an eye recent history. Indeed my study bible suggests that the words "let the reader understand " probably "refer to the Roman general Titus standing in the temple in 70CE."
Wright says of Daniel that it was written to demonstrate "how God's kingdom will triumph over the kingdoms of the world." (pp117) But Daniel is a literary genre called apocalypse. Melissa Bane Sevier says
we don’t really have close comparisons to apocalyptic literature in modern writing. The genre is highly metaphorical, so be wary of interpretations that attempt to draw predictions of events or even a “rapture” from this and similar texts...
Apocalyptic is also the genre of oppressed people. One of my colleagues used to say we have no right to read Revelation, the last book of the Bible. What he meant was that the genre is written by the greatly oppressed; it is the language of, and a language which speaks to, the people of God who are suffering the unspeakable. We in the West are the oppressors. It is our Empires which have visited the unspeakable upon the world for centuries, whilst claiming we are bringing civilisation.
If climate change is about to bring the unspeakable upon us, we need to remember that we Westerners are blind, tone deaf, and even, perhaps, the last converts to the Faith. At last, we should listen, not pretend to teach others.
We don't know how to read this material. We read the quotation from Isaiah (v29) unaware that the one thing the darkening of sun and moon
didn't mean [was] something to do with the actual sun, moon and stars in the sky... This language was well known, regular code for talking about what we would call huge social and political convulsions... Matthew intends us to understand that the coming of the Son of Man will be a time when the whole world seems to be in turmoil. (Wright p122. My italics)
And we don't read this material with close attention to detail. One of the reasons I have included the long excerpt from Froemming on Darbyism / Millennialism (below) is that it has a huge grip on our imagination. It blinds us to the text. The son of man does not come down to us from the clouds; we read Millennial popularisers instead of the text. He appears "in heaven" and "on the clouds of heaven." Daniel 7, which is being referenced here, has one like a son of man being brought into heaven.
As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being [Aramaic: one like a son of man]
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One [Aramaic: the Ancient of Days]
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
Wright says about this
His 'coming' ... is not his 'return' to earth after a sojourn in heaven. It is his ascension, his vindication, the thing which demonstrates that his suffering has not been in vain... he is indeed 'the son of man' who has suffered at the hands of the 'beasts' or 'monsters' – who now, it seems, include the Temple and those who run it! – and is nevertheless then declared by God to be his true spokesman. (sic)" (pp122-3)
Wright also suggests that the chapter shows the vindication of Jesus as son of man because by the time Matthew's people are reading, Jerusalem has fallen; that is, he was right about all that.
In our particular text for the week, there is one more ambiguity to consider. When Noah entered the ark, was he taken, or was he left? Larry Norman taught me that God takes the elect and abandons the rest. But everyone I read says it is not so clear. Wright says it
Doesn't mean (as some have suggested) that one person will be 'taken' away by God in some kind of supernatural salvation, while the other is 'left' to face destruction. If anything, it's the opposite: when invading forces sweep through a town or village, they will 'take' some off to their deaths, and 'leave' others untouched. (pp127, cf Davies pp438, and see Davis' work below.)
Nuechterlein references more work in the same vein by Wright:
It should be noted that being “taken” in this context means being taken in judgment. There is no hint here of a “rapture,” a sudden “supernatural” event that would remove individuals from terra firma. . . . It is a matter, rather, of secret police coming in the night, or of enemies sweeping through a village or city and seizing all they can. (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, vol. 1 of Christian Origins and the Question of God [London: SPCK; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996], 366)
If Wright is correct, this means that being “left behind” is actually the desired fate for Christians, whereas being “taken” would mean being carried off by forces of judgment like a death squad. For people living under severe Roman occupation, being taken away in such a way by secret police would probably be a constant fear. (p. 178)
In the turning of things on their head that so much of Girard's work has brought us, Nuechterlein says
Rapture theology assumes that it’s best to be carried away and undesirable to be left behind. But if one takes the reference to Noah seriously, isn’t it the opposite here in these verses? In the days of Noah everyone else was swept away except for Noah and his family. They were the only ones left behind by the flood. They were forgiven, left in peace. Against Rapture theologians who see the “left behind” as an image in support of their portrait, I would maintain that these verses, when read carefully, actually portray the opposite of their version of a rapture. Being swept away is to be caught up in the rising tide of violence — to join in and suffer its consequences. Those who are left behind, forgiven, are those who resist joining in and ultimately survive the violence.
How do we put all this altogether? Wright uses the image of a symphony. He says of our text
The tune that this passage is play is called the 'coming of the son of man.' In some parts of today's church, it's almost the only tune they sing, and I am concerned that they usually sing it in the wrong key. The orchestration is rich and dense. It needs looking at bit by bit.
It's a great image, but I want to take it in a slightly different direction. Orchestral symphonies are made up of many individual instruments. Chapter 24 as a whole is like rich symphonic word to the community of Matthew. We like to unpack each instrument, "bit by bit," and each bit of text to find its meaning. But a symphony has a different sensibility. Even if we are skilled enough to identify individual notes and instruments, sources and meanings, the symphony is more than the sum of its parts. Scripture is always like this.
And, dare I say it, Scripture is incomplete. We may find all we need within it, but it is not the last word. He is the word. So Froemming says in his treatment of Daniel 9
In Daniel we find that ultimately the violent is not transcended. God is still viewed as a God of wrath. The hope remains that the wrath of such a God ... will be visited upon our rivals. This ... does not change in the salvation story until we reach the person of Jesus Christ. (Froemming, David R. Salvation Story: A Biblical Commentary on Human Violence and Godly Peace. Resource Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.)
And it is true of Matthew. Matthew 24 is part of a longer section which comes before the crucifixion of Jesus, and which includes Matthew 25. In our reading today some are "left," and in 25:48 those numbered among the goats " go away into eternal punishment." Matthew shows us the Christ who will not sanction violence (Put your sword back into its place...) and yet cannot see a way that failure to be ready, failure to recognise the Christ, can lead to anything other than being left behind or cut off (24:51) in some way.
In this we have much to learn.
So what do we do? Listen to the music. There will be terrors. Let the imagery carry us in our terror. Hear that Christ will come again. Hear that Christ is vindicated. But remember we do not know when. We do not know how the kingdom will come. No one knows the day. Endure and we will be saved. And let us understand that we are justified by faith; we are put right by God as a gift into which we may enter and live even now. If we seek to particularise this music, to reduce it to particular meanings: this verse refers to such and such an event; it will be like this; it will follow that— understand that this risks departing from the justifying gift of relationality, of living in a new way of being; it risks re-entering the old ways of right and wrong, of in and out, of my safety at the cost of your exclusion. If we go there, we will not be alert and awake. We will not see.
And when the bushfires come, when they sweep deep into the green suburbs of the city where fire has never been; when 50 degrees is a common place even in the south; when life seems without hope, then perhaps we will hear in the music new realities we have yet barely known.
On reflection this post is as much about what I don't want to say about the text this week as what I might say! In what I might say in a sermon, I could do far worse than reflect on the insights from Paul Nuechterlein which I have shared below in the Worth the Read section.
Andrew Prior (2019)
Also on One Man's Web
Matthew 24:36-44 - Living in a dying world? (2017)
Matthew 24:36-44 - Life on the Beach (2014)
Matthew 24:36-44 - Meet the coming Christ (2013)
Matthew 24:36-44 - Be alert (2011)
Worth the Read
Paul Nuechterlein. If I had a "quote of the week," it would be this one:
I would like to offer the Girardian anthropology as an alternative to the viewpoint of the Rapture. In the cross Jesus himself ultimately became the one left behind. All others had gotten swept up in the unanimous violence against him. He was the only one not caught up in the flood of violence as a perpetrator and instead became its victim for our sakes. He was taunted on the cross that the Messiah should expect some sort of miraculous Rapture, some sort of supernatural rescue mission on God’s part: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son'” (Matt. 27:43). Even the criminals hanged with him derided him so. He was cosmically alone as the scapegoat of all. There was no Rapture to save him from the cross. Instead, Jesus quoted the psalmist in crying out the forsakenness of the sacrificial victim, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) A flood of collective violence had swept up everyone in its path. Jesus alone resisted it.
Yet it washed over him, and he did drown in it. But was the tomb also his ark? He remained sheltered for three days and then left it behind empty. He has arisen as the Forgiving Victim of all those others who were swept up in the flood. There was no Rapture that saved him from the cross, but the Resurrection did pull him from the clutches of death. What is needed is not so much a Rapture theology as a good baptismal theology: we are already baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ such that we can face the continuing rising tide of human violence with faith...
and there is more. Paul is the post to read this week.
The popular "second coming theology ... basically says that Jesus wasn't here, then he was, then he left, but he's coming back. That makes Jesus an outsider to his own world. He's not really a part of the world, but only drops in from time to time to straighten things out--basically, a gnostic view. (The phrase "second coming" never appears in the New Testament.)"
It is not as simple or straightforward as “Left Behind Theology” trains us to think. Several key words here can go any number of directions in their meaning. The “hermeneutical circle” between interpreting individual words by the larger story and interpreting the larger story by the individual words is truly at play here.
41 δύο ἀλήθουσαι ἐν τῷ μύλῳ, μία παραλαμβάνεται καὶ μία ἀφίεται.
two [women] will be grinding in the mill, one is being taken/received/hauled off paralambanetai and one is being left/rejected/forgiven aphietai;
- The verb paralambanō is extremely versatile. Here are some of the possibilities that greekbible.com offers: to take to, to take with one's self, to join to one's self, an associate, a companion, to accept, 2) not to reject, 2) to receive something transmitted, an office to be discharged, to receive with the mind. And from greattreasures, here are more possibilities: to take to, to take with one's self, to join to one's self: one to be led off as a prisoner, to take with one in order to carry away. While παραλαμβάνω is typically translated as ‘taken’ in this verse, there are numerous questions facing the translator/interpreter in order to capture the meaning.
- The verb aphíēmi is equally versatile. It can be translated in terms as wide-ranging as 1) to send away 1a) to bid going away or depart ...to let go, let alone, let be 1c1) to disregard 1c2) to leave, ... to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit. The most popular way to translate it – whenever it is connected to sins – is as “forgive.”
- So, for verses 40 and 41, the interpretive question is what to do with the couplet of παραλαμβάνω and ἀφίημι. The words themselves are so multivalent that there is no simple “x in Greek means y in English” formula. People in the “Left Behind Theology” camp have argued that παραλαμβάνω means “swept away’” and ἀφίημι means “left behind.” At the level of possible word choices, that would be possible. (The further conjecture that “swept away” means the “rapture” and “left behind” means “facing the tribulation” is a move that goes well beyond this text.) But, also at that level of possible word choices, it is equally warranted to translate παραλαμβάνω as “taken away as a prisoner” and ἀφίημι as “forgiven.”
David Froemming (In the section on Daniel 9 he looks at the origins of Dispensationalism and the Left Behind books and movies.)
I am treating this passage because once upon a time the preacher John Nelson Darby (1800–1882), created an entire new religious movement out of his speculation over this passage. Darby divided the seventy weeks into seven distinct “dispensations” of time allotted by God, devising an entire lens for reading the bible in anticipation of “the end time.” This bible was published by Cyrus I. Scofield in 1909 and became known as The Scofield Bible. According to Darby we are living in the final week, the last dispensation of time. In this time Darby devised a scheme where believers would be “raptured” into heaven while those left behind will suffer great tribulation, death, and destruction until Christ finally returns with his chosen for his final reign upon earth (for a thousand years—thus the name “millennialism”) after which comes the final judgment. Darby’s religious movement found its counterpart in the political movement of Zionism founded by Theodore Herzl (1860–1904), who believed that Jews must live apart from Gentiles in Israel in order to avoid persecution. Darby has Christ returning to the temple in Israel, thus the state must be restored (as well as the temple). Followers of Darby’s church, The Plymouth Brethren, have evolved into Christian Zionism, a religion seeking the end time, while making the modern state of Israel the focus of Christ’s return. Christian Zionism is tied into the entire Palestinian/Israeli conflict, as the Christian Zionists maintain that all of Palestine belongs to the current state of Israel. More troubling is the historical reality of how these forces have played into the holocaust. Most recently the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the context for popularizing this religion in the Left Behind series of books written by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins. It is important to see how the use of Daniel 9 as a lens for reading the bible has managed to return it to violent mythology. Millennialism, dispensationalism, the rapture, the apocalypse, these are all code words for religious violence where the bible has been interpreted as a continuation of the ancient battle myth. (Froemming, David R.. Salvation Story: A Biblical Commentary on Human Violence and Godly Peace . Resource Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. Pp: the section on Daniel 9)