NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verses 37-39a: “When the Son of Man comes, it will be the same as what happened during Noah’s time. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving their children to be married right up to the day Noah entered the boat. They knew nothing about what was happening until the flood came and destroyed them all.”
Over the centuries, the Jews awaited the Messiah to reestablish the kingdom of Israel and free them from any ruling colonial power. So one day, some rabbis were discussing what the LORD said to Isaiah: “For the day of vengeance that was in my heart and my year of redemption have come.”1 So one of them asked, “What do the words, ‘the day of vengeance that was in my heart mean’?” So Rabbi Jochanan said, he thought it meant that the LORD had revealed it to His heart but not to the other members of His body. But Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish commented that he thought it meant it had been revealed to His heart but not to the other members of His heavenly family, the ministering angels.2
So it was already a common perception among Jewish scholars that God’s day of redemption was known only to Him. So, what Jesus says to His disciples about God’s secret plan was not a surprise. He simply confirms what most of them had already heard from the Rabbis. Then Jesus draws a comparison between His return and the days of Noah. This was not meant to be a reference to the length of time it took Noah to build the ark but to Noah’s lack of knowing exactly the day or the hour when the rain would begin to fall. The fact that he had been told to build the ark, and with everyone seeing what was going on, there was certainly plenty of warning. I’m sure when God told Noah to go out and gather the animals, that he knew something was about to happen.
So it will be right before the coming of the Son of Man. Another factor that seems to indicate this is the rapture Jesus is talking about, comes from comparing the careless lifestyle that the people in Noah’s day were living. They no doubt laughed at Noah for being so committed to building the ark while they were having fun. But when the rain began to fall, they had a change of heart. However, by then it was too late to get into the ark. It is ironic, that for decades in Evangelical and Pentecostal churches there were many songs sung about Christ’s return and the saints wanting to go to heaven, but in recent years those songs are seldom heard. That why we should all check the oil in our lamps to make sure we are ready when the call comes to go out and meet the groom.
Isaiah defined the state of mind of such people very well when he said, “People like that don’t know what they are doing! They don’t understand. It is as if they have mud in their eyes so they cannot see. Their minds cannot understand. They don’t realize what they are doing. They aren’t smart enough to realize, ‘I burned half the wood I collected in the fire and used the hot coals to bake my bread and cook the meat I ate. Then I used the leftover wood to make this disgusting block of wood that I am worshiping!’ Someone like that is deceived. They don’t know what they are doing. They cannot save themselves, and they will not admit, ‘This image I am holding is a lie!‘”3
In one early church commentary, we find the following exposition: “Christ did not forbid eating, drinking, and marrying when he said ‘As in the days of Noah, they were eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage.’ He would never destroy what He Himself established. Instead, He was commanding that what we do with our bodies, we do spiritually and to the glory of God so that our flesh might be made spiritual on account of the spiritual purposes for which we use it.…Before the flood, people were fleeing from the fear of God and doing nothing for His glory. Everything they did was only for their own flesh. Whenever they ate or drank, they ate and drank only to satisfy their bodily desires, not to glorify God as the apostle had commanded.4 What Christ wanted to say here is that it will be like this again near the end of the world.…At the end of the world, the destruction will be universal and sudden like it was ‘in the days of Noah.’ Just as every creature of the earth was destroyed in the flood, except only those who escaped in the ark, so also at the consummation of the world every heresy will be destroyed, but only one ark will be saved—the church of Christ, composed of the righteous. Everything outside of the ark died in the flood. Likewise, at the end of the world whoever is found to be outside the one true church will perish.”5
Verses 39b-42: “It will be the same when the Son of Man comes. Two will be working together in the field. One will be taken and the other will be left. Two will be grinding grain at the mill. One will be taken and the other will be left. So always be ready. You don’t know the day your Lord will come.”
This one out of each pair suddenly disappearing denotes a surprise departure, not that only one our of two will be taken when our Lord returns to gather the saints. Based on the customs of those days, some translators have added “men” in the field, and “women” at the mill. But that is not in the original Greek text or the Aramaic text.
Here our Lord is not predicting that only those working in the field or those grinding at the mill, or what Luke adds, only when two are sleeping in the same bed. This was meant to show the time of day in different parts of the world when this will occur. It is generally understood that this signifies morning, afternoon and evening. But such designation of times must be understood as the different times of day around the world, not viewed as just one area of the world. Therefore, it is instantaneous for everyone no matter where they live on earth.
As mentioned earlier, Origen sees this being taken suddenly at anytime, anywhere to meet God pertains to one’s death. He writes: “All who listen to the depths of the gospel and live it so completely that none of it remains veiled from them, care very little about whether the end of the world will come suddenly and all at once or gradually and little by little. Instead, they bear in mind only that each individual’s end or death will arrive on a day and hour unknown to him and that upon each one of us ‘the day of the Lord will come like a thief.’6 It is important therefore to be vigilant, whether in the evening (that is, in one’s youth) or in the middle of the night (that is, at human life’s darkest hour) or when the cock crows (at full maturity) or in the morning (when one is well advanced in old age). When God the Word comes and brings an end to the progress of this life, he will gather up the one who gave ‘no sleep to his eyes nor slumber to his eyelids’7 and kept the commandment of the One who said, ‘Be vigilant at all times.’8 … But I know another kind of end for the righteous person who is able to say along with the apostle, ‘Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me and me to the world.’9 In a certain sense, the end of the world has already come for the person to whom the world is crucified. And to one who is dead to worldly things the day of the Lord has already arrived, for the Son of man comes to the soul of the one who no longer lives for sin or for the world.”10
We know, that the angst and concern that existed in the Thessalonian church about missing the return of Jesus was so great that as some believers began to pass away the others feared that lest they too should die that they would also miss the coming of the Lord. So the apostle Paul ended up writing two letters to this congregation in order to quiet their fears. In what we just read in Origen’s commentary, it now seems as though some 100 years later, believers had begun to have a different opinion and that was the return of Christ could not come until the whole world had been converted. Therefore, for some this text is to be understood as meeting Christ through death that may come early in life, in the middle of life, or late in life. But for sure, no one really knows when it will occur.
By Chrysostom’s time in the 4th century, here is what was being taught: “All these things are demonstrations that Jesus knew what was to come. It would be like the days of Noah: Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left, so unexpected will it be. It is without thought that they will be taken. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. This is not the employment of those who are contemplating such a calamity. From both employees and employers, some will be taken and some will be left. Among those who are at ease and those who labor, some will be taken, some left. Rank or station will not matter, as it says in the Old Testament: ‘From him that sits upon the throne to the captive woman who is at the mill.’11 Even though He had said earlier that it is hard for a rich man to be saved, here He shows that not even the rich are altogether lost, neither are all the poor saved, but out of both groups people are saved and lost. And to me, He seems to indicate that the advent will come at night, like a thief, as Luke also indicates. It is amazing how fully he knows all things.”12
It is very clear that Chrysostom was only thinking about this happening where he was living because it cannot be simultaneously nighttime around the world. But just as trying to interpret what Jesus said in any chronological order or even as it relates to His coming to gather the saints or His return to set up His reign for a thousand years was confusing back in Chrysostom’s day, so it is today. But this was not given to us to decipher and spend endless hours trying to pinpoint the exact time. Rather, it was a warning that it will happen without a moment’s notice and that all we need to do is be ready while working hard for His kingdom. Just as we can see dark clouds on the horizon that portend a coming storm, so Jesus said to look for those signs that His coming was drawing nearer. So instead of stopping what we are doing for Him, we should work harder while we wait with patience.
1 Ibid. 63:4 – Complete Jewish Bible
2 See Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 99a
3 Isaiah 44:18-20
4 1 Corinthians 10:3-4
5 Incomplete Work on Matthew: Homily 50
6 1 Thessalonians 5:2
7 Psalm 132:4
8 Luke 21:36
9 Galatians 6:14
10 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 56
11 Exodus 11:5
12 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 77.2