It was not a pleasant experience. At the tender age of nine, my mother left me home alone for the first time. She had a couple of errands to run and figured now would be as good a time as any to teach me some independence. After all, she was only going to be gone for half an hour. I, however, was mortified at the prospect of having to spend a full thirty minutes alone in our big, creaky, creepy house. Nevertheless, my mother drove off and left me behind. I immediately dashed into my room and shut the door, petrified by the thought of burglars, which I was certain were lurking right outside the front door. Fifteen minutes passed. Then twenty. Then twenty-five. Then thirty minutes. And mom wasn't home yet! Finally, after a full thirty-four minutes, I couldn't take it anymore. I emerged from my room, dashed to the kitchen, and called my dad at work. "Dad," I said misty-eyed, "Mom said she was going to be gone half an hour and she's already been gone thirty-four minutes!" My mother came home three minutes later.
Although at age nine I was already having preteen moments of rebellion, trying to assert my independence, I still was not ready to be too independent. I still wanted to have someone around to protect me at all times. I still did not want to be left behind by my mother.
My sentiment as a child echoes the sentiment of many when it comes to the way the end times are talked about in popular Christian movies and literature. On the final day of 1995, a novel by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins hit bookshelves everywhere and changed the way millions viewed that last days of history. The novel's title was Left Behind. The plot line tracks the life of an airplane pilot and his family after they are "left behind" following a rapture of the faithful. The moral of the story is self-evident: The end of history will be a dark, scary, tumultuous time. You don't want to live through it. So make sure you believe in Jesus and don't get left behind.
This may come as a shock to many, especially in light of my reticence even to be left behind at home by my mother as a child, but I actually want to be left behind. Not in the way that Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins talk about it, but in the way that our text for today from Matthew 24 talks about it. Jesus says, "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left" (verses 37-41).
These words from Jesus are often marshaled to teach a rapture near the end of time. There will be groups of people, the doctrine goes, and some will be taken to be with the Lord, while others will be "left behind" to suffer the pain and misery and agony of the earth's final days.
Now, before you accuse me of losing my mind, wanting to endure such misery, it is first worth asking, "Is this what Jesus actually teaches here? Does Jesus really teach a rapture where some are taken to be with him while others are left behind?" Notice the analogy that Jesus draws in these verses. He begins with the days of Noah. He says in verse 39 that a "flood came and took them all away." In other words, in Jesus' analogy, it is bad to be "taken away." Because being "taken away" means suffering judgment and death. Conversely, then, it is good to be "left behind." Because being "left behind" means surviving judgment thanks to God's strong salvation. Thus, when Jesus speaks of two people, one being taken while the other is left behind, he wants us to be the ones who are left behind! Because being "left behind" means being "left behind" with Jesus! Indeed, this is tone that Jesus sets from the very beginning of this chapter: "See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray" (verses 4-5). Jesus says, "Don't get led astray and taken away by all the false christs and false doctrines and false messiahs out there. Instead, stay behind with me! For I am your only hope for salvation." Peter reminds us likewise: "Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing" (2 Peter 3:17).
So today, declare your intention to be "left behind." Not as a result of some rapture where you have to suffer some terrible tribulation, but declare your intention to be left behind from the leadings of sin, lies, and wickedness. For when those leave you behind, you are left standing with Jesus. And he's a guy I'm happy to be left behind with any day.