In Luke 17:33-37 Jesus taught “one will be taken and the other left.” People are “left” to enter the kingdom. Other people are “taken” in judgment to the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:11-21). This resembles the way the wicked people in Noah’s day were “taken” by the flood.
Table of contents
- Give Up This Life to Receive Eternal Life
- The Prophetic Timeline
- The Birds (Visibility) and Corpses (Judgment) of the Battle of Armageddon
- The Battle of Armageddon Is an Execution Versus a Battle
Give Up This Life to Receive Eternal Life
A paradox is a statement that seems contradictory, inconsistent, untrue, or even absurd, but is still true. There are several paradoxes in Scripture:
- Matthew 23:11 says, “Whoever wants to be greatest, should be everyone’s servant.”
- Mark 9:35 says, “Anyone who wants to be first, must be the very last.”
- 2 Corinthians 6:10 says, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” If you’re sorrowful you’re not rejoicing, if you’re poor you don’t make others rich, and if you have nothing, you don’t possess everything.
- 2 Corinthians 12:10 and 13:9 say, “When we are weak we are strong.” When you’re weak you’re not strong.
- James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Joy is the last thing you experience in trials.”
Luke 17:33 says, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” This is one of the most well-known paradoxes in the Bible. The paradoxical nature is immediately noticeable:
- You can’t preserve your life and lose it. Preserving your life means you did NOT lose it.
- You can’t lose your life and keep it. Losing your life means you did NOT keep it.
It’s easier to understand this paradox if the verse is broken in half. When Jesus says, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it,” He’s referring to people who live for this life and pursue what the world offers. These people will not find eternal life.
Then when Jesus says, “but whoever loses his life will keep it,” He’s referring to people who give up their earthly lives for Him. If we do this, we will find eternal life. It’s like Paul said in Philippians 1:21 that “to live is Christ.” We surrender to Him, inviting Him to use us in whatever ways He deems best.
It’s the language of Romans 12:1: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” We are no longer living for ourselves. We’re living for the Lord. Jim Elliot famously said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Lot’s Wife Sought to Preserve Her Life but Lost It
Luke 17:33 flows perfectly from the previous verses, because they contain three examples of what Luke 17:33 describes. Lot’s wife looked back to her true home, Sodom, which she valued more than the next life that God had for her. She is a perfect example of someone who sought to preserve her life but lost it.
Noah and Lot Lost Their Lives to Keep Them
On the other hand, Noah and Lot preserved their lives by being willing to lose them:
- Noah was willing to let go of his life in the pre-flood world and get on the ark, and he preserved his life in the process.
- Lot was willing to abandon his life in Sodom, and he preserved his life in the process.
It is a question of what we desire:
- If we desire to preserve our lives in this world, then we will lose our lives.
- But if we are willing to lose our lives for Jesus’s sake we will keep them.
How Does “Losing Our Life” Relate to the Second Coming?
The context is the Second Coming, so how does this all relate? If we long for Jesus’s return we desire to see this life, as we know it, come to an end so that we can begin the next life in His kingdom. In this way we preserve our lives. But people who love this life don’t want to see Jesus return, because they don’t want this life to end. They want to hold onto this life, and in the process they will lose their lives, as the following verses reveal…
Luke 17:34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” 36 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left
Why Is Luke 17:36 Missing?
Luke 17:36 is only in some Bibles:
- The KJV contains verse 36 without a footnote
- The NKJV has a footnote that says, “The NU omits verse 36.” The NU (Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament) is the manuscript used for modern translations, such as the ESV, NIV, or NASB.
- The modern translations, such as the ESV, NIV, or NASB, because they use the NU, say something like, “The oldest manuscripts don’t include it verse 36,” or the “Most reliable manuscripts omit verse 36.”
It goes outside the scope of this post to go into detail about why the modern translations are missing some verses. Here’s the good news: Whether your Bible does or doesn’t contain Luke 17:36 doesn’t change anything, because it is just another example of what the previous two verses are discussing: one will be taken and the other left.
The Prophetic Timeline
Let me briefly explain the future order of events so the following verses make sense. In the First Coming Jesus spiritually established His kingdom on the earth. At Jesus’s Second Coming He will physically establish His kingdom on the earth, and here are the order of events leading up to that and immediately after it:
- The Rapture of the Church
- The Seven Year Tribulation
- The Second Coming of Christ
- The Battle of Armageddon
- The Millennial Kingdom (the physical kingdom established on the earth)
People Are “Taken” to the Battle of Armageddon
This is where it gets a little confusing: Luke 17:33-36 describe one will be taken and the other left, which sounds like the rapture. But the context is the Second Coming of Christ (Luke 17:24), which is seven years after the Rapture.
When you think of the people taken away to the Battle of Armageddon to be judged, think of the way the wicked people in Noah’s day were taken away by the flood. Consider the parallel account: “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man…39 and they were unaware until the flood came and SWEPT THEM ALL AWAY, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37, 39). It says very clearly that the way the people were taken away by the flood looks to the way people are taken away at that Second Coming.
People Are “Left” to Enter the Kingdom
The people who are left, are left to enter the millennial kingdom that Jesus physically establishes on the earth. Think of these people being left to enjoy a new beginning the way:
- Noah and his family was left to enjoy a new beginning after the whole population of the earth was taken in the flood.
- Lot and his family were left to enjoy a new beginning after the people in Sodom were destroyed by the fire and brimstone.
Consider the way it’s worded in the Amplified Bible:
Luke 17:34 I tell you, on that night [when Messiah comes again] there will be two [sleeping] in one bed; the one (the non-believer) will be taken [away in judgment] and the other (the believer) will be left. 35 There will be two women grinding [at the mill] together; the one (the non-believer) will be taken [away in judgment] and the other (the believer) will be left.
The Amplified clarifies that the unbelievers are taken, and the believers are left, and there are two important footnotes:
- The first footnote: “This is not the sudden catching up (or rapture) of believers as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 when Christ returns in the air (not to earth), and gathers believers to be with Him.” This is one of the main differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming:
- At the rapture Jesus meets the church in the air without stepping foot on the earth.
- At the Second Coming Jesus returns to the earth.
- The second footnote: “The believers are left and will be with Christ on the earth during the Millennium.”
The Birds (Visibility) and Corpses (Judgment) of the Battle of Armageddon
Luke 17:37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
They mean, “Where are the people who are judged taken to?”
Some Bibles say eagles instead of vultures, because the Greek word can be translated either way, but it’s more appropriate to think of vultures because they are the birds that gather or circle above corpses. It might seem strange, or even graphic, to associate Jesus’s Second Coming with vultures and dead bodies, but when you study it out, it makes perfect sense. Consider what God said to Job when He questioned him:
Job 39:27 Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high? 28 On the rock he dwells and makes his home, on the rocky crag and stronghold. 29 From there he spies out the prey; his eyes behold it from far away. 30 His young ones suck up blood, and WHERE THE SLAIN ARE, THERE IS HE.”
Vultures provide visibility. You can tell where corpses are from great distances, not because you can see the corpse, but because you can see the vultures circling overhead. Similarly, people will be able to see where the Battle of Armageddon is from great distances, because of the vultures circling overhead. And the reason the vultures are circling overhead is because the Second Coming is going to result in numerous dead bodies when Jesus destroys His enemies.
Jesus’s Two Comings
Jesus has two comings, and both times He comes on animals.
Zechariah 9:9 Your king is coming to you…humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
This describes Jesu’s humble First Coming on a donkey to make peace between God and man.
Revelation 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
This is the Second Coming, which stands in stands in stark contrast to His First Coming. God is longsuffering, but His patience is finally exhausted with sinful, rebellious men. Jesus is coming to unleash His holy wrath against sinners.
Revelation 19:12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
It’s possible to think back to the cross and see the blood on Jesus’s robe as His blood, but the context doesn’t support that view. Instead, this is Jesus’s enemies’ blood. The garments look ahead to the slaughter of His enemies.
Revelation 19:14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
Jesus doesn’t return alone. The armies of heaven include saints and angels:
- 1 Thessalonians 3:13 [the Lord] may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus WITH ALL HIS SAINTS.
- Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, AND ALL THE ANGELS WITH HIM, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
Believers we are with Christ, and we are on white horses too, like our King. But even though we are part of the army of heaven, we don’t help Jesus in the battle of Armageddon. There’s no mention of us having weapons, because Jesus accomplishes the victory by Himself.
The Sword Out of Jesus’s Mouth Defeats the Enemies at the Battle of Armageddon
The Battle of Armageddon is the most famous battle in Scripture. Even many unbelievers have heard of it. But it’s anticlimactic. There’s never been a more lopsided battle in history.
Revelation 19:15a From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.
We shouldn’t think literally of a sword coming out of Jesus’s mouth. This symbol is easy to interpret. A sword is one of the most common metaphors for God’s Word: “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The idea is Jesus wins the battle simply by speaking. He spoke the universe into existence. He can speak to destroy His enemies as well. Verses prophesying of this:
- 2 Thessalonians 2:8 The lord Jesus will KILL WITH THE BREATH OF HIS MOUTH and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.
- Isaiah 11:4 He shall strike the earth with THE ROD OF HIS MOUTH, and with THE BREATH OF HIS LIPS HE SHALL KILL THE WICKED.
The Battle of Armageddon Will Be Like a Winepress
Revelation 19:15b He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
A winepress was a trough in which workers stepped on grapes with their bare feet. This is why the word tread is used. Then the juice would flow out of the winepress into a vat. The winepress is a vivid symbol describing how Jesus will defeat His enemies:
- First, Jesus’s enemies have about as much strength against Him as grapes do against a heel coming down on them.
- Second, it pictures the spurting of blood and the awful human carnage that will be present at this battle. We’ll see how bad it is in just a moment.
Jesus’s Names in Revelation 19
In these verses there’s been a real emphasis on Jesus’s names:
- Revelation 19:11b The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True
- Revelation 19:12b he has a name written that no one knows but himself.
- Revelation 19:13b the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
Now we’re told about this name…
Revelation 19:16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
This name looks like a title, but it’s called a name. In ancient society a name revealed a person’s character, and so this name emphasizes His sovereignty over all human rulers. It’s especially appropriate here when Jesus is about to overthrow all who oppose Him. The location of the name is fascinating. It’s on His thigh where the sword was usually strapped…
Psalm 45:3 Gird your sword ON YOUR THIGH.
The name could be on his thigh in the place of a sword, reminding us that the real sword is the Word that comes out of His mouth. Because He’s riding on a horse, the name on His thigh would be highly visible, like a banner.
The Battle of Armageddon Is an Execution Versus a Battle
The following verses describe the frightening holocaust that’s unparalleled in human history. There’s no real conflict:
Revelation 19:17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God,1 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.”
Now we are introduced to the birds, or vultures, from Luke 17:37. The Battle of Armageddon begins with an angel summoning these birds, or vultures, to feed on the corpses of those who will be killed. They serve as a cleanup crew, coming in to devour all the human carnage. By summoning them to do this it shows the angel declaring God’s victory before the battle even begins.
The word flesh occurs five times in this verse and one more time in Luke 17:21. God really wants to make sure we don’t miss just how bloody this is. Now we see Jesus’s victory over the Antichrist and false prophet…
Revelation 19:19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image.2 These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.3
The beast is the Antichrist. He is joined by “the kings of the earth [and] their armies to make war” with Christ. More than likely they’re joined by the people who were taken to the battle as we read in Luke 17.
Eternal Torment in Hell Versus Annihilation
The lake of fire is what we think of as hell. It’s the place of eternal punishment for all unrepentant rebels, angelic or human, who refuse to submit to Christ. It doesn’t pay to serve the devil. You might expect the devil to be the first inhabitant in hell, but the Antichrist and false prophet end up there 1,000 years before him.4
Of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, the doctrine of eternal punishment is one of the most rejected. Sentimentally it might be hard for us to believe in hell – it’s hard for me – but Scripture is clear about it, and this is one of those clear places. Revelation 19:20 says, “These two were THROWN ALIVE into the lake of fire.” This is a strong argument against being annihilated as Jehovah’s Witnesses would teach.
The last verse discussing the destruction of the armies…
Revelation 19:21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.
We see repetition in this verse:
- Again, the focus on Jesus speaking and destroying His enemies.
- Again, the focus on the vultures gorging themselves on the corpses.
All remaining sinners in the world will have been executed, and the vultures identify the location of the corpses of those taken, just as Jesus said in Luke 17:37.
One Will Be Taken and the Other Left to Separate the Saved and Lost
When Jesus returns to judge His enemies there will be a separation of the saved and the lost:
- The saved will be left to enter the glorious kingdom of God established on the earth.
- The unsaved will be taken away in judgment to the Battle of Armageddon to be executed by Christ.
We want to make sure we are not like those in Noah’s day who were taken away by the flood, or those in Lot’s day who were destroyed by the fire and brimstone, or like Lot’s wife whose heart was so committed to Sodom that she looked back and was killed.
We are regularly observing evidence that our day looks more and more like the days of Noah and the days of Lot. Jesus can return for His church at any time, so we must be ready.
- This supper forms a strong contrast to the marriage supper of the lamb in Revelation 19:6-10.
- While there are lots of reasons for the false prophet’s judgment, the one mentioned is that he deceived people into receiving the mark and worshiping its image.
- Fire and brimstone are frequently associated with divine judgment: Revelation 14:10, 20:10, 21:8, Genesis 19:24, Psalm 11:6, Isaiah 30:33, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 17:29.
One other evidence against annihilation is 1,000 years later it says they’re still suffering in the lake of fire:
Revelation 20:10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Some other verses making this same point that it’s eternal suffering versus annihilation:
Revelation 14:11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
Isaiah 66:24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (quoted in Mark 9:48).
- In a moment the world’s armies are without their leaders: