Sabbath Reflection for Sunday, October 19 (’14)
I’ve heard dozens of high-profile Christians say Liam Neeson’s 2008 film Taken is an illustration of a Christian story, especially a Father who never gives up on his children, yada yada. I don’t buy it. I sat in a seminar at a conference (where I was also one of the speakers) and watched as a minister showed clips from this film and argued along similar lines. I am unconvinced the film highlights any real Christian theme and wonder why Christians cannot just let a movie be a movie. At times, there’s almost a fragmented obsession to make Hollywood Christian. Sometimes, a cigar just needs to be a cigar.
But if there’s any legitimate Christian theme in Taken, it would be the theme of Judgment and not Fatherly love or concern or protection.
Luke 17 is instructive on Judgment. Having attended junior and senior year of undergraduate studies at Moody Bible Institute, we were taught this chapter as part of a Dispensational eschatology, i.e., a view of the end-times that includes a teaching on the rapture as characterized by Kirk Cameron’s film Left Behind and now, Nicholas Cage in the upcoming movie of the same name. Such teaching correctly sees this chapter as related to Judgment; it incorrectly sees the rapture in the final few verses, 17:34-37:
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.” 37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
“C’mon, Brah, It says, ‘Taken!’ ‘TAKEN!’ This is totally rapture stuff!” Yep, heard that quite a few times. There’s just one problem: the rapture is no where present here. In order to get it, you have to bring it with you to the text like an unwelcomed “+1” to a wedding reception. We’re left wondering, “Who brought him?” Just because a word or concept sounds like another word or concept, it doesn’t make them family—not even cousins, even in Mississippi. In fact, assuming concepts or words are the same throughout the Bible is called an “exegetical fallacy,” i.e., it’s bad Bible-thinking and poor reasoning. In order to be the same, the context must prove it. After all, “She’s a fox” could refer to a bushy-tailed animal, Megan Fox’s sister, or could mean someone is clever. Who knows unless you read the context. So let’s get to it.
Luke 17:20-37 is not about the rapture or about a Dispensational view of the end-times. It’s not about an Amillenial or Postmillenial view either.
These 18 verses actually gives the five characteristics of the Final Judgment that Jesus, called “Son of Man” four times (17:22, 24, 26, 30), says he will bring. Four of these characteristics are certainly Liam Neeson-like, with a critical fifth completely unique to the Son of Man. Here they are:
First, Judgment is everywhere. In 17:24, judgment is like lightening during a storm, lighting the sky from “one side to the other”. In 17:26, judgment is just as it was during the Flood of Noah’s Day. How wide was the Flood? While some say it was local, we believe it was global. This is confirmed by the context of Jesus’ statement here as he describes judgment as everywhere/universal no less than 3 times, the last found in 17:28: during the days of Lot, as judgment fell upon the cities of the Plains of Canaan, and they were all destroyed. While some might point out this doesn’t say anything about judgment against ancient China (the “everywhere” part), Jesus’ point is clear: all those cities of that culture, represented by Sodom, were taken out. He uses a reference those Jews would understand as an “all-over” judgment.
Second, Judgment is unexpected and sudden. Liam Neeson’s judgment is sort of unexpected. When they took his daughter, they didn’t realize how much pain Neeson would bring. But he soon told them so and they should’ve known it was coming. Jesus doesn’t provide any warning other than what people already have: the witness of the Scriptures given through the witness of the Church. There is no Last-Call bell clanging for your attention, warning you before the lights go out.
No one knows where lightening will strike, but such will be the Judgment that comes (17:24). In Lot’s day, “…they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,” then Judgment ended it all (17:27). In Noah’s day, “They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage,” then Judgment ended it all (17:28). People will go to bed thinking the sun will rise, and they will never see the sun again, “…in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left” (17:34).
People will go to work thinking they’ll see the Benjamins, and they will not, “There will be two women grinding [i.e., working, not doing a perverted Miley Cyrus-style dance] together. One will be taken and the other left. (17:35).
Judgment is everywhere, and it is unexpected and sudden.
Third, Judgment is swift. If you’re on death-row in the United States, there’s a good chance you’ll see several new presidential elections before you have to walk the Long Walk. Not so the Judgment of Jesus. To piggy-back the verses already mentioned, when it was finally time for the Flood, it came. It wasn’t a slow-leak. When it came time for sulfur and hail-fire upon Sodom, it wasn’t like so many whistlers and roman candles on the 4th of July you have to try to light over-and-over before you get a spark. When it came, it came.
Yet, as the true God is so apt to do—and as he is so very different from that charlatan of a whimpy and self-loathing demon of a god of Islam—consider the inherent mercy in the way he built up to the Judgment in Noah and Lot’s day, and the way he is doing so here. Noah told his neighbors and warned them (2 Pet 2:5). It wasn’t a dingy; it was an ark. Those take a while. They didn’t listen. They didn’t care. They had a chance. Lot warned and pleaded with his neighbors. They didn’t listen (Gen 19:4-11). So we, too, warn and preach to our neighbors. Some of them listen. I hope more do, for when it rains, it pours.
Fourth, Judgment is obvious. Very little needs be said here. When the lightening in the sky flashes, you see it. It lights the sky like a lighthouse. I once was stuck outside during an intensive barrage of lightening strikes. I have never been so awed and terrified at once. There were so many lightening strikes, I could see everything around me even while having to close my eyes for the intensity of the light hitting me every five or ten seconds. I could not have said, “There is no lightening here.” It was obvious. Likewise, no one doubted there was a Flood upon them as they floated in it neck-deep. No one could say, “It’s just a heat-wave” as the hail and fire and sulfur filled the air with the smell of burning flesh and smoke. Jesus’ judgment will be obvious to the entire world.
Fifth and last, and the only characteristic that is unlike Neeson’s in Taken, Judgment is total. There are no second chances when Jesus comes the second and final time. Neeson’s character didn’t kill all the bad guys; only the ones that got in his way. The horrendous sex-trade that captured his daughter still continued after Liam got his daughter back home. In fact, he intentionally bypassed saving people he could’ve. His judgment wasn’t total.
At Jesus’ first coming, he provided permanent salvation and a place of refuge from this judgment. At his second, he vindicates himself and his people in a total judgment. His people are vindicated for their faith, and he is vindicated by the destruction of those who did not have faith. There is no going back. It is total.
Question: how many Sodomites survived? How many LMAO-Noah Scoffers kept the floaties on long enough to survive the months upon months upon months of endless flooding? Exactly. The judgment brought by the Son of Man is everywhere, unexpected and sudden, swift, obvious, and total.
Where is the rapture in all this? It isn’t. The verses about being “taken” make the point that this final judgment is characterized by a suddenness and unexpectedness that will leave everyone scratching their heads. Raptured? I think not…at least, not from this passage. And that’s OK, because the message Jesus gives us here is pretty important in its own right. So sorry to Nick Cage, but….
Are you ready for this Judgment? He himself is the avenue of escape, the Ark upon which we must stay and rest for permanent rescue. This entire scene in Luke began at 17:20 with a question from Jesus’ enemies, the Pharisees:
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come…
They got more than they bargained for, I think. At best, they wanted an answer that would vindicate Pharisaical doctrine: how Jesus would liberate Israel from her Roman overlords and, perhaps, Herod and the false doctrine of the Sadducees. This was their end-time expectation and they believed Jesus was a big faker like a 300lb man selling you a diet plan. At worst, they wanted Jesus to make himself an enemy of the people’s hopes and dreams cast in a vote in favor of him, their Jewish Pedro. He redirected them to an understanding of judgment they had forgotten or never knew to begin with, that it would be everywhere, unexpected, swift, obvious, and total. He also informed them that the Kingdom of God was centered in his very presence:
…the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.
Where’s your focus? Are you looking for signs and wonders to let you know it’s about to come? Go back to work, love God, love your neighbor, and testify to the Gospel, for the Final Day to End All Days is coming soon, and no one will see it coming.