The rapture is the hope of hundreds of millions of Christians. Unfortunately, according to Bible prophecy, most will be "left behind" weeping and gnashing their teeth (as Jesus portrayed it). This can happen if we trust in what men have taught and not what Jesus actually said about belonging to him at his coming (1Co 15:23). Find out what most Christians are missing about the true requirements for the rapture so that you can be sure not to be left behind.
2 Peter 1:10-11 — Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you.
Among Christians, the rapture is the most important event in Bible prophecy. The aspect of the rapture most discussed without a doubt is the question of when it will happen, either in absolute and relative terms. Absolute timing would be all the date speculation and date setting constantly made (that constantly fails). Then there is the endless debate over its timing relative to the Great Tribulation. It would be an understatement to say Christians do not agree on whether it will come before (“pretrib”), during (“mid-trib”) or after the tribulation (“post-trib” or “pre-wrath”). This debate will probably not die out until it actually happens.
But having that answer wrong is not a problem. Millions of saints (including Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, etc.) have already secured their position in the Kingdom of God without ever knowing a single thing about the rapture—including the correct timing of it relative to the Great Tribulation.
The real problem with all this debate over the questions of when, is that it causes the truly important rapture issue to be overlooked: Who will be in the rapture and how do they qualify for it? Of course, Christians think that question is already settled. They think that by simply believing in Christ they are "rapture-ready." In other words, the prevailing notion is that all believers will make it. But is this theory really grounded in Scripture? My study of Bible prophecy over the last decade has convinced me otherwise. I'm quite convinced that not all believers will be in the rapture.
Consider My Friend, Harold – Rapture Material?
Take my friend Harold, for example. He lives within walking distance of me so we see each other frequently and as a result, I know him well. He is a believer, however, few Christians would recognize him as such. He does not talk a lot about Jesus. If you asked him what church he goes to, he would answer, "None." He does not keep Christmas or Easter, either. He has no pastor and therefore also does not tithe anywhere. He mostly is busy getting things done on Sundays since he sleeps in late with his wife on Saturday after a long hard work week at their jobs.
Based on this brief profile of him, would you expect to see Harold in the rapture? I bet most Christians would have their doubts. They would not be wrong in principle to wonder, but not for the reasons they think. For the Bible does teach that there will be believers left behind for other reasons (as we shall see).
Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth By Left Behind Believers
There is an abundance of passages in the New Testament teaching that some believers in Jesus are going to have the supreme disappointment when Jesus comes back to rapture people into the Kingdom:
Matthew 7:21-23 (HCSB) 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord!' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but ⌊only⌋ the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?' 23 Then I will announce to them, 'I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!'
People are described as calling Jesus their Lord and even busy doing works in his name. Yet they are still rejected by him. Although they clearly believe, they have some flaw that Jesus calls "lawbreaking" that makes them unacceptable to inherit the Kingdom of God.
Next let's look at the the Letter to the Church of Laodicea. Of course, the Church of Laodicea is not made up of unbelievers. It's made up of believers, like all seven of the churches of Revelation. Yet what do we find:
Revelation 3:15-18 (HCSB) — 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. ...you don't know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.
The letter tells the lukewarm believers there that they are naked and need to buy “white clothes”: Their works have been examined and found to be flawed. Their central fault is called nakedness or a lack of white clothing. For this and other faults they are going to be vomited out of Jesus' mouth. Obviously vomit will not be going up in the rapture (although it might be found going down from the dizzying heights).
We see the same cause for rejection from the kingdom in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet:
Matthew 22:12 (HCSB) — But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding. 12 So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
These wedding garments are clearly a key requirement for the rapture, but what are they meant to represent? We will see that they are equivalent to the works related to the law that some believers are accused of breaking in the verse above.
Not All Believers Created Equal
The heart of the problem is a misunderstanding about what the Bible means when it says "believe." To believe in Jesus is not simply to accept as fact the truth of his existence or role as Lord and Savior. It's not a purely mental exercise. If you define it at that level, then even Satan and the demons can claim to be believers in God and Jesus by the following principle:
James 2:14 (HCSB) 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.
The belief in Jesus as Lord that the Bible talks about is a strong conviction that leads you to action based on that position he has over you. Jesus shed light on this lawbreaking of those who call him Lord in Luke:
Luke 6:46 (HCSB) — Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and don't do the things I say?
"Depart From Me, I Never Knew you!" - Jesus
Jesus' predicted he will tell many sincere believers basically to "get lost" instead of welcoming them into the Kingdom. So...who are they and what did they miss or do wrong? In this study, get those answers and the one requirement for salvation Jesus taught (that Christianity misses) so that you can make sure you don't hear these dreaded words yourself!
Now we're getting somewhere. To Jesus, if you believe he is your lord, then you better do what he says, otherwise you really don't “believe” he is Lord. What does this Lord say to do? He said:
John 14:15 (HCSB) — If you love Me, you will keep My commands.
What are the commandments? He told us this, too:
John 15:10 (HCSB) — If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commands and remain in His love.
Matthew 22:36-40 (HCSB) 36 “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
The commandment is to love God and neighbor. (To answer, “who is my neighbor?” read the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37.)
Given all this, we can say there are two classes of people that Jesus considered believers or addressed in the “churches” (Rev 2-3).
- There are those believers whose belief in Jesus really does not result in fundamentally different actions.
- There are those who believe in Jesus and focus on doing the things their Lord said to do; love towards God and neighbor.
Fruits That You Really “Believe On”Jesus
Of course, love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself is just a summary. Knowing how to do this in practice takes further information. Thankfully, Jesus spent much of his time fleshing exactly this out. You can find most of the specifics of what to do listed in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). Other parts of the Gospels repeat and flesh out areas of change further. Jesus describes them as “good fruit” you should have and bad fruit you shouldn't have. Here are many examples of values and attributes of believers who love God and love neighbor that Jesus and the apostles gave:
- Loving (John 13:35)
- Compassionate (Mt 25:35-40; Lk 10:33)
- Service-oriented (Mt 23:11)
- Sacrificing (Mt 19:21; Jas 2:14)
- Giving, Generous (Mt 5:42; Lk 3:11; Jas 2:15-16)
- Merciful (Mt 5:7; 18:33)
- Long-suffering (Mt 5:41)
- Patient (Lk 8:15; Jas 1:3; 2Pe 1:6; Rev 2:2-3; 19)
- Peacemaking (Mt 5:9)
- Forgiving (Mt 18:21, 35; )
- Fidelity in marriage (Mt 5:27-32)
- Taking action on Jesus words (Mt 7:24-27)
- Meek, Gentle (Mt 5:5, 22)
- Humble (Mt 18:1-4; 23:12)
- Trusting, Faithful (Mt 6:25-34; Lk 12:21-24)
- Moral (Mt 15:19-20)
- Honorable, Having integrity (Mt 5:33-37)
- Prays (Mt 6:5)
- Fasts (Mt 6:16-18; 9:15)
- Value the Word of God (Lk 8:21; Mt 10:40-42)
- Not Materialistic (Mt 6:19-21; Rev 3:17; Lk 12:15)
- Not Judgmental (Mt 7:1-5)
- Not Self-righteous nor Hypocritical (Mt 24:51; 6:2, 5, 16; 23:13-29)
Unfortunately, these attributes are not exactly the words that roll off the tongue when you ask someone to characterize Christians (and I don't just mean asking nonbelievers). Based on their dealings with Christians, even Christians themselves instead popularly characterize Christians as judgmental, hypocritical and self-righteous—labels you never see directed at Jesus or his true disciples in the Gospels. Instead, Jesus directed these very labels at the religious leaders of his day: the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees. (Because Jesus was so upright and loving, those leaders in turn were left with only the option of inventing charges against Jesus; calling him a glutton, drunkard, and a associate of sinners).
Christians have decidedly too much bad fruit in common with the Pharisees. Of course, the last group Christians ever would compare themselves to are the Pharisees. They think the main flaw of the Pharisees is being “legalistic.” Consequently they avoid legalism or “salvation by works” like the plague (as they should). But this focus on legalism misses the real error that the Pharisees and Christians make: they are not really loving God and their neighbor with all their heart.
Now, if the good qualities above describe you then it means you have the fruits of belief in Jesus that should follow that belief. According to Jesus' brother James, these actions prove or are evidence of your saving belief (Jas 2:18, 19-26). The actions don't save you or guarantee you a place in the rapture, it's still your trusting faith in Jesus does (Ge 15:6). But if actions don't follow your belief, then your belief is incomplete and you are on “shaky ground” as Jesus described it:
Matthew 7:24-27 (HCSB) — 24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn't collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn't act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!”
In case you're worried because you don't have all the attributes listed above or manifest them perfectly, don't be. Again, this is not about doing works or being “good enough” to save us. It's about having a belief that leads to action, even if your action is most noteworthy for being well-intentioned at first. We practice loving and get better with it over time just like with everything else (2Pe 3:18). Yet even by practicing them, more people than not will notice your intent of love and see that it is genuine, not just lip-service. They will see your good works and glorify God (Mt 5:16). Contrast this with those who practice religion and looking religious. They get praise from each other but people who see them usually want to avoid them (and God) because of the bad experience they too often have with them.
Doing Your Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth Early
If this is the first time it has ever occurred to you that you might not qualify for the rapture, then this article has presented you with some shocking information. The classical first stage of response to traumatic information like this is denial. Since this new information implies that you may not make the rapture if you don't make some changes, it's natural to want to deny it. Thankfully, it's not easy to deny what all the verses above so clearly say. Jesus constantly talked on these good works.
You may however, be tempted instead to simply ignore these verses. Not reading the Bible or ignoring what it says is something that following the tenets of Christianity often requires us to do. For example, I cannot believe in a pretrib rapture like most Christians do unless I ignore what Jesus and Paul taught on the timing of it in several verses (Mt 24:29-31; 2Th 2:1-4; 1Co 15:52). So I simply have to “obey God rather than man,” be a rebel in this area, and take the flack that will surely come with it. I recommend that approach of ignoring men rather than ignoring the Word of God.
Another stage of grief response is anger. To find out you have been deceived all these years on what Jesus really required of you would make anyone very angry. Or it might make cause sadness or depression. What you have right there then is the weeping and gnashing of teeth that Jesus talked about people doing after they learn the rapture has passed and they missed it, only earlier. Regardless of when it comes, it's still very hard to deal with this disappointing realization. The main encouragement I can give you is at least you are getting your weeping and teeth gnashing over with early before the rapture comes. You at least have time to get over the fact you were deceived and change what you are doing so that you don't miss out.
My Friend Harold – Reconsidered
With this new understanding on proper belief in Jesus, let's reassess my friend Harold. On the first evaluation above it would seem like there are many reasons to doubt his rapture-worthiness. He did not fit the criteria that Christians commonly understand for being a good Christian and therefore rapture-ready. But now that we have replaced the common Christian consensus on belief in Jesus with the actual criteria that Jesus gave, let me tell you the rest of the story about Harold...
Although Harold does not go to church, he does study the Bible at home and whenever we meet we discuss Bible questions together. He clearly wants to understand God's word better and to do it (Lk 8:21). In fact, one of the projects Harold does in his spare time is translating my book, Know the Future, into Spanish. He started doing this simply because he is excited at how the information makes Bible prophecy plain. Also it motivates him that by getting it into Spanish he can share it with more of his Costa Rican friends and family.
Many times we discuss these subjects when he is helping me. Since I don't have a car, Harold is always willing to help me out with things I can't do by bike, such as shopping at PriceSmart. He also helped me move and gets my bike to the shop when needed. Yet he never lets me pay for gas when I offer.
One time I asked him why he is willing to help so much like this without compensation. He told me that he tells his wife that they should not turn people down when they ask for help because you never know when you will be in need and he believes that if you help others, God will make sure you get help. (I hope everyone has friends like this.)
Given everything you know about what Jesus commanded, now what do you think Harold's chances are if the rapture were to come today? None of us are the judge, of course, but I can say I have no doubts about him qualifying despite him not doing the typical Christian things. When you think about it, how does going to church on Sunday, celebrating Christmas and Easter, paying 10% of your income to a your pastor and maybe getting others to join your church fulfill the two great commandments, anyway? If Jesus commanded them, then yes they would fulfill them. However, you won't find anywhere in the Bible that Jesus ever told anyone to do any of these things. Christians do them mainly because they are expected to do by other their pastors and other Christians.
To be included in the rapture is not as easy or as simple as just knowing and accepting a simple fact about Jesus' role as savior or Lord. Jesus taught of the need to make major changes of attitude, character, and habits with love of God and fellows as the goal.
After understanding the real requirements for the rapture, they might sound like too much to ask to some Christians. Some of you might be thinking that you didn't sign up for such an all-encompassing sacrificial life-changing commitment. Indeed, Jesus was not kidding when called believing in and following him the narrow path that few find:
Matthew 7:13-14 (HCSB) 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.
Nevertheless, be encouraged because beyond any doubt the hard work and sacrifice it takes to be glorified in the rapture is worth it. Paul said it well:
Romans 8:18 (HCSB) — For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.
I was emailed the following question about the article above which I think helps clarify a major point:
I read your article entitled "Why Most Christians Won't be Raptured" and found it an interesting read. Am I correct in saying that when you use the term 'Christian' in the title you are really referring to people who profess belief in Christ (which as you rightly point out is very different from actually being a Christian).
To sum up what I took from your article, only true Christians will be raptured and many people who claim belief in Christ but are not truly saved will be 'left behind'.
If this is correct, would your article be more correctly titled, "Why Most Believers Won't be Raptured"?
My response is as follows:
No, the article title is exactly as intended. "A Christian is someone who adheres to the religion of Christianity," rather than someone who merely believes in Christ. Although many Christians object to this definition, it is proper when you realize that not all believers in Christ follow the religion of Christianity(!).
Unfortunately, following Christianity does not automatically make you saved. Instead, people have been saved by acting on the word/will of God directly (Gen 15:6; Lk 8:21) since the beginning of time—before the religion of Christianity was organized (Mt 8:11; Lk 13:28). Christians tend to miss all of this and assume that they are saved just for "accepting Christ" but this is not what Christ himself taught:
Matthew 7:21-24 (HCSB) — 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’
That's why I used the term Christian in the title of the article, to underline that truth. Therefore, as to your point about true vs. false Christians, maybe now you can see that it does not matter. "Truly" following any religion does not save you! What saves you is doing the will of God (Mt 12:50; Mk 3:35), something that is often lost or missed in the mix of commandments of God and man that religions teach.
I might further add that the whole "true vs. false Christian/believer" line of thinking is inherently flawed anyway. You might find the No True Scotsman fallacy helpful to understand that.
In the end, Christians are just a subset of all believers and believers come in all forms, good and bad; serious and lukewarm. They still qualify as believers, even if not all are saved. Obviously, being a mere believer or Christian should not be our goal, but something beyond that. The prophetic description of our end time church age of Laodicean is dirty, blind and naked (Rev 3:17)...and yet it's still addressed as "the church" (Rev 3:14). The Laodiceans who do not repent but remain naked or without the proper garment or righteousness of the saints (Mt 25:36=Rev 19:8) will be spit out (Rev 3:16) and told, "I never knew you" (Mt 7:23) and left weeping or gnashing their teeth (Mt 8:12; 25:30). Yet they again are still "the church"/ek-klesia = the "called out ones." Don't forget many are "called, few are chosen, few are faithful." (Mt 22:14; Rev 17:14). We must all keep walking forward not looking back in order to be fit for the kingdom (Lk 9:62). Doing this does not make us "true believers" but rather faithful servants of God.
Is this all just "semantics," as many Christians claim in response to hearing this viewpoint? It's understandable that no Christian wants to accept the dictionary definition of a Christian given above because it would mean they have chosen to be something less than what Jesus was talking about for his followers. Being a believer is not so great or special. The demons believe and tremble. Being a faithful, obedient servant of God is the real goal. Belonging to a church does not necessarily teach you this, because of all the traditions they teach instead.
Instead of admitting this hard truth, most Christians want to redefine the term Christian or the semantics so that all the Christians who only meet the low bar definition above "don't count." But they do count because all Christianity requires for people to be counted is to belong to a church and to profess orthodox Christian beliefs. Jesus himself required something different to be among those raptured which simply is not taught by Christianity. This is the reason for the problem with the fruits of Christianity and the desire among zealous, serving Christians to distinguish between "true Christians" like themselves and "false" ones.
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