Unfortunately there is a very important misconception regarding the people who will be left behind when Jesus takes His church off the face of this planet. The general thinking is: only the bad people will be left to go through the tribulation because all the good people will go to heaven and live with God. What makes this idea so flawed is the sliver of truth that is found in it. Yes, the bad people will be left and the good people will be taken, but maybe not in the commonly accepted sense of “good” and “bad” and “lost” and “saved.”
Salvation is not about being “good.” It is about God’s grace. Some years ago an old Christian man died. He had been faithful to the Lord all his life and had been a great blessing to all those with whom he had any kind of dealings. At the funeral his son said to me, with tears in his eyes, “If anybody deserved to go to heaven he did.” Once again the shallowness of most people’s understanding of salvation was seen. The fact is this old man, aged saint that he was, did not deserve to go to heaven at all. None of us deserve heaven. We are saved by God’s grace through our faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and before the question of who will be left behind can be answered this very basic truth must be understood.
Further, the reason for most people’s belief in the general thinking mentioned above is their uninformed acceptance of common clichés about salvation that are void of truth. This reminds me of all those jokes that begin with, “Old Joe died and when he met St. Peter at the pearly gates…” We might be astonished at the number of people who actually think that when a person dies they appear at the gate of heaven and must go through Peter to get in!
From among those left behind will be multitudes who will eventually be saved during the tribulation. But, their salvation will be by the same means as those who are part of the church who go into the Lord’s presence either through death prior to the rapture, or by way of the rapture itself.
What is commonly called the Rapture is the occasion described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff and 1 Corinthians 15:50ff. This event could happen at any moment, thus it is imminent. Nothing prophetic has to happen first. There are some details involved about which we can only speculate such as: will we leave our dental work behind with our clothes, etc. Such questions are tedious at best. It is amazing that people can become so focused on such minutiae that the truth about the imminent, simultaneous vanishing of multitudes is overlooked. We are at liberty to speculate about such things, but we are foolish to go beyond mere conjecture.
When it happens the Rapture will be of greater immediate impact than the resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago, not because of a difference in importance but because of its instant global impact. The Antichrist will not be in position as the new world Fuhrer at the time of the rapture, so there will not be a single global authority issuing a statement of explanation to bring calm to what might be hysterical masses.
Thus, governments will initially be frustrated in finding a palatable explanation that will be accepted by all the people, and this could compound the hysteria. Governments, whether they are totalitarian or representative, cannot afford to be at a loss in the face of any kind of inexplicable situation, especially one which involves the instantaneous disappearance of multitudes and the ensuing chaos that will surface in its wake. In essence, when it happens the rapture will eclipse the on-going Roswell UFO frenzy in a big way!
No doubt those left behind will give attention to what happened, but what they will actually think about it will depend upon their background. That is where we can begin to get some idea about why so many people will be left behind. There will be any number of people left behind who will know immediately what happened. While everyone else will be flipping channels and jamming phone systems, their expressions will morph into that “thousand yard stare” as shocking realization sets in. The reason for their being left behind will not be because they denied the Bible, or the deity of Jesus, or even the body of truth they were taught and even believed. It will be because of their neglect of that same truth.
Could such a thing actually happen? Yes. You might note the writer’s emphasis upon neglect in Hebrews 2:3. You see, this puts the whole matter of the biblical definition of “belief” into a very serious perspective. A perspective, it seems, that is much more serious than what is most often heard in pulpits filled with preachers who wax long and loud about what is mostly religious/denominational dogma. Likewise, it is more serious than realized by those who might listen to the truth several times a week, but whose priorities are geared more toward portfolios, tee-times, social climbing and God only know what else. Contrary to popular opinion a person does not have to be an atheist or an agnostic to be lost.
Since the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus cannot be disproved, biblical belief/salvation has nothing to do with a mere statement giving mental affirmation to those historical facts. Unfortunately, that is exactly what a large number of people believe is the essence of Christianity. In their haste to make Christianity palatable, inoffensive and dignified to the lost, Christian trend-setters invented that template. Some call it “easy believe-ism.” Actually, it is heresy. To them an obedient heart (Romans 6:17) is not necessary. The fact is Satan and the demons believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that shows clearly that simply admitting you believe the same thing has nothing to do with salvation (Matthew 8:29; James 2:19).
At some point in their lives many of those who will be left-behind might have made some kind of statement of belief in Jesus, but it never went beyond what Satan and the demons have themselves admitted.
Another group left behind will consist of those whose religious convictions have nothing to do with biblical truth, but everything to do with religious inclusiveness. These people reject God’s truth because it is “just too legalistic.” In their religious sophistication they believe in the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of humanity. They believe everybody is saved because everybody is going in the same direction, just using different paths. They do not believe in the uniqueness of Jesus and what He said. They think God accepts just about any religion if its adherents are sincere, work for world peace, recycle things, etc.
Some people will recoil at the following, but that does not diminish its truth: Christianity is e.x.c.l.u.s.i.v.e! The sooner people choose to believe what Jesus said in John 14:6 and John 17:17 the sooner they will see there are no options. And, the sooner they will be freed from the purpose driven, seeker friendly drivel propagated by the Rick Warren’s and Joel Osteen’s of the world. It’s about one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father (Ephesians 4:4ff). Nothing else is needed or allowed.
When the exclusivity of genuine Christianity is accepted it will open people’s hearts to an overwhelming sense of tranquility and appreciation for God’s grace and mercy. They just will not want anything else. The uniqueness of Jesus will be accepted as solely and graciously sufficient. The result will be peace.
Well, what about the 2 Thessalonians 2:11,12 passage? Some see this as a warning that those who hear the truth this side of the rapture and reject it will be prevented from believing it after they are left behind. The passage says, “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
The antecedent for “them” and “they” is the people who will choose to reject the gospel during the tribulation whether they will have heard the truth prior to the rapture or after. Further, the decision to take pleasure in wickedness instead of believing the truth is applicable on both sides of the rapture. The text does not mean that those who heard and rejected it before the rapture will be forced to reject it afterward. Many will, but not all.
It means that continuing to reject the truth will eventually harden people’s hearts to the point that they will blaspheme the conviction of the Holy Spirit to the point of no recourse. It will happen then as it so often happens today. People will die in the tribulation as people die today with everything from hatred for God in their hearts of flint to simply neglecting God and everything about Him. Hardened hearts deflect the sword of the Holy Spirit as titanium plates on an armored vehicle deflect a pistol bullet.
If one should be so foolish as to think he can put off salvation until post-rapture there are at least three things that should be remembered. First, a person’s life can be taken in a split second. Second, if a person rejects salvation now when it costs relatively nothing in our country, what makes them think they will choose Jesus when the cost will be death? Third, if that is a person’s present attitude then their heart is well on its way to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit’s conviction (Mark 3:29). It is unforgivable because continued hardness prevents repentance, the requisite for forgiveness.
Well, what will most people believe when they come face-to-face with the undeniable fact that multitudes suddenly vanished? As said above, some will know immediately. There are others who will take a different stand on the event. Though we are limited in our suppositions about this only by our imaginations, it is quite probable that many will go to those religious leaders who will also be left behind for answers. Some leaders will admit their errors and begin teaching the truth while others will stubbornly insist on whatever heresies they were comfortable with prior to the rapture. That is why those left behind will do well to go to the Bible and to measure everything they hear or read from scripture alone.
But, what about Antichrist. What will he say about it? We cannot say what the Antichrist will say, nor can we predict when he will make such a statement, but we can be sure he will eventually have an explanation. Basically, I think he will admit to some semblance of the biblical truth about it, but will punctuate his explanation with a between-the-lines “good riddance” message.
Such a genial approach at that early point in his political career will make his words more palatable thus making his plan more credible to people who are fearful and wanting words of balm instead of war-talk. In that context I think he will give a very persuasive argument along the lines of, “Look at the world when Jesus was running it-crime, war, poverty, etc. Now, let me show you what I can do.” And they will believe his lie.
I base this supposition upon my growing conviction that Antichrist will not deny everything about Jesus. I think it is possible he will eventually use the rapture as a launch pad for his drawing a line in the sand as he becomes more caustic and soon declares a form of war on his arch-nemesis, Jesus Christ. I remain convinced that Satan’s hatred of the Jews, his determined annihilation of them, his use of Antichrist and the tribulation-era world system are all part of his arsenal to keep Jesus from coming back to the earth again. If that can happen then Jesus will be shown to be a liar and thus without moral authority to pass judgment on him and impose the sentence of hell (Revelation 20:7-10).
There is one other thing to think about that will happen during the tribulation, and that is the fact that God’s grace and patience will continue to be demonstrated in a remarkable way. He will use the preaching of the two Antichrist-defying preachers who will eventually be killed on the streets of Jerusalem (Revelation 11), the work of the 144,000 sealed Jews (Revelation 7) and the heralding angel of Revelation 14. Even until the end God’s desire is that all might come to repentance. Many of those left behind will repent but will pay for it with their mortal lives-beheading (Revelation 20:4). Those who will not repent will pay for their refusal with their immortal souls. Simple choice. Eternal consequences.