“The Catching Away of the Righteous” :: by Chuck Steele

I think the emphasis is misplaced when the focus of the “catching away” of the believers is on when it’s going to happen (pre-mid-post) instead of the “why” it’s going to happen. What I mean by that is I think that if we look at why Noah and Lot were spared from judgment, then the question as to the timing of when we are going to be taken out of this world will answer itself based on that information.

I think that it gives us the only solid evidence available to us as to why and when we’re going to be taken. It has to happen before God’s judgment and there is a precedence that God has set to give us that assurance.

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

If Noah were here today he’d probably be doing a lot of preaching from 1 Thessalonians 5:3 which says: “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

I believe that because Noah lived through the very same warning that we have been given again today from that chapter and verse that he would be able to relate to how it applies to us just as much today as it did right before the flood.

He would be able to give us a first-hand eyewitness account of what led up to the flood and how God spared him and his family from it. He’d be able to tell us how awful it must have been for him and his family to hear the screams for help coming from all those who chose not to enter the ark when they had the chance.

You see, once God closed the door to the ark (Genesis 7:16) it was then too late for anyone to change their minds.

So as I continued reading various Scriptures leading up to the closing of the ark and flipping between Genesis, Matthew and Luke I believe that God has a clear answer as to why Lot and Noah were spared from His judgment, and why we who claim Christ as our own personal Lord and Savior will also be spared from the next judgment which we refer to as the Tribulation (with a capital “T”).

I want to share with you what I believe about how God’s judgment works and how He prepares us for what’s coming. I hope and pray that when you read this it will give you the same clarity and assuredness that it’s given me.

Genesis 7 – The Flood

Noah was warned by God that He was going to destroy the world by a flood and that he was to build an ark and make preparations for it so that he and his family would be spared from it and as we all know that is exactly what happened. Noah believed God and built the ark just as God instructed him to do and he and his family were indeed spared from God’s judgment.
After the ark was completed God then told Noah (Genesis 7:1-4) to load up his family and the animals and as soon as he finished doing so, God shut him in (verse 16). It was God Himself who closed the door to the ark and once that door was closed it wouldn’t open again until the waters came and went.

The question now is this: WHY did God choose to spare Noah and his family from the coming flood? Was Noah without sin? Of course not. Romans 3:23 tells us that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So why did God spare him? The answer is found in the first verse of chapter 7:

“And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation” (Genesis 7:1).

But wait. Doesn’t this contradict what we’re told in Romans 3:10, that there is none righteous, not even one? No, it doesn’t because if you look at the verse at the top of this page we see that we are made righteous through Christ as a result of our faith in Him and believing God (2 Corinthians 5:21). The flood was before the Cross but it was Noah’s faith and trust in God that made him righteous and he found favor with God.

Noah was found to be the only one righteous in God’s eyes and this was the ticket to safety for himself and his family. Anyone outside the ark after God closed the door would perish. There would no longer be an escape for them from God’s judgment. Judgment was then served after Noah and his family were taken out of the way.

Fast forwarding to Matthew 24 we’re told by Jesus that as it was in the days of Noah before the flood so shall the same conditions be present before God’s judgment hits (the next time). And in Luke 17:26-29 we read that both Noah and Lot are mentioned, and again, the conditions found in both instances are exactly the same as they were before the flood and before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are now seeing those same conditions today.

Now let’s look at Lot and see why God spared him from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and I would encourage you to read the conversation between God and Abraham in Genesis 18 which begins with verse 22 and ends with verse 33. It is so important that you read this!

I don’t know why this chapter and this conversation between God and Abraham isn’t talked about when discussing the timing of when the Church will be caught-up to be with Jesus. I believe the answer is found right here in these verses. And for those of you who may question who the restrainer is in 2 Thessalonians 2:6,7 you will also find that answer here as well.

The key verse for the entire debate on Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, or a Post-Trib Rapture, I believe, is found in verse 23:

“And Abraham drew near, and said, ‘Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?’” (Genesis 18:23).

Does this ring any bells? What reason did God give Noah as the reason why he and his family would be spared from judgment? Because Noah was found righteous.

I hope you read the entire exchange between Abraham and God and read it slowly so that it really sinks in, and you understand what is taking place because the whole point of this exchange is to show us how near and dear to God’s heart we are to Him. And how He would never ever judge us with the unrighteous. If you still have a problem agreeing with this then turn to the next chapter (19) and read on.

I’ll do a quick re-cap of the main points of chapter 19 for you, but afterward, I strongly encourage you to read the entire chapter keeping in mind what took place in chapter 18, and you will see how everything ties in together. I’m certain you will never again doubt the timing of our removal from this earth before judgment time comes this third and final time.

Genesis Chapter 19 begins by showing us the urgency of the angels in getting Lot and his family out of Sodom because the mighty sword of God (Ezekiel 33:1-4) was about to strike and they didn’t have much time to get out. As it turns out not all of Lot’s family did get out because they didn’t believe him and they perished with all the others.

So why did God spare Lot from the judgment that was about to befall Sodom and Gomorrah? Was he a righteous man too? Yes, he was because in 2 Peter 2 we read the following:

“And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them and ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; and delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation with the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds).”

Do you see the common denominator between Noah and Lot? It was RIGHTEOUSNESS that set them apart and it was the only reason why God spared them from judgment!

I’m going to close with just one more point and it’s one of the most important points. In 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 we learn about the restrainer that is holding back the man of sin from being revealed and once this restrainer is removed then sin will have full-reign on the earth. I believe that it is here in Chapter 19 that we learn who the restrainer is, and God Himself is the One who gives us the answer. The answer is in black and white and it’s very clear for all to read.

It is in this chapter that Lot renegotiates where he is to flee to because the place God originally told him to flee to was pretty far away. What is interesting about the place that Lot wanted to go to, and to which God finally agreed to, was called Bela. It was one of the five cities that God was going to destroy along with Sodom and Gomorrah because they were all allied with one another. But because Lot was allowed to go there God spared it from destruction but still destroyed the other four. Lot referred to it as “a little one” and afterward it was renamed Zoara, meaning “small” or “insignificant.” It’s also called Zoar.

This renegotiating by Lot was taking up valuable time and this is how the conversation ended:

“Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live. And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken” (Genesis 19:20-21).

And what was it that caused God to restrain Himself from not having destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah yet, and also caused Him to change His mind regarding the destruction of Zoar? Here it is:

“Hasten thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou become thither” (Genesis 19:22 a).

This is the verse that convinces me beyond a shadow of a doubt that we will not be here for any part of the 7 years of judgment that is coming upon the earth.

Remember God and Abraham’s exchange in chapter 18? It was about God judging the righteous with the wicked (verse 23). The conversation ended in verse 22 and the final number spoken of was ten. If God could find ten righteous in Sodom then He wouldn’t destroy it (bring judgment against it). And as it turns out He wouldn’t destroy it for the sake of just ONE righteous man or woman which is why God COULDN’T destroy Sodom until after Lot was gone and until after he was already in his safe spot in Zoar.

Clearly, we can see that the righteous are the restraining force that kept Him from exacting His judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, and also the world in Noah’s day until they were first removed out of harm’s way because these judgments weren’t meant to be shared with the righteous. They were intended for the unrighteous as is the case with the coming third and final judgment.

God COULDN’T bring judgment against the world in Noah’s day until Noah (a righteous man) was locked up inside the ark. God COULDN’T bring judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot (a righteous man) was safely in his place of refuge in Zoar.

And guess what?

Have we not been made righteous through Jesus? Yes we have! The righteous are the restraining force which have kept God’s judgment in check until this day, and will continue to do so until we have been taken out of harm’s way and are tucked away in our safe spot in heaven. History WILL repeat itself a third and final time.

Because God CANNOT and WILL NOT judge the righteous with the wicked, this means that we—the Church—the Body of Christ, with the indwelling Holy Spirit are the restrainer; the restraining force talked about in 2 Thessalonians 2 must be taken out of the way before God passes judgment again. The Body of Christ is the “he” that is referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8:
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.”

We aren’t righteous because of anything that we have done but we’ve been made righteous only by the grace of God through our faith and by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is now seated at God’s right hand in heaven. Because we are now righteous and have been born of the Spirit, this is what is keeping God from exacting His judgment on this world at this time. He will not judge the righteous with the wicked.

I think that some of the confusion as to what this 7 year period of time is really going to be and how it relates to our removal from this world comes from our putting a label on it. We call it “The Tribulation” but I think we would do better by calling it what it really is and that is judgment.

It’s God’s righteous judgment on a wicked, evil, unbelieving, and unrighteous world. The Bible refers to this time as Daniel’s 70th week (7 years), the time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble; the day of the Lord and many others but what it doesn’t refer to it as is the Tribulation (with a capital T). Yes, it does say that it will be a time of tribulation and great tribulation but not as THE Tribulation.

It’s not an event, per se, that requires a title, but rather, it is a period of judgment that is going to last for 7 years. This period of judgment commences on day 1 of this 7 year period and as we look back as to why Noah and Lot were spared from any of the judgments that took place in their days then it should make it easier for us to see that what is holding it back this third and final time is the fact that we are still here. And as he told Lot, I believe he is also telling us:

“ I cannot do anything till thou become thither.”

I no longer refer to this 7 year period as the Tribulation, but instead, I call it what it is and that is Judgment. It’s absolutely necessary for us to be removed from the earth before judgment begins because of the nature of some of the things which are going to be included in that judgment, and we would never be able to survive them. Nuclear war is one of the biggest reasons I can think of. Once the restrainer is removed, then God’s protective hand will also be removed and then all hell will break loose on earth.

If believers today had to go through any part of the 7 years of judgment coming on this earth then God wouldn’t have closed the door to the ark BEFORE the flood either. But instead, would have waited until water began pouring inside before doing so.

Likewise with Lot, he would have had to do his best to dodge the fire while God was busy destroying Sodom and Gomorrah around him. But as it was, Noah never saw a drop of rain and Lot wasn’t even in the area when the fire came. Instead, they were taken out of the way well before judgment came.