When Jesus comes for His church, will He leave any true believer behind on the earth to endure the horrors of the tribulation?
Some say yes. They claim Jesus will only catch up believers who are watching for His appearing or those walking with Him at the time. In other words, the Lord will leave behind saints lacking in some way.
This teaching contradicts both the Gospel and God’s Word.
Let me first clarify my assertion; I am referring to those who are truly in Christ and already in possession of eternal life (see 1 John 5:11-12). All those truly redeemed by the blood of the Lamb will meet Jesus in the air when He appears to take his church back to His Father’s house in heaven, no exceptions!
Professing Christians who do not truly know Jesus as their Savior will miss out on the rapture. Many rely on things such as good works, church attendance, the sinner’s prayer, or some other achievement, things that by themselves do not constitute saving faith. Because they are not in Christ and thereby do not possess eternal life, they will miss out on the rapture.
Let me explain my key objections to the teaching of a partial rapture.
The Partial Rapture Contradicts the Gospel
My first objection is this: the partial rapture teaching contradicts the saving message of the Gospel.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
We receive eternal life by grace through faith, not as a result of our works or faithfulness. The Lord regenerates us and gives the faith to believe. From start to finish, our salvation is all about Jesus and the Spirit’s saving and preserving work inside us (Titus 3:4-7).
- L. Moody once said, “It takes the same grace to keep us saved as it does to save us.” From start to finish, our salvation is all about grace; works play no part whatsoever in our initial salvation or in our final glorification.
Our reception of glorified bodies at the time of the rapture is no more dependent upon our good behavior than at the initial moment of our salvation. From beginning to end, God allows no room for anyone to claim credit for ourselves. No one has a cause for boasting because of good works.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The basis of our salvation is the righteousness of Jesus. As believers we are already “holy and blameless before” God simply because of our position in Christ (Eph. 1:3-4). We add nothing to our salvation from start to finish.
The claim that any believer needs further purification insults God’s work on our behalf and implies that Jesus’ righteousness applied to our account leaves us lacking to enjoy the final redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23-25). The partial rapture teaching insults the work of Jesus on our behalf.
The Partial Rapture Contradicts Paul’s Promise in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10
Another reason to oppose the teaching of a partial rapture is its blatant contradiction of God’s Word. For the purposes of this article, I will just cite one passage from Scripture that contradicts the doctrine of a partial rapture.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, Paul writes, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
The wrath in this text belongs to the day of the Lord or what we refer to as the tribulation. In these verses we have the Lord’s promise that He will come for His church before the wrath of this day begins, which I believe solidifies our belief in the pretribulation rapture.
When Jesus returns, He delivers both those who are “awake or asleep” from God’s wrath that is coming upon the world. Since Paul just wrote about the rapture including both living saints and the “dead in Christ” (1 Thess. 4:16-17), many carry that same meaning to 5:10 thinking it refers to both dead and living saints.
While it’s true the rapture will include both living and dead saints, that is not what Paul refers to in 1 Thessalonians 5:10.
The Greek verb Paul uses for “awake” in this verse is gregoreo, which denotes alertness. In 5:6, Paul uses the word along with that of being “sober” to portray the idea of temperance in our walk with the Lord versus that of drunkenness or carelessness. Jesus used gregoreo in Matthew 24:42 and Mark 13:35 to command our watchfulness for His return.
It’s the sense of watchfulness and sober living that the apostle characterizes as being “awake” in 1 Thessalonians 5:10 rather than the sense of being physically alive. Paul is referring back to the immediate context.
What about those whom Paul characterizes as being “asleep?” Who are these people?
The word Paul uses for sleep in in 5:10 is katheudo. This word can refer to someone who is physically asleep, but it’s rarely used of someone who had died. Of the 22 times this word appears in the New Testament, there is only one time when it seems to apply to someone who had died.
Earlier in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul uses katheudo with definite moral implications applying the word to believers who are not walking with the Lord or watching for His return (v. 6). It’s the opposite of someone not careful about how he or she behaves as a believer.
This is not the same word Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16 “asleep” in regard to a believer who has died. Paul’s choice of a different word in 5:10 further indicates to us that the contrast in this verse is not between living and dead saints, but rather with those who are watching for Jesus’ return versus those who are not careful about their walk with the Lord.
The sense of 1 Thessalonians 5:10 is that both those who are alert spiritually as well as those who are not will be included in the rapture; Jesus will not leave any true saint behind whether they remain watchful for His appearing or not.
I know this might be hard for some, but what Paul is saying in this verse is that all true believers will participate in the rapture regardless of the closeness of their walk with the Lord or watchfulness at the time it occurs.
Why Walk with the Lord?
At this point you might be wondering why you should walk with the Lord. If Jesus will whisk all those who know Him to heaven when He appears, what difference does it make if I walk with Him?
It makes a huge difference.
The New Testament teaches that all believers will give an account of their lives to Jesus (Rom. 14:12; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 4:12-13). Faithful service will be rewarded (1 Cor. 15:58); saints who neglect their spiritual gifts and opportunities to serve the Lord with those provisions will suffer loss at the judgment seat of Christ, but they will not lose their salvation or miss out on the rapture.
In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul writes of a special reward for “all who have loved his appearing.” Even though the apostle died long before Jesus’ return, the Lord will reward Paul for remaining watchful for His appearing. A special reward awaits those who remain alert to the Lord’s imminent return.
Another factor consists of the changes God makes in the lives of those who belong to Him. We become a “new creation” according to 2 Corinthians 5:17. The Holy Spirit regenerates those of us at the moment of our salvation and afterward acts as a force within us, motivating us to serve the Lord. This does not mean we do not sin, but that we feel uncomfortable remaining in that state for a lengthy amount of time.
Our identity as holy and blameless children of God (Eph. 1:3-14) also enables us to resist sin and motivates us to serve the Lord.
The bottom line is this: no matter where true saints of the Lord are at in their walk with Him, they will receive glorified bodies when Jesus comes for His church. Regardless of their watchfulness at the time of Jesus’ return or the closeness of their walk with Him when He appears, they will participate in the rapture.
I do not have all the answers, but I know two things for sure. First, God’s justification of the sinner is permanent and leads to glorification (Rom. 8:30-39). Nothing can break that chain. We are secure in Christ.
Second, Jesus will not leave behind any saint who possesses His righteousness as a result of God’s irreversible verdict in justifying us when we were sinners.
No true believer will miss out in the rapture.
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