“Left Behind”?: The Truth about the Rapture
Compiled from the writings of David Brandt Berg
Matthew chapter 24 is quite clear on the subject of Jesus’ Second Coming, when He is going to return to gather all those who have received Him as their Savior and take them with Him back to Heaven—an event commonly referred to as “the Rapture.” The rest of the Bible is also clear on when this happens. That’s why for nearly 1,800 years practically every Christian believed Jesus would come back after the period He refers to as “Great Tribulation”—three and a half years of intense persecution.
It’s only in the last couple of hundred years that people like C.I. Scofield (1843-1921) came along with the false doctrine that Jesus would come before the Tribulation. “Don’t worry, Jesus is going to come and take you out of this world before the trouble comes, so you won’t have to suffer.” Naturally that became a very popular doctrine because it was just what everybody had been waiting to hear.
From my experience, many Christians who say they believe in the pre-Tribulation Rapture just don’t want to have to go through the Tribulation and aren’t the least bit prepared for it, so they come up with their own interpretation of the Scriptures or latch onto someone else’s false teaching. But the Bible specifically says not to do that. “No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). I don’t care what other religious groups or other Christians say; what does the Bible say?
In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples ask Him what will be the sign of His return, and Jesus answers with not one but a number of signs—wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, persecution of Christians, a proliferation of false prophets, lawlessness, a pervading lack of love, and the Gospel being preached in every nation. “Then,” He says, “the end will come” (Matthew 24:4-14).
Beginning with the next verse, Jesus tells us what we can expect during the Great Tribulation—the last three and a half years leading up to His return, which is also the last half of the Antichrist’s reign. Jesus also tells us what specific sign to watch for, so we’ll know exactly when that period is beginning. “When you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place … then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:15,21). We find out in the book of Revelation that this “abomination of desolation” is an image of the Antichrist, or Beast (Revelation 13:14-15). Both Daniel and Revelation tell us that this image will be set up in the holy place at exactly the middle of the Antichrist’s seven-year reign (Daniel 9:27; 12:11; Matthew 24:15-21; Revelation 13:5).
When does Jesus come back for us?—That’s also plain as day: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days” Jesus returns (Matthew 24:29). Jesus doesn’t say that when we see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place He’s about to rescue us out of this world, away from the Antichrist and the trouble to come. He warns us to head for the hills (Matthew 24:16). In other words, we will still be here.
And why did the Lord and the prophets go to so much trouble to tell us exactly how long the Great Tribulation would last—the exact time in terms of days, months, and years—if we didn’t need to know these things, if we won’t be here, counting the days and the weeks? (Daniel 7:25; 12:11; Revelation 13:5). Jesus told us these specifics because He wants us to be able to take heart in knowing that the Tribulation isn’t going to last forever, and that every passing day is bringing us closer to the glorious end.
During the Tribulation, things will get so bad that many people will think it’s time for Jesus to come, especially Christians who were taught that He was supposed to come before the Tribulation. They’re going to expect Him to come any day. But Jesus warns us not to expect Him sooner than has been foretold. He also warns us to not be deceived by either false christs who will try to deceive us into thinking that they are Christ, or by false prophets who will try to tell us that Christ’s coming is imminent or that He’s already here somewhere (Matthew 24:23-26). He tells us to not believe any of them, because when He comes, we will know it!
Some people who teach a pre-Tribulation Rapture go so far as to say that it’s going to be a secret Rapture—that nobody is going to see Him except the saved. Nobody else is even going to know He came. All of a sudden a bunch of us are just going to disappear, and those who are left behind won’t know what’s happened to us.
If the Rapture is supposed to be a secret, why will the Lord make so much noise and put on such a show when He comes? His Word tells us that He’s going to “come in the clouds with great power and glory.” The sky will light up from one end to the other, and there will be such signs in the heavens that we couldn’t possibly mistake the fact that Jesus is coming. In fact, it says that “every eye shall see Him.” Everyone will also see the dead in Christ—all the saved people who have already died—rising to meet Him in the air as He comes. They’ll hear Jesus, too, because He’ll “descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and a great sound of the trump of God.” And why are all of the unsaved going to mourn?—Because they’re going to see and know what’s happening (Matthew 24:27,30; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 1:7). It will be the greatest spectacle the world has ever seen.
That doesn’t sound like a secret coming or secret Rapture to me! Does it to you?
And there it is again, plain as day: After the dead rise to meet the Lord, “then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). If we got raptured before, then what are we doing still here?
One of the Devil’s cleverest tricks has been to deceive Christians into thinking that Jesus is going to rescue them out of this world before the three-and-a-half-year Great Tribulation, because those who believe that are going to be totally unprepared for the Tribulation, and it’s going to shake the faith of some. A lot of Christians who are expecting to get “raptured” (gathered into Heaven at Jesus’ Second Coming) before the Tribulation are going to get the shock of their lives, because that’s not going to happen. Jesus said so Himself: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days … they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31).
After the Tribulation shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in the heavens. After the Tribulation, then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn. After the Tribulation they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. After the Tribulation He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet and they shall gather His elect. That’s when Jesus is going to come for you and me—after the Tribulation, and not a day before!
Why is Jesus going to return?—To gather His “elect,” the eklektos in Greek, the chosen ones, the saved. Christians will have been preaching the Gospel and winning multitudes to the Lord in this time of tribulation. Why would He pull His laborers out before those few years when people will be the most desperate for salvation and there will be one of the greatest harvests of souls ever, when we’ll be “doing exploits and instructing many”? (Matthew 9:37-38; Daniel 11:32-33). And if we’re going to be doing exploits and instructing many during the Tribulation, we must still be here. He is going to need lots of us here to tell the world what’s happening.
But if God loves saved Christians so much, some people reason, why would He let them go through the Tribulation?—To put them to the test. He’s going to test their faith to see if they really believe. Will they be witnesses for Him, or will they be ashamed of Him and try to save their lives by not witnessing? He’s going to purge them and refine them as by fire, His Word says, to make them white (Daniel 11:35).
I’m sorry if you’re disappointed to hear that! I’m sorry if you thought you had it made being a Christian because He’d come and rescue you before anything terrible happened. Well, He’s not going to! The Tribulation is going to put us through the refining fire, but those who have real faith are going to come through like pure gold.
We know the Tribulation is going to be difficult, or it wouldn’t be called the Tribulation. But still, we shouldn’t look ahead to it with trepidation, expecting horrible defeat with nothing but persecution and suffering. It’s going to be primarily a time of great victory over the forces of Satan and tremendous triumph over the anti-Christ wicked. It’s going to be a time of terrible and awesome events, but we are going to have terrible and awesome powers to protect us and defend us and deliver us and keep us going right to the end (Daniel 11:32; Revelation 12:7-11; 17:14). We don’t need to worry or fear, because God is going to take care of His own (Revelation 3:10; 7:1-3; 12:6).
Another false teaching about the Rapture is that it’s only for the “best” Christians. When I was a boy I heard different preachers say, “Some day you’ll come home and find all your loved ones have disappeared.” And sure enough, one day I came home from school and nobody was home. I thought, “Oh my! The Rapture has occurred! My dear sweet mother and father have gone to be with the Lord! They and all the other dear Christians I knew and who helped take care of me were all ready. They loved the Lord and weren’t naughty like me! They’ve already gone to be with the Lord and here I am, left behind and all alone in this big house”—and I practically cried!
What a terrible thing to teach little children (or anyone, for that matter), that even if they love Jesus and are saved, if they’re not good enough, if they didn’t go to church enough or if they commit another sin, they’re not going to be ready for Jesus when He comes, and they’re going to miss the Rapture! The preachers said, “They may be saved, but they’ll be left behind in that terrible Tribulation, because in the Rapture Jesus is only going to take the good people.”
Well, let me tell you, nobody is ever good enough! Nobody can ever love Him enough. Nobody can ever be perfect enough, clean enough, pure enough, or holy enough except by the blood of Jesus Christ, and that’s done the instant you receive Jesus as your Savior. So you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re good enough. If you belong to Jesus, He is going to take you to be with Him when He comes, no matter what.
Nobody who has received Jesus is going to be left behind. Jesus promised to send His angels out to gather us from everywhere, from the four winds, from all around the world, and He won’t leave one behind! He won’t forget one—not one! (Matthew 24:31). Isn’t that wonderful?
So if you have the Lord, you’re ready! Now help others get ready. Pass on the Good News of God’s love and salvation in Jesus to as many as you can. Tell your friends and family and everybody else so they may also be ready for the wonderful event that is soon to take place, when Jesus comes to rescue us out of this world and take us to heavenly places with Him for eternity. Don’t let one be left behind because you failed to tell them!
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