Who Will Be Raptured?
It's a hotly debated topic that scares Christians more than non-Christians and causes great fear and confusion all around: who will be counted worthy to escape before the Tribulation (Rev. 3:10, Luke 21:36)? Who will be raptured? I've been scared myself by this question because I know that I'm not perfect. I strive to be perfect, but I, like Paul, still battle against this body of sin and death (Romans 7:21-25).
If the level of worthiness that God requires for us to be raptured is our own perfection and sinlessness then neither you nor I have any hope of making it on the "Ark". I will argue that rapture-readiness and salvation belong to the same undivided group of individuals, which is the Body of Christ, and that rapture-readiness and salvation are both predicated on the same thing: genuine belief in, and personal acceptance of, the Gospel. Rapture-readiness is by grace through faith, just as salvation is by grace through faith.
First, I want to share with you the scary words of the supposed prophet David Wilkerson. Wilkerson is one of the most famous "prophets" from this past century and his "prophecies" have been widely disseminated throughout the Christian community, greatly influencing such popular teachers as Michael Snyder and even revered by huge ministries like Christianity Today, Charisma News, and World Net Daily. Already a popular evangelist in the New York City area, Wilkerson's "prophecies" rose to prominence as certain details from them were seemingly "fulfilled". I won't get into the details of those, but here is what the Lord supposedly told Wilkerson in a dream in 1998 regarding the rapture:
I am being gathered by the angel of the Lord, the chariots of the Lord, there are thousands upon thousands, the coming of the Lord is as lightening is from the east to the west...there was a sense of swiftness, but it was almost as I was seeing it in slow motion, this lightning coming, I was seeing it in slow motion, I didn't see a driver, I didn't see an angel, I didn't see the conveyance, I just had a sense, I knew I was being carried and taken and it was moving swiftly, and people were being snatched from homes and from the streets.
And I remember specifically going into a particular home and there were 3 people that I recognized, 2 were friends and 1 was a family member, and we went right by, and there was as sense, a sudden sense, oh God, they were being left behind, and the Lord allowed me to, for a few fleeting moments, to sense the terror of what it would be like to be left behind when the angels of the Lord come and gather His elect from the 4 winds.
I was made to know at that time that even those who call themselves Christians, and were not really Christians, who despised the grace of God went out and sinned and said I can easily confess, never did forsaking their sin, there was a sense that even though they were sleeping they were aware, there was an awareness that the Lord is coming and there is a sudden moment because I saw hands being raised, people reaching out and waving.
In fact as we kept moving on there were people that were moving and trying to get the attention of this driver, this conveyance, and I was screaming and yelling get out in the open, as if I thought if they were out in the open they could be seen and get caught up but it went swiftly on, but there was a sense that I have never experienced in my life, even though all my life my father taught on the coming of the Lord, my grandfather taught on the coming of the lord, taught about it.
The bible says we shall all be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, suddenly we're going to be changed, the bible says, this corrupt body shall put on an incorrupt body just like His. And the bible says that we are to be prepared and ready, expecting, the bible says He is coming for those who look for His appearing. And those who are expecting, even though sleep they are going to be caught, if it's in the middle of the night.
Now I'm not going to be get into the doctrine of the rapture, when this happens, before the tribulation, middle of the tribulation or after the tribulation, I am just telling you I had a sense of the horror it's going to be for those who knew the gospel, who had one appeal after another, who knew the grace and the mercy of God and they were not ready. They were not taken, they were not gathered in this, and I remember the swiftness of moving, and seeing the people left behind, the conveyance just passing by, and this terrible sense. Lord I know I'm saved, I know I'm redeemed, I'm going home, but those 2 friends and that member of my family... and there was a terror. Two shall be sleeping in a bed, one shall be taken the other left...watch therefore He's coming as a thief in the night. He's coming folks.
Earlier in my walk, when I was more unsure of the confidence I now have in Christ, and before I understood the imputed righteousness of Christ (Phil. 3:9, Romans 3:22, 4:3, 4:5, 4:24, 2 Cor. 5:21), this very "prophecy" caused me ongoing angst and fear. I felt as though I could never measure up to what Wilkerson described. It wasn't a rapture predicated on faith in Christ, but one on works and actively watching for Christ's return.
Yet after Wilkerson died in a car crash in 2011, I eventually discovered that he was very likely a false prophet. I hesitate to use that label unequivocally, but he made a number of specific "prophetic" statements that did not come to pass. Christians continue to read and teach several of his generic "prophecies" that coincidentally came to pass, while ignoring the numerous ones that did not. That is a big problem (see Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
False Prophecy #1: In David Wilkerson's newsletter "In the Solomon Church" from December 19, 1994 (in Polish here), he claims that by 1999 there would no longer be any gospel television networks:
Right now I sense in my spirit that in less that 5 years there will be no more so-called gospel television networks. They will all fall into bankruptcy and absolute ruin.
This did NOT happen. This was a FALSE prediction. TBN, CBN, GOD TV, and other networks still remain on the air all the way into 2017.
False Prophecy #2: In David Wilkerson's newsletter "A Prophetic Warning to New York City" from October 8, 2001 he quoted from a prophecy he made in his September 7, 1992 newsletter, in which he claimed that by 1993 fires would engulf New York City and 100,000 rioters would fill the streets. He even claimed the exact cause would be "Federal and State Welfare cutbacks":
I have had recurring visions of over 1,000 fires burning at one time here in New York city. I am convinced RACE RIOTS WILL SOON EXPLODE! New York City is right now a powder keg-ready to blow!...federal and State Welfare cutbacks will be the spark that ignites the fuse. NEXT YEAR, New York City could have over 100,000 angry men on the streets, enraged because they have been cut off from benefits....Federal troops will have to move in to restore order. New York City will have tanks running down its avenues....Churches will be closed for a season because it will be too dangerous to travel about. Fires will rage everywhere.
This did NOT happen. This was a FALSE prediction. This definitely did not happen in 1993 or in any year since and though one day fires may indeed engulf New York City, it won't be from angry rioters in the streets wanting their welfare - it will be from the judgment of God.
Most disturbing is that Wilkerson continued to push the above prediction in a revised fashion even years after it didn't happen when he expected it to happen.
False Prophecy #3: David Wilkerson gave a "prophecy" from his cover letter on May 1, 2000 in which he claimed an irreversible financial crash was imminent:
For the last two years I have been crying aloud, warning all who would hear that America is receiving her last call and that judgment is at the door. I did not say this was the end of the nation, but the last call before a financial crash.
Previously, on April 15, 2000, he had given another false prediction:
I am writing this letter to you on Saturday, April 15th, 2000. I have on my desk the headlines in yesterday's paper: "BLACK FRIDAY - BIGGEST ONE-DAY DROP IN HISTORY." The Dow fell 618 points - the Nasdaq fell 355. I do not know what is coming in the next sixty days. If the market bounces back, I can assure you it will be temporary. THE CRASH IS INEVITABLE - NOTHING CAN STOP IT.
This did NOT happen. This was a FALSE prediction. In fact, this one was so obviously false that Wilkerson admitted he was wrong and openly admitted he might be a false prophet. The short-lived market drop was completely reversed and on May 22, 2000, markets reached record highs and in fact didn't begin substantially dropping until after the next year's September 11th disaster. That also was reversed before the 2008 crash, which in turn was reversed, as well.
In prayer, I have told the Lord I am ready at any time to confess I am wrong - that I must have spoken from my own fears or that I have spoken unadvisedly. Recently, when the market reached record highs, I wondered if those calling me a false prophet were right.
There were other false predictions made, including one about the immediate need for Christians to store up a 30-day supply of food in 2009 or 2010 for an imminent disaster in the United States. In addition to false predictions, Wilkerson's teachings were filled with a number of exegetical and theological issues, yet he is still held in high esteem by big ministries and students of Bible prophecy. His false prophecies/predictions have caused great (and false) fear in the Church and caused Believers (myself included) to question their salvation.
Going back to his rapture dream, I can now see several severe theological errors. First, his description of grace is very clearly defined as holy living rather than biblical unmerited favor/mercy/imputed righteousness/forgiveness. Second, he defines being rapture-ready as actively watching for the Lord's return rather than, or in addition to, faith in Christ. Third, he clearly says he doesn't know if the rapture occurs before, during, or after the tribulation, yet he unequivocally associates it with a post-tribulation Scripture (Matthew 24:31). And fourth, though he describes the rapture as a relatively quick process, people are described as aware of the event as it happens and waving their hands around so that the "conveyance" doesn't leave them behind. To the contrary, the Bible says that the rapture will take place in a single moment, "in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15:52).
I won't rehash the faith vs works argument here, suffice to say that grace is what makes Christianity unique. God stepped in and saved us when we couldn't (and still can't) save ourselves. He paid the price completely for us (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). I don't much appreciate when supposed Believers try to mix grace and works (Romans 11:6). The Bible clearly says that if you think your entrance into Heaven is based on your holy living and perfection then you had better understand that God gets to define what holy living and perfection actually are: if you break a single law even one time, you are guilty of breaking the entire law and your works-righteousness will be exposed for the hypocrisy it is (James 2:10, 3:2, Galatians 5:3, Jude 1:24). Don't just pay lip service to Jesus' death for your sins and resurrection while what you really think is that you're getting in the door based on all your confessing, amending, good works, and asceticism. I fear that you will be stopped at the door and found to be without the God-bestowed wedding garments (Matthew 22:12-13).
The Lord Jesus Christ died a brutal and gory death because of your filth, so you best run to Him, acknowledging your desperate and dire need for Him. Only His merits are sufficient to get you in the door. Consider Romans 10:3-10:
Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Now regarding the rapture, there are also those who proclaim a belief in salvation through faith alone, yet believe in a partial-rapture - that is a rapture of more ready/more worthy/more readily watching Christians. The rest of the Believers will be saved, but only through martyrdom during the Tribulation. Dr. John Walvoord and Dr. Tony Garland completely dismantle this minority opinion. The Body of Christ will not be divided.
Some of the partial-rapture proponents argue that only those who are spiritually "awake" and watching for Jesus' coming will be taken, however a strong exegetical case can be presented against this view from 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11:
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
In this passage the Apostle Paul compares being asleep to being unaware of the Lord's soon return. Believers should be awake, yet he clearly says that Jesus died for us and so whether we are aware of His imminent return or not, we will be gathered to Him. Elsewhere in Scripture, such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13, sleep is used to describe Believers who have died, but that is not what 1 Thessalonians 5:10 is referring to. The Greek word here is katheudó (Strong's 2518), which means real sleep. Paul is using it as a symbol. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 the word is koimaó (Strong's 2837), which can mean real sleep or the sleep of death. 1 Thessalonians 5:10 is not talking about Believers who have already died who will later be resurrected and joined by living Believers - the passage is talking about all Believers being gathered together with Christ, whether watching or not.
Another problem with this sola fide partial-rapture view is the logical dilemma it creates in regards to those Christians who have already died. It seems pretty clear that the only two groups to experience a resurrection at the end of the Tribulation are Tribulation Saints (Rev. 20:4) and Old Testament Saints (Daniel 12:1-2, 12-13). This leaves no Scriptural room for those Christians who have already died, but were not watching or "worthy enough" to then be resurrected at the end of the Tribulation. In other words, if the partial-rapture view is correct, God will distinguish between the living worthy and not-worthy-enough Christians at the rapture, but not those Christians who have already died. To the contrary, all the living and all the sleeping Believers will be changed and caught up together - that is not to say everyone who merely professes a belief in Christ, but only those who genuinely believe in and trust Christ alone for salvation.
So who will be raptured?
I believe, based on my study of Scripture, that it will be every person who genuinely believes that Jesus died for their sins and rose again - those who look to Christ alone for salvation. For this reason, according to Romans 10:5-7, only two persons can know whether you are ready or not: you and God:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. - 1 John 5:13
Then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart), - 1 Kings 8:39
I also believe a strong case could be made that many or even most young children will also be raptured, but the Bible is relatively silent on this topic, so we simply need to defer to God's perfect love and goodness.
So who will be left behind?
- Those who have consciously rejected the Gospel.
- Those who are ignorant of the Gospel (but perhaps not young children).
- Those who claim to be Christian yet believe that there are other "paths" to God (in other words, Christianity works for me, but Judaism, Buddhism, or Islam are fine for you) - this view denies your inherent need for Christ.
- Those who claim to be Christian and those who perhaps even believe that Jesus is the only way, yet believe the way to God in Christianity is through works - this view denies the Gospel itself.
- Those who claim to be Christian yet it is just a claim of association, usually because their parents or relatives were. They live in perpetual sin, unaware of their desperate need for God's forgiveness through Christ.
In short, there will be many left behind inside and outside of Christianity, but it will be based on whether or not a person has genuine belief in, and exclusive loyalty to, Christ. There are a great, great many who call themselves "Christian", but have never actually accepted the Gospel. They believe in "soft universalism" or just being a good person and going to church or they find some sort of satisfaction in affiliation with the Christian religion, yet don't understand the message at the very heart of Christianity, which is the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
In the letters to the churches in Revelation, the Apostle John repeatedly writes of the Believer's need to overcome (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21). The legalist instantly associates overcoming with their own works and efforts, yet the very author of Revelation records in his gospel and first epistle what it really means to overcome:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. - John 16:33
And in John's First Epistle:
You, little children, are from God and have overcome them, because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. - 1 John 4:4
For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. - 1 John 5:4
And most importantly:
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. - 1 John 5:5
So be ye ready - through faith in Christ. If you trust in Christ alone for your salvation then be greatly encouraged. Your faith has saved you. If you do not believe in Him, then be terrified and run to Him now. He loves you and will save you if you call upon His name. The door to the ark is closing very, very soon, but you can still get on for free if you get on now.
For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation. - 2 Cor. 6:2
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.