Have you ever heard someone say, “God is a gentleman; He would never force someone into heaven who doesn’t want to go?” If that’s true, and many of us believe it is, then why do we insist that God will force Christians (i.e. those who are truly saved versus those who simply consider themselves Christians), who don’t believe in the Rapture, in fact, who, may actually mock it, to go to heaven at that time when Jesus comes in the clouds to snatch away His church? Doesn’t that go against this truism that everyone believes?
I’ve recently been exploring this question of Whom Will God Rapture? in a series of articles. It’s controversial. I’ve had people write dumping various Scriptures on me, even some contesting that there is a Rapture. In these various responses, no one has shown me any Bible passages that conclusively demonstrate that salvation equals Rapture.
As I’ve tried to make clear, the way my thinking has moved is that I think someone can be saved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be Raptured. Where does the Biblical text say that? Actually, there are a number of parables that argue against that possibility. I discussed that when I examined the Parable of the Virgins. There are others. Today I want to examine Jesus’ own words to the seven churches in Revelation.
Before I do that, however, let me simply make two observations. In the Exodus, every Israelite was told and knew that they must apply the blood of the lamb on their doorposts in order to escape the avenging angel when it passed over. Do you think all did? Or might there have been some Israelites who scoffed at that? What would have happened to those mockers? Without the blood, they would have lost their firstborn. Surely, this happened given human nature with its unbelief. They still joined in the Exodus, but they paid the price in great tears for not adhering to the Word of the Lord.
We know that in the Tribulation, which has as its primary purpose the salvation of the Jews, many in Israel will not turn to Jesus as Messiah. Zechariah 13:8-9 says:
In the whole land, declares the Lord,
two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
We might look at this as a salvation issue; however, couldn’t we also consider it from a Rapture-like perspective? One-third of the Jews will be saved, i.e. Raptured into the Millennium. The other two-thirds, those who didn’t believe, those who mocked, are left behind, in this case, to suffer death. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it has some analogous potential.
With that introduction, let’s turn to the churches in Revelation. Many commentators agree that these churches represent not only the original, actual churches but also potentially seven eras of church history, and a foreshadowing of seven types of churches that may apply today to individual believers. First let’s look at the Philadelphia church in Revelation 3:7-13, the one most closely aligned with the Rapture. To save a little space in this post, I’ll summarize what Jesus says to them and to the other churches as we examine their situations.
To Philadelphia, Jesus knows their faith, how they’ve kept His Word, and haven’t denied God. They have little strength, yet they persist in belief with patient endurance against those who came against them. Jesus promised, to this church alone, that He would keep them from the wrath to come.
We’ll go to the end with the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:14-22. They say they’re rich. Indeed, they’ve prospered and need nothing. But they’re actually wretched, poor, blind, and naked. Jesus commands them to buy gold refined by fire and to wear white garments so as to clothe themselves in His holiness. He urges them to buy eye salve. Why? So that their eyes might be anointed and opened. He loves them, but will reprove and discipline them. Jesus stands at the door and knocks, but what happens to those who don’t answer and get right with Him?
Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6 has a reputation for being alive, but they are actually dead. Their works aren’t complete. If they don’t wake up, Jesus will come like a thief in the night against them.
The church of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29 has done many good works, but they’ve entertained and tolerated serious immorality. They eat foods sacrificed to idols. If they don’t repent, Jesus will throw them into the sickbed of tribulation, even strike their children dead. Only a few don’t hold to this church’s heretical teachings and gain Jesus’ approval.
In Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17 Jesus declares that He will war against them with the sword of His mouth, that is, with the Word of God because of their heresies and idol worship.
Suffering Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11 is the only church besides Philadelphia not to receive condemnation and the threat of consequences for their actions. They have suffered much persecution and tribulation; thus, they will receive the crown of life.
Finally, Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7 has abandoned its first love, i.e. Jesus and all He represents. If they don’t repent, He will remove their lampstand. The lampstand symbolically represents the church itself as Revelation 1:20 notes. This church will completely lose its status as a church without repentance.
What’s the application of these churches to today? The churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna are those which love God, His Word, and are faithful without condemnation and without consequences for their sin. They are what I would describe as the true church. Those in Philadelphia eagerly anticipate Christ as their blessed hope. These are believers who look up and desire the soon return of Jesus. Smyrna are those in countries that severely punish believers in Jesus Christ, yet hold firmly to Him despite persecution and death. Their tribulation and faithful endurance keep them firmly in Christ’s grasp. They, like the Philadelphia believers, will be Raptured; I don’t think there is any doubt about their meeting with Jesus in the clouds when He comes.
Here’s a point, however, I’d like you to consider. Do you believe that every believer today fits the profile of the Philadelphia church? I certainly don’t. A remnant, holding on for dear life while faithfully keeping God’s Word? Don’t many believers—be honest now—actually look more like the description of the condemned churches? If this is true, then what about the promise of keeping them from the wrath to come? It only applies to Philadelphia (and, I argue, Smyrna). Every other church, i.e. effectively those who look like those other churches in the practice of their faith, aren’t promised delivery from God’s wrath. The Bible simply never says that.
Believers (once again I stress these are saved) who fit the profile of the other five churches are the ones I believe are at risk of missing the Rapture and going into the Tribulation. Each of these church types has serious issues in the eyes of God. He warns each one of them that unless they get their act together and their heart right with Him, there are consequences.
Laodicean believers: Jesus will reprove and discipline.
Sardis: He will come like a thief in the night. Where have we heard that before? 1 Thessalonians 5:2:
For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
2 Peter 3:10:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
The Rapture will be an absolute surprise to Sardis-type believers. When the thief comes, it’s never a good thing.
Thyatira: This is highly representative of the Catholic church. Think about Mary idolatry. Think about the Eucharist, i.e. eating foods sacrificed to idols. What is the sickbed of tribulation if not THE Tribulation?
Pergamum: They earn Jesus’ wrath to the extent that He wars against them with His Word.
Ephesus: The threat is loss of church status.
All these churches are types and shadows of Christians today in various stages of apostasy or heretical belief against God’s clear Word that Jesus will return prior to the 2nd coming for those who desire Him to return. How many of these other church type believers want Jesus to Rapture them? Most don’t believe in the Rapture, many think it is the same as the 2nd coming, thus not anything that pertains to them, or they actually mock those of us who eagerly anticipate being airlifted from this lost and dying world.
Is the Rapture escapism? Sure, why not? Why would any believer not want the Rapture unless he loves the world more than Christ? In that case, why wouldn’t Jesus allow this believer to experience what the world really is, a place of lawlessness and unbelief? Doesn’t Jesus want His church to be purified as silver and gold? Doesn’t He want His bride to actually want to be with Him?
Here’s Isaiah 30:19-20:
For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.
God does not hesitate to give His children affliction and adversity if they need it in order to truly turn their hearts to Him. The Bible teaches that great apostasy comes in the last days. We are seeing that. Churches are dropping like flies into the ointment of false teachings. Too many believers are having their itching ears satisfied with unbiblical doctrine. This world is their best life now. The church will Christianize the whole world and hand Jesus this marvelous present when He returns. If we don’t enforce social justice or care of the environment, we’re not living for God. Not, and double not.
Nobody, except a few today, want Jesus to come soon. Somebody, please tell me—reason with me from the Scriptures; don’t just throw verses at me—why Jesus won’t give these believers exactly what they desire? And what is it they want? To stay in this world when the rest of us depart because their eyes are on that which is here around them; not on Jesus Himself.