If you remove the Rapture, the world becomes instantly bleaker for evangelicals.
Newsflash: All peoples, Christians and non Christians, will undergo the Final Judgment — No exceptions!
Note to Reader: All articles are written with the assumption the Bible is the inerrant word of God for the sake of argument. I do not believe in the Judeo-Christian God or Jesus divinity which is not to say I do not reserve the possibility, albeit remote, of the existence of something/someone(s) greater or beyond. My intention is to expose the flaws of evangelical thinking — as they see it —from a biblical perspective.
Evangelicals conviction they will never be harshly judged as unbelievers or unfaithful believers hangs entirely on the flimsy theory of The Rapture. It they are wrong, the ramifications are devastating. Many who thing they are saved, will be thrown in hell. And many who are saved will be severely punished and barely survive the flames.
10”By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”(1 Corinthians 3:10-15, cf. Isa. 48:10, Mal. 3:2,3)
(Note: All texts quoted are NIV. Bold and underlined texts have been added for emphasis)
Every Christian who reads this passage should examine their hearts with sobriety and fear. It and many others make the case, any Christian who is less than fully committed runs the risk of severe punishment or worse — eternal damnation — with one glaring exception. Many American evangelicals, otherwise known as Pre-tribulation Christians, believe they will be exempt from both because of the Rapture!
Note to Reader: The term “evangelical” will be employed throughout this and other articles to refer to ANY Christian who subscribes to pre-tribulation, premillennial dispensationalism whether they adopt the evangelical moniker or not.
The following text is considered by evangelicals to describe a “non judgmental” event; whereby, rewards are bestowed (and not bestowed) to already glorified sinless Christians after the Tribulation.
1For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
6Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7For we live by faith, not by sight. 8We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”(2 Corinthians 5:1-10)
Evangelicals are constrained to place this “judgment” at the Second Coming of Jesus separate from the Final Judgment of Revelation 20 though no such bifurcation exists in the minds of the New Testament writers.
These passages in Revelation are considered by evangelicals to be The Final Judgment at the close of the Millennium and are intended for all unbelievers, dead and alive, as well as Millennial converts.
11”Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”(Revelation 20:11-15)
12“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
14“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”(Revelation 22:12-15)
In a previous post, we discussed the Rapture theory espoused by most American evangelicals. It’s most important and popular feature is escapism. Evangelicals are miraculously “plucked” from the earth just before the Great Tribulation begins and glorified in heaven. In so doing, they are obviously already in so there is no fear of eternal damnation. Also, they are in perfect sinless bodies which implies they can’t suffer or feel pain. Therefore, “The Judgment Seat of Christ” is one of receiving rewards and not of being punished.
There was a time I embraced this doctrine because I honestly thought I was living my life in a way that God would one day be proud of. I saw this judgment as positive because I was seeking to please and obey him each day of my life. The thought of receiving a “crown(s)” (see 1 Cor. 9:24,25, 2 Tim. 4:8, 1 Pet. 5:4, Re. 2:10) for my service and then giving them back in gratitude for what Jesus had done for me was exciting, although now I would argue they are symbolic not literal crowns. Striving to earn as many crowns as possible is not why most evangelicals cling to the Rapture theory.
The bulk of evangelicals revel in the freedom the Rapture affords. They are free of fear and judgment. Their eternal hope is secure and God will never punish them (Great White Throne) no matter how lackadaisical and lackluster is their devotion. The worst that can happen is perhaps a feeling of shame for not earning more crowns to give to Jesus.
Contrast this with the doctrine of the Second Coming of Jesus. Nothing creates more committed and faithful believers than believing a day is coming, “Like a thief in the night” when all Christians will have to give an account of their lives. What will be most surprising is many who thought they were “saved” will be cast into the lake of fire. The judgment will expose the many fraudulent Christians who subscribed to the faith to escape hell but end up going there anyway.
In a previous article we examined the difference between saving faith and asking faith. It boils down to attitude, specifically repentance. Unless one demonstrates a mental state of contrition which necessitates a radical change in behavior (an about face), saving grace is not bestowed. Asking isn’t enough if change does take place. This is referred to as “fruit in keeping with repentance”(Mt. 3:8). It is the by-product of genuine saving faith.
5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”(John 15:5-6)
For years as a devout follower of Jesus, I struggled with the evangelical teaching believers had never fear divine judgment at the Rapture. I saw so many Christians living compromised lives without the slightest fear of divine retribution. The Bible seemed to scream at believers to consistently demonstrate good fruit or risk being punished. The parables Jesus taught rang out with exhortations for faithful vigilance lest one be caught unprepared. Why was there such a disconnect among evangelicals between these warnings and tepidness?
Evangelicals have been conditioned to believe you are completely exempt from judgment simply because you “accepted Jesus into their heart.”
Anybody who has studied eschatology knows how dizzying and confusing “End Time Charts” depicting the chronological breakdown of future events can be. No matter how many courses I took, I never seemed to fully grasp it until I stopped being an evangelical. Then everything fell neatly into place.
36“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”(Matthew 24:36)
This text is bewildering for evangelicals since it refers to the Second Coming of Jesus not the Rapture. How could Jesus not know when he himself is returning especially since it is seven years after he comes to claim his church at the Rapture?
13“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”(Matthew 7:13,14)
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”(Matthew 7:21-23)
14“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”(Matthew 22:14)
If I were an evangelical, I would be petrified at these verses unless I was living in total obedience to God. At face value they seem to suggest only “a few” will find the “road that leads to life” and that is based on doing “the will of [God].” But few seemed concerned.
Evangelicals automatically disassociate from the Parable of The Sheep and The Goats and many others describing Jesus return. They will loosely apply it to themselves as showing the importance of being generous and helpful to those in need, but they do not believe it was intended specifically for them. In fact, it is for yet future Christians.
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”(Matthew 25:41-46)
This passage must be analyzed with textual, historical and theological precision to divine its intended meaning.
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”(Matthew 25:31,32)
The clear contextual context is events leading up to the coming (‘parousia’) of “the son of man.” In light of the previous chapter (Matthew 24), his coming follows the Tribulation but not immediately.
In the parable preceding, Matthew describes a man giving his servants bags of gold and then going on a journey and being gone “a long time” (Mt. 25:14,19). He returns to take account of what his servants have done with his money. In the parable before this one, ten virgins go out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom who is “a long time coming”(Mt. 25:19).
Both stories emphasize the dangers of not being prepared for Jesus’ return with a twist. Historically, this material was written not long after the fall of Jerusalem (70AD). Expectations for his return were at a fevered pitch no doubt stoked by men like those who wrote the gospels. In order to restore confidence and arouse faithfulness among those who had become disillusioned and despondent, fear of punishment became the literary tool of choice by these writers.
But who are “the sheep and the goats?” It would be difficult to read Gentile Christians into this passage given Matthew is alleging a period of time before Gentile inclusion had taken place. Jesus’ audience would have been baffled by such a suggestion. Jesus is pictured as delivering this message when Jerusalem was swollen with Passover pilgrims. These were Israelites from throughout the Roman Empire who had converged on the Holy City for the festival.
The key point is: Matthew is describing Jesus prophesying forty year in the future when Jerusalem will fall after Jerusalem has already fallen. Matthew is witnessing the repercussions of Jesus’ failed return on the Jerusalem/Judean church. He is seeking to address these critical issues in his writings.
Many Jewish Christians having abandoned messianic hope are returning to Judaism taking with them their financial support, while those who remain are desperate and in need. The siege has taken a tremendous toll on the city and surrounding area. Virtually every piece of wood, whether tree or structure, was confiscated by Titus and his army to fuel his war machine. The city and economy are in ruin, the Temple destroyed and ten of thousands of Israelites are dead, enslaved or have been sold as slaves, imprisoned, banished or consigned to the gladiatorial ring.
There had never been a “better” time in recent history for Jews to come to the aid and support of each other than in the aftermath of 70AD. Matthew places these words on Jesus’ lips for authority. It is to instill fear of divine judgment in believers for leaving the faith or becoming lethargic, indifferent or irresponsible because when Jesus returns, it will be too late.
Jesus will gather “all the nations,” Jews, Gentiles and Christians for judgment and begin separating them as a shepherd separates his sheep and goats. The single determining factor is whether you are “righteous” (vs. 37) which is described as performing acts of charity for others.
Matthew chapter thirteen also records several parables about, “The kingdom of heaven” (or ‘God’) where the contrast between “the righteous” and “the wicked” is also stressed.
41”The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”(Matthew 13:41-43)
49”This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous.”(Matthew 13:49)
30“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth [or, “all the tribes of the land”] will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”(Matthew 24:30,31, cf. use of “elect,” vs. 22,24)
14”And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”(Matthew 24:14)
As previously mentioned, Gentile Christians are not part of this teaching because in Matthew’s mind, the Gentile branch of Christianity was illegitimate. Therefore he is describing the judgment of all Gentiles without exception, Jews who have not accepted Jesus’ messiahship and Jews who had accepted Jesus’ messiahship but had lapsed in their faith.
Various textual clues found throughout this discourse alert us to Matthew’s exclusive Jewish emphasis. For instance, Matthew has chosen to couch Jesus teaching before his death and before Gentile participation in the gospel was remotely considered. Second, “The elect” (vs. 22,24,31) are a Judaistic term and was later coopted by Paul after persistent Jewish rejection of the gospel. If intended here, Jesus’ audience would be bewildered. Furthermore, it is clear from the convening of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), Jesus disciples, including Matthew, were oblivious to the concept of the Gentile gospel outside the parameters of the legal system and stringently opposed Paul’s perversion of the original gospel.
34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”(Matthew 25:34)
It is inconceivable this text which is packed with messianic imagery (king, kingdom, inheritance) would not resonate with a Jewish audience. Gentiles are not in Matthew’s mind.
The phrase, “All the peoples of the earth” is an interpretive decision by Christian translators injecting a doctrinal bias. It is more accurately rendered, “All tribes of the land” denoting the twelve tribes of Israel. Matthew is here suggesting a collective sense of regret among Israelites for rejecting Jesus and conspiring in his death when he returns as “the son of man.”
Failing to consider the sense of desperation the floundering Jewish wing of Christianity was under when interpreting these texts is a disservice to sound hermeneutics. These evangelists had but one last excuse to make on behalf of their absentee messiah to save the Judean church.
They proffered his protracted delay was a test of faith. His followers were to see him reflected in those who were most needy and desperate, and attend to them as if they were helping Jesus himself. In this way, although Jesus was gone in body, he had never left in spirit. Those who failed in their obligation to the needy would be faced with a harsh reality when Jesus, “The king” (vs. 34), returned.
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”(Matthew 25:41)
So for evangelicals, these texts are good news, bad news. The good news is they are meant exclusively for the Jewish nation in light of the coming Messianic kingdom and their obligation to the needy. Those who ignore the plight of the destitute will themselves be judged by eternal fire along with the Gentile nations. The bad news is, according to Matthew, all Gentiles regardless of whether you’re part of Paul’s Christianity will inherit the same fate as “the devil and his angels.”
Evangelical’s attempts to insert the Rapture into these texts create an eschatological quagmire of confusion. Early Christian understanding of Jesus’ return was simple and straightforward. He could come back at any time so one had better be ready. The events (Tribulations) of 70AD first seemed to signal his return but resulted in yet another delay. The gospel writers offered one final promise of Jesus appearing within their lifetime and died never having seen it. The book of Revelation, written several decades after these would revive interest again in the language of apocalypticism. “John’s” work was sparked by Roman persecution and the exaltation of its emperor and perhaps the return from the dead of Nero.
Meanwhile Gentile Christianity was drifting further apart from its Jewish parentage leaving behind most of the carnal Judaistic nature of the messianic kingdom. These Christians were unfazed by a non returning messiah or restored kingdom. In fact, they saw it as evidence of divine disapproval for rejecting the messiah they gladly received. With no anticipation of a literal kingdom by many Christian leaders, the concept of a spiritual kingdom was conceived. Yahweh had abandoned his people and chosen a new people who are the spiritual descendants of Abraham through Christ and benefactors of all the ancient promises.
26”So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”(Galatians 3:26-29)