So, I did a bad thing this past week.
I googled “what if I miss the rapture?”
For those who are not familiar with what I’m talking about, “the rapture” is a central piece of a dispensational reading of Revelation. The idea goes that when Jesus returns, he will come back secretly first and take all Christians up to heaven (i.e., “the rapture”). All non-Christians and Christian posers who missed the rapture would then be “left behind” to suffer through what people call “the tribulation”–a seven year period of pandemonium and earthquakes and bloodshed.
So, as I said, I made the unwise choice of googling “what if I miss the rapture?”
One of the hits was a 70 minute message by Benny Hinn by that very title, but I wasn’t worried enough to pay the $8 to find out his advice. Another top result was a 2017 article at Charisma News by Dr. Dave Williams titled: “What To Do If You Miss the Rapture.” It begins: “If you are reading this after the rapture has occurred, it’s because you weren’t ready.”
Williams then proceeds to give his best 20 pieces of advice for surviving in a left behind scenario. Here are some of the highlights: #2 Get rid of your cell phone (he recommends chucking it into a river or lake, mafia-style), #3 Do not kill yourself, #8 Don’t go to church (think about it, only false teachers will be left behind), #9 Get a small, self-powered radio, and (the obvious one) #13 Refuse to take a mark, a name, a number, or a chip in your right hand or your forehead: “Once you get it, you will belong to Satan forever.”
It was all a bit too familiar.
In some ways, those two words sum up the angst of a millennial growing up in youth group around Y2K. End Times everything was so hot back then. The world was supposed to end in the year 2000–something about all the computers exploding at midnight. Nineties Christian subculture did a good job of harnessing that fear as Revelation charts fluttered in church lobbies, and the Left Behind novels flew up the New York Times Bestsellers lists.
Tribulation-themed movies, messages, and Judgment Houses were all the rage. It was the wild west of “by-any-means-necessary” evangelism. DC Talk’s rendition of “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” still haunts my youth group memories to this day.
Rather than preaching that Christ–not the sincerity of a person’s faith–was the foundation of eternal assurance, youth speakers leaned heavy on this terrifying notion: “What if you’re not ready? What if you get left behind?” In moments of emotional distress, many of us made yet another decision for Christ–just in case we weren’t sincere the first dozen times. And we all know how sincere promises in moments of emotional distress can be.
I mean, really, who wants to be left behind?
An Ancient Fear.
All of this flooded back as I was studying Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians this past week. I was surprised to find that this fear of somehow missing the return of Jesus–of being left behind–is actually a very old phobia. 1 and 2 Thessalonians are the earliest New Testament books, written only fifteen or twenty years after Jesus’s ascension. Apparently, apocalyptic hysteria was already creeping into the church: Is it possible to miss the return of Jesus? What if the day of the Lord has already happened–or what if it happens, and I get left behind?
Paul addresses this fear in no uncertain terms:
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”2 Thessalonians 2:1-2
Paul does not feed fear. He confronts falsehood and flattens it. Regardless of the source, whether a popular preacher or revered set of novels or even a wrong-headed fervor passing through the churches, “…we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2:2). What if I miss the rapture? Paul’s response is, “You can’t, you haven’t, and you won’t.”
Essentially, Chapter 2 begins: “…per my last email.” Paul has already explained this in his first letter. What the Thessalonians need—and what you and I need—is to stand firm in the truth he’s already taught us. Do not be easily shaken.
Just one or two pages back in your Bibles, or a few swipes up on your phone, you’ll find 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, particularly verses 16-18, where Paul explains,
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
When fears of missing the return of Jesus creep into our minds, whatever the source, these words from 1 Thessalonians 4 are the ones we are supposed to cling to.
No, we do not know when Jesus will return, but when he returns we will all know it. The sound of Christ’s return will be like a bull in a china shop, like the blue angels at a Nascar race, like a toddler when you shush him: “…a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (4:16). No one in all of the universe will miss the return of Jesus.
When the Jesus who was hung on a cross and put in the ground, when the Jesus who was raised from the dead and exalted to the throne of the Father in Heaven returns in his glory, every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Stand in Hope and Fight for Holiness.
Friends, do not be so quickly shaken. Any sermon, any book, any preacher, any “Christian” resource that causes you to fear that maybe you could miss the return of Jesus and our gathering to be with him is false. It is an attempt of Satan to rob you of your hope. Paul warns in his next words to the Thessalonians: “Let no one deceive you in any way” (2 Thess. 2:3).
The Apostle John concurs in his first epistle:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”1 John 3:2-3
This is why Satan wants to shake us. If he can rob us of our hope, he can rob us of our holiness. According to John, hope for tomorrow ought to motivate us to holiness today. Our battle against sin today depends on our unshakeable faith that when Jesus returns, we know that we will behold him.
Put those fears aside about being left behind or missing the day of his return. Instead, fill your minds with the fight for purity and holiness. Do not be easily shaken about tomorrow, so that you can fight with courage and boldness today.