What happens to those who are left behind?

The creators of this site expect a pretribulational Rapture of the Church, the Body of Christ. We also know that many have been led to hear, understand, and believe the Gospel of the grace of God through the reading of these books. For that we are thankful!

However, there is a valid concern regarding the first book of the series which has been voiced by some in the Church. It is a concern we share. Below we make some points from the text of the novel; italics within story text are added for emphasis.

In chapters ten and eleven of Left Behind, we are introduced to Bruce Barnes, an assistant pastor of the church that had been attended by the raptured wife and son of unbeliever Rayford Steele, one of the book’s main characters. Talking over the phone, Barnes informs Steele that,

“Nearly every member and regular attender of this church is gone. I am the only person on the staff who remains” (p. 126).

Steele and his unbelieving daughter Chloe meet Barnes at the church. Speaking of himself Barnes says,

“A few people [church-members who were left behind] wanted to argue with God, trying to tell us that they really had been believers and should have been taken with the others, but we all knew the truth. We had been phony. There wasn’t a one of us who didn’t know what it meant to be a true Christian. We knew we weren’t and that we’d been left behind” (p. 142).

Steele asks Barnes how a pastor could miss the Rapture. Pointing out that Steele’s wife had been a true believer, Barnes confesses,

“I lied…I had a real racket going…and I bought into it. Down deep, way down deep, I knew better…Jesus Christ returned for His true family, and the rest of us were left behind” (pp. 143-144).

Now here’s where the problem really begins, in our opinion. A few pages later, after Chloe hears the Gospel but rejects Barnes’ offer to “pray with you and lead you in how to talk to God about this” [an unbiblical invitation which is a whole other problem] Barnes says,

“I believe God has forgiven me” (p. 147), later saying that he “repented of [his] sins and truly received Christ,” referring to himself as “a brand-new Christian” (p. 161).

The presumably now-saved Barnes gives Steele a videotape the raptured senior pastor made for just this occasion. Speaking of the Rapture itself, the pastor says something very odd:

“You may wonder why this has happened. Some believe this is the judgment of God on an ungodly world. Actually, that is to come later. Strange as this may sound to you, this [the Rapture] is God’s final effort to get the attention of every person who has ignored or rejected Him. He is allowing now a vast period of trial and tribulation to come to you who remain. He has removed His church from a corrupt world…I believe God’s purpose in this [the Rapture] is to allow those who remain to take stock of themselves and leave their frantic search for pleasure and self-fulfillment, and turn to the Bible for truth and to Christ for salvation” (p. 154).

Later the videotape says to the left behind, “The point now is, you have another chance. Don’t miss it” (p. 156).

They are warned of the coming Antichrist, too:

“Pray that God will help you. Receive His salvation gift right now. And resist the lies and efforts of the Antichrist, who is sure to rise up soon. Remember, he will deceive many. Don’t be counted among them” (p. 156).

This section of Left Behind is, we believe, the fundamental problem of this book.

Like LaHaye, we are looking for a pretribulational Rapture of the Church, the Body of Christ. But there is a VERY important biblical fact that an unbeliever reading this book should be aware of, but which Left Behind doesn’t tell them. We ask two questions to illustrate this point:

1) Who does the Bible say will be left behind at the Rapture?

2) Does the Bible give hope of salvation to those left behind at the Rapture?

These two questions can, we believe, be answered by one passage of Scripture. That passage is found in the second letter Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers:

“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the secret of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let [restrains], until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even Him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

This passage is relevant because it deals with three major events depicted in Left Behind: the Rapture of the Church; what happens to those left behind at the Rapture, and the start of the Tribulation/rise of Antichrist.

This passage seems to indicate that those who “received not the love of truth that they might be saved” (and so be part of the Raptured Church) but rather “had pleasure in unrighteousness” will be left behind at the Rapture. This is the fate of Pastor Barnes, and is biblically accurate as far as it goes.

But then Left Behind goes into potentially grievous error. As the rest of the passage teaches, those who had heard and understood the Gospel of the grace of God before the Rapture, but rejected it (as Barnes had), would not be merely “left behind” for their unbelief. Rather, God will also send them “strong delusion” so that they will obey Antichrist, which will eliminate any second chance at salvation:

“And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name’ ” (Revelation 14:9-11).

Thus it appears that professing Christians (outwardly religious folks who knowingly rejected the Gospel prior to the Rapture) not only cannot be saved after the Rapture, but will be caused by God to keep believing lies; this will invariably lead them to obey Antichrist and take his unforgivable mark upon themselves. At what point God sends this “strong delusion” the passage does not state. But given that Gospel rejectors will receive it, it is doubtful that Barnes would be the humble, repentant, newly-saved sinner Left Behind makes him out to be.

So to answer our questions:

1) Who does the Bible say will be left behind at the Rapture of the Church?

All the unsaved; i.e., those who never trusted Christ, and so were never members of His Body, the one true Church.

2) Does the Bible give hope of salvation to those left behind at the Rapture?

It would have to depend on what they had heard of Christ. If they’d never heard of Him, then surely God in His grace will see to it that they hear of Him during the Tribulation. If they had understood the Gospel but rejected it, then Paul’s answer seems to be a definite “no,” especially in light of the delusion sent them by God as judgment for their unbelief.

It should be pointed out, however, that there is an alternative view which bears consideration. Pastor Paul Sadler, president of the Berean Bible Society, has written a book entitled The Triumph of His Grace: Preparing Ourselves for the Rapture. Pastor Sadler observes,

“Some understand from Paul’s words in II Thessalonians 2:8-12 that those who reject the grace of God in this dispensation will not be given a second chance in the coming Day of the Lord” (p. 104).

He believes that this view is without merit:

“As we pass from the dispensation of Grace to the dispensation of Divine Government, the change is going to be abrupt. There will not be a transition period at the close of this dispensation as there was at the beginning of it. When the last member is placed into the Body of Christ and the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, the gospel fo the grace of God will be proclaimed no longer. Following our homegoing, God will reinstate the kingdom gospel at the dawn of the tribulation:

‘And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come’ (Matt. 24:14).

“In this context, then, the truth that men refuse to receive that they might be saved is not the gospel of grace, rather it is the kingdom gospel. It is our firm conviction that those who are left behind after our departure will be given another chance to be saved in the age to come. This is in keeping with the very nature of God who is rich in mercy and ‘…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ (II Peter 3:9). In all probability, the majority of those who fail to receive Christ under grace will continue in unbelief. Nevertheless, the door of salvation will remain open, although it will be much more difficult for a Gentile to be saved since the terms of the kingdom gospel are far more involved” (p. 111-112).

Pastor Sadler is correct that the deciding factor on which of these two views is the correct one depends on the dispensational context of Paul’s warning; i.e., to which Gospel message was Paul referring? Was he saying that those who refuse today’s Gospel of the grace of God (thus missing the Rapture) will go into the Tribulation unsaved and unsavable? Or was Paul referring to people yet future to us, who during the Tribulation period will refuse the salvation message of that day, the Gospel of the Kingdom, and will be compelled to accept Antichrist?

I still lean toward the more traditional interpretation of this passage, but must agree with a statement made by David Reagan of Lamb and Lion Ministries, in a review of Left Behind:

“This passage [2 Thess. 2] seems to teach that people who have rejected the truth before the Rapture will continue to do so. Because of this passage, I cannot say with absolute confidence that those who have rejected the Gospel before the Rapture will have the possibility of accepting it afterwards. I hope Tim LaHaye is right, but I would not want to give such people any false hope” (The Lamplighter, Jan-Feb 2001).

I, too, sincerely hope Tim LaHaye and Paul Sadler are correct. But like Reagan, I would not want to give false hope to those who today hear and understand the Gospel they read in Left Behind or elsewhere, but put off believing it “until later.”

I can remember a time in my pre-Christian life when, in exchange for my grossly sinful lifestyle, I gladly put off even thinking about salvation because I was confident I’d have plenty of chances to take care of it “later.”

I can recall thinking thoughts along the lines of, “I know some hard-core Christians…I’ll wait to see if this Rapture thing happens; if it does, THEN I’ll get right with God! And if it doesn’t happen, I’ll just keep on keeping on.”

To this day I distinctly recall occassions when I was unexpectedly exposed to the Gospel, only to deliberately and immediately force it from my mind.

I don’t know about you, fellow Christian, but I can still remember what NOT wanting to hear ANYTHING about Christ felt like! Believe me: I DID think these thoughts, and this was years before Left Behind was written. But by the grace of God I did not die before “later” came!

And that is the reason I believe Tim LaHaye’s teachings on this facet of the Rapture are – potentially – eternally tragic. Again, I do hope that those who hear and understand the Gospel of grace, but miss the Rapture due to unbelief, will have a second chance to be saved during the Tribulation. But to imply, as Left Behind does, that unbelievers can bet their eternal destiny on the hope of “salvation later” when it is not 100% clear that Scripture supports it — and even though they could still miss the Rapture by dying before it comes! — is not a position in which I would feel comfortable placing myself.



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