Are only committed Christians going in the rapture?
- LJS from Anaconda, MT.
What is the rapture? (Part 1)
The word rapture is not in the Bible so there are those who dismiss the whole idea or wonder what Christians are talking about. You already know about the rapture because you asked the question but for those who don't, let's lay a foundation.
Even though scripture doesn't use the word, the concept is very much in the Bible. We can think of using "rapture" as a kind of shorthand or abbreviation for a very special event that is coming in association with the return of Jesus Christ.
The rapture speaks of that time in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord."
See why we need a shorthand word? Rapture is a good one because one of the dictionary definitions says rapture is a state or experience of being carried away by overwhelming emotion. I can't imagine an event that would better produce such a state for every believer who is caught up into the air at Christ's appearing.
There are many questions and controversies about the rapture. The heart of your question gets at one of them. The big question is: what is the timing of the rapture? Why does that matter? Before the Second Coming there will be a seven year tribulation on the earth culminating in the battle of Armageddon and the triumphant appearing of Christ. At what point in this process does the rapture occur?
Next: Will some be left behind?
Will all go? (Part 2)
The question of whether only committed Christians will go in the rapture is predicated on the rapture occurring in the front end of the seven year tribulation. Otherwise, who would care about the answer to that question?
We care because we all want to avoid the devastating wrath and judgment that will be coming on the earth. We read in Revelation about the seals and trumpets and the bowls of wrath and it is terrifying. We also wonder why the church should have to live through judgment which is designed primarily for unbelievers and those aligned with the Anti-Christ. Won't the church be safely swept up in advance?
There are three opinions and each camp has plenty of scriptural back up for their position. One: the church goes before the tribulation begins (pre-trib); two: the church is raptured in the middle of the tribulation (mid-trib) and three: the church is raptured at the end of the tribulation at the point when Jesus touches down for his thousand year reign (post-trib). There is actually another opinion also and it is that there will be multiple raptures throughout the tribulation period.
I cannot tell you that I know with total certainty which stance is correct. I have heard all the arguments for each one and many of them are compelling. If I have a vote in the matter, I definitely vote for pre-trib rapture. I see how God placed Noah and his family in the safety of the ark before the flood came and it sure makes sense to me that he would do something similar for his church. Then again, I have a vested interest in wanting it to be that way. I do NOT want to go through the tribulation and neither do you.
Next: If the rapture is pre-trib, who is going to go and how can I make sure I'm on the flight manifest?
How do I get my ticket? (Part 3)
The story of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 is a good starting point to consider this question. It indicates that all believers are not equal when it comes to the bridegroom showing up for the bride. (Go back and read this parable if you are not thoroughly familiar with it.)
In the story, Jesus speaks of ten virgins (meaning they are all believers) but only five of them were ready and on the alert when the time of the wedding came. The five who were foolish were excluded from the wedding feast. This parable certainly refers to the Second Coming of Christ but we do not know if it specifically refers to the rapture. If it does, it tells us that not all will go in the rapture (that does not mean they are not saved or that they will not go to heaven).
What excludes the five foolish virgins? They waited too long to purchase oil and so were away buying some when the groom appeared. Oil generally refers to the Holy Spirit. Basically, the five foolish virgins didn't understand the times until it was too late to do anything about it. They knew life in the Holy Spirit was called for but they delayed in living it.
How can you be a wise virgin instead of a foolish virgin? Ask yourself these questions and answer with complete honesty: Am I eager for Christ's return or in fear of it? If he came today, is there anything in my life I would wish was not there? Am I lukewarm? In what ways does the world have more pull to me than love and service to the Lord?
I cannot tell you for sure when the rapture is coming and I cannot tell you for sure who will be going in it. Jesus knows and this is what he says about it: "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour." (Matthew 25:13)