Will Jesus Leave Us Behind?
By Jonathan C. Brentner
I was terrified! I had wondered away from my parents and now I could not see them. For a brief moment, I wondered if they had left me behind. Maybe my parents thought I was with my older sister. Maybe each thought I was with the other. Where were they? I had looked away just for just a moment and now I did not see them!
The unfamiliar surroundings so far away from home made the situation much more frightful. We were visiting my sister in Southern California and after spending the day sightseeing we went to Chinatown for supper and shopping, where I became distracted looking at toys and lost sight of my parents.
After what seemed like an hour, although likely a minute or less, I located my mom and rushed to her side. It’s likely my mom and dad never lost sight of me.
If our loving earthly parents would never leave a short seven year old boy behind to face danger, why do teachers today say Jesus will leave some of his followers behind to face the terrors of the tribulation?
Theologians refer to this teaching as the partial rapture theory, which asserts that only those who are watching for the Lord’s return, or who are ready for it, will return to heaven with Jesus when he comes for His church. Those not walking with the Lord at the time will go through the terrible time of the tribulation for further purification, a purgatory of sorts for living saints.
Will Jesus leave true believers behind when he comes for his church? Absolutely not! He would no more leave any of us behind than loving parents would leave their small child behind two thousand miles from home.
Not only does Scripture not teach this, it contradicts the message of grace by which the Lord saves us.
The Partial Rapture Contradicts the Gospel
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We receive eternal life by grace through faith, not as a result of our works or faithfulness. The Lord regenerates us and gives the faith to believe. From start to finish, our salvation is all about Jesus and the Spirit’s saving and preserving work inside us (Titus 3:4-7). Our salvation never depends upon our works.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says this, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The basis of our salvation is the righteousness of Jesus. We contribute nothing to our salvation. All those in Christ are a part of his forever pure and spotless bride. We are “holy and blameless before” God simply because of our position in Christ (Eph. 1:3-4).
Since we already possess the very righteousness of Christ, in God’s eyes we do not need any further purification. It’s not possible for us to improve the standing we already have and since the Father always sees His Son’s righteousness when He looks at us.
To claim any believer needs further purification insults God’s work on our behalf and implies that Jesus’ righteousness, which we possess, still lacks something in order to qualify us for inclusion in the rapture.
What is the Standard for Who Jesus Takes in the Rapture?
My next objection to the partial rapture doctrine is this: what’s the standard for who Jesus takes in the rapture? If Jesus is to leave some of his saints behind, how will He determine who needs additional purification in the tribulation?
Will the Lord qualify us for inclusion in the rapture on the basis of who is eagerly awaiting his appearing? For me, this changes several times a day as well as from day to day. There are days when I anticipate Jesus’ return with great eagerness and other days when my mind becomes preoccupied with other things and I am unaware of his imminent return for most of the day. How can this ever-changing quality be the bases for who Jesus includes in the rapture?
Is maturity in Christ the standard? What passage supports such a works-based approach to our deliverance from the tribulation? Does not this leave those new to the faith at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to facing the terrors of this period?
Scripture Does Not Support a Partial Rapture
The New Testament passages that provide details of the rapture make no distinction between believers whom Jesus will take with him and those he will leave behind. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says “the dead in Christ will rise first” after which “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…” The apostle gives no indication in this passage that Jesus will leave any believer, dead or alive, behind when he comes for his saints.
In writing to perhaps the most worldly church of the time, Paul makes it clear that at Jesus’ return “we [living believers] shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51). If the apostle was ever going to make such a distinction to teach about a partial rapture based on spiritual maturity, would he not have done so when writing to the carnal Corinthians?
Yet, in writing to them Paul makes no differentiation between those who will receive an imperishable body at the time of the rapture and those who will not. Paul emphasizes that all living believers will “all be changed;” we will all go up to meet Jesus in the air regardless of our readiness or maturity in Christ.
The only requirement for regenerated living saints to be included in the rapture…is to be alive!
The Partial Rapture Teaching Favors the Dead in Christ
In 1 Thessalonians 4:14, the apostle said this, “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” pointing to those who have died in Christ. Regardless of our maturity or level of faithfulness at the time of our death (if Jesus does not come before then), we all go to be with Jesus if we know Him as our Savior. Later, we all return with Jesus to be united with our newly resurrected and imperishable bodies (1 Thess. 4: 13-18).
Death does not keep those in Christ from participating in the rapture. Paul promises us this in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.
If saints who have already died do not require additional cleansing to participate in the rapture, why do some insist that some of us who will be alive at the time of Jesus’ appearing will need purification?
And if it’s true that living saints need further purification and the dead in Christ do not, would it not be much more advantageous to be dead in Christ at the time of the rapture?
It’s crazy to even imagine such a distinction that makes it more advantageous to be a part of the dead in Christ at the time of the rapture.
As Protestants, we reject the doctrine of purgatory after death. Jesus paid fully paid the debt for our sins; there is no need for further purification. Hebrews 10:14 states, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Jesus’ work on the cross is enough to forever make us perfect in righteousness and holiness.
God’s Word is clear; Jesus’ work on the cross is enough whether we are live or already with Jesus at the time of the rapture. In either case, we do not need further purification in God’s eyes. Christ’s work on the cross is enough!!
The Partial Rapture Teaching Could Harm those Left Behind
The partial rapture doctrine has the potential to do much harm to those left behind.
Imagine this scenario: someone believes they missed out on the rapture because of a lack of readiness or because of sin in their life when in reality he or she did not truly know the Lord as Savior. Rather than correct the relationship issue, they double down on the good works they trusted in the first place for their salvation.
Would that not leave them still outside of Christ? Can you see the potential for harm?
At the time of the rapture, many who think they are in Christ but do not truly know Him, will remain earthbound. Perhaps they put their trust in things such as the sinner’s prayer, good works, or church attendance rather than in the Savior and His work on the cross. Many of these will realize they missed meeting Jesus in the air because they never genuinely knew Him and will fall to their knees.
We know from the book of Revelation that Jesus will save a great multitude of people during the seven years of the tribulation. I believe that many who now mistakenly think they know the Lord will be in that multitude of tribulation saints.
Why is the doctrine of a partial rapture so dangerous? It adds works to grace, contradicts the Gospel, and insults both the work and righteousness of Christ.
Those words may seem harsh, but consider the emphasis of the rapture passages on the inclusion of all those in Christ. No true believer, whether dead or alive at the time of the rapture, will miss out on the grand excitement of meeting Jesus in the air.
Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf is enough and always will be. Those in Christ do not need further purification; we are already “holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). We cannot improve on that!
There is no purgatory (further cleansing of sin) for those in Christ whether alive or already with the Lord; Jesus will not leave any of His own behind when He comes for His church.
The Cross is enough! Jesus will not leave us behind!
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