Several passages teach us that the Lord makes a difference among his people. He does not treat them all the same way. Not all of us will be rewarded the same, even though we are all of the church. Not all of us will bear the same amount of fruit, even though we are all saved. More differences can be cited. Even so, in the case of the rapture, in which God’s people are removed from the earth at a time in the future, is not necessarily for all in the church at the same time.
Let’s summarize the teachings of a few scriptures that show that the Lord makes a difference among his people in the case of the rapture.
In Revelation chapters two and three, we find Jesus making a difference among those in seven churches. He tells us about the wrong things they are doing, then he makes a promise to those who overcome the issue in their lives. Only to those who overcome the issue will the promise be applied – the promise made to each church is conditional.
(Some have argued that these churches are composed of believers and unbelievers, and all the overcomers are believers, so all believers will obtain the promises. Not so – that is taking the modern meaning of church, which is a building where people gather for worship. The Scriptures use the word church for the saved people alone.)
Now let us take a specific promise that many accept as referring to the rapture: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” (Revelation 3:10).
Notice how the people are addressed. Not as, “Because you are saved..,” or “Because you are born again…” or “Because you are the church….” Rather, Jesus singles out specific qualities about these individuals and to them he grants the promise of rapture.
They have kept the word of his patience. The book of Hebrews talks about those who were not keeping patience (Hebrews 10:36). They had failed to progress into maturity (5:12-13). They were discouraged by their trials (12:4-5). They were turning away from faith (10:38-39).
When we lose patience, we turn back to the world and whatever it was that sustained us then. This church did not do that. They patiently believed God for his promise and stayed on the straight and narrow in the midst of tribulation. They were patient because they knew that their spiritual race was a lifetime marathon, not a 100-yard sprint. To those who endure, Jesus promises rapture.
In Matthew 25 Jesus recounts the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The wise went into the wedding while the foolish, who came later, were refused admittance. They are not called wise because they are Christians; they are wise because they prepared. The others are not called foolish because they are unbelievers; this is not in the text. They are called foolish because of lack of preparation. All ten waited for the Bridegroom, showing that they are all Christians – unbelievers are not waiting for the coming of Christ!
Scriptures tell us who is wise and who is foolish, and these terms do not necessarily correspond with who is saved and who isn’t. For instance, in Galatians 3:1, Paul calls the members of the church “foolish ones.” Were they therefore unsaved? No, they were foolish because they were following the law rather than walking in faith. Those who are wise are living by faith. If we trust in our works to save us after we have confessed faith in Christ, we may be left behind. We will not have the oil of readiness, a prepared life and heart, to meet Christ.
Toward the end of his ministry, the Lord talked about the end times and how believers will fare. He directly addresses his disciples, saying, for example, “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares” (Luke 21:34). This passage warns of the possibility that even disciples of Jesus may become distracted from the Lord and turn to the world – and be unprepared for his coming.
Jesus told them what to do: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36). Knowing that we may be distracted by the affairs of this life, we are told to pray that we may escape all the things he mentioned earlier in the chapter. Here, the rapture is called an escape. The rapture is promised not to all, but to those who “watch,” who are careful not to love the world more than they love God. Jesus said this to his disciples.
Paul revealed his personal motivation for holiness – that he may be raptured! He intensely desired to rid himself of anything that might substitute for faith in Christ “…that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:8b-11).
The language is clear: Paul wanted to remain in faith to maintain the righteousness of Christ (which is by faith), so that he might attain the resurrection of the just. (Recall the order in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: that the dead “in Christ” rise first, then we who remain will be caught up.) Paul fought to have his faith fully set on Christ that he may “be found in him” and make the resurrection. He wasn’t resting on the faith that brought him to Christ years ago.
How different is today’s casual religion! Paul’s Christianity was a living, vital thing, full of purpose and passion, full of hatred for sin and love of God. One driving force was his desire: to make sure he was, as the song goes, “in that number, when the saints go marching in.”
God will make a difference among his people – those who are living by faith day by day will be chosen. Those who are distracted by the world will be left. The wise patiently watch and wait for the Bridegroom, proving their faith and love, and will enter the wedding feast with him.
What Do You Think?
a. Can you provide alternate explanations for the above verses?
b. Does it make sense to you that God would first choose those who are serious about their faith over those who are not serious? After all, he will still take up the casual believers at a later time.