Question: There seems to be a growing teaching that only those Christians who are living holy, victorious lives at the time of the Rapture will be taken by Christ to heaven. The rest will have to face the Antichrist and be purified by martyrdom. Is this biblical?
Response: I agree with those who are urging Christians to live holy lives of submission to Christ, His Word, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. We need more emphasis upon holiness and separation from the world. However, the Bible does not teach that genuine Christians who are not living fully for Christ at the time of the Rapture will be left behind. If so, then what about Christians who at the time of their death were not living fully for Christ? They can’t be “left behind.” Their souls and spirits, no longer having a living body to inhabit, must go somewhere. If those souls don’t go to heaven then where do they go? We would have to propose some kind of evangelical purgatory! And if all Christians, on the basis of their saving faith in Christ, regardless of their lives, go to heaven upon death, why would not all Christians be raptured? Moreover, if those left behind at the Rapture are purified by facing Antichrist, how will those who have previously died be purified? In fact, we will all be purified in heaven the same way: “For we all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor:5:10).
If one is truly a Christian, even though not living for Christ, the soul and spirit go to be with Christ at death: “absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor:5:8). In heaven, the redeemed are in conscious bliss in God’s presence awaiting the resurrection of their entombed bodies, which “sleep in Jesus” (1 Thes:4:14). Paul’s desire was to “depart and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil:1:23), though he was willing, for the sake of those who needed his ministry, to continue “in the flesh” serving them and Christ here on earth (v 24). Paul would not have wanted to leave this life of service to Christ and the church—and surely would not have called being with Christ “far better”—had it meant to slip into an unconscious state of “soul sleep” as some teach. It is the souls and spirits of those who died trusting in Him whom Christ brings with Him (1 Thes:4:14) to rejoin their bodies at the resurrection.
Notice that “the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them...to meet the Lord in the air...” (vv 16-17). Surely “the dead in Christ” must mean all who died with faith in Christ. Therefore, “we who are alive and remain” must also mean all of the living whose trust is in Christ. It makes no sense nor does the Bible teach that Christians alive at the time of the Rapture must be living better lives than many who have died, in order to join them in heaven.