“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thess. 4:16-17
The true hope of the Church is the coming of Christ, not an event. The Church is so closely identified with Christ, and so closely linked to Him by the Spirit of God, that the Father has given Christ Himself to be the Church's hope. "I will come again and receive you unto myself" (John 14:3). "The Lord Himself shall descend" (1 Thess. 4:16). This hope was lost for around 1700 years of the Church's history. The Church lost the hope of the Lord's coming, and began to look for death at the end of the pathway. The Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25 traces this out typically, and shows the effect of losing this hope on the state of the Church. It wasn’t until the late 1820’s that the Spirit of God began working through various individuals and aroused the hearts of God’s people to hold afresh the hope of Christ’s return.
- The express statements of scripture. We read of the assembly in Philadelphia, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Rev. 3:10. Surely, the "hour of trial" refers to the judgments of the Tribulation period. The Church will be kept out of it. Then in 2 Thess. 2:1-12 we find that the Day of the Lord (Appearing) cannot come until the great apostasy takes place, and the Antichrist is revealed, and that the Antichrist cannot be revealed until the Holy Spirit is removed from the earth! The Holy Spirit will not leave the earth until the Bride is raptured (Rev. 22:17). Therefore, the Church will not be on earth for the Tribulation! Finally, the we read in 1 Thess. 1:10 that Jesus has "delivered us from the wrath to come", referring to the Tribulation judgments, and in 1 Thess. 5:9 that "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ".
- The absence of the Church in Tribulation Passages. The scriptures that deal with the Tribulation either state that the Church will be kept out of it (Rev. 3:10), or they connect the Tribulation with Israel (Jer. 30:4-7; Dan. 12:1), the Gentiles (Rev. 7:9), or the faithful Remnant of the Jews (Matt. 24:3-29). The book of Revelation is primarily a book of judgment which foretells the judgments that God will pour out upon the earth in the tribulation period. It is written to "the seven Churches of Asia", in order that they should know what was coming on this world, and that the light of prophecy would have a moral effect on their conduct. The book is divided into three parts; "the things which thou hast seen" (Rev. 1), "the things that are" (Rev. 2-3), and "the things which shall be hereafter" (Rev. 4-22). Rev. 1-3 directly apply to the "churches". Within the third section, the chapters that deal with judgment falling on the earth are ch.6-19... not once do we read of the Church on earth in those chapters! We see the same thing with Daniel's seventy weeks; the Church was not on earth during the first 69 weeks, and neither will she be during the 70th week. She is only on earth in a parenthesis between the 69th and 70th weeks!
- The heavenly calling and hope of the Church as distinct from Israel. Believing that the Church will endure the tribulation comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about the Church, and how the Church is distinct from Israel. Israel was an earthly people, with an earthly calling, earthly hopes, and earthly blessings. The Church has a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), heavenly hopes (1 Thess. 1:10), and heavenly blessings (Eph. 1:3). By mixing up the Church and Israel (a fundamental error of Covenant Theology), and by confusing verses that apply to Israel with the Church, many well-meaning believers have come to the erroneous conclusion that the Church will endure the Tribulation judgments. We must see from books like Ephesians and Colossians that the Church is the unique companion of Christ, His body and His bride, whom He will have by His side for all eternity. The Tribulation judgments are the wrath of God. A man might punish his disobedient child, but it would not be fitting for him to discipline his bride! It is a totally different relationship. Apostate Israel is like a disobedient child. Apostate Christendom is like a immoral woman making false claims of relationship with Christ. They will be judged in the Tribulation... not the true Church of God.
- For those left behind after the rapture who never heard a clear gospel, they will have an opportunity to receive the Gospel of the Kingdom, which we are told in Mark 16:15 will be preached “to every creature” in “all the world.” We know that multitudes will be saved in that time, both of Jews and Gentiles - a mass conversion such as the world has never seen (Rev. 7)!
- For those left behind after the rapture who heard the gospel and professed to be Christians, we can say on the authority of scripture that there will be no second chance. We take this from the parable of the virgins: the foolish virgins represent those with a profession (lamp) but no indwelling Spirit (oil). There is no opportunity to buy oil for them once the bridegroom comes.
- For those left behind after the rapture who heard the gospel but have not made a false profession, they will be in grave danger. At the middle of the prophetic week, when Antichrist comes forward, he will bring a strong delusion, and God will allow this to sweep away all who have at that point rejected the truth (read 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12). This will take place in the days of the Antichrist, also known as “that Wicked One.” Antichrist will be revealed at the mid-point of the tribulation. Will God use the events of the tribulation (first 3 1/2 years) to speak to souls, that some former-rejecters might believe? It could be. God is gracious. But scripture affords no positive hope of this, nor do we read of any earth-dwellers accepting the gospel. In either case, those who reject the gospel now will be in a very dangerous position, because whenever the truth is rejected Satan moves in to blind the minds of those who do not believe (2 Cor. 4:4). At the mid-point of the tribulation, the fate of “rejecters” will be sealed. These are ones who “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” Not only do they refuse it but they “believe it not”. What will be the end of these ones? “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned.” They will be deceived by the lies of the Antichrist. There will be great confusion at that time, pictured by clouds of smoke that blot out the sun (Rev. 9:2). The "strong delusion" itself comes from God (2 Thess. 2:11). God will judicially blind them to the obvious truth, and harden their hearts as He hardened Pharaoh’s heart so many years ago. The book of Revelation refers to a certain class of people living in the seven-year tribulation as “them that dwell upon the earth.” If you look at the references, it is not just random people living on the earth, it is those that are opposed to God and His purpose. They are those who have rejected heaven, and chosen earth. Read more about this deception in Revelation 13:14. Therefore, we can see that earth dwellers will be swept up into the delusion of Antichrist, and afterwards will have no further opportunity. Also, it says ALL (Rev. 13:8). There are no exceptions at that point.