12 Oct

I Hope You’re Left Behind

There’s a lot of talk in the church world about being “left behind.”  There have been books, both fictional and nonfictional, written on the subject.  Add to them the movies, the computer games, the sermons, and the articles, and you’ve got a topic that people like to think, talk, and hear about.  Preachers especially love to talk about it at the invitation time of the service.  The summary point of all this talk is:  You don’t want to be left behind when Jesus comes.  So, give your life to Jesus Christ.

I have to admit that this point is very motivating.  In fact, God used such teaching to bring many faithful Christians whom I love to salvation, but does the Bible teach that we shouldn’t want to be “left behind”?

Let’s look at the two parallel texts where the “left behind” teaching is found.  Look at Matthew 24:40-41. Speaking about His 2nd coming, Jesus says, Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.

Luke 17:34-36 essentially says the same thing, I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.

Those who believe the Bible teaches “Don’t be left behind” say, “See there, Jesus has come and snatched up His church and left behind the nonbelievers,” but as you know, context is everything when it comes to interpreting Scripture!

When we look at the broader context of Matthew 24:36-42, we find that this is not a rapture passage, but rather a judgment passage:

  • But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.

When Jesus returns, it’s going to be just like the days of Noah.  Who was TAKEN away in the days of Noah according to Jesus?  It was those eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage who did not understand that judgment was coming.  In other words, it was the unbelievers who were TAKEN.  These unbelievers weren’t ready for the judgment that was coming.  They were going about life as usual and did not understand until the flood came and TOOK them away to destruction in the floodwaters.  Noah and his family, the believers, were left behind.

Jesus says that the same thing will happen when He returns.  Some will be TAKEN away.  If it’s going to be same as Noah’s days and if it was the unbelievers who were TAKEN away in the days of Noah, then it will be unbelievers who will be TAKEN away when Jesus returns as well.

When He returns, unbelievers will not be ready for the judgment to come.  They’ll be going about life as usual and won’t understand until Jesus comes and TAKES them away to destruction like the flood waters did.  One will be TAKEN to destruction, and the other will be left behind.  The stunning thing is, in opposition to much preaching today, when we look at the context here, you actually want to be the one left behind because that means that you’ve not been destroyed by the judgment of Jesus.

Not convinced yet?  Then let’s look at the context of Luke 17:34-37, which further confirms this understanding:

  • “I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.” And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

This passage echoes the Matthew 22 passage but gives us more information.  When the disciples ask Jesus, “Where, Lord?” they mean, “Where are those being taken taken to?”  Jesus’ answer is chilling.  He implies that those who are taken are being taken to death—where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.  According to these passages, you don’t want to be the ones taken because they are taken to death.  Instead, you should want to be left behind because it’s the Christians who are left behind and escape judgment!

The entire “left behind” scenario of the rapture as popularly taught is not found in the Bible.  I’m not trying to argue against a pretribulational rapture in this article, even though I don’t believe the Bible teaches a pretribulational rapture.  I argue against that doctrine here.  In this article, I’m just saying that even if you hold to a pretrib rapture doctrine, you can’t use Matthew 24:40-41 or Luke 17:34-36 to say, “You don’t want to be left behind,” because the passage teaches that you actually should want to be left behind.

But even more, “Don’t be left behind” preaching aims at the wrong fears.  Matthew 24:36-42 and Luke 17:34-37 are certainly meant to evoke fear, but “Don’t be left behind” preaching aims at the fear of being abandoned and the fear of having to endure great tribulation.  How often I’ve had to counsel young persons who are afraid their mommy and daddy are going to be taken and that they’ll be left behind all alone.  It’s sad.  It’s sad because they are scared of the wrong thing.  Instead of being afraid of being abandoned and of enduring great tribulation, they should be afraid of Jesus coming to judge their sin and unbelief.

Friend, don’t be afraid of being left behind.  Be afraid of being found without Jesus as your Savior and Lord when He returns.  You’d better be ready because it’ll happen quickly.  Jesus describes His return in Matthew 24:27, For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. So, in light of Matthew 24:36-42 and Luke 17:34-37, don’t be taken to destruction!  In fact, upon the authority of Scripture, I pray that you’ll be left behind.

I leave you with a scripturally correct version of that famous return of Jesus song from the ’70s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”:

A man and wife asleep in bed;
She hears a noise, turns her head; he’s gone.
I wish we’d all been ready.
Two men walking up a hill;
One disappears, and one’s left standing still.
I wish we’d all been ready.
There’s no time to change your mind.
The Son has come;
I HOPE YOU’RE LEFT BEHIND!

10 Oct

Successful but Not Satisfied

In my last post, I declared according to scriptural principle that even though nobody was saved through our evangelistic efforts last week, we were still successful in God’s eyes because we were faithful to do everything that He has called us to do.  In this article, I want to answer the question:  am I satisfied with no conversions last week?

Let me say up front that I’m thrilled to be a success to God.  I strongly want my brethren and I to hear from God, “Well done, good and faithful slave.”  That’s our ultimate end.  Nevertheless, I am not satisfied with no converts, and I don’t think God wants me to be either.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1-10  illustrates for us how we are to feel when nobody comes to Christ through our outreach:

  • Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.”

The thing that strikes me about this parable in light of our evangelistic rally is that the king was not satisfied with nobody coming.  When nobody came from the first invitation, he gave another invitation, and when nobody came after the second invitation, he gave another, wider invitation and continued to do so until the wedding hall was filled.

Friend, the king in the parable was not satisfied when nobody came.  He could have said at the first rejection, “Well fine, I’ll just eat alone with my son,” but he didn’t.  He was determined to fill the hall, and that’s what he eventually did.

We should have that same righteous dissatisfaction as well in light of no conversions.  We might have been successful last week in our rally even though nobody was saved.  You might have been successful the last time you shared the gospel even though nobody was saved.  But, WE SHOULD NOT BE SATISFIED!  It should actually cause us to amp up our efforts and never quit until the wedding hall is full.

Friend, may you see yourself as a success no matter the results if you are faithful to share the gospel, but may you never be satisfied until that person trusts Jesus Christ as their savior.

Share the gospel until the wedding hall is filled!!!  And then be satisfied.

10 Oct

Was Our Evangelistic Rally a Success?

Last week, West Main Baptist and the other churches in the Alexandria/Dowelltown/Liberty cluster of the Salem Baptist Association came together for an evangelistic rally.  We had it in the open air grandstands of our fairground, giving it that old tent revival feel.  Our expressed goal was to preach the gospel so that people would turn to Christ for salvation from the wrath of God our sin deserves.

We worked for months on this event, put together an ample budget, advertised it widely, challenged our church members to bring people to the rally, brought in a faithful and passionate evangelist and an anointed, gifted worship leader, and prayed heartily that many would be saved.  However, at the end of the four-night rally, nobody was saved.

The question that has been bouncing around in my mind and spirit is:  was our rally a success?

Do you ever wonder about such things?  You share the gospel faithfully, but nobody gets saved.  Does it ever cross your mind as to whether or not your evangelism is a success or a failure?

The answer to whether or not our evangelistic rally was a success depends on how we define success.  We often define success in church ministry by attendance and conversions.  I’m often tempted to do the same thing, but is that how God defines success?  Is the church that has 1,000 in attendance more successful in God’s eyes than the one who has 100?  Is the church that baptizes 100 more successful than the church that baptizes 10?  They may be more successful in God’s eyes, but if so, it’s not because of their numbers.

You see, that’s how the world and our flesh define success, but God does not define success by numbers and conversions.  God defines success by faithfulness to serve Him.  How do I know?  I know because two slaves with different results get the same praise in the Parable of the Talents.

That parable is found in Matthew 25:14-30.  There Jesus illustrates for us a truth about the kingdom of heaven by saying that the kingdom of heaven is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey (Mt 25:14-15).  A talent was a denomination of money worth about fifteen years’ wages for your common laborer in Jesus day, which is about $375,000 in today’s money.  The first who was given five talents faithfully went to work for his master and came back with ten talents.  The second who was given two talents faithfully went to work for his master and came back with four talents.  The final one who was given one talent was unfaithful to work for his master and buried the talent.

When the master returned, he called his slaves together to see how they had worked for him.  The first brought his ten talents, and the master tells him in Matthew 25:21, Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master. Now, if God measures success by numbers, then we should expect the second slave to get lesser praise because he returned with lesser talents, but that’s not the case.  Instead, we see in Matthew 25:23 that he received the exact same praise, Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.

The one who brought back ten and the one who brought back four received the same praise because God measures success by faithfulness to work for Him and not numbers.

This truth is driven home when the master addresses the final slave who did not work for the master.  He becomes the foil of the story.  This slave lost nothing because he did nothing.  He was unfaithful to work for His master, and of this slave, the master said, Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, (Mt 25:30).  It was laziness and unfaithfulness to work for the master that brought him this condemnation.

So, success according to this scriptural principle is not about attendance and conversions.  It’s about faithfulness.

How many converts outside his family did Noah in the book of Genesis have before the flood?  None.  How many converts did the Englishman William Carey, the father of modern missions, have in his first seven years in India?  None.  Would we call Noah and William failures?  Absolutely not!  They were successes because they were faithful to warn people of the impending judgment and call people to repentance.  That’s our job too, and we are successful when we do exactly that.

With all of I’ve said, I declare our rally a success because we were faithful to do everything that God has called us to do.  We invited everybody we could.  We covered the entire thing in prayer.  We preached the gospel clearly and passionately.  We begged the lost to turn from their sin and trust Christ.  We gave them ample opportunity to respond during the services and after the services.  In the end, we did everything that God has called us to do and were successful!

That’s the measure of success in your evangelism too.  Did you do everything that God has called you to do?  If so, then you are a success, and God says, “Well done, good and faithful slave.”

We must always keep in mind that the results are not our job.  The results are up to God.  We sow the seeds.  He brings the increase and the harvest.  Nevertheless, I pray that He brings harvest quickly!