And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess 2:11-12).
David asks this tough question:
I listened to a sermon preached by Tiff Shuttlesworth on the Tribulation. At the close of the message, he said if you hear the gospel before the Rapture and refuse to accept Christ, you will not be able to be saved after the Rapture during the Tribulation. I have never heard that. He used 2 Thessalonians 2 as his proof text. Is this true?
First, whether it is true or not does not change the fact that people can be born again today simply by believing in Jesus for everlasting life (John 3:16).
I personally do not find it helpful to warn unbelievers that if they do not believe before the Rapture, it may be harder to come to faith. On the one hand, to do that I have to explain the Rapture, the Tribulation, and a whole lot more. Now if I were preaching 2 Thess 2:11-12, I would discuss this. But I would do so to inform believers, not to scare unbelievers who might be present. On the other hand, I am not convinced, as I shall now discuss, that those who have heard the saving message in this age will be sealed in unbelief once the Rapture occurs.
Second, it is highly likely that even today, during the church age, someone who repeatedly rejects the message of Christ may well become closed to the saving message. A person might become an agnostic or atheist, for example. That would mean that it becomes unlikely (but not impossible) that he would later be open and come to faith in Christ.
Third, Paul does not quite say what Pastor Shuttlesworth said. Paul is not saying that one who has not believed in Christ before the Rapture will be unable to believe after it occurs.
What Paul means is that God will send (or allow to be sent) a strong delusion. The devil, who will surely be behind this, will have as his aim to get people to believe the lie and to keep them from coming to faith in Christ.
It is a Biblical teaching that the more revelation one has received and rejected, the less likely it is that that person will later come to faith. That would be true of people alive at the time of the Rapture, too. But I do not think that this text is addressing that issue. It is simply stating the purpose behind the delusion.
Fourth, it is possible that Pastor Shuttlesworth missed a key counterpoint. At our annual national conference a few years ago, Pastor Bob Bryant suggested that Rev 7:9-10 shows that “a great number which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” will come to faith in Christ during the seven years of the Tribulation. That time certainly will be one of the greatest times of evangelistic outreach in history. Possibly more will come to faith then than any other comparable length of time in history.
Immediately after the 144,000 Jewish evangelists are mentioned in Rev 7:5-8, we are told of the great multitude that come to faith all over the world (Rev 7:9-10). The clear implication is that the 144,000 will travel the world and lead unprecedented numbers of people to faith in Christ for everlasting life, especially in third-world countries and tribal groups that had not heard the clear message previously. Remember that at the end of the Tribulation, 100% of surviving adult Jews will be born again and in fellowship with God too (Matt 24:13, 22; Rom 11:26). There will be millions, possibly tens of millions, of people who come to faith in Christ during the Tribulation.
Fifth, what about a person who was listening with interest to the message of life at the time of the Rapture? If such a person came to faith shortly after the Rapture, he would not be raptured, but he would be born again. Or if he did not come to faith immediately after the Rapture, he might begin searching the Scriptures to see if what he had heard was true (Acts 17:11). If so, he might come to faith days or weeks later.
I have often wondered how people will come to faith in Christ during the start of the Tribulation. All believers will be taken in the Rapture. One answer is that the two witnesses of Revelation lead many of the 144,000 to faith. The two witnesses themselves might come to faith immediately after the Rapture through the direct witness of our resurrected Lord (like He led Saul to faith on the road to Damascus). In addition, some of the people who were near coming to faith when the Rapture occurred might come to faith after it happens, and then they can begin to share their faith wherever they are.
Sixth, even if it were true that people who heard the saving message and rejected it before the Rapture would no longer be able to believe in Christ after it—something I do not believe is taught anywhere—it would still be fair. God is just, and all He does is just. The people would have had plenty of time to come to faith before the Rapture. But since that is not the point of 2 Thess 2:11-12, it is a moot point. Even people who have heard and rejected the promise of life before the Rapture will be able to come to faith in Christ after it.