The Dilemma for Post-tribulation Rapture Only?
A question that eventually comes up after studying end time prophecy long enough is who is going to be left to populate the earth during the Millennium, especially the start of it. The question arises from two discoveries:
- The righteous go up to heaven in the rapture and then come back glorified to rule.
- The unrighteous go through God’s terrible wrath (which means being subjected to hundred pound hailstones among other things – Rev 16:21) and seem to all die from many verses (1Th 5:3; Ps 2:12; Zeph 3:9; Mal 4:1; 2Th 1:7;2:12)
For pretrib rapture believers, who position the rapture seven years before #2 above, they believe some of those left behind after the rapture become righteous (such as Jews) and survive into the Millennium. They argue that the post-tribulation rapture must be false because, with it coming at the end, there is no time between the rapture and the start of the Millennium for any unbelievers to be converted and saved
The Surprising Solution
Despite many verses that on their own seem to point to utter destruction of all unbelievers in God’s wrath, there is a very clear verse which pretribbers overlook specifically talking about survivors from Armageddon:
Zechariah 14:16-18 (HCSB)— 16 Then all the survivors from the nations that came against Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of Hosts, and to celebrate the Festival of Booths. 17 Should any of the families of the earth not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of Hosts, rain will not fall on them. 18 And if the people of Egypt will not go up and enter, then rain will not fall on them; this will be the plague the LORD inflicts on the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Booths.
How can this be?
First, while the Battle of Armageddon will result in complete destruction of the Beast’s armies (God’s enemies) as Zechariah clearly depicts (Zec 14:12), this is only the armies who come against Jerusalem. The rest of the people left behind in the nations where the armies came from will not be destroyed by God at the Battle of Armageddon.
Secondly, even with hundred pound hailstones that fall before Armageddon comes, some of these people left behind will find cover and survive. Zechariah 13:8 suggests that as many as one third will be left after God’s wrath.
What About the Mark of the Beast?
There is still another problem with the unrighteous survivors of the tribulation which many will think of. Everyone on earth (who is not raptured and is not martyred) will have the Mark of the Beast within five months (Rev 13:7-8)—except for the 144,000 who have the seal of protection from the locusts (Rev 9:4) that allows them to witness unhindered for the entire Great Tribulation).
At first glance, it seems that those who took the mark and worshiped the Beast’s image will be tormented forever (Rev 14:11). This naturally reminds Christians of hell. However, the passage does not explicitly say the torture itself lasts forever. It only says the smoke of their torment rises forever which is impossible and cannot be meant literally.
What’s the difference? It is an idiomatic expression which is used previously in the OT. It is found in that form and others such as the worm of the dead not dying (Isa 34:10; 66:24). Similarly, Revelation says later about the destruction of Babylon that her smoke rises forever, too. We understand that Babylon is not destroyed, burning or tortured forever. The hyperbole about smoke rising forever seems to convey the seriousness of the judgment.
Where it says that those who worship the Beast have no rest day or night, that’s talking about how bad the cup of the wrath of God (Rev 14:10) will be that they must face. It’s not talking about hell. The lake of fire comes over 1000 years later at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-14).
Thus, the implication of Zechariah 14 that survivors will come up to worship (or receive no rain) is that the mark of the beast that was on all of them was removed when the Kingdom of God begins to reign. Satan is bound at that time (Rev 20:1-3) and it stands to reason the mark and enslavement of people it brought is also terminated.
Why the Marked Don’t Deserve Damnation
This releasing and forgiveness of the marked would only be fair of God when you consider the circumstances. People who take the mark will have been deceived into thinking the Beast is God himself (2Th 2:4). They will also be coerced into taking it by the fact that they cannot buy or sell without it (Rev 13:17). Plus there are the locusts that are unleashed at the start of the Great Tribulation on people (Rev 9:4-10). They torture people with pain like from the sting of a scorpion for five months (Rev 9:10). Probably only those who have resisted taking the mark receive this torture. (For more on the locusts and what they probably are read my Mark of the Beast article.)
As you can now see, there will be survivors who make it through the Great Tribulation, the wrath of God and the mark of the beast. These survivors, although not righteous or believers, will become the subjects of the Kingdom during the Millennium. The point about there being punishment if they disobey God’s instructions fits the fact that these people are not starting out as believers or even welcoming of Jesus. They will no doubt have resistance to the new king of the Earth who has just arrived and changed everything without their consent.