No Second Chance
Man is ever prone to extremes, and for the believer, this means departing from that which “is written” (Matt. 4: 4). This is a serious matter, so much so that at the close of the last book of the Bible, the Lord Himself testified that “If any one shall add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book. And if any one take from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22: 18, 19). Most errors originate in this adding or taking away from what is written. On the one hand, the imagination runs riot, while on the other, ‘inconvenient’ Scriptures are ignored. Furthermore, error must be opposed by the truth—not by what I think is the truth. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (see Eph. 6: 17), not a mixture of divine truth and human opinion.
Now as this dispensation moves rapidly on to its close, many have been persuaded by the dangerous doctrine of a ‘second chance’—the idea that those who reject God’s invitation now will get another opportunity in the Tribulation. Yet this is not what is written—indeed, there is not the slightest hint of any such thing in Scripture. In response, some have gone as far as to say that the Lord’s coming for His Church (see 1 Thess. 4: 16–17)—the great event that precedes the Tribulation—will seal off all opportunity to the unsaved. Again, though widely believed, this is not what is written. In addressing this question of who will be saved after the Church is gone we need to examine first what is said in the Book.
The Day of Grace
Now in combating error, there must be clarity as to the truth—and this means assessing our theological language in the light of Scripture. Christians often speak, for example, of the present time as the day of grace, an expression which could be taken (and often is) to imply that grace will no longer be available when that ‘day’ ends. However, this expression the day of grace is not found in the Word. It is important, therefore, to understand what we mean by it and to ascertain whether that meaning is in accord with the Bible.
The day of grace is generally taken in a dispensational sense as a limited period of time that is particularly characterised by grace. It supposes a contrast with other dispensations. For example, it can be distinguished from the OT period of law, which was “our tutor up to Christ” (Gal. 3: 24). Thus “the law was given by Moses: grace and truth subsists through Jesus Christ” (John 1: 17). However, it would be wrong to take this to mean that grace was not in activity before the day of grace. While the OT was characterised by law, persons were saved then, as now, by the grace of God. Grace is, and always has been, the only way of blessing: “For ye are saved by grace” (Eph. 2: 8). Thus we read of God “passing by the sins that had taken place before, through the forbearance of God” (Rom. 3: 25)—not by turning a blind eye to the sins of the OT saints, but because the righteous basis for doing so was founded on the death of His Son in a day then future. How did they come into blessing? Not through their own works but by faith in what God had told them. Abraham “believed Jehovah; and he reckoned it to him [as] righteousness]” (Gen. 15: 6). Such believers, though they may not have been the recipients of the depth of blessing given to Christians, were nonetheless still saved purely on the basis of grace. Thus grace is not exclusive to the day of grace.
Believers also speak of the closing of the day of grace, and the thought appears to be the ending of the opportunity to be saved. However, there is an ambiguity about this statement that is not always appreciated. Certainly it is true that the Word of God never gives any credence to the idea that persons who reject the Gospel now will have another opportunity after the Church is taken from this scene. However, it is not true to go further, and assert that divine grace will not be in expression after the rapture, and that there will be no opportunity for anyone to be saved from then on.
If we examine what is said in Scripture about the period immediately following the rapture, we find blessing continuing still. It may not be the same character of blessing as now, but it is still blessing, and still, therefore, based on God’s grace. Thus John writes that “I saw, and lo, a great crowd, which no one could number … And they cry with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7: 9, 10). The apostle asks who they are and is told that “These are they who come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v14). As such, they are not Christians, for the Church will have been taken into glory before the hour of trial commences on the earth. They are, however, still believers. Hence to say that the opportunity to be saved ends with the rapture of the Church is wrong, for multitudes will clearly be saved after that event. Scripture is explicit: God continues to bless even after the Church is gone.
Death and Divine Sovereignty
It has been demonstrated that salvation was to be had before Christ began to build His Church, and that it will also be available after it has been taken from the earth. Salvation, therefore, is not exclusive to the day of grace. What does terminate any opportunity to be saved is death: “it is the portion of men once to die, and after this judgment” (Heb. 9: 27). Here there is no second chance—hence between the rich man and Lazarus a “great chasm is fixed, so that those who desire to pass hence to you cannot, nor do they who [desire to cross] from there pass over unto us” (Luke 16: 26). People who talk about arguing their case with God in the Day of Judgment miss the point entirely. It will be too late then.
However, while death puts a final seal to the destiny of a soul, being alive is no guarantee of further opportunity for salvation. In new birth, “the wind blows where it will” (John 3: 8), for God is sovereign. Thus a man might hear God’s voice in the Gospel, and turn away. It may be that God never again speaks to him, though he hears the Gospel preached many times afterwards. For such, their own day of grace (as it were) is terminated before they exit this scene. God will not be any man’s debtor. He is not willing that any should perish, but nor does He owe us anything. Men trifle with the Gospel at their peril. “Give glory to Jehovah your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the mountains of twilight; and ye shall look for light, but he will turn it into the shadow of death, and make [it] gross darkness” (Jer. 13: 16).
The Day of Salvation
The notion of a second chance to be saved gives souls licence to trifle with the Gospel. Clarity here is important. We are not talking simply about the possibility of there being salvation after the rapture (a fact easily proven from Scripture), but the specific case of there being salvation available then for persons who have refused the Gospel now. This idea has a plausible appearance about it because, like so many other similar errors, it is mixed up with truth. If salvation is available after the Lord comes for His Church then it seems reasonable to suppose that this implies a second chance. However, what man supposes and what the Bible teaches are often very different things.
Sadly, this superficial reading of Scripture is often met with an equally shallow response from those who are supposedly contending for the faith once delivered. This compounds the problem rather than correcting it. Thus 2 Cor. 6: 2 is cited as if it rules out a second chance, when it does no such thing: “I have listened to thee in an accepted time, and I have helped thee in a day of salvation: behold, now [is the] well–accepted time; behold, now [the] day of salvation”. Of course it is true that no one knows what tomorrow may bring and therefore that today is the day in which we must be saved if we are to be certain of salvation— for there is always an urgency to being right with God (see Luke 13: 24). However, 2 Cor. 6: 2 has nothing directly to do with the rapture of the Church. It is a quotation from Isaiah 49: 8, and while applied by the apostle to the present time would be just as true in a day to come as in the past. Indeed, the context of Is. 49: 8 shows that its proper fulfilment is actually in the future, after the Church has left this earth (see vs. 6–7, 9–13, which describe a millennial scene).
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25: 1–13 is, on the face of it, a more substantial ‘proof’ that salvation cannot be put off to a dispensational tomorrow. The foolish virgins are generally taken to be representative of professing (but unreal) Christians who are not ready when the Lord comes and end up shut out of His heavenly wedding feast. Verse 13, “Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour”, is usually viewed as a warning to those who neglect the opportunity of salvation and who are not ready when the Lord comes. However, while the exhortation to “watch” can surely be applied in a general way to the present, it is questionable whether the parable has any direct relationship with Christianity at all.
The parable is a description of “the kingdom of the heavens” (v1)—that is, it refers to those who (at least nominally) profess to be under the rule of the King. It has nothing to do with those who make no profession of subjection to Christ. Both wise and foolish virgins “went forth to meet the bridegroom” (v1), though only the wise were “ready” and went “in with him to the wedding feast” (v10). The foolish virgins professed to be subjects of the King “saying, Lord, Lord, open to us” (v11), but found the door shut. The door is closed here on unbelieving professors. Persons who reject Christianity now do not call Jesus Lord, and an increasingly large number have never even been baptised to His name. The passage is about profession and the responsibility attached to it (hence there are ten virgins), and has no bearing on the position of those who are simply unbelievers when Christ gathers His people to Himself in that grand meeting in the air.
There is more. The AV concludes verse 13 with “wherein the Son of man cometh”. Other translations omit these words but that does not alter the fact that “the day” and “the hour” spoken of in the rest of the verse refer to the coming of the Son of man. This is proved by the little word “Then” in verse 1. This sets the passage in the context of the previous chapter which is a long discourse by the Lord in answer to the disciples’ question “when shall these things be, and what is the sign of thy coming and [the] completion of the age?” (Matt. 24: 3). There follow numerous references to the coming of the Son of Man (see Matt. 24: 27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25: 31), and associated references to the “hour” and the “day” (see v36, 44, 50). All this demonstrates that the coming of the Son of Man is not the rapture but the appearing (“But when the Son of man comes in his glory”—Matt. 25: 31). To say that the verses about two in the field, one taken, and one left and so on (see Matt. 24: 40–43) refer to the rapture is a mistake. This is proved by v39 where those “taken away” were taken away for judgment (see also Matt. 13: 30; Luke 17: 34–37). Thus the five foolish virgins of Matthew 25 are shut out, not at the rapture, but at the Lord’s coming in glory. The expression “Behold the bridegroom; go forth to meet him” (v6), though often applied to the rapture, really refers to the appearing. The parable is a parable of the Kingdom not the Church—the two are quite distinct. Christians are in both the Church and the Kingdom, but not everyone in the Kingdom is in the Church. The mystery form of the Kingdom will continue on earth even after the Church is gone, and it is to that period that this parable refers. It is about Jewish expectation of their Messiah in the period after the rapture and before His return to set up the public form of the Kingdom. They will be looking for the bridegroom to come “forth from his chamber” (Ps. 19: 5), and to experience “the joy of the bridegroom over the bride” (Is. 62: 5). As such the parable of the virgins has no bearing on whether there is a second chance for those who do not believe in this dispensation.
The Wedding Feast
Anxious to prove there is no ‘second chance’, others have turned to the parable of the wedding feast (see Matt. 22: 1–14). Here those invited “made light” (v5) of the invitation and ended up being rejected, the King declaring in his anger that “those invited were not worthy” (v8) and destroying both them and their city (see v7). The parable is a very obvious condemnation of the Jews for their rejection of Christ. The parallel passage in Luke (see Luke 14: 15–24) allows for a somewhat wider application, and seems to have in view mankind in general. It ends with the Lord warning “that not one of those men who were invited shall taste of my supper” (v24). Others were subsequently brought, even compelled, to come in (see vs. 21, 23). So does the parable teach that those who have spurned the Gospel invitation now will be denied a further opportunity after the close of the dispensation? Certainly the passage demonstrates the peril of trifling with God, but to bring the rapture into it is fanciful. Indeed, it is hardly likely that the rapture was revealed at this point, and the Lord’s listeners would understand Him to be referring to one long testimony that terminates not at the rapture (unknown to them) but in a scene of millennial blessing.
The Antichrist Delusion
The most convincing Scriptural evidence of there being no second chance for any who reject the Gospel in the present period is 2 Thess. 2: 7–12. The passage is worth quoting in full: “For the mystery of lawlessness already works; only [there is] he who restrains now until he be gone, and then the lawless one shall be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of his mouth, and shall annul by the appearing of his coming; whose coming is according to the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in all deceit of unrighteousness to them that perish, because they have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this reason God sends to them a working of error, that they should believe what is false, that all might be judged who have not believed the truth, but have found pleasure in unrighteousness” (my emphasis). As “the mystery of lawlessness already works” (my emphasis)—that is, at the time of writing—the Church dispensation is clearly in view. Even so what does the apostle mean by “have not received the love of the truth” and “who have not believed the truth”? This implies some knowledge of the Gospel. Again, verse 3 speaks of “the apostasy” and apostasy refers to the abandonment of the Christian profession. Ignorant persons are thus not in view, but men and women who have rejected the Gospel, or even falsely claimed to be followers of Christ. For such there will be no second chance. Having rejected the Saviour in the so–called day of grace, they will be overcome by the antichrist delusion in the years following the rapture and before the appearing of Christ in glory.
This then seems conclusive (and in one sense it is) but care still needs to exercised as to what we deduce from the passage. There appears to be no doubt that those who have not believed the truth before the rapture will certainly not repent after the rapture (see Rev. 9: 20–21; 16: 9–11) having been shut up by God in unbelief. However, just as only “[The] Lord knows those that are his” (2 Tim. 2: 19) so it is impossible for us to always clearly define the line between ignorance and rejection of the Gospel. God alone knows that, and we can be assured that in the final analysis the Judge of all the earth will do right (see Gen. 18: 25).
All this is important because 2 Thess. 2: 7–12 does not encompass the entire unsaved population alive on the earth after the rapture. In particular, it does not refer to those who cannot apostatise because they have no knowledge of the Gospel. The apostasy may be a particular characteristic of the area covered by the revived Roman Empire and ruled by the beast (see Dan. 7: 7–12)—a region which has professed itself to be Christian for centuries. Despite this, Scripture does definitely teach that persons will be saved even in this region after the rapture. Thus in Matt. 24: 14 the Lord says that the “glad tidings of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole habitable earth, for a witness to all the nations, and then shall come the end”—the “end” being the ‘end of the age’ proving that this Gospel is preached during the end–time apostasy). The results of this preaching are described by John: “And I saw … those that had gained the victory over the beast, and over its image, and over the number of its name ... having harps of God” (Rev. 15: 2). Assuming that the final week of Daniel’s seventy weeks (see Dan. 9: 24–27) commences shortly after the rapture, the conclusion is inescapable that many of those saved in the tribulation will be alive and unsaved during the closing years of the Church’s sojourn on earth. These will be out of “every nation and tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev. 7: 9), thus including so–called ‘Christian’ countries (indeed, the decline in biblical knowledge in Europe may well be a preparation for this). Thus while we can say with real conviction that false believers and Christ–rejecters will have their door of opportunity closed by the rapture, it is adding to Scripture to widen this to include all who do not believe at the present moment. It is worth observing that while the rapture is the hope and comfort of the Christian (see 1 Thess. 4: 13, 18) it is never exactly presented as having a bearing on unbelievers. That connection is made by theology not Scripture. In the Bible, the ending of all hope is invariably connected with “the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven” (2 Thess. 1: 7).
There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that those who reject the Gospel in the present dispensation will have another opportunity to be saved in the Tribulation. In terms of positive evidence, there is no doubt that many who do not believe before the rapture will be subsequently overcome by the “working of error” (2 Thess. 2: 11). However, while a ‘second chance’ is thus proved to be unfounded, it is going beyond Scripture to assert without qualification that the rapture seals off all opportunity to be saved.
 Not the language of Scripture—which in itself is telling.