What Happens After The Rapture?
The rapture happens...then what? Join Dr. Marty Baker as he takes a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and helps us understand what lies ahead for those who have faith in Jesus Christ.
After the Church is raptured into heaven, then what? Based on our study of John 14, we know that the Church will be wedded to Christ per the Jewish wedding model. The earthly model took seven days, while the heavenly model will take seven years. During this time, the Bride of Christ will be hidden in heaven, but at the end of the seven-year Tribulation “she” will be revealed in all her glory, as detailed in Revelation 19.
Before this magnificent wedding process, believers who compose the Church will be judged and rewarded for the quality of their service to Christ while on earth. First Thessalonians 4:13-18 reminds us that this group is composed of either those who died during the Church Age or those who were alive at the appearance of Jesus to take them home.
The concept of heavenly reward is woven like a beautiful thread throughout Scripture. Here are a few pivotal passages:
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds (Matt. 16).
Jesus combines in this text the judgment of believers and unbelievers. From what we know of prophecy, this event is divided by seven years of cosmic Tribulation. Perhaps a chart will help you wrap your mind around this divine promise and process:
As we have stated in this series, in the Rapture, the Lord takes His Church into the heavenlies before the time of divine wrath, while in the Second Coming, He returns with the Church to subdue the forces of evil. After He finishes this battle to end all battles, He establishes His prophesied 1,000-year Davidic empire based in Jerusalem (Rev. 20; Isa. 2:1ff; 9:6ff). In Revelation, John reminds us that Satan will be bound during this period, and he will be released at the end of it for a final rebellion. After God puts this rebellion down, all the unbelievers of all time will be judged before what John calls the Great White Throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). At this time, unbelievers will be judged with rewarded with eternal punishment for their rejection and rebellion against the King of Kings and Savior, Jesus, the Christ.
Hence, we have two judgments for divine reward: The first occurs after the Rapture of the Church, as Paul discloses in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10, and Romans 14:1-15, and the second occurs at the end of the millennial kingdom. The first focuses on how well believers served Jesus on earth and will be rewarded accordingly. The second one occurs after the millennial kingdom and is composed of unbelievers who will discover their works and will condemn them for rejecting the salvific work of Jesus. Which group will you be in? Entrance into the first group is based on faith in the proper object: Jesus, the Redeemer. Belief ushers a person into this group, and from what we learn from Jesus and other NT writers, behavior determines how they will be rewarded in eternity. Put differently, the heavenly reward will differ in degrees in relation to how well you lived the Christian life (Matt. 11:21-22; 23:14; 25:15-28; Luke 19:13-26). Hence, how you live for Jesus in the here and now will impact you significantly when you stand before His judgment bar, and He determines your reward level.
And when do we, the Church, stand before Him? We are judged for service rendered right after He raptures us into His glorious presence. I know we could have continued our study of 1 Thessalonians; however, this topic is just too important to pass up before we dive back into what Paul teaches about the relation of the Church to the Tribulation or the time of divine wrath against the wicked. For our purposes, I want to pause over the following two studies and consider various pertinent, practical, and motivational points.
The first concept I want us to sink our interpretive shovels into flows from what Paul teaches in a couple of crucial contexts, coupled with some other inspired NT writers.
All Believers Will Be Judged And Rewarded For How Well They Served Christ (Various Biblical Texts)
The Promise Of Divine Judgment & Reward
Most Christians believe, and rightly so to a point, that they will ultimately enjoy the benefits of heaven. Many need to understand that the Lord is a Lord who repays us for our obedience, or lack thereof when we appear before Him. He is a God who rewards us for our work in His name. This is not my idea. It is His teaching.
13 But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14).
It’s easy to throw a dinner party for your friends, but quite another thing to invite and care for those who are less fortunate. According to Jesus, if you live like this, He will personally reward you after you die and live again in His presence. The word He typically uses for repayment is misthos, which denotes payment for work rendered. In Luke 14, the word Christ employs is apodidomai, and it means “full repayment.” Hence, when you work for Christ, live for Him and live as He lived, and conform your life to His commands and teachings, He promises to pay you with heavenly wages (Matt. 24:45-47; 16:24-27; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:22-23, 35). So, work hard, and you’ll be paid well for your service. Work a little and relax here and there; you can expect less in your heavenly return for your “effort.”
Let’s look at this from another angle.
Jesus clearly taught that you could receive heavenly treasure and reward and enjoy it to the fullest. Otherwise, why would He give it to us? Why would He give us a rich, eternal inheritance based on our level of service if it did not personally impact us for eternity? Think about what He taught in His first sermon:
19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal (Matt. 6).
The wicked live for what riches they can possess, hoard, and exploit now, but this is foolish because everything down here is highly temporary and prone to decay because of the laws of entropy.
The wise man, the godly man, lives for God and all that this means, and by so doing, he makes deposits in the bank of heaven, as it were. When he arrives in heaven, the deposits he has made for living a godly life, for living a pure and holy life, for living to care for the less fortunate, for living to love his neighbor whomever he might be, for using what God entrusted to him to advance God’s kingdom, not his, will be repaid in treasure we cannot fathom this side of heaven. This is the Lord’s promise. One must then ask: What deposits am I making in heaven? What heavenly treasures will Jesus give me for my devotion to Him?
The day is coming when we will all, as saints, be judged and rewarded by the Lord. What will be the outcome of that day for you? In addition to this concept, permit me to add another:
The Path Of Divine Judgment And Reward
As we will see in our subsequent study, part of our reward from Christ will be in the form of unique, spectacular crowns He has fashioned. Concerning the reception of these crowns, listen to Paul’s counsel:
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I will not be disqualified (1 Cor. 9).
In ancient Grecian games, the runners disciplined themselves so they could win. They trained hard, watched what they ate, and made sure they got plenty of rest. I had a friend who qualified for the 1976 Olympics. As a long-distance runner, running 20 miles a day was no problem, and he was meticulous in how he watched his diet. Burgers and fries were out, and veggies were in. Suppose he wanted to have any chance of winning, he, like the ancient Grecian athletes, needed to be the epitome of discipline. Yet all ancient games' Olympians competed for wreaths that would quickly fade and become worthless.
It is not so in the spiritual, heavenly Olympics. If you want to win, meaning you receive a full, robust reward from Jesus, you will learn the importance of personal discipline. You will make sure you rise early to have quality time with Him. You will strive daily to keep your carnal nature in check to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5). You will do private works of service to others. You will know the importance of prayer. You will share your faith when given the opportunity, and so on. Yes, the life of a spiritual Olympian, a spiritual athlete who will be significantly blessed by the “Coach” when they see Him, is known, as it should be, for its high level of discipline. The more discipline, the greater the reward. What area of your life needs more discipline? What do you need to cut out of your life so you can move on to be in better spiritual shape?
Remember, we run to inherit imperishable wreaths, really crowns, and so much more as we learn from Jesus. Listen to some of His final words at the close of the book of Revelation:
11 Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” 12 Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done (Rev. 22).
Reward, as Jesus states, is directly related to your pursuit of holiness on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. As Paul teaches, reward is also directly related to how you run the spiritual race. Again, I must ask, How are you doing on the spiritual track? Are you running hard or hardly running? Great rewards and blessing await those who make sacrifices to grow in holiness.
The Process of Divine Judgment And Reward
Paul reminds Christians in several places that they will personally be judged and rewarded by Jesus at a future time. His words to the Corinthians are a case in point:
9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences (2 Cor. 5).
As believers, Paul underscores that our life goal should always be to live a pleasing life to Jesus, which means a life that strives for holiness in our thinking and actions. Why should we strive for holiness? The answer is clear: Every believer will stand one day before Christ’s judgment seat. What does this mean, and when does this happen?
What is the “judgment seat of Christ?” The Greek word for this seat is bema. Just what was this? Joe Wall provides a fitting analysis in his book Going For The Gold :
“The word bema means platform, raised place, or step. The term ‘was used to denote a raised place or platform reached by steps, originally that at Athens in the Phynx Hill, where was the place of assembly; from the platform orations were made. In the Greco-Roman world the Greek term was translated by the Latin word tribunal. The Roman term, tribunal, and the Greek term bema, both referred to the platform upon which a ruler or judge placed his chair when he issued decrees or judgments … The term also applied to the bemas, or tribunals, the Caesars and their generals carried into battle. At the end of a battle Caesar or a general sat on the tribunal to award crowns made of woven branches to those who had made heroic contributions to the winning of the battle. The term bema was used as well to refer to the platform in the Jewish synagogues from which the Scriptures were read aloud. There the rabbis pronounced the law, or judgments, of God. Finally, the term bema was used for the place of judgment and the awarding of rewards at the Greek athletic competition in the Panhellenic festivals, such as the Isthmian and Olympic games. It is this last use of the term that Paul appears to have had in mind when he wrote about the bema.”
I agree because the bema was located in the middle of the market square in Corinth, where some of those athletic games were held. Every Corinthian, Christian and non-Christian alike, knew what it was, where it was, and what it was all about. From this site, athletes were rewarded for how they ran the race. Paul merely took the concept to the next level and applied it to what will transpire one day for all spiritual athletes. This will occur right after the Rapture of the Church. We will be ushered into heaven and then experience the Lord’s heavenly bema, or judgment for reward. No, salvation will not be in view, but how well you served Jesus will be.
Just how will the Lord’s bema process work? How will He judge us? Paul speaks about this in 1 Corinthians 3:
12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3).
We are all, as saints, building on the foundation of Christ’s Church and our relationship to Him, who is head of the Church. We will all be individually judged not for the quantity of our work but the quality. You might need to re-read that one more time. Man looks upon the amount of what you produce. He always associated greatness and worth with size. God, conversely, will look upon why you produced it. Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 4:
5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (I Cor. 4).
Why you said what you said in a given situation, why you acted as you did, and so on will be openly revealed on judgment day when you stand before Christ’s all-seeing eyes. He judges your internal motives beyond any judgment an earthly judge could ever render.
Back up to 1 Corinthians 4 verse 1, where Paul sets up the reason why he warns about the future judgment of motives by Jesus at the Bema:
1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
If anything, the Christians at Corinth Community Church were highly judgmental. From Paul’s letter to them, we know how they divided themselves up between those enlightened biblical intellectuals who enjoyed the erudite ministry of Apollos (Acts 18:24-28; 1 Cor. 1:10-17). They judged Paul as an inferior, less-than-gifted teacher, a virtual pedagogical novice in need of significant improvement in the area of oratory. Reading the rest of the letter is to also learn how they assailed his character quite often. No wonder Paul didn’t think much of their spiritual stature.
Of course, all of their judgment was based on their selfish, peacock-strutting pride, and with these pointed words in chapter 4, Paul sought to wake them up to the fact that one day the Lord would personally judge their inner motives for speaking and judging as they did. They might have fooled others in the church with their critical analysis of Paul and others, but they didn’t and wouldn’t fool the Lord, who sees and knows all.
5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
Every person who has been in church leadership for any time has felt the sting of “super-spiritual,” and highly concerned saints who attack leaders in various ways. I’ve been there and done that. It is difficult to defend yourself from attacks like these from believers who typically love the letter of the law, but they don’t really have an intimate love of the Lord of the Law. What is a Christian leader to do? Rest in the fact that at the Bema Seat of Jesus, He will put their motives on full display and then judge and reward accordingly. Justice will reign when Christ judges.
So, wake up! Internal inspection day is coming. Jesus reveals this sobering truth in Luke 12:
2 But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 3 Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.”
Regardless of the fact that you know Christ as your Savior, doesn’t this thought cause you to take one big gulp of air? Everything you’ve ever said, thought, looked at, every attitude you’ve felt and displayed, every secret you’ve guarded, every motive you’ve disguised, everything you’ve done with your time, everything you’ve done with friends, yes, Jesus will evaluate all of it IN THE OPEN. You might be able to play games with me, but you won’t fool Him. You might be able to build with straw here and think it’s all right, but a time is coming when He will use fire to determine the worth and quality of how you have built His church and lived for Him on this earth.
Remember, the Bema Seat is not about your position, but your performance. Please, get your mind around this concept.
Just what will happen when your name is called? We don’t know exactly, but we do know that all you’ve ever done as a saint will be thrown into His fire of judgment. All the things you did with the wrong motive, and all of your inferior workmanship for His church will be completely consumed as if it were nothing. He will not be satisfied with that which costs you little or nothing.
What is the conclusion of the test of fire? Read these verses one more time, and this time maybe just a little slower:
14 If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3).
There will be a definite reward for those saints who built with gold, silver, and precious stones. There will be loss for those who thought God would be pleased with wood, hay, and stubble. What does this all mean?
Understand that Jesus will reward you for building with superior materials. These denote what you do for Him, be what it may be, and why you did what you did, said, thought, etc. Consider Christ’s teaching again:
22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. 23 Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6).
When you are persecuted, for instance, for being a believer, and your motive is pure in how you process the persecution, you will receive a heavenly reward.
In Mark, Jesus says this about judgment and reward:
41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward (Mark 9).
He will reward you for the most minor, seemingly insignificant things you do in His name and with the right motive. Notable, isn’t it? It is fair and just, too.
There will also be loss for everything you said, thought, or did with sinful motives. All of this will be like a pile of highly combustible wood, hay, and straw before the heavenly fire of Jesus Christ. In a flash, it will be consumed, and all that will be left is what was done for righteous reasons. Sobering, isn’t it? Based on this, a mega pastor might have a huge pile to place before Christ, while a lonely, godly grandmother from Mineral Wells, Texas, might have a smaller pile. However, her reward can be potentially more significant because her motives were more consistently righteous. At the same time, the pastor’s pile could be virtually burned up because pride permeated his actions most of the time. Time will tell, and divine reward will be given to all saints.
What type of loss might be in view? We don’t know, exactly. The loss might be seeing what you could have received from the Lord’s hand when He hands out rewards to others, rewards our human minds could not have understood this side of heaven. The loss might be the shame you feel when crowns go to others but not to you. The loss might be when you realize you will not have crowns to lay at the feet of Jesus. Loss might be that your heavenly linen will not shine that brightly because you didn’t have many righteous acts. John talks about this in Revelation 19:
7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” 8 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (Rev. 19).
Further, the loss will be that He will not give you significant rulership rights in the kingdom period. Jesus discusses this in the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:13-26). Those who invested well in what He entrusted to them in His absence will be given political rule over cities in His Davidic empire when it is established. Those who didn’t invest well, who didn’t advance His kingdom through their words and actions, will, indeed, suffer loss. These are just a few things to consider, but there is much mystery beyond this.
The point of all of this, however, is not on loss; it is on gain. The Bema Seat is about judgment, but it is judgment that leads potentially to great, eternal reward, and all saints will enjoy various degrees of compensation from the Lord’s good hand. After all, He has promised us this much.
I’m sure there will be a tense moment when your life is thrown in the fire of the Lord, and I’m sure there will be a time of embarrassment when things you thought were gold are vaporized because, in God’s mind they were nothing but straw. Yet, at the end of the process, He will reward you lavishly for what you did do for the right motives, and He will lovingly invite you into His heaven for all eternity. True, others might be rewarded in a more significant fashion than you might be, but in heaven, there will be no greed or jealousy, only holiness and the joy of knowing saints who did great, memorable things for the Lord. And you might be rewarded in a more significant fashion than some you run into, but there will be no pride and arrogance among any of God’s people, for we will have the mind of Christ.
Jesus is coming again, and His rich rewards are with Him. Are you ready for His appearance?
I am thinking today of that beautiful land
I shall reach when the sun goeth down
When through wonderful grace by my Savior I stand
Will there be any stars in my crown
In the strength of the Lord let me labor and pray
Let me watch as a winner of souls
That bright stars may be mine in the glorious day
When His praise like the sea billow rolls
O what joy it will be when His face I behold
Living gems at His feet to lay down
It would sweeten my bliss in the city of gold
Should there be any stars in my crown
Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown
When at evening the sun goeth down
When I wake with the blest in those mansions of rest
Will there be any stars in my crown
The hymn poses a tremendous and highly biblical question that needs answering by every believer. May your crown be loaded with stars related to how well you served the Master while here on Earth. And if you think you are a little star challenged at this juncture, make the day you renew your commitment to live for Christ as never before.
 Joe L. Wall, Going For the Gold: Reward and Loss At The Judgment Of Believers (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 32-33.