All believers will go in the rapture:
The rapture is an event for those who are “in Christ” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17) and “counted worthy”:
Luke 21:36 – “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
So what does it mean to “be counted worthy to escape” the Tribulation? The following verses show that salvation will save you from God’s wrath. In other words, praying to escape the Tribulation is to pray for salvation, which will, in effect, save you from God’s wrath:
Romans 5:8-9 – But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 – For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 – For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
Clearly, we don’t have to do anything to make ourselves worthy, outside of praying for salvation. For somebody to have to “do” something, other than accepting the free gift of salvation, would be “works.” Our salvation is by grace through faith; not works:
Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Romans 11:6 – And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
Interestingly, Paul wrote the following to the church of Corinth, which at the time was a carnal or backsliding church:
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 – Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
When God’s Word says the “dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians 4:16), it only makes sense that all in Christ will rise from the dead in the rapture, carnal or not.
All of us have a tendency to wander off in our spiritual walk with Christ and no one is good enough to get to Heaven, either in death or the rapture. As we will discuss in a few sections, believers will appear at the “Judgment Seat of Christ” after the rapture. Believers will gain or lose rewards based on what they did and did not do for Christ during their life. This is where Christ will judge the spiritual walk of believers. Note in the passage below that salvation is safe in this judgment:
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 – According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
For an excellent article by Jack Kelley about the qualifications for being taken at the rapture click here.
The innocent taken in the rapture with believers:
As discussed in the last section, it is clear that all born again Christians will go to Heaven in the rapture. But what about those people who cannot comprehend the Gospel? Children and many mentally handicapped people are not capable of making a personal decision for or against Christ, yet they are born with a sin nature (Psalm 58:3, Romans 3:10). However, these people are still innocent in God’s eyes because they cannot differentiate right from wrong. The passage below shows us that there is an “age of accountability,” where children have no knowledge of good and evil:
Deuteronomy 1:35,39 – ‘Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see that good land of which I swore to give to your fathers….’ ‘Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.’
Paul tells us in the passage below that God considers those unrighteous who understand the Law and become responsible to it, but then willingly break it anyway. Paul also points out that he “was alive once” before he knew the Law, but then he died when he understood what sin and the Law were. This is evidence that those who cannot comprehend these things are not dead in their sin until they can understand what sin is. Obviously children under the age of accountability do not understand what sin is, as well as many who are mentally handicapped:
Romans 7:7-12 – What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
Paul was under the Mosaic Law because he was a Jew. But Gentiles come under the natural law when they reach the age of accountability, when their conscience shows them what is right and wrong through nature:
Romans 2:12-16 – For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.
So we see that only people under the age of accountability have no law, either Mosaic or natural. Paul tells us that sin is not imputed or made accountable when there is no law:
Romans 5:13 – For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
We also see that God considered Adam and Eve innocent until they ate of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 3). The tree served the same purpose as the Law, in that when God’s commandment was deliberately broken, innocence was gone and they understood the difference between good and evil. At the point Adam and Eve lost their innocence, they became dead in their sin.
Jesus said we have to become like children to enter the Kingdom. By this He meant that we should have faith like a child. Jesus also told us not to forbid the children from coming to Him, meaning we shouldn’t do anything that would prevent them from accepting Him by the time they reach the age of accountability. So why then would Jesus forbid any child below the age of accountability from entering into Heaven, when He says that children are of the Kingdom of Heaven:
Matthew 18:1-5 – At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”
Matthew 19:13-15 – Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.
It seems pretty straightforward that children are not held accountable for their sin, and they will go to Heaven if they die before reaching that age of accountability. David believed without a doubt that he would join his dead child in Heaven some day:
2 Samuel 12:19-23 – When David saw that his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Therefore David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
We are also told in the story of Jeroboam that God took his son because God found something good in him. I believe that means that if Jeroboam’s son had lived out his life on Earth, his evil father’s influence would have led to his rejection of God, so God took the child before he reached the age of accountability:
1 Kings 14:13 – And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he is the only one of Jeroboam who shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something good toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.
Does this mean that all children and the mentally handicapped will go to Heaven in the rapture? Children were not spared in the flood or other judgments of God in the Old Testament, so why would they be taken in the rapture? Because Scripture shows that being kept from the God’s wrath in the “dispensation of grace” is a salvation issue:
1 Thessalonians 5:9 – God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Since we have determined that God considers children under the age of accountability innocent, then being in the “dispensation of grace,” all these children would be kept from the God’s wrath, along with the Church.
There is support for children being taken with the Church in Joel. The book of Joel is a summary of the “Day of the Lord,” which is widely believed to begin with the rapture of the Church followed by the Tribulation. We see a parallel passage below to the throne room in Heaven in Revelation 4-5. There is an assembly of elders, priests, and the Bride in the throne room. The Church is the Bride of Christ, also represented by the elders who are also priests. Interestingly, both children and babies are in this assembly:
Joel 2:16-17 – Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes; let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘ Where is their God?'”
That being said, we must recognize that there will be children born during the Tribulation period:
Matthew 24:15-19 – “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!
It is interesting that Jesus specifically mentions nursing babies in Matthew, but not children, yet both are found in Joel. The average weaning age in the world is three years old and even older in some third world countries. I believe it is safe to assume that the entire world will be in worse shape than even third world countries are today.
Assuming the rapture happens within a year or so of the beginning of the 7-year Tribulation, most children at the time of the “abomination of desolation” would be younger than age three to four, no older than the average weaning age. Though this doesn’t prove that all children go to Heaven at the rapture, it certainly supports it.