As a younger Christian (many decades ago), I had been taught by pastors that people who had heard a clear presentation of the gospel prior to the rapture would be deceived and unable to be saved after the rapture if they did not trust Christ for salvation beforehand. This teaching seemed to be justified by two certainties:
1) The restraining or suppressing presence of the Holy Spirit in the church to the collective forces of evil will be taken out of the way at the rapture (2 Thess. 2:7)
2) God will send strong delusion to unbelievers who reject the gospel (2 Thess. 2:11)
While BOTH are true, I found it difficult to reconcile that the Holy Spirit Himself could be completely gone from the earth during the Tribulation considering the great multitude of believers in Heaven mentioned in Revelation 7:9-14:
Revelation 7:9-14 (KJV) 9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. 13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Something wasn’t adding up. People were coming to Christ is great numbers during the Tribuation. In fact, so many people came to saving faith that it composed “a great multitude which no man could number” from all over the world. No one comes to a position of faith without the help of the Holy Spirit, so He must still be present for the purpose of saving people in the midst of the most horrible period of judgment upon sin the world will ever know. Isn’t that just like God to offer grace and mercy even in the midst of judgment? Sure it is! He’s doing that right now as our world is racing toward Tribulation judgment.
Many believers struggle with the divine consequences of unrepentant sin in that we would like to believe that God offers endless opportunities for forgiveness. He is loving, but He is also just. He is patient, but His justice demands judgment at a certain point. We get a glimpse of the divine tension between unrepentant sin and God’s justice by incremental “giving over” in Romans 1:18:32.
It appears that God is just as merciful toward those during the Tribulation as He has been to us before the rapture:
1) There is still opportunity to “receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thess 2:10). The truth of God can still be received willingly to oneself, and the love of the truth (love = agapao, God’s unconditional love) will still be present to save people. To reject this merits judgment.
2) There is still opportunity to “believe the truth” (2 Thess. 2:11). Believe means to be firmly persuaded, to trust in God’s truth, and not the “truth” of the world system that will soon be present. It also means to NOT take pleasure (pleasure here means to consider or justify as good) in unrighteousness. To reject this merits judgment. There will be no godly justification for the demands of worldly compliance even if it the sole means of survival.
It is the rejection of these two opportunities that causes God to send strong delusion and damnation. It will be sent to those who reject His Word, and reject the call of His Spirit.
There will no doubt be more obstacles for people to receive the gospel during the Tribulation than today:
1) There will be undiminished, unrelenting global demonic deception without the church being present
2) The “church” that will still be present in that time will be a false, worldly, ungodly organization that will be exploited by the False Prophet and Antichrist. True believers and churches will be forced underground
3) There will be NO experienced Christians present at the start of the Tribulation
4) True Christians will be spied upon, betrayed, and most will eventually be martyred during the Tribulation
Knowing the difficulties and multitudes of judgments to come, we see the severity and the divine terror of them, and we should be compelled to persuade people to accept Jesus as their Savior while it is still “T-minus” (Tribulation minus time frame):
2 Corinthians 5:11 (KJV) 11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.