Have you heard of the U.S. Army Ranger Creed? Here’s part of what it declares: “Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country” (emphasis added throughout).
Similar language can be found in the U.S. Army Soldier’s Creed, “I will never leave a fallen comrade,” as well as the Airman’s Creed, “I will never leave an Airman behind.” The Australian Defence Force includes this in the Australian Soldiers Creed: “I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
A noble concept
Never leave a fallen comrade. This noble concept deserves further exploration.
It should be pointed out that this ideal has not been very well fulfilled. Many soldiers in various wars have been left behind and not rescued or not even had their remains recovered in some cases. This is one of the most tragic aspects of man waging war on his fellow man.
Joseph Douglass, Jr., who held positions at the U.S. Department of Defense and various national defense corporations and taught at the Naval Postgraduate School, has stated that the U.S. government betrayed literally thousands of American prisoners of war (POWs) and soldiers missing in action (MIAs) who were left behind after every war America fought in the 20th century, from World War I to Vietnam.
In assessing the available research, Douglass concluded that as many as 2,000 Americans were left behind after the Vietnam War; 5,000 to 8,000 after the Korean War; 1,000 throughout the Cold War; and, staggeringly, between 15,000 and 20,000 after World War II.
The principle of leaving no one behind—no matter the cost— is deeply embedded in military honor. Those in uniform believe that no stone will be left unturned to get them home if they fall into enemy hands. This is one promise that spurs soldiers to fight even harder for their country.
One of the most dangerous—and revered—missions of the Vietnam War was the U.S. attempt to rescue 65 American POWs held at North Vietnam’s notorious Son Tay prison. A 116-plane air armada, composed of fighters, gunships and helicopters, flew hundreds of miles over mountainous territory at treetop level to the prison camp—just 23 miles from Hanoi, then one of the most heavily defended areas in North Vietnam.
As the assault force attacked the camp—killing more than 100 North Vietnamese guards in the process—the raiders discovered that the prisoners had been moved, and they were forced to return empty-handed. Yet when the POWS learned of the attempt, morale soared. According to one report, the POWs no longer felt abandoned or forgotten. Though unsuccessful, the raid illustrates the kind of extraordinary effort those serving expect their nation to make for them. (See also “The Medal of Honor Awarded to William Swenson” on page 28.)
A core principle of the gospel message
How does this relate to your understanding of God’s plan of salvation?
There is a core principle of the gospel message that is lost in today’s religious landscape, being not well known or taught in most churches.
How far would you go to rescue a fallen brother? How far would God go?
Well, the Bible gives us the answer! And it’s a true pearl—a diamond of understanding—of which we must not lose sight.
Most of the Christian world is taught that if people are not saved before they die, if they have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, then they will perish or be lost forever. In fact, most churches teach that people not saved before they die will burn in an excruciating hellfire for eternity—billions of people lost to unending torment! To put it bluntly, this would mean billions of men and women left behind.
But, as the apostle Peter tells us, “The Lord . . . is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God’s desire is that no one be left behind, left out of His plan.
One of the most well-known scriptures states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
God so loves the world! He considers the human beings He has created to be His future family, His children. He wants to know us and dwell with us forever. It’s all about a loving, godly, divine relationship!
The rescue mission
So, how will all those men and women who never accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior—or, in the case of billions of people, never even heard of Him—be regathered to prevent so many from perishing, so that they’re not left behind, so that they may be part of the divine family? How will the rescue mission unfold?
The answer is found in putting together numerous passages, including these from the Gospel of John, concerning what Jesus said at the end of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles and on the important Eighth Day festival immediately following. Notice what happened.
First from John 7: “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, [which] those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39).
And then in John 8: “Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them . . . [and Jesus said] ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death’” (John 8:2; John 8:51).
Jesus in John 7 stood where all could hear Him and drew a lesson from the water that was poured out on the temple altar during a special ceremony on that day, revealing that all who were thirsty could come to Him and be refreshed—forever—never seeing death. The water here signified God’s Holy Spirit, which would help people to live by what was commanded, the requirement stated in John 8.
What did Jesus mean by teaching that all who were thirsty could come to Him, be refreshed and never see death? How and when would this happen?
Within six months of this, Christ’s own countrymen pressured the Roman authorities to execute Him. This was actually a vital stage of the rescue mission—for Jesus to die and be resurrected to take away the world’s sins and then lead people to repentance and change through the Holy Spirit.
But what of those who’d already died—and those who did not come to repent after Jesus’ death, not having proper understanding?
Less than 40 years later the temple and all its ceremonies, including those described above, were brought to an end at the hands of the Roman legions. And since then, while some have followed Christ, billions of people have died without repenting of their sins, without being baptized, without being filled with the Holy Spirit, and in many cases not ever hearing the name of Jesus Christ, the only name by which we must be saved (see Acts 4:12).
It appears they and those who lived before have been left behind in the ash heap of history, never rescued. Or have they?
Pinpointing the future stage of the rescue mission
God’s promise to pour out rivers of living water, His Spirit, on all of humanity has not yet taken place. Billions have died without their deepest spiritual needs met. So when will they be refreshed by the life-giving power of God’s Spirit? When will those men and women seemingly left behind be rescued?
The prophet Joel gives us the answer: “And it shall come to pass afterward [referring to the end time] that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:28-31).
When are those days? As we see here, they will commence at the time of the return of Jesus Christ—after the heavenly signs that precede His coming (see Matthew 24:29-30; Revelation 6:12-17).
But what about all those billions who died in ancient times and never had their deepest spiritual needs met? When will they be refreshed by the life-giving power of God’s Spirit? The answer is deeply satisfying.
God‘s great plan—no man left behind
God has a plan to rescue the billions of wounded and dying people of this world through Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul also referred to this yet-future event:
“I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew . . . And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins’” (Romans 11:1-2; Romans 11:26-27).
However, amazingly, not only the descendants of Jacob (or Israel), but all who have never had a chance to drink from the living waters of God’s Word and His Holy Spirit will be given the opportunity to do so!
“. . . Even us whom He [God] called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles [all nations]? As He says also in Hosea: ‘I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, “You are not My people,” there they shall be called sons of the living God’” (Romans 9:24-26).
God will freely offer all peoples of the earth the opportunity for eternal life, and it comes about through a physical resurrection to human life. The apostle John writes, in an astounding prophetic vision inspired by Jesus Christ, this same opportunity for salvation for all those who have already died who were not yet saved.
After referring to the resurrection of Christ’s followers at His return to reign with Him for 1,000 years, John writes: “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:5). And so, we see here that people who have already died apart from a relationship with God through Christ will be restored back to life. They will then have the truth of God opened to them—will have the living waters of God’s Spirit made available to them—for the very first time!
Notice what happens with them: “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades [the grave] delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works” (Revelation 20:12-13).
This scene unfolds at the end of the Millennium, the coming 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth. The dead who stand before their Creator are all those who died never really knowing or accepting the true God. They finally have the Book of Life opened to them, meaning they now have opportunity to be recorded in it among the listing of those who are saved.
Like Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones recorded in Ezekiel 37, these people emerge from their graves as physical human beings and begin to know the true God and have the opportunity to embrace the awesome future He has planned for them—that of being sons and daughters in His family.
The other books (biblia in Greek, from which we get the word Bible) opened to them are the Scriptures, the source of the knowledge of eternal life. Finally all will have an opportunity to fully understand God’s plan of salvation.
This physical resurrection is not a second chance for salvation. For these people it is their first opportunity to really know the Creator. This judgment will involve a period during which they will enjoy the opportunity to hear, understand and grow in God’s way of life, and to have their names inscribed in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:15). During this time billions of those who have lived and died throughout human history will for the first time have access to eternal life!
A far-reaching plan—even for the residents of Sodom!
This shows how deep and far-reaching are the merciful judgments and plan of God. Jesus Christ spoke of the wonderful truth depicted by this day of judgment (or evaluation, not immediate sentencing)—this time when no man will be left behind—when in the book of Matthew He compared three cities that failed to respond to His miraculous works with three notoriously evil cities of the ancient world.
Here is the ultimate story of “no man left behind.” God promises to remember and to raise to life again these fallen human beings of thousands of years ago!
We noted earlier that even with the best of intentions and most valiant efforts, modern military forces have not been able to recover every one of their soldiers. Fallen comrades have still been left behind.
In contrast, the plan of God is not only well-intentioned, but perfect! Every person will have the opportunity to repent before God and receive salvation—even those who died without the needed understanding. They will be remembered and resurrected to be given this opportunity. Here it is referred to by Jesus Himself in Matthew 11:
“Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades [the grave]; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:20-24).
The inhabitants of ancient Tyre, Sidon and Sodom—cities that had incurred the anger of God for their depravities—will be resurrected to receive mercy in the day of judgment. Things going “better” for them does not mean they will be in a less-intense tier of burning hell than the later city inhabitants will be in. It will be better for them because they will have less to repent of when presented with God’s truth.
They will then be rescued. They will be brought home. They will learn to repent! They will be offered the living water of God’s Holy Spirit. This is what Revelation 20 is talking about.
These cities of old had no opportunity to know God. But God will resurrect these people and include them in the time of evaluative judgment after the 1,000-year reign of Christ—when even those who lived in bygone ages will be reconciled to God. And Matthew 11 shows that they will receive the truth with gladness and repent! This is the wonderful gem, the wonderful message of God of hope for all of humanity!
It will be a time of universal knowledge of God, beginning with the time of Christ’s 1,000-year reign and following in the last judgment period. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Hebrews 8:10-11).
And Isaiah 11:9 tells us that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” All nations will know the truth.
During the last judgment period, the resurrected citizens of these ancient cities Christ mentioned, and countless more like them, will experience their opportunity for salvation. They will not be left behind in the dust of time. And the saints of God—who are resurrected at Jesus’ return (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)—will be part of the rescue mission if they stay faithful and endure until Christ’s coming. They will be part of seeing God’s plan through to the end of the Millennium, when at last all the dead will be resurrected to be offered salvation.
The enemy will not prevail. The saints will join Jesus Christ in ensuring that no willing man or woman will be “left behind.”
Why? Because God want’s to build His family and have a relationship with all people!
No willing person left behind
The plan of God to rescue all of humanity, even those who died without a relationship with their Creator, will come to pass. All will be cared for, and those who are willing to submit their lives to a righteous, just and loving God will be saved.
What is the fate of those who died with no real knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? What hope is there for the billions of people who have lived and died without the needed knowledge of God’s purpose? The ultimate hope is that no willing man or woman will be left behind. God will not allow them to be lost forever. Some will finally refuse, reject God and perish—by their own informed choice. Yet the vast majority will accept and be saved.
Thankfully, the Scriptures show that the world is not cut off without any remaining hope. Just like ancient Tyre, Sidon, Sodom, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, God will not leave the billions of unsaved human beings of all time behind but will bring them back to life and give them their opportunity for eternal salvation.
This is a core principle of the gospel message that is lost in today’s religious landscape—a unique understanding that very few grasp today. Now you know it! Allow God through Jesus Christ to rescue you—and be part of His rescue mission to save all who are ultimately willing!
The Medal of Honor Awarded to William Swenson
You’ve likely heard of the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration awarded in the U.S. military. More than 3,400 Medals of Honor have been awarded to the nation’s bravest soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen. What does it take to receive one of these medals? Often it’s awarded because a soldier would not leave a comrade behind—or for heroic efforts to save a life.
Take note of this story about U.S. Army Captain, now Major, William Swenson. He was issued the U.S. Medal of Honor on October 15, 2013. Here is a quote from a portion of his official citation, which you can easily find online with a quick keyword search:
“Captain William D. Swenson distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as embedded advisor . . . during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.
“On that morning, more than 60 well-armed, well-positioned enemy fighters ambushed Captain Swenson’s combat team as it moved on foot into the village of Ganjgal for a meeting with village elders . . . Surrounded on three sides by enemy forces inflicting effective and accurate fire, Captain Swenson coordinated air assets, indirect fire support and medical evacuation helicopter support to allow for the evacuation of the wounded.
“Captain Swenson ignored enemy radio transmissions demanding surrender and maneuvered uncovered to render medical aid to a wounded fellow soldier . . .
“With complete disregard for his own safety, Captain Swenson unhesitatingly led a team in an unarmored vehicle into the kill zone, exposing himself to enemy fire on at least two occasions, to recover the wounded and search for four missing comrades. After using aviation support to mark locations of fallen and wounded comrades, it became clear that ground recovery of the fallen was required due to heavy enemy fire on helicopter landing zones.
“Captain Swenson’s team returned to the kill zone another time in a Humvee. Captain Swenson voluntarily exited the vehicle, exposing himself to enemy fire, to locate and recover three fallen Marines and one fallen Navy corpsman. His exceptional leadership and stout resistance against the enemy during six hours of continuous fighting rallied his teammates and effectively disrupted the enemy’s assault.
“Captain William D. Swenson’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service.”
Yes, saving wounded comrades and never leaving a man behind is embedded into the military honor system. And God has a similar plan, yet of far greater scope and sacrifice, to provide salvation to every human being who is ultimately willing to be saved!