Question Time - Will the church go through the great tribulation?
Richard Collings, Caerphilly, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Will the church go through the great tribulation?
Before offering an answer to this question there are a couple of points that need to be clarified. Firstly, I assume that when the questioner asks, ‘Will the church go through the tribulation?’ they really mean ‘will some of the church go through the tribulation?’ I make this assumption because countless myriads of believers down the centuries have already finished their course and are absent from the body and ‘present with the Lord’. Secondly, we know that throughout the church age Christians have endured tribulation. There may even be some readers of this magazine who live in countries where persecution and severe opposition to Christianity is a constant threat, and they know experientially what the Lord meant when He said, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation’, John 16. 33. However, as difficult as their circumstances are, we must distinguish between such trials and that to which the Lord referred in the Olivet discourse, ‘For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be’, Matt. 24. 21.
Based on the prophecy recorded in Daniel chapter 9, and other scriptures, we learn that there is coming a period of seven years that will be divided into two equal parts. Those seven years commence when the man of sin confirms a covenant with the unbelieving Jews, a covenant that is described in Isaiah as being a ‘covenant with death’. Although we often refer to the whole seven years as being the tribulation, it is the latter half which the Lord has in mind in the verse quoted from Matthew’s Gospel; it is those final three-and-a-half years that are ‘the great tribulation’.
The critical event that ensures that not one single Christian will experience any of the tribulation is the rapture of the church, a truth that links several scriptures together. To begin, let’s examine Paul’s final words in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1, ‘And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come’. Not only will none of us go through the tribulation, we shall not even go into it. The wrath that Paul refers to is a descriptive term for the tribulation, and the apostle tells us that we shall be saved ‘from’ it, i.e., away from it, not out of it. How is that deliverance achieved? It is achieved by God’s Son coming out of heaven at the event we commonly call ‘the rapture’.
At the beginning and ending of Revelation, there are numerous references, either directly or metaphorically, to the church. However, from chapter 6 through to the end of chapter 19 the focus is on events on the earth, and, in particular, on the judgement of God. Those chapters cover the seven years of Daniel’s prophecy, and, thus, they include the three-and-a-half years of the great tribulation. They record for us what will happen during the ‘day of vengeance of our God’, Isa. 61. 2. What is significant is that there is not a single mention of the church being on earth during that time – and for good reason, for she will not be there, having been caught up to meet God’s Son who had come out of heaven to deliver her from the wrath to come.
As already stated, the tribulation will commence when the man of sin confirms a covenant with the many of apostate Israel. I believe that in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 2, Paul teaches that the man of sin cannot be revealed until after the church has been removed at the rapture; the presence of Christians on earth prevents his revelation.
Unquestionably, the tribulation era will be a time of unparalleled affliction which will put massive strains upon God’s people who will be on earth during that time. If there was any possibility that Christians would have to face those dark days, I would expect to find some very clear guidance in the church epistles of Paul, and the writings of Peter, as to how they should conduct themselves in such circumstances, but there is absolutely none. We rejoice in the knowledge that ‘God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ’, 1 Thess. 5. 9.
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