Does the Church go through the Tribulation-or part of it?

 

The answer is no, but some say yes, so let us examine some common arguments on the affirmative, and then the reasons why the true answer is negative (ultimately Daniel 9 is the key). We start with the affirmative (the error) and end with the negative (the truth).

 

Here are some verses men use to suggest the church goes through part of, or all of the 7 year Tribulation period:

  • Acts 14:22 "...strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God...”  The rebuttal against using this text to say the church does go through some of the Great Tribulation seems pretty straightforward--that to use it for the Great Tribulation is to miss its context. The plural "tribulations" here speaks of manifold difficulties of this life for believers, and lacks the article (the "the") in the Greek. This tells us the context here is the general difficulties of Christian life, not a particular coming great day of that particular time of THE great tribulation- which would have the Greek article "the" as well as a clearer particular tribulation in view.  The plural word and lack of specificity and the context itself tells us we aren't talking about the "Tribulation, the Great One" at all in Acts 14:22. 
  • 2 Thess 1:4  "..we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure..." Like the passage in Acts, context is key.  Ongoing persecutions and tribulations are in view in this immediate passage, not the Great Tribulation. We recognize that the passage does look ahead to the coming day of the revelation of Christ, and that promise of recompense that is coming, but if we will take the scripture in 1:4 in its immediate context, all is made clear as to this being ongoing trouble that is in view, which is a common Christian lot in all ages. The passage tells us that the believer is given encouragement for the present trouble in view of coming judgment.  Verse 7 is where the future is brought in, a day of rest..when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in vengeance. The look forward to a day of recompense encourages the one in his present distresses. Remember also, that when He comes back to the earth it is WITH the church per 1 Thess 3:13. They are already with Him when He returns for this vengeance, how can they be here if they return with him?  Below is a helpful chart, which at this point may be useful to distinguish between the rapture and the return of Christ, which is what lies at the heart of this confusion:

 

 

  • Matthew 24:9 “...Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake..."  While outside the scope of this study to go into great detail, the context of Matthew 24 is not related the Church, but the nation Israel.  How we tell to whom this passage is intended is shown to the reader in the preceding context of 23:38 where it says 'your house' (Israel) is left unto you desolate. He is teaching His disciples as the remnant of the old thing, Israel, and giving help in such teaching to a coming remnant of Jews in that future day, who will be experiencing the Great Tribulation.  Other key identifiers to tell us Israel is in view include 24:11 where "false prophets" are mentioned. This is not church terminology, for in the Church we aren't warned about false prophets, but instead are warned about false teachers. See also 2 Peter 2:1   But there were also false prophets among the people (Israel), even as there will be false teachers among you (Christians/church). Another very Jewish reference is 24:15 where the "holy place" is referenced.  This is rebuilt temple terminology, not church truth. Another point of reference is 24:31 where the "elect" are gathered from the four winds.  Identifying the "gathered" elect is Israel-centric terminology. Recall that God declared that He would scatter the Jews "into all the winds" (Ezekiel 5:10-12) and "toward all winds" (Ezekiel 17:21). Who are the elect in view that are scattered to the winds? Israel, whom God desires to gather to Himself "in the same way a hen gathers her chicks..though they were unwilling..." These are gathered from the 4 winds (Matthew 23:37). At Christ's second coming, elect Israel will look upon Him whom they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10) and say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Psalm 118:26; Matthew 23:39). A final point of reference to identify the "elect" as Israel is 24:20, and the mention of the Sabbath day. In contrast to Israel & its sabbath(s), the church has its rest in Christ and if it has any day of emphasis it is the first day of the week, not the 7th. Who is in view in Matthew 24?  Israel . It is clear that Matthew 24 has Israel in view, so therefore-back to our topic- the "you" that is delivered up to tribulation, in Matthew 24 is Israel. the context is Israel. If we distinguish the things that differ, the scriptures harmonize wonderfully. If we fail to distinguish things that differ (in this case Israel vs. the Church) our prophecy gets into a jumble quickly. The Church is NOT in view in Matthew 24. Invariably, those who bring the church into the tribulation, do so from Matthew 24.
  • 2 Timothy 3:12  "...Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution..."  This speaks of persecution by men as a general lot for believers in this age, but it is not telling of the coming wrath of God on the earth. To use this verse in such a way to say that believers go through the Great Tribulation is to miss its context. Ongoing persecution for living a godly Christian life is a real thing for all believers in this Christ rejecting age, but this is something VERY different than what the Bible calls "the Tribulation, the Great One". (this is the order of those Greek words in Revelation 7:14, which are very specific to identify a particular grand Tribulation period - rather than ongoing persecutions. It is the tribulation, the great one!) 
  • Revelation 6:17  "For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" Here some would move believers into the 7 year tribulation period before the rapture, perhaps at 3.5 years or even later, on the basis of this verse coming after the 6th seal. We would invite scrutiny of that inference and suggest that the "great day of His wrath" is related to the period in general that the writer is chronicling.  Besides, the first 6 seals tell us in total that (based upon today's world population) billions of people have already perished. And somehow they would suggest that this is not the "Great" tribulation because it is not until verse 17 that the word "Great" is used? We would again suggest that the writer is seeing the full picture here of "the tribulation, the great one" and speaks thus in view of its totality, the whole context is that coming GREAT TRIBULATION.

And now... back to the original question, does the church go through the tribulation, or part of it?....the right answer is NO-the body of Christ does not go through the Great Tribulation, nor part of that 7 year period, nor half of it, but none of it.  Here's why:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:9   "...For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ..."  It is very heartening to hear this promise that wrath is not in the church's future.  What kind of wrath is this? It is God's wrath, as opposed to ongoing persecutions from unsaved men that are common to this age. The word here is specific, it is not human oriented "tribulation" nor "persecution" but is the word orgidzo- wrath. Vine's dictionary gives us a good insight into this word in contrast to another related word which is thumos: Thumos, "wrath", is to be distinguished from orge (orgidzo), in this respect, that thumos indicates a more agitated condition of the feelings, an outburst of wrath from inward indignation, while orge/orgidzo suggests a more settled or abiding condition of mind, frequently with a view to taking revenge. Orge is less sudden in its rise than thumos, but more lasting in its nature. Thumos expresses more the inward feeling, orge the more active emotion. Thumos may issue in revenge, though it does not necessarily include it. It is characteristic that it quickly blazes up and quickly subsides, though that is not necessarily implied in each case.  We can therefore take notice that the "wrath" of the word "orgidzo" is one where much was patiently endured by God before that wrath will be unleashed. God has been patient for thousands of years now, and when his wrath breaks out, it will be based on a settled condition of mind that endured so much contradiction of sinners for millennia.  This is the wrath the world will receive, not the bride...she is not appointed for wrath.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:10    "...and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come..."  Here the word again is orges, see above discussion.  Yet the key here is actually the preposition, which is "apo" meaning "from".  Believers are said to be delivered FROM the coming wrath, rather than THROUGH it, which would be the preposition "dia."  It is also not the Greek word "ek" which would mean God would take them "out of" (ek) the tribulation at some point. He delivers them FROM (apo) it completely.  We should also notice the lovely order of the Greek words in this phrase, which is offered now directly from the Greek NT as follows:  "delivers us from the wrath, the coming." The way this is phrased in the Greek NT is a strong indication of a particular coming Great Wrath, as opposed to ongoing persecutions or troubles and tribulations for Christians. The Greek article "the" before "wrath" and before "coming" are identifiers that something very specific is in view as opposed to general trouble in life for believers.
  • Romans 5:9  "...Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him..."   Here again our word is orges/orgidzo.  We offer a transliteration directly from the Greek:  "we shall be saved through (dia) Him from (apo - not dia!) the wrath"   The preposition dia here, is tied to the word "Him", it is through Him believers are saved FROM (apo) "the" wrath. Had Paul meant to tell believers they would go through all or part of the coming wrath, he would have used the Greek word "dia" or perhaps "ek" not the preposition "apo".  
  • Daniel 9:24   "...“Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city..."   No one familiar with prophecy can avoid the implications of this verse in the context of this conversation. The 70th week is the Great Tribulation and the 70 weeks prophecy relates to Israel for the entire 70 weeks (including the full last week which is a 7 year period). Daniel 9:24 clearly says that all the weeks are for your people and your holy city.  Israel/Jerusalem is in view for the entire 70 weeks - and not the church. This is perhaps the key verse for the entire pretrib argument and it helps us see that the entire 7 year period is related to Israel, it is their 70th "week" and not 3.5 years or a shorter portion. Some may seek to define the great tribulation as a shorter time than the full 7 years, but in doing so run into the bulwark of Daniel 9. The last week relates to Israel, not the Church. She wasn't in the first 69 weeks, and isn't in view for the 70th week either.

We sometimes hear the charge that to hold to this pretrib position is a kind of escapism, as if believers hold to the pretrib doctrine because they wish to avoid difficulties. (we sometimes wonder if some of those who hold to the contrary view, have a macabre sense of expecting or even hoping to see 'unspiritual' Christians suffer some sifting/cleansing, asserting thereby that such christians aren't thought to be quite as spiritual as they aught to be). Where is the love for the body of Christ in that?

 

While the avoidance of trouble is a natural human inclination, it is hardly the right reason to believe or disbelieve a doctrine.  Additionally, we wonder of some of the opposition to a pre trib rapture is due to wanting avoid being identified with the excessive fictionalization of the Tim LaHaye "Left Behind" type "prophecy" books & other such loose things. What such critics fail to notice is that a popular and yet fictional series, whether disliked or liked, is not the point on which a doctrine is held or jettisoned. Rome holds to the Trinity, which is hardly a reason to jettison that truth. Many of us in the pre trib, pre millennial, dispensational camp also have concerns with the way in which such books make such an important topic common and almost trivial/sensational, yet we would hold our ground on the basis of the consistent testimony of prophetic scriptures. 

 

...we suggest now five reasons the church doesn't go through the Tribulation, the Great One:

  1. The purpose of the Great Tribulation deals with the purification of Israel and the judgment of the nations. It is not the “time of the Church’s trouble,” but of “of Jacob’s trouble.” 
  2. Its extent is worldwide, whereas general trouble, persecution, and such are not to this worldwide extent.
  3. Its duration is a specific 7 years, Daniels 70th week, which also distinguishes it from the ongoing troubles and persecutions of believers over the last 2 millennia.
  4. Its intensity is such that the world has ever seen.
  5. Its source.  Its source is God Almighty. God does not pour out His wrath upon the bride of His Son.

We now offer that which is the proper believer's hope that he looks forward to:

  • Titus 2:13   "...looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ..."   Is the believer looking for escape from trouble or for Him?  Also, if Christians are to go through the ominous Great Tribulation, may we ask the reader, how then is that a Blessed Hope?  That would be an undesired dread and not a blessed hope.  It is not escapism though, to look for Him, it is more in line with keeping ones first love in view (compare Rev 2:4)

Believer, be looking for Him, not the coming 7 year Wrath where Israel and the nations are sifted by God.   All your hopes are tied to Christ.

 

Why is it important? If my expectation is trouble, I look for trouble, not for Him. Like some I know, I may store up supplies in preparation for the tribulation, or stock up guns and ammo. If my hopes are rightly centered, I can walk in faith, even while I expect to have opposition at times in my Christian life, yet I look for Him, not the time of Jacob's trouble.

 

These truths have a practical bearing.

 

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