Though the Great Tribulation is the topic of this article, its significant value is in making scriptural distinctions, mainly that the Church began in Acts Chapter 2. This simple truth, were it more clearly understood in christendom would help keep many on the right track and avoid much error that abounds today. For this upstream doctrine keeps many downstream doctrines accurate.
THE TRIBULATION IN RELATION TO THE CHURCH
In order to have a clear grasp of the important subjects which are the theme of this article, it is of the very first necessity that one understand the differences between Israel and the Church of God. It has been my observation that most of the misunderstandings concerning these matters arise almost entirely from failure to recognize the distinctive positions, periods of time, and destinies of Israel on the one hand; and of the Church on the other. May we then first of all look at the sharp contrasts existing between Israel -- God's earthly people; and the Church, His heavenly people:
Israel was chosen of God to be His people -- a nation set apart from all other nations, to be God's witnesses upon the earth. Israel became a nation some 1650 years before Christ.
The Church, however, was not formed till after the death of Christ. The Lord Jesus said in Matt. 16:18: "On this rock I will build My Church." It was therefore not yet in existence at that moment, but was formed on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down to abide in God's redeemed ones; when on that day all believers were united by the Spirit into one Body -- the Church (or the Assembly). Our Lord bade His disciples (see Acts 1:4-5) to tarry at Jerusalem, where they were to be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. Referring to this event, Paul assures us in I Cor. 12:13 that "by one Spirit are we all baptized into One Body." The Church, then, had its inception on the Day of Pentcost, and has been here on earth ever since.
Israel was one nation, separated from all other nations, and composed of Jews only, except such who from among the Gentiles adopted their religion and joined them thus.
But the Church is composed of individuals gathered out of all nations, including Jews and Gentiles, but of course predominantly composed of Gentile believers. Christ reconciled all believers into one Body, through His death upon the Cross (Eph. 2:16).
Israel, in her religious worship, included every member of the nation, regardless of whether these were truly redeemed to God or not. Believers and unbelievers alike united in religious worship and ritual.
But the Church is made up of true believers in Christ only; the Church takes in only such as are sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours (I Cor. 1:2).
Israel had a God-given religious system (the only religion God ever gave to any people). It was predominantly an outward, formal, ritualistic setup, where priesthood and ceremony ruled.
The Church's worship, on the other hand, is altogether spiritual. The Church has no special place of worship, no headquarters, no ritual; no priesthood or clerisy marks it. Where such are introduced, they are man-invented and man-made. The Church's sphere is wholly in the spiritual realm, where Christ, who is the Substance, replaces the shadow of ceremonialism.
Israel was God's earthly people during their Old Testament history, and shall yet be so in the days ahead, and shall dwell on earth as His redeemed people. Their earthly character and destiny is mentioned hundreds of times in the Scriptures. Psalm 37 alone states 5 times over that, "they shall inherit the earth."
But the Church is a heavenly body. She is blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies (Eph. 1:3). Her home is in heaven, where she has an inheritance laid up for her (I Peter 1:4).
Israel is called the "bride of Jehovah," for in Isaiah 62:5 the Lord says that, "as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee." But Israel is not a virgin bride. On the contrary, the Lord speaks of that nation under various figures, such as her having been "divorced" (Isa. 50:1); or as a "widow" (Isa. 54:4). God speaks of that nation as if He had forsaken her (Isa. 54: 6), as a wife God had married when she was in her youth. But in the glorious day that awaits Israel God will remarry her, for as Isa. 54:5 reads: "For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel."
However, in sharpest contrast, the Church is the "Virgin-Bride" of Christ. Israel once was God's people, but turned from Him and crucified her Lord; and hence has been cast off as His people these many centuries. But the Church has never yet been united to Christ, so she is His Virgin -- Bride. As Paul says in II Cor. 11:2: "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy, for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ."
Surely, the above distinctions between Israel and the Church (and there are many more) are so clearcut that no one can fail to see them. Israel occupied the Center of the stage in the Old Testament while the Church fills the picture in the New Testament. The Church is not a sort of glorified Israel, but her direct contrast. Israel, because of sin and failure (and perhaps pre-eminently so because of the rejection and crucifixion of her Messiah, her King) has been disowned as a people for the time being; and during the interval God, in His infinite wisdom and love, is gathering out of this world a people redeemed by Christ's precious blood, called His Body -- the Church, of which Christ is the Head.
When that Church is complete and has been taken home to heaven, God will once more take up His earthly people Israel, a remnant of which shall be saved and brought alive through the terrible time of the great tribulation that awaits them; and they shall be Jehovah's people -- His Bride -- here upon the earth. That is her future, which shall be brought to this happy conclusion at the return of Christ, known as His appearing.
The Church's future, quite distinct, is the glory above; and her destiny also depends on the return of Christ. The coming for the Church is spoken of in Scripture as the "blessed hope" -- Titus 2:13; (though we often speak of it as the "rapture," and shall use either the one or the other expression throughout this paper); while the coming of Christ to Israel, when also He will judge the world for its wickedness, is known as "His appearing or His revelation" (Titus 2:13; I Peter 1:13).
As Israel -- her origin, character, destiny, etc., is so clearly different from the Church and her hope, we may expect to find a corresponding difference between the coming of Christ for His Church -- the Rapture; and His coming to Israel -- His appearing. Let us note a few of these:
1. At the blessed hope, the Lord Jesus comes for His saints -- John 14:3. At His appearing, He comes with His saints -- Col. 4:4.
2. The blessed hope is a secret coming -- as far as Scripture indicates; no mention of anyone seeing it is given. But His appearing is public, for every eye shall see Him -- Rev. 1:7.
3. At the blessed hope, the believers will meet their Lord in the air -- I Thess. 4:17. At His appearing, Christ will come down to the earth -- Zech. 14:4.
4. At the blessed hope, the Lord comes Himself -- I Thess. 4:16. At His appearing He gathers Israel by means of angels -- Matt. 24:31.
5. No mention is made of signs at the coming of Christ for His Church. But many signs accompany His public coming at His appearing -- Luke 21:11; 25-27.
6. At the blessed hope, there will be a resurrection (of all the dead in Christ) -- I Cor. 15:23. At His appearing there is not a hint of resurrection.
7. The blessed hope holds out a marvelous transformation of the bodies of believers; for we shall be changed into His likeness and receive a body of glory -- Phil. 3:20-21. This is something altogether new; never even hinted at in the Old Testament Scriptures. But at His appearing, there is no suggestion of any physical changes, simply because there will not be any; of course, I mean physical changes in the human body, for creation itself shall have a marvelous change for the better. Israel shall at that time inhabit this earth under Christ's beneficent sway; and earthly, physical conditions will continue to exist, though a good deal of the curse now oppressing humanity shall then be lifted.
8. The blessed hope pictures His coming under the figure of the rising of the "morning star" -- Rev. 22:16. His appearing is recorded as the rising of the "sun" -- Mal. 4:6.
9. The blessed hope is set before the believer as a real source of comfort -- I Thess. 4:18. But what comfort could there possibly be if one would have to experience that fearful deluge of woe called the great tribulation? On the contrary, His appearing is often presented as a time of the outpouring of the wrath of God.
10. At the blessed hope, Christ delivers us from wrath -- I Thess. 1:10. At His appearing, He delivers the wrath -- Rev. 19:15.
11. At the rapture our Lord descends from heaven with a shout, and we are caught up to meet Him in the air -- I Thess. 4:16-17. At His appearing He is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels (no angels are mentioned at the rapture), in flaming fire taking vengeance -- II Thess. 1: 7-8.
12. At the blessed hope Christ takes His saints out, and thus leaves the sinners here -- I Thess. 4:16-17; Rev. 20:5. In the latter passage we read that the rest of the dead (those sinners who are left at the rapture) do not live again till the thousand years are fulfilled -- Rev. 20:5.
But at His appearing, the reverse takes place, for then our Lord will take sinners out of the earth, and leave saints here -- Matt. 13:41-43.
It will be seen from the above contrasts that Christ's coming for His Church, and His subsequent appearing in judgment are startlingly different. The "blessed hope" is the bright prospect awaiting the Church; His appearing threatens this wicked world, while at the same time bringing deliverance to God's earthly people Israel.
We must note however, that Christ's appearing is often brought before the believers of this age, because at that appearing we shall as it were come into our own, even as our blessed Lord Himself will. At His appearing He shall be glorified in His saints and be admired in all that believe -- II Thess. 1:9-10. That day will be the manifestation of the sons of God -- Romans 8:19. Christ shall then be seen in all His majesty and glory by the whole world, as every knee shall bow to Him. And we shall share the honors of that day, as we appear by His side, as the Queen by her King. That day of His appearing shall reveal to wondering worlds what the matchless grace of God has done for us and to us. Hence it is a day of joy and triumph for the Church -- for Christ and His Bride.
But the thing to note is that that day is never connected in Scripture with Christ's coming for us, but always His coming with us. He will come for us, His Bride, previous to the glorious day of His appearing; and that previous coming is the "blessed hope" of the Church.
We should also say that the Greek word "parousia," meaning "coming," is used both for the blessed hope and the appearing, for both are comings. But the word "appearing or revelation" is never used to describe the rapture; it is a distinct and separate event from the blessed hope.
If we then keep in mind that Israel's position and destiny are entirely distinct from those of the Church; and that the two comings are two entirely different events, it will become clear that Christ could not possibly come to Israel to reign over them, until after the Church has been removed from this world. I believe Scripture clearly teaches just that, and we shall proceed to submit a number of proofs from the word of God to establish that truth:
1. The Church will not be on earth during the tribulation, because: The tribulation is only applied in Scripture to Israel and the world; never in connection with the Church, except to say that the Church will not be on earth at that time.
We read of this tribulation in Deut. 4. Notice that this chapter is addressed to the people of Israel, as the first verse of the chapter states. Verses 30-31 reads as follows:
"When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto His voice (for the Lord thy God is a merciful God); He will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which He sware unto them."
Turn right here to Romans 11:27-28, and you will find there that, because of God's covenant with their fathers (mentioned here in Deut. 4:31), Israel shall be saved, for there shall come out of Sion the Deliverer -- Jesus of course. Deut. 4 plainly states then that Israel in the future shall be delivered out of the great tribulation, and shall be saved and blessed.
"Just as clear is the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 30:4-10: 'And these are the words that the Lord spake concerning Judah. For thus saith the Lord -- We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear and not of peace. Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? Wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness?
Alas, for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst his bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them.
Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the Lord, neither be dismayed, 0 Israel, for lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity, and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid.'"
Note that the tribulation is called Jacob's trouble; the whole passage is addressed to Israel and Judah; it speaks of Israel's return to their own land. The same testimony is borne by Ezekiel, chapter 20:33-38:
"As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out will I rule over you. And I will bring you out from the people and will gather you out of the countries, wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face, like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord God.
And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me; I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel, and ye shall know that I am the Lord."
This whole passage is also addressed to Israel, as v.10 of the chapter shows. It is a very full statement of Israel's future regathering to their own land; of their punishment at the hand of the Lord, which will take place during the great tribulation, of the judgment and execution of the apostates among them -- see v.38; and of their reestablishment in the land. All has to do with Israel. Look also at Daniel 12: 1:
"And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great Prince which standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered; every one that shall be found written in the book."
Here again the great tribulation is in view, and it refers, as Daniel was told, to "thy" people -- to Israel. In Matt. 24:21 our Lord, referring to this great tribulation, quotes Daniel's words in saying that "this tribulation is such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, nor ever shall be," identifying it with Daniel's description here. Thus here also the great tribulation concerns Israel; not the Church.
This is fully substantiated in the New Testament. The tribulation is not once found in the Christian epistles, but is found five times elsewhere -- twice in Matthew; twice in Mark, where in ch. 13: 19 it is translated "affliction"; and once in the book of Revelation, chapter 7:14, when referring to the special period known as the tribulation.
Matthew's gospel, as careful students of Scripture all realize, is written with Israel in view. We read there as follows:
"When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place whoso readeth let him understand); then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains . . . for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world" -- Matthew 24:15-16, 21.
We read here that, when the abomination of desolation is set up, then the great tribulation will burst loose. Now this passage is quoted from Daniel 12:11; and we already saw, in Daniel 12, that God was speaking to Israel. Hence the same is true here in Matthew's gospel, for this tribulation will rage centrally, and in its main fury, in the land of Palestine, from whence the Jews are urged to flee -- Matt. 24:16.
Mark presents exactly the same truth -- see chapter 13:14-20. The thing to be carefully observed is that in none of these passages, nor in their location, is there the slightest reference to the Church. That alone ought to be sufficient proof that the Church will not be affected by the great tribulation.
2. Daniel's seventieth week.
A study of Daniel 9:24-27 will convince the reader that the Church cannot be on earth during the great tribulation. In fact, I believe it is right to say that it is impossible to have a clear understanding of prophecy -- and specially of the truths unveiled in the book of Revelation -- except in the light of the above portion of God's wonderful Word. So pertinent is this Scripture to the truth we are now considering that we quote it in full:
"Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people (the people of Israel) and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand that, from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks; the street shall be built again and the wall, even in troublous times.
And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week; and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate" (Daniel 9:24-27).
In this remarkable passage of the word of God, Daniel was given information regarding the future of his own nation for 490 eventful years. Each week in these verses stands for seven years, as history has since clearly established, for from the time Cyrus gave the commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem unto the crucifixion of Christ (spoken of in Daniel 9:26 as the time Messiah was cut off) 483 years have rolled by. This has left one week -- seven years -- as yet unaccounted for.
That final week of seven years is therefore still future. And we are not left in the dark as to why this is so, for Daniel 9:26 states that after the death of Christ the city -- Jerusalem -- and the sanctuary -- the temple in Jerusalem -- were destroyed. This took place, as we know, in A. D. 70, under Titus. Israel was cast out of her land, becoming a fugitive on the face of the earth. Because of their rejection of Christ God ceased to acknowledge Israel as His people, and their history as a nation ended finally at the Cross. During the interval, as the New Testament shows, the Church is being gathered out from among the nations of the world, composed of those truly redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. As Romans 11:11 tells us: "through their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles." But Romans 11 further teaches that eventually Israel shall be taken up again -- see Romans 11:26.
Their future is given in Daniel 9:27. It is then that the final seven years will unfold. That this is so is evident from v. 27, for then, in the midst of the last seven years, the abomination of desolation is reared up; and both Matthew's gospel and the book of Revelation apply this period to Israel; to their history just before the return of Christ to reign over them.
Here then is convincing evidence that this tribulation could not possibly commence until after the Church's history on earth is complete -- until after the rapture of the Church. As has often been said: "The prophetic clock stopped at the crucifixion of Christ, and will not start to tick again till the Church is caught up to glory."
It is worth noticing too that the whole of these final seven years is included here, and not merely, as some teach, only the last three and a half years, known as "the great tribulation." Daniel 9:27 shows that the whole of this last week of years has to do with Israel only, just as much as the previous 69 weeks of years did.
The order of that great final week (of which the book of Revelation has so much to say), is given in logical sequence in the last chapter of Isaiah. Verse 8 of that chapter speaks of Israel's travail pains, which will take place at the opening of the tribulation and final subsequent new birth. Israel's new birth is preceded, as is the birth of a natural baby, by travail pains. Now Matthew 24:8 makes direct reference to those travail pains, and shows they are the agonies Israel passes through during the first half of the tribulation. Matthew says, referring to the woes mentioned in the opening verses of that chapter, that these are only the beginning of sorrows; and this word "sorrows" is literally "travail pains"; the very pains of Isa. 66:8.
And in verses 15 to 22 of Matthew 24 we find that the great tribulation, which, according to Daniel 9 does not begin till the middle of the final years, takes place after those travail pains. And notice, that these travail pains, representing the first half of the seven years of tribulation are attributed in Isaiah 66 to Israel, as much as the last three and a half years are in Matthew 24. This clearly proves that both have to do with Israel; there is no evidence in Scripture that the Church will be on earth at that time; in fact, she cannot be, for her time is found in that long unmentioned interval of Daniel 9, which we know now is the Christian dispensation in which we live, while the Church is being redeemed. Not till she is caught up to be with Christ can these other events take place.
Isa. 66:8, then, speaks of the first half of Israel's tribulation; vs. 15-16 follow with the revelation of His coming in wrath to execute judgment on the world; and this in turn is followed by Israel's millennial blessing (vs. 19-24).
3. Further proof that the Church will not be on earth at the time of the great tribulation is found in I Cor. 15:22-24, which reads:
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power."
Daniel, in the last chapter of his book mentions this "end," here given, five times. He shows that this "end" is not merely a point of time, but a period; and he shows that it takes in the great tribulation. For, when the question is raised in Daniel 12:6: "How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?" the answer comes, "that it shall be for a time, times and an half . . ." This passage from the book of Daniel is shown in the book of Revelation to refer to the time of the great tribulation. With this agree our Lord's words in Matt. 24: 13-15 where again the "end" definitely has the great tribulation in view. I Cor. 15:23 tells us thus very clearly that the Church is removed at the rapture before this end comes; hence, as plain as language can be made, we are told here that the Church will not be on earth during the great tribulation.
4. The Church will not be here during the tribulation, because Romans 11: 25-27 says so.
"For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written. There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. For this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins."
Israel, according to this portion, shall not be taken up again till the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. We should note here the difference between the fulness of the Gentiles and the times of the Gentiles, which latter phrase is found in Luke 21:24. The times of the Gentiles refers to the political dominance of the Gentile nations which began in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, when Israel ceased to be a free people; and those times of the Gentiles will continue till Christ shall reign over that people; until Israel shall be the dominant and prominent nation of the world.
But the fulness of the Gentiles considers the spiritual prominence of the Gentiles, as seen in God's dealings with the Church in this dispensation, while Israel and her religion is set aside. And Romans 11 assures us that not until that fulness is complete; not until the last soul has been saved in this dispensation of grace, shall Israel again fill the scene. This plainly infers therefore that the Church will have left the earth before Israel's history -- and her tribulation -- will unfold themselves.
5. A corroborating proof
of the above is furnished by the fact that there is no mention of the Church whatever in chapters 6 to 19 of the book of Revelation -- the very period when the tribulation rages in all its fury upon the earth. And this includes the whole seven years of that tribulation time, for the seals in chapter 6 of Revelation refer to the opening events of the last seven years, as a reading of that chapter makes so clear. Even in chapter 6, the Church has already been seen in heaven in the chapters previous.
The Church is the theme of Revelation 2 and 3. Then, in chapter 4 we learn of 24 elders, seated upon thrones in heaven, with crowns of gold upon their heads. In chapter 5 we learn that this number 24 is a symbolic number, for the elders are shown to represent all the redeemed in glory, for they sing: "Thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof, for Thou was slain and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation." Since these redeemed saints in heaven are crowned, we know they are not only in heaven, but have received their reward at the judgment seat of Christ, for rewards are not given till we have left this earth.
Hence, chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation teach that the coming of the Lord to take His Church home to heaven has occurred. And it is not till after this that the tribulation takes place on earth. In fact, the Lord Jesus does not even break the seals which merely usher in those awful days, till after the saints are seen crowned in glory.
And the Church is never again referred to in the book of Revelation until chapter 19, where she is seen in heaven, being united in marriage to the Lamb. And not till after the wedding does the Lord come forth to smite His enemies and reign over His own. Hence His public coming -- His appearing -- to execute judgment, is separated from the rapture by the period of the tribulation.
6. An incidental proof
that the Church does not pass through the tribulation is the fact that the Lord comes to Israel for a far different purpose that that for which He comes to His Church. His coming to Israel -- spoken of in the New Testament as His appearing, or His revelation -- is to smite His and their enemies, and to deliver Israel from oppression and make them His people here upon the earth. Hundreds of Old Testament scriptures mention this "day of the Lord," which includes the tribulation period, with its climax in His dramatic return to earth. But His coming for His Church is called in the New Testament a "mystery" (I Cor. 15: 51). It was not revealed in the Old Testament. Both the Church and the Hope of the Church -- the rapture -- are said to be mysteries; and thus have no connection with Israel as a nation.
But why, some argue, should we escape the tribulation, and Israel know its horror? I might with equal propriety ask: "Why should I escape the damnation of hell, and millions perish in their sins?" However, there is at least one answer to the above question. Israel passes through the tribulation, as I believe is hinted at frequently in the Old Testament, because of their awful sin in crucifying their Messiah. They said, "His blood be on us and on our children," and God is taking them at their word. For the same reason we do not pass through that time of retribution. And what makes it so terrible is that this tribulation comes upon Israel and the world by the hand of God -- it is punishment for their sins. The believer all through the ages has suffered tribulation, but this is not for his sins, but for the sins of others; not at the hand of God, but at Satan's hand. Rev. 2:10 says so, in so many words.
That is the mighty difference between tribulation, of which every believer knows more or less; and the tribulation, which only will affect Israel and the apostate Church, after the true Church of God has been caught up to glory.
7. Israel's tribulation, as just stated,
is probably largely due to their rejection of Christ.
The prophet Zechariah, in fairly regular order, presents Israel's future. In chapter 9:9 he refers to the Lord's entry into Jerusalem as He rode upon the colt, just one week prior to His death. Chapter 11:12-13 makes mention of Judas' act in selling his Master for 30 pieces of silver. Chapter 12:10 carries us forward to the future day when Israel shall look upon Him Whom they pierced and shall mourn for Him. John in the first chapter of the book of Revelation alludes to this in v. 7, saying: "Behold, He cometh with clouds and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him, and all the kindreds of the earth (literally -- the tribes of the land), shall wail because of Him." They shall then recognize that the One they rejected and crucified was indeed their Messiah and King.
Then Zechariah harks back to the death of our Lord, and mentions the subsequent scattering of Israel among all the nations of the world (13:7). But God will bring a third part of them through the fire (13:9), which is none other than the fiery trial of the great tribulation. This, mentioned in direct connection with their crucifixion of Christ, suggests that their tribulation is God's dealing with them in judgment because of that fearful crime.
Finally, in chapter 14:2-5, reference is made to Christ's second coming, when His feet shall stand on the Mt. of Olives. Jerusalem shall then be delivered and Christ shall reign as King over all the earth (14:9). Since in all this only Israel is in view, the plain inference is that the Church is not here during this tribulation time.
8. The Church does not pass through the tribulation, because many "signs" are given, both in the Old and New Testaments, to precede the coming of Christ at His appearing, but no signs are suggested anywhere to usher in the rapture of the saints. As Paul says in I Cor. 1:22, "The Jews require a sign." Looking for signs is in itself a sign of unbelief, as our Savior said. "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." The Church's path is one entirely of "faith," including the hope of His return. No signs are given to herald Christ's coming for His Church; indeed, the very opposite is stressed. Compare for instance Luke 21:27-28 with Romans 8:23-25. Luke reads like this:
"And they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh."
The Jews were told they could know their redemption was near when they saw things.
Now look at the contrast in Romans 8:23-25:
"And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to-wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for what a man seeth, what doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it."
Could language be stronger; any contrast be more striking? Israel looks to see things; the Church by faith (and not by sight) waits for Him. Alt signs in Scripture have to do with Israel or the world; none with the Church.
The danger in looking for and at signs is that the eye is taken off the Lord to be fastened on things (which Satan loves well enough). One begins to look for signs instead of for the Savior; begins looking around instead of looking up. As a consequence, heavenly mindedness becomes a lost art, because it is impossible to be looking at the mess this world is in without becoming depressed. But a look at Him, waiting to see His lovely face at any moment, fills the heart with longing and a deep inward peace and joy.
Signs shall introduce the coming of the Lord in judgment -- many of them. Read Matt. 24 to see this. If the Church were to pass through the tribulation, it would have been impossible for the believer to look for the coming of his Lord. In that case, Christ could not have come for the Church till those signs had appeared; He could not have come till after the Antichrist had appeared. In that case, the Church would have started to look for the Antichrist, instead of for the Christ, which alas, is what so many believers actually have been and are doing. And many have made fools of themselves in doing so. What amazing and foolish prophecies have been made because of this fundamental error. The German Emperor, yea even Napoleon away back, Mussolini, Hitler and others have been charged, in addition to their many other crimes, with being the Antichrist as well. All such humbling and jumbling sadness could have been avoided, if the Church had only realized that Antichrist will not appear till Christ has come for His own, catching them away to the glory above.
9. The Antichrist cannot come,
till the Christ has come, at which coming He will take His Church home to heaven. Let us read II Thess. 2:3-8:
"Let no man deceive you by any means, for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
Remember ye not that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now letteth will let (this word "let" is the old English word for "hinder"), until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming."
I feel sure most Bible students agree that the one who in the temple of God, claiming to be God, is none other than the Antichrist This is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet. This Antichrist cannot be revealed while One is here to hinder his manifestation. Having considered other interpretations on this portion, it still remains clear that there is only one Person strong enough to hinder the awful development of full blown apostasy described here. That One is God, who is said here to be on earth, and therefore has reference to the Holy Spirit. He indwells the Church. Thus He must first be taken out of the way before Antichrist can come; and this calls for the removal of the Church, taken home by her Lord at the rapture. Hence the tribulation cannot begin till after the blessed hope has become a blessed reality.
10. The Church can not pass through the tribulation, because the "blessed hope" is always presented as an immediately possible event. This is clearly demonstrated in I Thess. 4:13-18. We read in verses 16-17 that . . . "the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
This Scripture shows that Paul, by the Spirit, had been taught the Lord might come even in his lifetime. He does not say "they" which are alive and remain, but "we." But, when speaking in the next chapter of the coming of Christ in judgement, he changes from "we" to "they" and "them," for "when they shall say, peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, and they shall not escape." He clearly states he would not be on earth at Christ's appearing, but might be at the rapture. All other verses dealing with the blessed hope speak in like manner; nowhere is there any hint of things having to happen before the Lord comes for His own.
11. The Church will not experience the great tribulation, because Rev. 3: 10 says so outright. Addressing the Church in Philadelphia, our blessed Lord says: "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."
This passage alone, were there no other, would prove that the Church of God will not only not pass through. the tribulation, but will not be in the world when it occurs. The language is careful and explicit. It does not say that we shall be kept from the tribulation, but from the hour of it. We shall be kept out of it altogether.
The reference here is definitely to what we call the "great" tribulation, because it is said to come on all the world. Our Savior said the same thing in regard to the great tribulation; and, of course, it is a matter of history that never, since these words were written, has any affliction come that effects the entire world.
It is stated here that this temptation shall come upon all that "dwell upon the earth," and this again excludes the Church, for it is never said of believers that they dwell on the earth. This term "earth-dwellers" is found, I believe, ten times in this book of Revelation, and, according to chapter 13:8 refers to religious apostates; to those who worship the beast. The term has reference therefore to the tribulation period, out of which we are said to be kept.
12. The Church will not be here during the tribulation, because we are told that "Jesus will deliver us from the wrath to come" (I Thess. 1: 10).
There are many passages in the Old Testament that designate the tribulation as the outpouring of "God's wrath," viz: Isa. 13:9, "Behold, the day cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate, and He shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it." Zeph. 1: 18 and 3:8 are other verses in point. And, since the book of Revelation unfolds the details of this tribulation, it is consistent to find much there about the outpouring of that wrath, as in chapter 6: 16 where we read of the awful "wrath of the Lamb." Ten times in Revelation we hear of this "wrath of God." Keeping this in mind, it is surely most significant that the believers of this age are repeatedly told that they shall not taste this wrath; yea, they shall not be on earth when it breaks loose. I Thess. 9-10 states: "Ye 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, the Deliverer from the wrath to come."
Since at His coming He takes us up to heaven, this Scripture plainly avers that in doing so He delivers us from the wrath to come, which wrath Revelation shows to be the tribulation judgements. Hence, the Church shall not be on earth during the tribulation.
In I Thess. 5:1-8 the apostle describes the forthcoming day of the Lord, which includes the great tribulation, and then, in v. 9, positively asserts that God "has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." Hence, here also we clearly see that we shall not be here when God's wrath smites this world. By then we shall have received our salvation, which, as many Scriptures show, includes our glorified bodies, which we receive at the rapture.
The same truth is conveyed in Romans 5: 8-10. Verse 8 deals with the past when Christ died for us; v. 10 presents the now as Christ lives for us as our great High Priest; and hence v. 9 speaks of the future when the wrath of God deluges this world. But we shall be saved from wrath through Him, which is exactly what the apostle said in I Thess. 1:10.
Isn't it highly significant that, while both the Old Testament and the book of Revelation stress so much the outpouring of the wrath of God, the New Testament epistles with one voice declare that the believer shall have been taken up to glory before. There is only one conclusion, the Church has been raptured before the wrath breaks forth, and shall be above the storm, in the sunlight of His glorious presence in heaven.
13. Israel and the Gentile -- the heathen nations -- pass through the tribulation to be blessed at its close, as seen in Revelation 7. This proves the Church will not be on earth, for in this day of grace the Jew and the Gentile are merged by the Cross into one Body.
In the first part of Revelation 7, we read of 144,000 sealed, and are informed that they are Jews -- 12,000 out of every tribe. The Old Testament says much of this remnant that shall be saved and inherit the earth, under the reign of Christ.
But who compose the vast multitude of the second part of this chapter? That's what one of the elders asked John, and when he confessed his ignorance, replied: "These are they which came out of tribulation, the great one, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:13-14). These are clearly not the heavenly saints, for the elder was one of those -- see Rev. 4:4 and 5:8; yet knew not who these were. They therefore are earthly saints, which is proven by a study of the context. It is said that they serve God day and night in His temple." This proves they are on earth, for Rev. 21 shows there is no temple in heaven; nor is there any night there. The chapter closes by saying that the Lamb shall feed and lead them, which surely can't be in heaven, where neither of these are needed.
The fact that they are mentioned in distinction from the Jews argues they do not represent the Church, for there Jew and Gentile are mergeed, as observed before.
They are believers from among the Gentile nations, as verse 9 says. It is worth noticing here that, when speaking of the Church in glory in Rev. 5:9 it states that those saints are redeemed out of every kindred, tongue, people and nation; while these in Rev. 7 are of all nations (chap. 7:9). In short, these believers are still members of their respective nations, which again proves they are not in heaven, for nationalism does not exist up there.
These Gentile believers have passed through the great tribulation (v. 14), are saved and blessed on the earth, of which John is shown a preview. There is no difficulty in identifying them, for numberless passages in the Old Testament speak of many Gentiles to be blessed with Israel here upon earth. The interested reader could read Isa. 60:1-3; Isa. 49; Deut. 32:43 (quoted in Romans 15:10) etc.
Both Old and New Testament scriptures show that these Gentile converts are won to God through the witnessing of the Jewish people during the tribulation woes. Matt. 24:14 and Isa. 66:19 are samples. The story of the judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matt. 25 details the judgment the Lord will pronounce over those nations who shall be gathered before Christ the King at the close of the tribulation. These saints of Rev. 7 are the "sheep" of Matt. 25:33-34. One thing to a careful student is crystal clear; and that is that the Church is not on earth during this tribulation, for Jews and Gentiles shall not be dealt with separately as long as the Church has the gospel of the grace of God committed to her charge.
14. The Church cannot pass through the tribulation, simply because there must be an interval between the blessed hope and Christ's appearing. We have shown that the Rapture does precede His appearing. Secondly, it must precede it by a considerable lapse of time.
That it precedes the appearing is clear, because it is symbolized in the rising of the morning star -- Rev. 22: 16; the appearing by the rising of the sun -- Mal. 4:2. And of course, the morning star rises long before the sun does. Again, in Luke 12:38 Jesus said that He might come in the second or in the third watch at the latest, while in Matt. 14:25 He came to His Jewish disciples in the fourth watch of the night The third watch, according to Mark 13:35, was at cockcrowing, which answers in time of day to the rising of the morning star, which is given as the hope of the Church. But Matthew speaks of His coming to Israel as being in the fourth watch, which answers to the rising of the sun. It is clear therefore that there is a space of time between these two comings; they cannot take place at the same time, as some claim.
Col. 3:4 says that when Christ Who is our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory. Now it is evident that we cannot come with Christ, unless He first come for us.
So also in Revelation 19 we see the heavenly Bride in glory, being united to her Lord in marriage; and this happens before He comes forth to judge the world, as the latter part of that chapter portrays.
It but remains to prove there must be a length of time of some years between these two phases of our Lord's coming. They cannot take place simultaneously, for that would pose an insoluble dilemma. For remember that at the rapture our Lord takes out all His saints, both those who have died and those alive at the time of His coming, for that is what I Thess. 4: 13-17 teaches us.
Now, by taking all believers out of the world at the rapture, only the unsaved, of course, would be left here on earth.
Now, if the rapture and the appearing followed upon one another immediately, as some would have us believe, where do the millions of saints come from, which Christ finds on earth at His public second coming? For that He does find many saints here is clearly shown in many scriptures, as for instance in Matt. 13:49 where we read: ". . . so shall it be in the end of the world (or age); the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire." There just has to be a long interval between the rapture of the saints and His appearing, to account for the saints Christ finds on earth at His appearing. And, of course, Scripture clearly accounts for such an interval.
Romans 11 shows us that when the fulness of the Gentiles has come in, then Israel shall turn to the Lord. Out of Sion shall come the Deliverer and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. This was God's covenant with them -- made with their fathers -- and promising them they would never cease to be His earthly people.
These converted Jews, after the Church has been removed at the rapture, will go forth to preach the gospel to all nations, as Matt. 24: 14 declares. The results of this preaching are seen in the judgment of the sheep and the goats of Matt. 25:31-46, already mentioned. They are also seen in Matt. 13:47-50 where the good are gathered into vessels, and the bad cast away.
Thus it is plain there is a space of time between the rapture and the appearing. And it is occupied with the horrors and sufferinges of the tribulation, the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom by the Jews to all lands, and the subsequent ingathering of myriads of Gentile converts, who shall be blessed with Israel in Christ's earthly millennial reign. To give the Scripture verses for all this would be impossible in a short article, which already is much longer than at first intended.
As we said at the outset, wrong conceptions on this subject are due chiefly to the failure to distinguish between Israel and the Church. Two samples were recently brought to me:
1. Because in Matt. 24:31 the Lord, at His coming, "gathered His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other," it is taken for granted that these "elect" here mentioned are the believers of the present age, because such are spoken of in the New Testament as "God's elect" (Romans 8:33). But it needs to be remembered that Israel was called God's elect people long before this is recorded of the Church. Speaking of the future ingathering to their land, in Isaiah 65:9, we read of Israel as His elect: "And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob and out of Judah an inheritor of My mountains, and Mine elect shall inherit it, and My servants shall dwell there." It is this very return to their land that is in view in Matt. 24. In Isa. 45:4 Israel definitely is called God's elect. As has been noted earlier, at the rapture the Lord Himself comes, while in connection with His appearing to Israel, He gathers them by His angels. The "elect" of Matt. 24 is Israel; not the Church.
2. Another passage some use to prove that the Church will pass through the tribulation is Luke 17: 26-30: "And as it was in the days of Noah so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed."
It is argued that Noah and Lot are types of believers of the Church, passing through the time of destruction known as the tribulation. But the very use of the title "Son of Man" ought to warn against that interpretation. For it is a title never employed in connection with the Church; indeed, it never occurs at all in the New Testament epistles. It is Christ's title as universal Lord when He reigns supreme; and this cannot be till after He has caught us up to glory. Noah passing through the flood is a type of this world passing through the great tribulation deluge; a type of those who pass through it alive and will inherit the new earth.
Neither Noah nor Lot were taken up to heaven, but remained here upon the earth; how then can they be types of the Church? For such a type we must look to Enoch, who walked with God and was taken home to heaven, before the flood came; as, praise God, we shall be.
In conclusion, let me once more remind my readers, that the blessed hope is just that. It takes no account of the awful storm of wrath that shall burst over this world in the great tribulation, but it is full of comfort and challenge to the Church which He purchased with His own blood. It holds the never failing thrill of the possibility of His immediate return.
It is the divine cure for heart trouble: "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you; and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:1-3).
It is the prescription for permanent joy: "And ye now therefore have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man taketh from you" (John 16:22).
It is the incentive to remember Him each Lord's day, for "as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death; till He come" (I Cor. 11:26).
It stimulates to earnest, patient service for Christ: "Be ye therefore stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58).
It holds out the bright prospect of absolute conformity to Christ -- spirit, soul and body. "For our conversation (our citizenship) is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Who shall change our body of humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body . . . "(Phil. 3:20-21).
It is our deliverance from divine wrath poured out on this world. ". . . we wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, the Deliverer from the wrath to come" (I Thess. 1: 10).
It is a source of deepest comfort, "for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words" (I Thess. 4:16-18).
It teaches the believer to live a Christ-honoring life, "for the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world. Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:11-13).
It induces pure, holy living, "but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
by August Van Ryn - public domain