Will the Church Go Through the Great Tribulation?


Will the Church Go Through the Great Tribulation?

In the heart of every Bible believing Christian is the blessed hope: the personal return in glory of Christ from heaven to resurrect those who have died in Him, gather those who are living and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Though we all have this common hope there are, however, different sincerely held interpretations as to the order of the prophesied events.

In 1972, as a new Christian, the rapture, our being caught up secretly to be with Christ before the time of the great tribulation, was a very popular and intriguing topic (known as the pre-tribulation rapture view). The first of the end-time/rapture movies ‘A Thief In the Night‘ made quite an impression on me. I had at that time no reason to question the pre-tribulation rapture which seemed to be the most popular view amongst evangelical Christians. However as I began to read the Bible and study the subject for myself I could not reconcile the pre-tribulation view with the end-time scriptures as I understood them (I came to what is known as the post-tribulation rapture view).

What I hope to achieve here is to show why I came to this conclusion. It is not based on any particular teaching but from the Bible as I plainly read it. In this respect I found the pre-tribulation teaching wanting, for I could find no explicit scripture or scriptures which clearly taught that Christians would be taken from the earth in an invisible (to the world) coming before the time Jesus described as the great tribulation. On the contrary there were many scriptures which indicated Christians would be on earth during this time. I do understand, however, why many believe the rapture will occur before the Tribulation. I also found that the secret rapture teaching, as it is known today, was not taught until the early 19th century. While there are a few historical references prior to this time that could be interpreted as indicating a secret rapture they are the exception. For more detail on the origin of the pre-tribulation rapture teaching see Appendix: History of the Pre-tribulation Rapture at the end of this page.

Does it really matter whether the rapture happens before or after the time of the great tribulation? Certainly this is not an issue Christians should divide over and nor is it one which bears on our salvation in Christ. There should always be love and respect for one another despite differences such as these. However we want to know the truth since more is written in the Scriptures about the end-time than any other and what we believe has implications.

Firstly I believe our greatest hope should be in Jesus’ coming and our being united with Him, not that we will escape tribulation. Yet Jesus told us of what will happen before His coming and how to prepare for that time. Therefore it would seem to me inconsistent with Jesus’ character that He forewarn us of these things if, in the future, His followers did not have to go through that time. Are we to believe that Jesus’ warnings and encouragement in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 12 & 17 and Revelation to persevere and remain faithful in the midst of tribulation, for the most part, not applicable to Christians, members of His body, the Church living today?

What Does Scripture Teach Us About the End-time?

Scripture must ultimately be our guide, not historical teaching, therefore what I intend to do here is quote the relevant scriptures in full so you can see why I have come to the understanding that the Church will go through the great tribulation and endure the reign of the Antichrist.

The first teaching of Jesus of the end-time appears in the parable of the tares:

Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn (Matthew 13:30).

So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear (Matthew 13:40-43).

We should note here that Jesus says at the end of the age it is the wicked who will first be taken and judged. So according to this scripture, the righteous are present on earth at the time of the judgement of the wicked before being taken to be with Him.

Next was His teaching on the mount of Olives in response to His disciples who asked about the end of the age:

“Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  (Matthew 24:3).

Jesus answered their question, first warning them not to be deceived:

See to it that no one misleads you for many will come in My name, saying, ’I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many (24:4-5).

He then gave a detailed revelation of events which would precede His coming (Matthew 24:4-51). Mark also records the same revelation (Mark 13:1-37) while Luke, though different, records much of the main features of Jesus’ end-time teaching (in chapters 12, 17 and 21).

In both Matthew’s and Mark’s account Jesus forewarns His followers to be prepared for tribulation and deception in the end-time.

Here is a summary of the end-time events:

1. False Christs who mislead many (v 5)
2. Wars and rumours of wars, international conflict, famines and earthquakes (v 6-7).
3. A time of tribulation, persecution for His followers (v 9)
4. A time of apostasy when many will fall away from the faith (v 10).
5. The gospel preached to all nations.
6. The fulfilment of the prophecy of Daniel regarding the abomination of desolation in the temple (v 15).
7. Then a time of great and unprecedented tribulation for the elect, with great spiritual deception (false Christs, prophets and signs and wonders) when it will be said Christ has come.

Jesus specifically warns us “Behold, I have told you in advance” that these things would happen (v 16 – 26).

Jesus then tells us of events which happen immediately after this time of great tribulation:

1. The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, stars will fall from the sky and there will be great cosmic changes.
2. Then He will appear, visibly as lightning shines from one end of the sky to the other (v 27), coming in the clouds, sending out His angels with the sound of a great trumpet and gathering His elect from the four corners of the world (v 29-31).
3. The actual day and hour of His coming no one knows except the Father but Jesus tells us that when we see all these things we will know the time is very close (v 32-34).
4. He tells us to be on the alert, prepared at all times by doing His will (24:42-25:13). Those who are disobedient will be spiritually unclothed, asleep and unprepared to meet Him (Mark 13:35, Luke 12:35 and Rev 16:15).

This outline of events surrounding Christ’s coming should serve as the key to understanding the events given in the prophecies of Daniel, Revelation and the many other scriptures describing the end-times. A straight forward reading of these scriptures show that Christ’s coming for His own, His elect, will be visible, as lightning, in the clouds, with the sound of a trumpet, in power and glory after a time of apostasy and great tribulation.

The Pre-tribulation Rapture

However the pre-tribulation rapture teaching says Christ’s coming for His Church will not be preceded by any prophesied events nor be visible to the world. The ‘elect’ Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, according to this view, are not the Church but the elect of Israel who will come to Christ during the great tribulation.

The pre-tribulation rapture requires that there will be two second comings of Christ: the first in secret, invisibly for His church and the second visibly, in glory with His church to bring judgement on the earth. But is this what we find in Scripture?

How Will Jesus Come Again?

The two words most used – coming (Greek: parousia) and come (erchomai) occur 16 and 18 times respectively in reference to Christ’s second coming. Nowhere in the New Testament are these words used of an invisible coming. The words coming and appears  or appearance (meaning made visible) are used together 4 times (Matthew 24:27 and 30, 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and 1 John 2:28) and plainly refer to one event not two.

While someone can find support for the pre-tribulation rapture by quoting certain scriptures, I hope to show here that when all the relevant scriptures are considered it is difficult to, objectively, show a two stage second coming of Christ. According to the Bible Jesus’ coming for His own will be:

1. Visible

 For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming (parousia) of the Son of Man be (Matthew 24:27). Note: the Greek word translated ‘flashes’ in this verse is translated as ‘appear’ in verse 30 below.

And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).

Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven (Acts 1:11).

For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed  from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7).

Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His (Christ’s) coming ( 2 Thessalonians 2:8).

…that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1Timothy 6:14).

So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28 ESV).

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen (Revelation 1:7).

2. In or On the Clouds

And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).

Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:27-28).

Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen (Revelation 1:7).

3. Audible

And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (Matthew 24:31).

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51).

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

4. Christ Will Gather His Own

And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (Matthew 24:31).

If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:3).

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:22).

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4).

Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (2 Thessalonians 2:1).

So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28 ESV).

There is no indication in these scriptures that the gathering of Matthew 24:31 is different and separated in time from the being caught up (i.e. the rapture) and gathering in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

5. As a Thief, Unexpectedly

But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.
For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will (Matthew 24:43-44).

For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labour pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober (1 Thessalonians 5:2-6).

So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you (Revelation 3:3).

These scriptures teach us Christ’s coming will be unexpected to those not waiting and those who are spiritually asleep and unprepared. For those who are waiting, spiritually awake and prepared His coming will be sudden but anticipated.

In summary:

Christ’s coming for His own will be visible – to every eye, not just those who believe in Him. Paul makes this clear in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 when he says that when Christ comes for His own He will be revealed with angels in flaming fire. It will be audible – with a shout, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet. It will be in the clouds as Christ went into heaven after His resurrection. It will be sudden and unexpected to an unbelieving world, and to those who are spiritually asleep and unprepared. The gathering of His own and being caught up (raptured) will be at His coming, His appearing and revealing.

In all the scriptures we have considered, there is no suggestion Christ’s coming for His own and being caught up (the rapture) and His coming to earth visibly (to every eye) and audibly are separate events.

The Events Which Precede Christ’s Coming

God has revealed to us in the Scriptures that certain events would happen before Jesus comes for His own: to raise those who have died and gather those who are alive. They are given, not just for information, but to forewarn and prepare those of Christ’s followers who would be alive at the time. Jesus says “See to it that no one misleads you” and “I have told you in advance” (Matthew 24:4 & 25). Clearly given to warn His disciples and in particular of deception in the end time. These things will precede the coming of Christ:

1. False Christs, spiritual deception (Matthew 24:4-5,11,24; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; 1 Timothy 4:1).

2. Wars and rumours of wars. While there have always been wars and conflicts Jesus reveals there will be times of great international conflict which will cause fear in those without hope (Matthew 24:6-7).

3. Famines and earthquakes. Jesus forewarns of times of unprecedented frequency and magnitude of these events (Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:25-26).

4. These are not the end but just the beginning of the birth pangs (Matthew 24:8).

5. A time of tribulation and persecution of believers in every nation. While the church has always experienced persecution through the ages, we are seeing today a great increase in animosity towards Christians in many nations. This has become particularly evident in Islamic societies with the rise of a puritanical and militant form of Islam. Yet even in Western countries, where for five centuries Christians have enjoyed relative peace and security, are now experiencing an increasing antipathy by society and governments which no longer uphold or are sympathetic to Christian values (Matthew 24:9).

6. A time of apostasy when many will depart from the faith. There will be hostility and betrayal within the Christian community. With apostasy lawlessness and immorality will increase and the love of most will grow cold (Matthew 24:10, Luke 18:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 2 Peter 3:3).

8. The gospel of God’s kingdom will be preached to every nation (Matthew 24:14).

9. The abomination of desolation as described by the prophet Daniel (Matthew 24:15, Daniel 12:11). From this we must conclude the Jewish people would be in their land (not fulfilled until 1948) and that there would be a temple (not fulfilled as yet). Paul tells the church at Thessalonica that this must happen before the coming of Christ and our gathering to Him:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.  Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

From Paul’s words to the Thessalonians we can see the order of events as:

1. the apostasy, when many will fall away from the faith (see also Matthew 24:10, Luke 8:13 and 1 Timothy 4:1)

2. the revealing of the man of lawlessness (the anti-Christ. See also Daniel 7:25 and 8:25)

3. the day of the Lord, the coming of Christ and our gathering to Him. That is, the apostasy and the appearing of the anti-Christ will occur before Christ’s coming and our gathering to Him.

I am aware some say that ‘apostasy’, as it appears in most English Bibles, translated from the Greek word apostasia, should be  translated as ‘departure’ (meaning the rapture). Thus, according to this interpretation, our ‘departure’, or the rapture, must happen before the revealing of the man of sin.

I see two problems with this interpretation. First there is no instance in either the New Testament or the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) of apostasia meaning a physical departure. It is consistently translated as apostasy – meaning a departure from the faith. Secondly, such an interpretation in the context of Paul’s words would have him saying, in effect, that our departure (the rapture) will not occur before our departure (the coming of Christ, our gathering to Him and the day of the Lord), which of course makes no sense.

10. Then will arise a time of great tribulation such has not occurred since the beginning of the world  which will be cut short for the sake of the elect.

11. False Christs and prophets will lead many astray through deceiving signs and wonders. The depth of deception will be great so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.

12. Immediately after this time of great tribulation there will be signs in the heavens: the sun darkened, the moon not giving its light and the stars falling.

After all these things happen then Jesus said He will return for His own, appearing in the sky, in the clouds with His angels in glory.

The Pre-tribulation Rapture Considered

Next we will consider the common reasons offered to support the two comings of Christ: the first invisibly for His own before the great tribulation and the second visibly in judgement on an unbelieving world.

1. The Rapture is the Blessed Hope

Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, says that they can be comforted with the knowledge of being reunited with those who have died in Christ at His coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). It is reasoned that if Christians have to go through the great tribulation, how can his words be a comfort and a blessed hope (Titus 2:13)? In both scriptures the hope and the comfort is clearly of the dead in Christ being raised and united together with those who are alive when He comes, not that we escape tribulation (which is not mentioned). That we may have to endure suffering and even death before we are taken to be with Christ does not detract in any way the blessed hope we have in Him, as Christians through the ages have joyfully believed.

The church, Christians through history have always experienced tribulation and persecution. Jesus and the apostles warned us to expect persecution, be prepared for tribulation and remain faithful, even if our earthly life be at stake. We should not fear tribulation and persecution because of the promise we will not be tested beyond what we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13). The difference only in the end-time is that the tribulation will be great and unprecedented though, for the sake of the elect, a relatively short time.

2. The Rapture, Our Gathering To Christ, Will Be Imminent, Without Warning

This is based on Jesus’ words  “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36) and that He will come as a thief in the night (Matthew 24:43-44). It is these words, I believe, have been misinterpreted  to mean Jesus’ coming for His own will be imminent, that is, could occur at any time without warning. Yet this is not what Jesus said. He said we will not know the exact day or hour, but when those who are waiting and prepared see all these signs they will know the time is near (Matthew 24:33, Luke 21:28). It is only to those who are unprepared, spiritually asleep or in darkness that He will come unexpectedly and as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:4).

It is also reasoned (based on Daniel 12:11) that Christ’s visible coming in glory will be 1290 days (supposedly as distinct from the rapture) after the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15) and therefore would contradict Jesus’ statement we will not know the day or hour. Yet this is an interpolation, not what is actually stated in Daniel 12 which does not specifically reveal the time of Christ’s coming.

Another reasoning is that the imminence of Christ’s coming for His own is a major motivation for Christians to be pure and holy. Yet the many encouragements throughout scripture to be pure and holy are not because Christ may come suddenly at any time, but rather that we be faithful and obedient should He not come for a long time (Matthew 24:45-51, Luke 12:35-46). The reality is that Jesus wants us to be pure and holy at all times for none of us know how long our life will be in this world.

3. That the ‘elect’ of Matthew 24 (and Mark 13) are not the Church but the remnant elect of Israel

Jesus’ words are addressed to His disciples, His followers, Christians of all nations with the intention that they be warned and prepared should He return in their life-time. Jesus through His teaching of the end-time says you (plural) not they and we can safely assume the disciples were members of the Church! For example He says “so, you too, when you see all these things, recognise that He is near, right at the door” (v 33) clearly indicating that His followers at some time in the future would see all these things come to pass. The idea Jesus’ words are directed to a future Jewish elect remnant and not the Church elect and that the elect of the Church and the elect of Israel are separate bodies, I find, has no clear and consistent Scriptural basis. Paul makes it clear that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, we are all one body, joined to the one root and there is no division between the two (Ephesians 2:14-22, Romans 11:24).

Pre-tribulation teaching also draws attention to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:

But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath (verse 20).

It is reasoned, because of reference to the Sabbath, these words only apply to the Jewish elect during the time of the great tribulation. However it should be noted Mark (who wrote to Gentile believers) omits ‘Sabbath’ in his parallel account (Mark 13:18). Therefore Jesus’ words must apply to both Jew and Gentile believers living at that time.

4. That ‘the Church’ is not mentioned in Revelation after Chapter 4 and therefore not on earth

I see this as an argument from silence. In fact we find that several other books of the NT also do not mention the Church. ‘Church’, from the Greek word ekklesia (meaning called out ones) does not appear in many other books of Scripture (Mark, Luke, John, 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Jude). We would not say for that reason the church did not exist at the time those writings were composed.

A number of different words are used to identify members of the body of Christ: saints (holy ones), believers, bond-servants, brothers (of Christ), elect (or chosen), His people, the called of Jesus Christ, children of God and the Church. The first word used in Revelation to address Christ’s followers is ‘servant’ or ‘bond-servant’ from the Greek word ‘doulos‘ and is used 7 times from 1:1 to 22:6. The most common word is ‘saints’ or ‘holy ones’ which is used 12 times from 5:8 to 20:9 (and also the word used most frequently throughout the New Testament in reference to Christ’s own).

Therefore that the word ‘church‘ does not appear after chapter 4 does not necessarily mean members of the church are not on earth.

The Revelation given to John begins with this instruction:

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near (Rev 1:3).

These words tell us to heed, pay careful attention to, what is written and we should assume all of it unless there were clearly reasons not to. They are written to inform and prepare us for what is to happen, not just for our curiosity about the future.

It is also interesting to note that ‘church’ (ekklesia) does not appear in Revelation 19-21. Yet the context in chapters 19-21 demand that the church is present.  If the word ‘church’ is itself so significant then why is it not used in chapters 19-21? These chapters cover the second coming of Christ, the fall of Satan, and give us a glimpse of such things as Judgement Day and the New Heavens and New Earth. Therefore the absence of the term ‘church’ in Revelation 4 to 18 does not mean members of the Church, Christ’s followers are not on earth. There is no clear reference in Revelation to the Church, Christ’s followers, being taken from the earth before the great tribulation.

5. That the Church will be taken out of the world to be with Christ before the great tribulation because of God’s promise we will not be subject to wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

First there is no scripture which clearly says the Church, Christ’s own, will be gathered to Him before the time of the great tribulation. Jesus says it would be after the tribulation that He would come and gather His elect – both Jew and Gentile (Matthew 24:29-31 ).

How then can we reconcile this with Jesus’ promise to save us from the wrath to come? First we need to realise that experiencing tribulation is not experiencing wrath. The church has always experienced tribulation, in fact it is inevitable (2 Timothy 3:12). During the great tribulation the difference simply being that it will be great (though for the sake of the elect the time will be shortened).

Secondly should we assume the Church must be removed from the earth during the time of God’s judgement on an unbelieving and evil world? Just as Israel was divinely preserved and protected when God’s judgements were bought upon Pharaoh and Egypt at the time of the Exodus so we can also expect Christians will also be divinely protected during the final judgement on the world.

Do we find in Scripture that God will protect His people in a time of His wrath? Here are some which indicate this:

Come, my people, enter into your rooms And close your doors behind you; hide for a little while until indignation runs its course. For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity (Isaiah 26:20-21).

Seek the LORD, All you humble of the earth Who have carried out His ordinances; Seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you will be hidden In the day of the LORD’S anger (Zephaniah 2:3).

From these we can take assurance and comfort that God’s people will be protected during His judgement on the world. Indeed there are many scriptures which give us encouragement, hope and strength during times of persecution and tribulation such as these:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

…strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

After the out-pouring of the 6th bowl of wrath on the world we should note that Jesus encourages His followers with these words: “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame” (Revelation 16:15). These words are very similar to the ones Jesus gave His disciples in Matthew 24:43-44, Mark 13:35-37, Luke 12:35-40 and Paul’s to the Thessalonians (1 Th 5:2-6).

Another scripture which has been given as indicating the Church will not go through the tribulation says:

Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth (Revelation 3:10).

Yet I see two problems with this idea:

1. It assumes this promise is for all Christians of all times. Yet it is given only to Philadelphia, one of the seven churches. I am aware of the teaching that the seven churches represent a seven period history of the church, but this is an interpolation, not what is stated by Jesus. The simplest interpretation is the seven churches represent the church throughout history.

2. While Jesus promises the members of this church they will be kept from the hour of testing, it does not necessarily follow that the church must be removed from the world.

Jesus has promised to save us from the wrath to come and to keep us through times of tribulation – not by removing us from the world but by his indwelling Spirit strengthening us to persevere and maintaining our faith in Him. We can have courage and peace until the very end because Jesus has overcome the world.

Does It Matter?

Does it matter whether we believe Jesus will come for His own before or after the great tribulation? As said earlier, this is not a matter which has bearing on our salvation in Christ. However I find the teaching that the Church will be raptured before the great tribulation has no clear scriptural teaching, but rather based on inferences drawn from a number scriptures. The fact Jesus specifically warns us not to be misled and that His coming would be after the tribulation should strongly encourage us to be prepared for such a time. If we believe we will not go through tribulation and not see the man of lawlessness revealed, then I think there is a danger we could be unprepared and even be a cause of loss of faith for some when or should that time of testing come.

These words are an excerpt from a letter Corrie Ten Boom wrote in 1974. Corrie was a Dutch Christian who survived a Nazi concentration camp in World War 2 who knew personally what it means to suffer.

  ‘Sometimes I get frightened as I read the Bible, and as I look in this world and see all of the tribulation and persecution promised by the Bible coming true.  Now I can tell you, though, if you too are afraid, that I have just read the last pages.  I can now come to shouting “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” for I have found where it is written that Jesus said:

He that overcomes shall inherit all things and I will be His God, and he shall be My son.

This is the future and hope of this world. Not that the world will survive – but that we shall be overcomers in the midst of a dying world.

There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days.  Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution. In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution.  Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly,

“We have failed.  We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes, – to stand and not faint.”

I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it. We are next.’ (the full letter is worth reading).

Those last words ‘We are next‘ should be taken to heart. The increasing antipathy and hostility towards Christianity in the West should be seen as warning signs of coming persecution which will only intensify as the end-time draws closer. Further it is not just physical persecution but spiritual deception which I believe is the greatest danger. Therefore any teaching which might cause us to be complacent and unprepared must be examined closely.

When and exactly what will happen in the future we know only in part but we do know the many promises of Jesus:  “In Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Therefore we need have no fear of what is to come as we keep our faith in Jesus and what He has taught us to the very end. Then when He will come in glory and take us to be with Him forever. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Appendix: History of the Pre-tribulation Rapture

I thought it necessary to show that the pre-tribulation rapture teaching, as it is known today, was not taught until the early to mid 19th century. It has been argued, however, that there are a number of historical references before the 19th century to a pre-tribulation rapture by various Christian teachers and writers. What does history show us?

Here are some quotes by early church fathers:

Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-168):

Two advents of Christ have been announced: the one, in which He is set forth as suffering, inglorious, dishonored, and crucified; but the other, in which He shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians. (First Apology of Justine, Chapter 110).

Irenaeus (A.D. 140-202; a student of Polycarp, taught by the apostle John):

And then he…  (Daniel)…points out the time that his tyranny shall last, during which the saints shall be put to flight.  (Against Heresies V, XXVL, 1) And they shall lay Babylon waste, and burn her with fire, and shall give their kingdom to the beast, and put the church to flight. After that they shall be destroyed by the coming of our Lord. (Against Heresies V, XXVI).

Tertulian (A.D. 160-220):

That the beast Antichrist, with his false prophet, may wage war on the Church of God. (On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 25).

Cyprian (A.D. 200-258):

The Lord has foretold that these things would come. With the exhortation of His foreseeing word, instructing, and teaching, and preparing, and strengthening the people of His Church for all endurance of things to come. He previously warned us that the adversary would increase more and more in the last times. (Treatise 7).

For you ought to know and to believe, and hold it for certain, that the day of affliction has begun to hang over our heads, and the end of the world and the time of Antichrist to draw near, so that we must all stand prepared for the battle…The time will come, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service…Nor let any one wonder that we are harassed with increasing afflictions, when the Lord before predicted that these things would happen in the last times. (Epistles of Cyprian, LV, 1, 2).

Nor let any one of you, beloved brethren, be so terrified by the fear of future persecution, or the coming of the threatening Antichrist, as not to be found armed for all things by the evangelical exhortations and precepts, and by the heavenly warnings. (Cyprian, LIII).

There are many more which indicate that through most of church history it was understood and taught that Christians, the Church, would have to prepare for and endure the persecution of the Antichrist during the time of the great tribulation before Christ returned in glory.

The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Ephraem

Yet those who teach a pre-tribulation rapture claim support prior to the 19th century from a medieval (7th century) document known as The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Ephraem (which exists in Syriac, Greek and Latin texts). In the Latin version are these words:

For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.

These words, taken in isolation, appear to support the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture. However elsewhere in his writing it is clear the author anticipates Christians enduring the time of the great tribulation and then meeting Christ as described in Matthew 24:

In those days people shall not be buried, neither Christian, nor heretic, neither Jew, nor pagan, because of fear and dread there is not one who buries them; because all people, while they are fleeing, ignore them.

…and there will be a great tribulation, as there has not been, since people began to be upon the earth…

…when this inevitability has overwhelmed all people, just and unjust, the just so that they may be found good by their Lord; and indeed the unjust so that they may be damned forever with their author the Devil.

after the resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know, and on the day which the enemy of son of perdition does not know, will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty,

…as the angelic trumpet precedes him, which shall sound and declare: Arise, O sleeping ones, arise, meet Christ, because his hour of judgement has come! Then Christ shall come and the enemy shall be thrown into confusion, and the Lord shall destroy him by the spirit of his mouth.

It should be noted that the Syriac version makes no mention of the elect being gathered to Christ before the tribulation. So because of internal inconsistencies and differences between the different texts, this document ought not be taken as clear evidence of an early teaching of the pre-tribulation rapture.

The Modern Pre-tribulation Rapture Teaching

While there is some dispute as to whether the pre-tribulation rapture teaching originated with Edward Irving in 1831 or John Darby about 1839, it was Darby who popularised the teaching (an integral part of a theological framework known as Dispensationalism) and made it into a formal doctrine as it known today. Darby’s teachings were incorporated in the Scofield Reference Bible in the early 1900’s which was highly influential in disseminating the idea of the pre-tribulation rapture (especially in the USA). More recently the teaching has gained popularity through books such as Hal Lindsey’s ‘The Late Great Planet Earth‘ (1970), which has sold over 15 million copies and Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkin’s ‘Left Behind‘ novel series (began 1995) which have sold 80 million copies.

There is no question the pre-tribulation rapture teaching is popular and appeals to many with the idea Christians will not have to endure the time of the great tribulation. However it is a relatively recent teaching and the essential question we need to ask is it true to Scripture?