The Tribulation Is Not God's Wrath
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with 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 was taught, and in turn I taught it myself, that the next great event for the Church is the rapture, the snatching away of the Church from the earth, which precedes a time of devastation and suffering unlike anything the world has ever seen. This is the time called the tribulation period, where God will pour out his fury on an unbelieving world, while the Church spends seven years “in heaven”, escaping God’s wrath. During this time the believers works will be judged, the marriage supper of the lamb will take place, then the saints will return with Christ to rule the earth. I no longer believe this is truth. I don’t know for certain what is going to happen next, but I believe the authoritarian policies that have been globally enacted over the last couple of years have set the stage for the tribulation period. It may be that the antichrist is close to taking the reins of the world system. This is not something that I have spent a great deal of time studying, for what one believes about end time events does not determine his salvation. I have not gotten entrenched in this topic because I have found it necessary to dig into the truths of soteriology and theodicy since the Adversary has sowed lies among the truths of God, resulting in much confusion in the world. This does not mean that I consider the topic to be unimportant.
Some believe in a mid-tribulation rapture. Once the tribulation begins, Christians will endure it for three and a half years, then they will be raptured, and the next three and a half years have been dubbed the “Great Tribulation” period. As for the teachings of Christ in the gospels, and also in the Book of Revelation, some believe that all of the described events have already occurred in history, and that all was fulfilled once Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. These people are known as preterists. I do not accept this as truth. Partial preterists hold to the view that some of what Christ warned about indeed occurred “before that generation passed”, but there are still futuristic elements in the Book of Revelation, in the gospels, and in Paul’s letters. Futurists claim that all of the Book of Revelation (after Revelation chapter three) is yet to come. All make their arguments using the scriptures, but obviously claiming to have the support of the scriptures doesn’t make someone correct. Things that are different cannot be the same.
Who is correct? Is there such a thing as the rapture? If so, when will it occur? How should we prepare for whatever happens next?
According to sources (here is one) the teaching that the Church would be taken away from the earth for a seven-year period during the tribulation period stems from a supposed “revelation” or “vision” that was received by Margaret McDonald, a Scottish woman, around 1830. The information spread and the “date-setting” began. John Darby, who was associated with the Plymouth Brethren, included the pre-tribulation rapture idea into his teaching. There were Christians that opposed this teaching because to accept it meant to accept two comings of Christ instead of one.
Using the source article above as a template, I will show why I believe that the pre-tribulation rapture teaching is not scriptural truth.
During the Lord’s Olivet discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) Christ told his listeners what would happen in the “end”, and he gives instructions to those who would be living at the time. The Lord said that for the sake of the elect, the days of tribulation will be cut short. Those who believe the Church will be raptured before this time of tribulation claim that the word “elect” is referring to a group of Jews that will be saved during the tribulation period. There is no doubt that people will be converted during the tribulation period, but to read into this passage that the Lord is referring to a group of converted Jews only is to have a preconceived idea and to force it upon the text. The term elect is used throughout the New Testament to refer to the Church, and there doesn’t seem to be a justifiable reason to change the meaning here.
The Lord said:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.”
Here we see the Lord speaking of gathering the elect, and I believe this is the same event as the dead in Christ being raised, where they and living Christians will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The Church being raptured before the time of tribulation is not in these passages, in fact, just the opposite is stated. Christ specifically said: immediately after the tribulation and after that tribulation. I wouldn’t want to be the one who denies the words of Christ.
Paul too spoke about the same event.
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
Notice that reference to the last trumpet. The "great sound of a trumpet" announces the gathering together of the saints in Matthew 24:31:
“And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
This occurs after the tribulation period, since that is exactly what the Lord said.
There are two coming resurrections. The first is the resurrection of the just unto life, and the second is the resurrection of the unjust unto destruction. The first resurrection, the resurrection of the just, and the catching up of the saints occur at the same time, as Paul told the Thessalonians. The dead in Christ will be raised and given immortal, incorruptible bodies, and will meet the Lord in the air, along with living Christians.
The Apostle John revealed the following in Revelation 20:4-6:
“And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”
Those who are raised at the first resurrection will reign with Christ for a thousand years, and this number will include those saints who are killed during the tribulation period because they will not worship the beast or receive his mark. Since the first resurrection and the gathering of the saints in the air occur at the same time, and includes martyrs from the tribulation period, then the first resurrection and gathering of the saints in the air take place after the tribulation period. Those who push the pre-tribulation rapture theory must teach there is a first resurrection before the tribulation and then another first resurrection after the tribulation. Can there be two “first” resurrections?
What about those Bible passages that are used to “prove” a pre-tribulation rapture?
Revelation 3:10 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."
Where does this verse claim Christians will be taken away from the earth in a pre-tribulation rapture? It doesn’t; that view must be read into the verse.
The Lord prayed in John 17:5:
“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.”
Christ was praying for his disciples that were currently with him (see vs. 20) and notice that he used the words “keep them from the evil” while also specifically stating he was not praying that they be taken out of the world. He prayed they would be kept from evil even while they were living in its presence. The Lord’s prayer contains the words “deliver us from evil.” Christ wasn’t telling us to ask to be physically removed from the earth, but to ask for the power and protection to live through the evil around us.
Luke 21:36 says:
“Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be counted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”
What are “all these things that shall come to pass?” In verses 25-28, the Lord spoke of signs that would precede his return.
“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud 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.”
People at this time will be afraid because of “the things which are coming on the earth.” What is being referred to here? When the Lord returns, he will bring judgment, but this does not need to be feared by the saints. In fact, the Bible shows us that this fear of men, and the things that will be happening, are due to the power of the heavens being shaken, then shall they see the Lord coming, and then the saints are to look up and lift their heads for their salvation is near! “The things to come” describe the events associated with the return of the Lord that will bring fear upon men, and not to the happenings of the tribulation period.
I’ve also heard it said, and I repeated it myself, that since God has not “appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” that it is obvious God will remove us from the earth before his wrath is poured out. This says nothing about being taken from the earth, only that the Church will not be subject to God's wrath. Importantly, the wrath of God does not refer to the tribulation, for the tribulation is the sufferings resulting from the wrath of the antichrist and the ungodly against each other and against the Church.
In Matthew 24:29-30, we read of the great heavenly signs that take place just after the tribulation period that precede the second coming of Christ. In Revelation 6:13-17, we read of these signs and the fear of the ungodly who want to hide from “the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” The unconverted will not be able to stand on this day of wrath and judgment. Only those who have obtained "salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" will be spared, but this is not a reference to the tribulation period but the return of Christ. I suggest, with others, the following order of events: 1) The tribulation, 2) the cosmic events that will occur before and leading up to 3) the return of Christ, the day of the Lord which is the day of God’s wrath. The wrath of God is his final judgment upon the wicked.
Another "proof" text of the pre-tribulation rapture teaching is this:
“Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken and the other left.”
This text says nothing about removing people from the earth, or who will be taken, or even what it means to be taken, but we find a similar concept in Matthew 13:24-30 as the Lord spoke the parable of the wheat and the tares. In verses 36-42, he gave the interpretation.
“Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
The point is simple: Christians and unbelievers will live alongside each other in the present age until the end of the world, when the wheat and the tares are separated.
I also have seen that people will refer to analogies from the First Testament to “picture” the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture. The translation of Enoch before the flood judgment and the deliverance of Lot before the destruction of Sodom are both said to be "types of the Church" being raptured before the tribulation. (It is not the point of this article, but I do not affirm that Enoch was taken to heaven.) It is also said that Noah, who remained and was protected through the flood is a "type of Israel" in the tribulation. Noah being a “type” of the Church being preserved through the tribulation does not fit their teaching, though it appears to be in line with the biblical view and would be more fitting, though I am not willing to use analogies to prove or bolster scriptural truth. Analogies can be helpful. I get bogged down analytically at times and my wife rescues me from the mental abyss with simple to understand analogies. But many have used analogies to prove or support their pet doctrines and this is dangerous. There is simply no warrant for “over spiritualizing” biblical texts.
Some think it would not be good of God to allow the Church to experience the tribulation period, but what of the vast number of saints that have already suffered agonizing deaths for being his followers? God did not “rapture” them from tribulation and suffering. Did this mean God was not good to them? Did he fail them? Any sufferings endured during the tribulation period cannot be any worse than the sufferings that saints have already endured. Are we better than them? Professing Christians in the US and many places in Europe know little of persecution. They know fancy buildings, fancy clothes, choir robes, air-conditioned sanctuaries, and financial prosperity. In a coming day the saints who have suffered and died will sing praises to the Lord for the privilege of being able to suffer for his name; why do the easy-believism (make-believe) Christians in America think it would be wrong for them to face suffering?
"For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for His sake." (Philippians 1:29)
"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also, with exceeding joy." (I Peter 4:12-13)
*I am aware that this is not an exhaustive treatment of this topic and other scriptural passages must be brought into the equation, but I do not see how the suggested order of events can be refuted scripturally. If anyone thinks I am missing something that would refute the claims in this article, please feel free to email me and let me know.