WILL GOD'S CHURCH ESCAPE TRIBULATION?

July 5, 2009

There are two concepts that come with the "rapture" package:
       1.   The Church of Jesus Christ will escape the "tribulation."
       2.   Those who miss the rapture will have a second chance to be saved!

Apart from what the Bible actually teaches about the first item, if you think about it, the second can be dangerous!  Some people might rationalize, "If the rapture takes place, then I'll know God is real.  Even though it may be tough I can still become a Christian during the tribulation and resist that antichrist guy!"  In this way, by adopting a lazy "Let's wait and see" attitude, lost sinners may put off their decision to repent and follow Jesus right now.

Die-hard tribulation supporters sometimes say, "God wouldn't allow His people to go through the tribulation.  He loves us too much!"  But if you think about it, does He love us any more than He would love after-the-rapture new believers during the tribulation?  No!  Then why would He allow them to go through such a horrific period, but not us?  Could it be that the idea of escaping tribulation is really only catering to our lukewarm American tendencies?  We like comfort, hate to go through trials, and can hardly bear it when our TV-dinner lifestyle is threatened.  Yet historically, God's people have gone through intense suffering.  All the disciples of Jesus, except John, were brutally murdered.  Thousands of early Christians were torn to shreds by wild dogs and lions inside the Roman Coliseum.  Millions of others were horribly tortured by the Inquisition and burnt to ashes during the Dark Ages.  Believers in Russia and China have suffered terribly under communism, and yet American Christians say, "God wouldn't allow us to go through the tribulation!"

When it comes to "tribulation" you may be chocked to discover that almost every reference to this word in the New Testament describes what believers suffer through!  Jesus told His followers, "In this world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33).  Paul told the early Christian converts"...we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).  Paul later wrote to the Thessalonian church "...we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure (I Thessalonians 1:4).  Only the lonely isle of Patmos, the Apostle John was our "companion in tribulation (Revelation 1:9).  Jesus told the church in Smyrna, "I know your works and tribulation..." (Revelation 2:9).  In the light of these Scriptures, the idea of Christians escaping tribulation seems like fantasy and illusion.

Many might respond by saying, "Yes, but those verses are talking about 'tribulation,' not the tribulation."  Again, I ask you to think about it.  If the majority of the BIble's "tribulation texts" refer to what believers go through, why would God's Word suddenly shift gears by teaching that the tribulation is something believers will not go through?  Even in Left Behind, there are after-the-rapture Christians who go through the tribulation.  Jerry Jenkins calls the "the Tribulation Force."  Therefore the thought of Christians going through this period is not so strange.

Many pro-rapture advocates also argue, "If the Church is going through the tribulation, then why isn't the Church mentioned after Revelation chapter 4?"  Let's take a closer look.  In Revelation 4:1, John was told to "come up here."  People conclude this represents the rapture and they think the Church isn't mentioned anymore.  First of all, John did not actually go to Heaven in Revelation 4:1; he was simply taken up in a vision, while his toes remained in Patmos.  Secondly, the Church is on Earth after Revelation 4.  How do we know this?  Because Revelation says the beast will make "war with the saints" (13:7), then we read about "the faith of the saints" (13:10), and finally, during the mark of the beast crisis, Revelation refers to "the saints" who keep "the faith of Jesus" (14:12).

Some will respond by saying, "Those are the tribulation saints after the rapture, not the Church."  But consider this: Paul wrote his New Testament letters to the "churches of the saints" (I Corinthians 14:33).  This tells us that wherever there are saints, there is the Church!  Even if the saints mentioned in Revelation 13 and 14 are only the tribulation saints after the rapture, wouldn't they, as sincere believers in Christ, still be the Church?

Rapture teachers content the Church won't be here for Armageddon.  Is this true?  The word "Armageddon" is used only once in the entire Bible - that is found in Revelation 16:16.  Here we have the great reference about the falling of the seven last plagues.  Right before verse 16, during the time of the plagues, Jesus thunders, "Behold, I am coming as a thief.  Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.  And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon" (16:15 & 16).

Did you catch that?  Who is Jesus talking to?  He was talking to the Church!  At the time of verse 15, while the seven plagues are falling, which is definitely during the tribulation, and right before the battle of Armageddon, Jesus has not yet come as a thief!  Therefore He must come like a thief at Armageddon, after the tribulation, and this must be the time when He comes to gather His Church.

Like a good commanding officer, Paul urged the soldiers of the cross, "Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand" (Ephesians 6:13).  We are to stand in "the evil day."  You know we won't be able to do that if we have previously disappeared!  Jesus also said, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13).  How long must we endure?  To the end!

What about the "second chance" idea?  First of all, God has given every one of us more than "a second chance."  When we sin and resist His love, He gives us countless chances to make a full surrender to His saving grace.  The message of the gospel is continually sounding to sinners, "Christ died for our sins" (I Corinthians 15:3); "Believer on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31); "Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).  But eventually, God's patience will wear out and the angel of mercy will take his final flight.  Humanity will have passed "the hidden boundary between God's patience and His wrath."

Paul wrote that all who are not fully on the Lord's side when true believers are "caught up...shall not escape" (I Thessalonians 4:17; 5:3).  For them, their second, third, tenth and ten-thousandth chances are over.  Jesus also said, "But as the days of Noah were, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:37).  After the door of the ark closed, all desperate attempts to get inside were useless.  It was too late.  Paul also wrote, "now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).  This is it!  Don't put off your decision to give Christ your life.  If you are not "caught up" when the Lord descends from Heaven with a shout, you will be lost forever.

There is one more key thought.  If the tribulation-rapture doctrine is false, this obviously means we ourselves must not only pass through Earth's final tribulation, but must also face the antichrist and his deadly mark (Revelation 14:9-10).  Here lies the biggest problem.  Many Christians are deeply afraid of this.  Thus it seems that fear - fear of the beast - often underlies many desperate efforts to maintain the shaky tribulation-rapture position.  From what I have seen, fear often lurks below the tribulation-rapture doctrine.  Deep down underneath the surface of many arguments lies the hidden scary thought of having to endure the time of trouble and face the beast.  This fear may be unconscious, yet often it is there, and it seems to prevent people from being open-minded enough to even consider another viewpoint.  Emotions fly high and many refuse to reasonably examine the clear scriptural evidence in favor of a "post-tribulation" gathering of the Church to Christ.

Sadly, those who hold to a "pre-tribulation" rapture doctrine has become the great evangelical escape clause for the avoidance of the end times.  And for those who must have it this way, no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise.  Like a triple-bolted door in downtown New York, they are simply closed to the facts.  The result is that truth has been left behind!

Christians should learn a lesson from popular bumper stickers and trendy T-shirts which say, "No Fear."  The truth is, we don't need to be afraid, for Jesus has promised, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).  "God has not given a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7).

In the next article, I take a closer look at the seven-year tribulation theory and the inconsistencies of this theory.

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