The Tribulation’s Purpose Vs. The Church’s Nature
watch because you do not know the day or the hour.
Those who shy away from the study of prophecy are fond of quoting
the above verse as their justification. But
earlier in the same passage, the Lord had admonished all
who read His words of prophecy to understand them (Matt
24:15). In addition the Apostle Paul wrote
that the events leading up to the end of the age should
not take believers by surprise (1
Thes. 5:4) implying that we should be familiar with
Since the Bible cannot contradict itself,
Matt. 24:15 must have been aimed at a different audience than
And sure enough, a closer look reveals that both the
implied timing and the intended audience of the two
Matthew passages are different.
Matt. 24:15 was intended for everyone who would ever read the
passage, but in
Matt 25:13 the Lord was only speaking to people
remaining on Earth at His Second Coming. We know
this because it follows
which describes the 2nd Coming.
confirms the context to be the 2nd Coming, as does
Of course in 1
Thes 5:4 Paul was addressing the church, who will
not be on Earth at the 2nd Coming, but in the presence
of the Father (1
What both the Lord (Matt.24:15)
and Paul (1 Thes.
5:4) were saying is that while we won’t know the
exact timing of things, we should understand the
sequence of events leading up to the Day of the Lord.
And perhaps no event in the sequence is more
controversial than the Rapture of the Church, especially
as it relates to the Great Tribulation.
It seems to me that the first thing we should do in trying to
obey the Lord’s commandment to understand all this is to
clarify two things, 1) the purpose of the Great
Tribulation, 2) the nature of the Church.
of the Great Tribulation
The phrase Great Tribulation makes reference to a specific event,
not a general condition. While the Lord warned the
disciples that they and we would experience tribulation
as a general condition in this world (John
16:33), He clearly identified the Great Tribulation
as having a specific beginning and ending. It will begin
when the abomination that causes desolation prophesied
by Daniel is erected in the Temple (in the middle of the
last 7 years of history) and will end just prior to the
Lord’s return, three and one half years later (Daniel 9:24-27 & Matt. 24:29-30).
The Great Tribulation is primarily Jewish in its focus. In
fact, it was referred to as the Time of Jacob’s Trouble
until the Lord coined the phrase Great Tribulation in
In doing so , He said it would be a time of unparalleled
distress, unique in the history of the world.
Jeremiah 30:3-11 gives us the clearest definition of it’s overall purpose.
Let’s read it.
The days are
coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will bring my people
Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to
the land I gave their forefathers to possess,’ says the
These are the words
the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah: “This is
what the LORD says: ” ‘Cries of fear are heard—terror,
not peace. Ask and see: Can a man bear children? Then
why do I see every strong man with his hands on his
stomach like a woman in labor, every face turned deathly
How awful that day
will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of
trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it.
” ‘In that day,’
declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will break the yoke off
their necks and will tear off their bonds; no longer
will foreigners enslave them. Instead, they will serve
the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will
raise up for them.
” ‘So do not fear,
O Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, O Israel,’
declares the LORD. ‘I will surely save you out of a
distant place, your descendants from the land of their
exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no
one will make him afraid.
I am with you and
will save you,’declares the LORD. ‘Though I completely
destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I
will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you
but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely
In this passage the event is foretold, its purpose explained, and
the timing is made clear. Let’s take the timing first.
According to verse 3 it will take place after Israel and
Judah are re-gathered in the land as one nation, and
verse 9 says it will result in David becoming their King
There have been two re-gatherings since the passage was written,
but the first, beginning in 535 BC, didn’t result in
David becoming Israel’s King. (In fact, from about
600 BC to this day they have had no legitimate king at
The second re-gathering began in 1948 AD and continues to this
day. Though the population of Israel keeps growing, so
do the Jewish populations of all the nations to which
the Jews have been scattered, and there are still about
as many Jews outside Israel than there are in the land.
All that will soon change as the Lord calls all His
people to return to their Promised Land following His
victory in the Battle of
Ezekiel 38-39. The second re-gathering is the one that will
lead to the fulfillment of
Isaiah foretold that the second re-gathering would put
an end to the contention between Israel and Judah (Isaiah
confirms that sometime after this reunion David will be
Now for its purpose.
“Though I completely destroy all the nations among which
I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will
discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you
go entirely unpunished.” (Jere.
The idea is that Israel has to be purified in preparation for the
Kingdom Age God promised them, and the nations who
rejected the Messiah and persecuted His people must be
So the purpose of the Great Tribulation is twofold; discipline
(purify) the people of Israel, and completely destroy
the nations to which they had been scattered.
of the Church
According to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the church is
nothing less than a new race of mankind, coming from
among both Jews and Gentiles but sharing a destiny with
neither. (Ephe. 2:15-16)
The problem had always been that God could never dwell for long
in the midst of His creation. Our sins always eventually
drove Him away. At the cross, He reconciled all things
to himself, things in heaven and on earth (Col
1:19-20). This meant that He was now at peace with
His creation for the first time since the Fall of Man.
He accomplished this by paying the price for all the
sins of mankind. Now, for anyone who would accept it, a
full pardon for behavior past, present and future was
available, free for the asking.
Accepting this pardon qualifies any person, young or old, Jew or
Gentile, good or bad, to become a new creation. When we
do it permits God to look upon us as if we are without
sin altogether; and in fact as if we had never sinned to
begin with. It also requires the division of mankind
into three groups: Jew, Gentile and Church (1
Cor. 10:32). No longer being either Jew
or Gentile (Galatians
3:26-28) means God’s purpose is not served by having
us present in the Great Tribulation.
It’s critical that we understand God’s perspective in this
because it’s substantially different from ours. To Him,
the church is without sin, holy and blameless, and has
been since the cross (Ephes. 5:25-27). Whatever sins we as individuals have committed (or
will commit) have been forgiven (Colossians
2:13-14) and it’s as if they never happened (2 Cor 5:17). At the cross, the church became as righteous as God
Himself (2 Cor
5:21), having been made perfect forever (Hebr.
10:12-14). Because of the cross God has a
people with whom He can live in peace. No further
purification is necessary.
Therefore, no purpose is served by having the Church endure the
Great Tribulation. Remember, the Church is a body
spanning 40 generations of human life. If we were
not all made perfect at the cross, how could the
suffering of the final generation of believers serve to
purify all those who have preceded us? All the
generations of the Church have died in hope of spending
eternity with the Lord as the Bible promises us.
Is it only ours who will receive this promise and then
only after sharing in Israel’s purification? Of course
In Israel’s case it’s a different matter. The past
generations who rejected their Messiah are lost.
The last generation’s purification through the Great
Tribulation won’t save those who have gone before. It’s
intended to finally open their eyes and hearts to Jesus
so that a remnant of God’s chosen people can be
preserved. (Zech. 12:10-13)
And as we’ve seen, during the Great Tribulation God’s focus
will be on Israel and His focus is always either Israel
or the Church, never both at once. (This was
explained by James in
Acts 15:12-18 and by Paul in
Romans 11:25-27.) If you take the view, as I do,
that the Battle of
occurs before the Great Tribulation, and realize that
one outcome of that battle is to turn Israel back to
39:28-29) then you know the church’s days on Earth
have to end at the same time. This is what makes the
fact that Israel exists again an important sign that the
end is near.
Of course the Scriptures promise that the Church won’t be present
on Earth for the Great Tribulation and we’ve covered
these promises in detail in other studies on the
Rapture. My intent in this study is not to review
them but rather to demonstrate that 1) the purpose
of the Great Tribulation is to discipline Israel and
completely destroy the unbelieving nations, and 2) to
show that the Church has no need for purification or
discipline. Therefore our presence on Earth during
that period would serve no purpose and in fact would be
in direct opposition to our nature as God sees us.
It’s also in direct opposition to His nature as revealed in the
Bible. The basis of Abraham’s negotiation with God
concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
was that God could not destroy the righteous with the
18:23-25). And Peter revealed how
history teaches us that God knows how to rescue godly
men from trial while holding the unrighteous for the day
of judgment (1
Peter 2:4-9). As John did in
Peter used the Greek preposition “ek” in the phrase
translated from (out of) trial. It means to keep
something out of the time, place, or cause of an event.
By using that preposition Peter and John were confirming
that God knows how to remove us from the time, place,
and cause of the coming judgment before unleashing it
upon the world.
For God did not
appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ (1
Thes. 5:9). You can almost hear the footsteps of the