Kept From The Hour – By Gerald Stanton

Chapter 2

Not Appointed Unto Wrath

One of the most important and interesting themes of prophecy, occupying a large place in both the Old and the New Testament, is that of the great Tribulation.  It is a theme which as captivated the attention of a wide segment of God’s people, and has resulted in the production of scores of books and thousands of sermons, to say nothing of many fanciful interpretations and much difference of opinion.  There are many problems involved which can find no place in this chapter, but it is hoped that enough can be said to demonstrate that when this fearful hour commences upon the earth, the true Church will be with her Saviour.  Fortunately, the Scriptures on this subject are plentiful, and sufficiently clear to warrant some definite conclusions, although in every prophetical investigation the words of Fairbairn may be remembered with profit:

The subject of prophecy is one that peculiarly demands, for its successful treatment, a spirit of careful discrimination.  From the very nature of the subject, the want of such a spirit must inevitably lead to mistaken views, and even to dangerous results….  For prophecy is by no means uniform, either as regards the manner in which it came, or the form which it assumed….  There are portions which are written in language comparatively simple; while others are clothed in the richest imagery, or enveloped in the mystery of symbols.[1]

I.       The Tribulation Period in Old Testament Prophecy
The Tribulation period is the subject of much Old Testament prophecy, as a quick review will demonstrate:

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; … he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them (Deut. 4:30, 31).

And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth (Isa. 2:19; cf. 2:21; 4:1, 2).

Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.  For behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain (Isa. 26:20, 21).

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, evil shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth.  And the slain of the Lord shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried (Jer. 25:32, 33; cf. 25:15-38).

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 (Jer. 30:5-7).

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 (Dan. 9:27).

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 fond written in the book (Dan. 12:1).

And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein.  And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God (Zech. 13:8, 9).

The prophetic thread in the New Testament, as a few verses will serve to illustrate:

For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.  And except these days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened (Matt. 24:21, 22; cf. Mark 13:19, 20).

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 (Luke 21:25, 26).

And then shall that Wicked [one] be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders….  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:  That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness (II Thess. 2:8, 9, 11, 12).

From these passages along it is not difficult to gather several salient facts concerning the Tribulation:

(1)             It is a unique period, for “that day is great, so that none is like it.”

(2)             It concerns God’s judgment upon the godless Gentile nations, with evil going forth “from nation to nation.”

(3)             It vitally concerns Israel also, for it is “the time of Jacob’s trouble.”  Israel shall suffer greatly, being persecuted by the Beast, but some shall be delivered.

(4)             Signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth shall accompany God’s judgments.

(5)             The Tribulation shall be culminated by the brightness of the coming of the Lord from glory.

One might readily gather additional facts from the passages cited, but it is more important to pass to the question of determining the duration of the Tribulation period and whether or not its dread judgments lie yet in the future.

In Daniel’s important prophecy of the seventy weeks lie the answers to these questions.  The text, Daniel 9:24-27, reads as follows:

Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people 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. …

In brief, here is the key to the period from the restoration of Israel from her captivity to the death of Christ, the “cutting off of Messiah the Prince,” and the key to the duration of Tribulation days.  Seventy “weeks” of years are in view.  Sir Robert Anderson[2] and other Bible scholars have demonstrated with reasonable agreement and accuracy that the seventy weeks represent 490 years, and that the sixty-nine “weeks” (using a prophetic year of 360 days) began with the decree issued for the rebuilding of Jerusalem given to Nehemiah in 445 B.C. and terminated in 32 A.D., the most probable year for the death of Christ.  The last “week” of seven years evidently is to be fulfilled after the cutting off of Messiah, and the chronology and literal fulfilling of the details of the sixty-nine weeks gives assurance that the last week will follow the same chronological pattern, and will be as literally fulfilled.  The problem is:  Is that fulfillment yet future?

At least five theories have been circulated in regard to the fulfillment of this last prophetic week.[3]  There are those who find its fulfillment, as they do that of the sixty-nine weeks, in the events of the Maccabean persecution two centuries before Christ.  The view of the Jews is that the week was fulfilled in the events which surrounded the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  Both of these views reject a literal interpretation of prophecy, and do not attempt to fit the suggested fulfillment to the chronology indicated by Daniel.  A third view suggests that the seventieth week is an indefinite period beginning at the death of Christ and extending to the consummation of all things.  This view, while extending the fulfillment of the seventieth week into the future, must be rejected on the same basis as the first two views.  The death of Christ set the pattern of literal fulfillment for the seventy weeks, and rules out a “spiritualized” interpretation of the final week.  However, as Walvoord notes, “while we cannot accept this spiritualized interpretation of the passage, it is an interesting confession on the part of those who accept it that history does not record events which correspond with the prophecy of the seventieth week.”[4]

The view of Philip Mauro, set forth in his book, The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation, is that there can be no break between the fulfillment of the sixty-nine weeks and that of the seventieth week.  According to Mauro, the sixty-nine weeks date from the decree of Cyrus in 536 B.C. to the baptism of Christ, even though this entails an error of some eighty years in the chronology.  To Mauro, the baptism of Jesus and the accompanying descent of the Holy Spirit fulfills the prophecy “to anoint the most holy,” the death of Christ fulfills the Jewish animal sacrifices, thus causing “the sacrifice and the oblation to cease,” while the “prince that shall come” is the Roman Titus.  While this view cannot be dealt with here in detail, it should be sufficient to note that:

(1)             Daniel does not speak of the coming of a prince, but “the people of the prince,” while Titus led his army in person;

(2)             it is not the first coming, but the second coming of Christ that will “Bring in everlasting righteousness”;

(3)             the death of Christ did not put an end to animal sacrifices, for they were continued unto the actual destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

(4)             Revelation 13 still looks forward to the coming of the Prince, and since this was written after 70 A.D., it cannot be fulfilled in Titus;

(5)             If the sixty-nine weeks were weeks of years and were fulfilled literally at the baptism of Christ, as Mauro contends, the lasts “week” must be a literal seven years.  But seven years from the baptism of Christ does not bring us to 70 A.D.  The interpretation is strained at every point.

The only interpretation of the seventy weeks of Daniel’s prophecy that makes sense and is self-confident is that there is a gap in the prophecy (a phenomenon not uncommon to prophetic Scripture) and that while the sixty and nine were fulfilled in Christ, the seventieth week lies yet in the future.  In common with the literal interpretation of the former weeks, this “seventieth week” is to be a week of seven actual years.  There is no period foreseen in the prophetic Scriptures with which this part of Daniel’s vision can harmonize other than the Tribulation, which has been under discussion.  This is the same Tribulation period which is described by John in the book of Revelation, there identified also by months and days, and it is not until a future period of seven years of Tribulation is recognized that all these various prophecies fit into a unified pattern.  Returning, then, to the characteristics of the Tribulation period, it is concluded that the duration of the period will be seven years and that the time of the Tribulation is yet in the future.  With most of these conclusions, midtribulational and posttribulational brethren will agree.  They are being rehearsed at this point as the necessary foundation for discussions which will follow.[5]

Christians are promised tribulation, it is claimed, so naturally God will permit them to go through all or part of the coming Tribulation.  Both midtribulationalists and posttribulationalists use this argument and evidently count it as vital to their way of thinking, for they press it to the hilt.  But let it not be received too hastily, for here is a premise and a conclusion which cannot be made to stand together.  First, however, let the opposing brethren speak:

The ancient prophecies of universal blessing must have their full accomplishment, but that can never be till the Lord takes the dominion manifestly into His own hand.  During this dispensation the broad way is thronged by the many, while but few find the narrow; all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must expect persecution, at least in principle.[6]

“Through much tribulation” all must enter into the Kingdom of God.  Everywhere in the New Testament it is taught that to suffer for Christ is one of the highest honours Christians can have bestowed upon them.  A desire to shirk suffering for Christ is a sign of degeneracy.[7]

All of this is manifestly true, but this is merely a restatement of the promise that Christians are promised tribulation and suffering in this life.  McPherson goes further afield when he gives four reasons why he thinks there are so many pretribulationalists:

A second reason why many have taught the Church will not pass through the Tribulation is an excessive desire to meet a popular demand for the most comforting type of teaching.  For example, Dr. H. C. Thiessen closes his book, Will the Church Pass Through the Tribulation?, with the words:  “We may then comfort one another with the thought that the Church will not pass through the Tribulation.”[8]

This, however, is uncharitable, for those of pretribulational persuasion do not gear their ministry to comfortable teachings.  Among their number are the most powerful and convicting preachers of sin and judgment and hell, and they preach these things because they are in the Book.  The same men preach the comfort of a pretribulational hope, not because it appeals to the flesh, but because this, too, they find in the Word of God.  The idea of comforting one another with these truths originated with I Thessalonians 4:18, not with Thiessen, although he loved to proclaim it.  McPherson goes on to cite Reese in this connection:

The very fact of the scheme’s being so comforting and pleasing to the flesh is a consideration that reveals its unscriptural character:  for it is not the way of the scripture to make the path of the saints easy.[9]

Needless to say, Scripture does warn the saint of his daily conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and it is part of the Christlike walk to take up the cross and follow Him.  Christ suffered, and the servant is not greater than his Lord.  But these sufferings are from without; they originate from the world, from the heat of the battle, and not from any reluctance on the part of Christ or the Scriptures to make the path of the Christian less burdensome.  Christ said:  “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).  Paul told the Gentile believers:  “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28; cf. Rev. 2:24).

The coming of Christ is to the believer a blessed hope and a comforting hope, and surely it is not engaging in the indolence of the flesh to rest in those things which were meant to give hope and comfort in the midst of the toils of the journey.  It would be presumption to do otherwise.  Does Reese derive comfort from the security of the saint and the assurance of heaven?  With Christ, the Father has given us freely all good things (Rom. 8:32), yet, using the same reasoning, might not these also be taken from us?  Posttribulationalist Scruby writes:

I am afraid of the doctrine of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church because it is in accord with the desires of the human heart.  The natural inclination is to “follow the line of least resistance,” to avoid trial, trouble, suffering, etc. …[10]

Scruby is so sold on the proposition that no comfort must come to the Christian that he makes the astounding statement in two of his subtitles:  “Post-Tribulation-Rapturism Beneficial Even If It Should Prove To Be Erroneous,” and “Pre-Tribulation-Rapturism Injurious Even If True.”[11]  Let the reader judge these words for himself!  Even Reese, speaking of the pretribulational expectation, admits:  “It would be a very comforting truth if it were true,” but adds, “as it is not, we are safe in discarding it.”[12]

No one will deny that suffering and tribulation are promised the believer in this life.  The Scriptures are explicit and numerous:

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own:  but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.  Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord.  If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also (John 15:19, 20).

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace.  In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name (Acts 5:41).

Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation (II Cor. 1:7).

For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29).

Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (II Tim. 3:12).

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 Pet. 4:13).

In the verse preceding this last passage, Peter speaks of “the fiery trial which is to try you,” and one has but to think of Christians being thrown to the lions in a Roman arena, or Christians being torn on the racks of a Spanish Inquisition, or Christians today being put to death in godless Communistic lands to realize that believers have undergone fiery trials down through the years since the days of the early church.  Such persecutions with their untold agony, no matter how severe, are nevertheless not “the great tribulation.”  If they were, one could hardly read Fox’s Book of Martyrs without concluding that there have been two or three “great tribulations” every century from the time of Christ!

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter, Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us (Rom. 8:35-37).

Down through the centuries, believers have suffered, bled, and died for their faith in Christ, counting it not loss to seal their testimony with their blood.  It is not assuming too much that if persecution and fiery trial were to reach some of our more sheltered lives, those who hold that the rapture will precede the Tribulation would give as good account of their testimony as those who hold a different theological position.

All of this, however, is not directly to the point.  The crux of the problem is that the posttribulationalists hold the tribulation of the coming seven year period to be the same in kind as the sufferings of the saints in this age, differing only in intensity (although some are not willing to concede even this).  Pretribulationalists hold that the reason this period is especially designated as “the Tribulation, the great one,” is not only that it is of greater intensity, but also that it differs in its kind, in its essential nature, from anything which has been seen or experienced heretofore.  The Tribulation will not be primarily a time when the bitter anger of Satan and sinners will afflict the saints of God, as harsh as their persecution is predicted to be.  Rather, it will be primarily and above all else a period of judgment from God, a time when the sovereign Lord of the universe finally speaks forth in awful wrath and His punitive rod falls upon living nations which have spurned the Son of His love and rejected the gracious gift of His “so great salvation.”  Clearly substantiated in Scripture is the fact that the Tribulation period differs from this present age of grace in its essential nature.  The “great tribulation” of that day is dissimilar in its purpose and source from any “tribulation” which may be the lot of God’s people during this present age of grace.  Or, to put the matter more simply, sufferings imposed by wicked men and wrath poured out from an angry God are in no wise the same thing merely because the Bible designates them both by the general term “tribulation.”

II.      Five Characteristics of the Tribulation
It will help to clarify this important issue if an examination is given to the distinctive features of the Tribulation period.  In fact, it may readily be observed that the Tribulation of that day differs from the sufferings of the Church in at least give particulars, namely its purpose, extent, duration, intensity, and source.

(1)             The purpose of the Tribulation.  It has been argued again and again by posttribulationalists that since God did not spare His Church of the second and third centuries the bloody persecution of pagan Rome, and again during the Dark Ages the cruel inquisition of papal Rome, that He will not spare the last generation of the Church the sufferings and martyrdoms of the “great tribulation.”  Scruby even dwells upon the method of execution to be used, saying:

It is significant that the only form of martyrdom mentioned in connection with the Tribulation is beheading, which is one of the quickest and least painful modes of execution, seeing that it results in instantaneous death; especially when inflicted by the guillotine, as most likely will be the case: following the example set during that miniature Tribulation, the “Reign of Terror” during the time of the French Commune.[13]

All of which may be painfully true, but is hardly calculated to encourage even the most godly believer to look with hope and joy for a coming of Christ which follows such unparalleled suffering.  Instead of praying, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” he would be tempted to say with Barnhouse:

If the Church is to pass through the Tribulation, then farewell blessed hope, then welcome the coffin, then thrice welcome the undertaker![14]

Posttribulationalists have missed the plainly revealed purposes of the Tribulation period, while dwelling on the supposed fact that God is purifying His Church.  The Tribulation does not deal with the Church at all,[15] but with the purification of Israel.  It is not the “time of the Church’s trouble,” but the “time of Jacob’s trouble.”  The emphasis of the Tribulation is primarily Jewish.  This fact is borne out by Old Testament Scripture (Deut. 4:30; Jer. 30:7; Ezek. 20:37; Dan. 12:1; Zech. 13:8, 9), by the Olivet Discourse of Christ (Matt. 24:9-26), and by the book of Revelation itself (Rev. 7:4-8; 12:1, 2, 17, etc.).  It concerns “Daniel’s people,” the coming of “false Messiahs,” the preaching of the “gospel of the kingdom,” flight on the “Sabbath,” the temple and the “holy place,” the land of Judaea, the city of Jerusalem, the twelve “tribes of the children of Israel,” the “song of Moses,” “signs” in the heavens, the “covenant” with the Beasts, the “sanctuary,” the “sacrifice and the oblation” of the temple ritual.  These all speak of Israel and clearly demonstrate that the Tribulation is largely a time of God’s dealing with His ancient people prior to their entrance into the promised kingdom.  The many Old Testament prophecies yet to be fulfilled for Israel further indicate a future time when God will deal expressly with this nation (Deut. 30:1-6; Jer. 30:8-10, etc.).

Moreover, it is evident that the Tribulation also concerns God’s judgment upon Christ-rejecting Gentile nations.  Babylon, which “made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Rev. 14:8), shall herself “be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her” (Rev. 18:8).  The “cities of the nations” shall fall, after which Satan shall be bound “that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled” (Rev. 20:3).  God’s judgment falls likewise upon the individual wicked, the kings of the earth, the great, the rich, and the mighty, every bondman and every free man (Rev. 6:15-17).  It falls upon all who blaspheme the name of God and repent not to give Him glory (Rev. 16:9).  Wicked men, godless nations, suffering Israel – these may all be found in Revelation 6-18; but one looks in vain for the Church of Christ, which is His body, until he reaches the nineteenth chapter.  There she is seen as the heavenly bride of Christ, and when He returns to earth to make His enemies His footstool, she is seen returning with Him (I Thess. 3:13).

(2)             The extent of the Tribulation.  As it has been indicated, the Tribulation reaches unto the cities and the nations of the earth, and will be world-wide in its scope.  Luke 17:26-32 compares the Tribulation to God’s judgment upon the world in the days of Noah, and upon the cities of the plain in the days of Lot.

(3)             The duration of the Tribulation.  Although there are some who believe there will be an undesignated season of peace and prosperity after the rapture of the Church, during which time Antichrist will have his rise and the Tribulation temple be rebuilt, the actual Tribulation period will be seven years in length.  This is in fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan. 9:24-27), and any extension of this time is in the realm of conjecture.  Daniel 9:27 indicates that the “week” will be divided into two halves, when “in the midst of the week,” Antichrist will make the temple desolate with his abominations.  Daniel 11:31 is a reference to the act of Antiochus Ephiphanes, who entered the holy of holies and sacrificed a sow upon the temple altar, thus becoming the prototype of the coming man of sin.  That the “week” will be divided into two halves of three and one half years is further indicated by the formula “a time, and times, and half a time” (Rev. 12:14; Dan. 12:7); by the measure of “forty and two months” (Rev. 11:2, 13:5); and by the designation of “a thousand two hundred and threescore days” (Rev. 11:3; 12:6).  Matthew 24:22 seems to indicate that because of the severity of the Tribulation, the number of its days will be shortened a little.

(4)             The intensity of the Tribulation.  It is needless here to elaborate much upon the severity of the Tribulation judgments.  One might start with the mighty plagues called down by Moses upon Egypt, and from there study all the wars, revolutions, persecutions, inquisitions, and the rest of the awful history of the human race down to the gas chambers of modern Dachau, and still not find that with which to compare the judgments of the seals and trumpets and the seven vials of the plagues of God.  Revelation 16:2, compared with verse 11, indicates that the plagues continue and are cumulative, God placing His mark upon them which received the mark of the Beast.  Revelation 10:4 recounts that the things uttered by the seven thunders were sealed up.  So terrible are they that God in His mercy withholds them.  Revelation 16:10 speaks of men who “gnawed their tongues for pain.”  But why enumerate further?  Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.  It is enough that God’s estimate of this awful period is that there shall be “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.  And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved” (Matt. 24:21, 22).

It is one of the peculiar quirks of some of the posttribulational writers, that, having taken the Church into the Tribulation by vehemently insisting that a carnal Church needs to be purged of her dross by tribulation fire, they now labor to dismiss the intensity of its judgments.  It is typical of both midtribulational and posttribulational writers that they try to tone down the severity of its plagues, or insist that although the Church is to be in the Tribulation, she has after all very little to do with it.  Alexander Fraser writes:

Much of the scene in Revelation has to do only with God’s judgments upon rebellious man and there is no Scriptural reason to believe that God’s people will be directly involved in that suffering.[16]

Scruby follows the same pattern:

Most people think of the Great Tribulation as a period of unparalleled suffering; and in a sense it will be.  That is to say:  It will be a period of unparalleled suffering on an international or world-wide scale.  But it does not necessarily follow from this that it will be a period of unparalleled suffering for the individual believer.[17]

Note that Scruby is the writer who attempts to make the horror of the Tribulation more vivid by comparing its martyrs to those guillotined during the “reign of terror” of the French Commune.  He then completely reverses the force of his argument by going on to illustrate how painless this kind of death might be.  It seems that there was a British printer who, supposedly, was cutting paper under a razor-sharp blade.  An office girl, by mistake, started the machine.  The printer turned to see if any damage had been done to his paper, and “was astounded to see the severed fingers of his right hand lying across the cutter stick….  He had not felt the equivalent of a pin prick when the accident happened.”[18]  He then goes on to give several even more bizarre illustrations of how the body tends to become numb under torture so that the greatest sufferings result in the greatest reduction of pain!  All of which forms a pathetic illustration of the fact that even posttribulationalists cannot get away from the thought that it is incongruous for God’s children to undergo great tribulation.

Satan’s rage will be against the woman – Israel, but God will prepare for her a place of refuge in the wilderness where she will be protected from the face of the serpent (Rev. 12:13-16).  IF in that same day, the Church, the very body of Christ, were on earth, how much more would she be the object of Satan’s attack!  How great would his havoc be, for Revelation records no place of refuge for the Church during the days of the Tribulation.  Fortunately, she will be in heaven, removed from Satan’s wiles (Rev. 12:9).  How much more profitable to look with joyous expectancy for the pretribulation rapture of the Church, than to occupy oneself with comparing the “blessed hope” to the French Reign of Terror, or in trying to reconcile the sufferings of that day with the “painless death” of the guillotine!  The Tribulation is still the earth’s worst hour, no matter how much some try to water it down, and although it is true that God could protect His Church in it, He has promised to do that which is far better.  He has promised to save His Church from it.

(5)             The source of the Tribulation.  Careful consideration at this point is of vital importance.  Those who contend that the Church will go through the coming Tribulation claim that the period is one of intensified persecution, but not a time of judgment.  To quote Fraser:  “The Great Tribulation is not judgment, but persecution.”[19]  Frost is of the same mind, for he says:

For the church, therefore, to go into the days of the Antichrist, and to be called upon to endure his hatred and harassments, is but for her to pass from one phase of an experience into another, the difference being, not in kind, but in degree.[20]

Those who believe that the Church will not go through the Tribulation, however, hold that the period is primarily a time of judgment.  The tribulation inflicted upon the Church in this present age comes from men and from Satan.  The tribulation that is to come will be from God.  In this age, tribulation comes upon those who bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The tribulation that is to come primarily will be upon those who reject Christ and who will not have God to rule over them.  The tribulation of this age can better be called persecution.  The tribulation of the period to come is rightfully designated as the wrath of God.  The foremost difference between persecution and wrath lies in the source from which it comes, and this obvious distinction cancels out the stock posttribulationalist argument that the Church will go through the Tribulation because she has always had tribulation.

To be sure, God will have His saints in the Tribulation–men who repent and secure salvation after the catching up of the Church.  This group will be considered more fully at a later point in the discussion.  Satan hates these individuals as fully as he hates men of God today, and upon them he will endeavor to pour his wrath.  Revelation 12:12-17 reveals the wrath of Satan against the Jewish remnant (Isa. 1:9; 10:20; 11:11; 37:32 etc.).  Revelation 13:7 records:  “And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and authority was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.”  As would be expected, Reese makes the most of these verses, saying:

According to Darby and his followers, the Great Tribulation is the wrath of God against the Jewish people for their rejection of Christ.  According to Scripture, it is the Devil’s wrath against the saints for their rejection of Antichrist, and adherence to Christ.

Let the reader once see the Scripture truth on this point, and the whole Darbyist case will be exposed as a campaign of assumptions, mis-statements, and sentiment.[21]

But Reese overlooks the fact that the God who can make even the wrath of men to praise Him; can also use Satan, as He often does in His permissive will (Job 1:12, etc.), to be His instrument of punishment or judgment.  Many times in the Old Testament, God used pagan nations to scourge Israel and cause her to return unto the Lord.  God is still sovereign during Tribulation days, and whereas Satan cannot move one inch beyond what He permits, Satan’s wrath against the remnant is used of God to purify her (Zech. 13:9) and drive her from the realm of the Beast to her place of protection.  In the whole encounter, Satan is defeated, for the Lord causes the earth to open and swallow up the armies which pursue Israel (Rev. 12:16).

Reese also overlooks the fact that pretribulationalists freely acknowledge the presence of some persecution, all the while maintaining that the primary character of the period is wrath.  He complains that “Darbyists” cannot be brought to prove that the great Tribulation is the wrath of God, and therefore this “part of their syllogism which they adroitly hurry over is completely false.  It is a blunder that the Great Tribulation consists of God’s wrath. …”[22]  Rather than argue the point, it should suffice to look at the Scriptures:

And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:  For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?  (Rev. 6:16, 17; cf. Deut. 7:9, 10; Hosea 10:8).

Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come:  and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters (Rev. 14:7).

And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, an that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth (Rev. 11:18).

And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation (Rev. 14:9, 10).

And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God (Rev. 14:19).

And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God (Rev. 15:1; cf. 15:4).

And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever (Rev. 15:7).

And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth (Rev. 16:1; cf. 16:7).

And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath (Rev. 16:19).

Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city!  for in one hour is thy judgment come (Rev. 18:10; cf. 17:1; 19:2).

These many Scriptures are given here without apology for their number not only because what God has to say is more important than what man may say, but also because they conclusively prove the point: the distinctive character of the Tribulation period is that it is a time of divine wrath.  Satan may be given a little leeway before he is chained, but the primary source of wrath in the Tribulation is neither Satan nor wicked men, but God.  He pours it out “without mixture.”  There is not a drop of water to cool its heat.  It is not blended with hope or grace.  It is God’s undiluted wrath on a world that has rejected His own glorious Son.

Reese ignores all these Scriptures, arguing his case only on the basis of Revelation 12:12-17 and 13:7.  All of which may serve to illustrate a point: When a clever writer makes a big stir over a weak case, it is good judgment to search the Scriptures independently and to draw one’s conclusions directly therefrom.  It is here maintained that the persecutions of this age are the endeavors of wicked men to exterminate the Church, while the tribulations of that future period will be primarily the wrath and the judgment of an angry God upon Christ-rejectors.  All else is but an incident in the program of God.  The wrath, the judgments, and the plagues are from the Lord, and in the words of Hebrews 10:31, it will be “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

The Church is expressly promised deliverance from the wrath of God.  Of course, the Bible does not come out in so many words and say, “The rapture of the Church will be pretribulational.”  Nor, for example, does the Bible directly say:  “Baptism must be by immersion,” nor “The representative form of church government is most in accord with the Apostolic Church.”  Most of the major doctrines of the Bible are confirmed by such direct unassailable statements, yet some are not.  Many precious Biblical truths do not lie exposed on the immediate surface.  Hence, there are differences of opinion even in the ranks of godly Bible students.  No doubt the Lord ordained it so in order to keep His people searching the Scriptures.

One must hesitate before being overly dogmatic on subjects concerning which the brethren have agreed to disagree.  However, it would seem that in respect to the time of the rapture of the Church, there are enough Scriptures to reach a positive conclusion, opposing brethren failing to agree solely because they have built their conclusions on wrong premises.  Fraser is forced to admit that “God may preserve His own from the judgments He sends upon the ungodly,”[23] but argues “It is quite possible, then, for the true Church to go through tribulation without experiencing the judgments of God upon the wicked.”[24]  This, of course, is t rue, but beside the point.  God could take the Church through the whole of the great Tribulation, and all the while shield her from His judgments, even as He protected the Israelites from the great plagues poured out upon Egypt.  But the question is no can God, but will God permit His Church to enter a period manifestly designed as a time of His wrath upon sinners?  Scripture, and not speculation, must supply the answer.

It should not be necessary here to prove that Christ provided, through His work on the cross, a complete and eternal salvation for all who will put their trust in Him.  The salvation God offers the sinner is full (Heb. 7:25); it is free (Rom. 6:23); it is forever (John 10:28).  It includes past justification, present sanctification, and future glorification.  It redeems and safeguards the believer from the wrath of God in all of its forms.

Romans 8:1 assures that there is no condemnation, or judgment, to them that are in Christ Jesus.  Romans 5:9 declares plainly:  “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”  Here, being saved from wrath refers primarily to salvation from eternal punishment, from hell.  But does it not also include deliverance from that time of judgment on earth which is primarily characterized by the pouring out of the vials of the wrath of God?  I Thessalonians 5:9 confirms the fact that tribulation wrath is in view also, when it speaks of the appearing of Christ for His own in the clouds, and when it declares of those who have put on the helmet of salvation:  “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation (deliverance) by our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Suffering is often the portion of the Christian (Rom. 8:17; II Tim. 2:12; Phil. 1:29), but not wrath!  Wrath is reserved for unbelievers:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18; cf. 2:3).

But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Rom. 2:5).

But unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile (Rom. 2:8, 9).

Tribulation and vengeance fall upon them that know not God:

Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his might angles, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Thess. 1:6-8).

Christians, however, are to serve the living and true God, and “to wait [not for tribulation, but] for his Son from heaven” (I Thess. 1:10).  Paul exhorted the Thessalonian believers:

Brethren, pray for us … that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.  But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. … And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ (II Thess. 3:1-5).

Some of the posttribulationalist writers are forced, by the very weight of these Scriptures, to concede that the Church cannot be on the earth during the “day of God’s wrath,” but because they are not willing to acknowledge that the Church has no place in Revelation 6-18, they are forced to refer the wrath of God to the end of the entire period after Christ returns to earth with His saints.  This is the position of Rose:

“The day of Vengeance of Our God” must be interpreted as being different from “The great tribulation.”  The saints suffer tribulation while Christ is absent from the earth, but when He returns His saints will be delivered; and God will recompense their tribulation with Wrath upon the ungodly in The Great Day of Wrath.  That wrath will not touch the saints; “for God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”[25]

This statement is an unsolicited acknowledgment from a posttribulationalist writer that I Thessalonians 5:9 speaks of Tribulation wrath as well as eternal wrath.  Rose’s conclusion, however, is definitely in error, for it has already been demonstrated that wrath is found in Revelation 6:16, 17; 11:18; 14:9, 10; 14:19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19, and finds, not its commencement, but its consummation in Revelation 19:15.

Nor should the force of Old Testament typology be missed in connection with God’s purpose to save His own from particular seasons of divine wrath.  Rehab was saved by Joshua and taken out of Jericho before the city was conquered and destroyed (Josh. 6:16, 25; Heb. 11:31).  Lot must first be removed from Sodom, before God’s wrath could be poured out upon the wicked cities of the plain (Gen. 19:14).  Let us recall Abraham’s intercession before God, when he asked:  “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” and when he received God’s response:  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:23, 25).  God’s clear answer is given to Lot by His heavenly messenger:  “Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither” (Gen. 19:22).  So will it be when God prepares to pour out His wrath in great tribulation upon the earth.

It has been objected that God permitted Noah and his family to pass through the flood, rather than removing them entirely from the scene of judgment.  Noah cannot then be a type of the Church, but rather a type of Israel in the future day of judgment, in the Tribulation but protected from the serpent and the flood which he cast out of his mouth (Rev. 12:14, 15).  The Church may be prefigured, rather, by Enoch, who was caught up directly into the presence of God before the judgment of the flood was poured out upon the earth (Gen. 5:24).  That those events were meant to be a sign unto the people of God and a warning to sinners is clearly revealed by the words of Peter:

For if God spared not the angels that sinned … and spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked.  (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul day to day with their unlawful deeds;)  The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished (II Peter 2:4-9).

Lot was a man of many imperfections and compromises, yet as a worshiper of the true God, he was considered a “righteous soul.”  “I cannot do anything,” said the angel, “till thou be come thither.”  Even so will the true Church, in spite of her many imperfections, be caught away as those who are righteous before God.  Wrath will not be poured out until she is removed.  Because we have been saved from wrath, God will be unable to pour out His vials until the Church is taken out of the way.

One more promise to the Church must be considered before moving along to other matters.  It is found in Revelation 3:10, and is part of God’s message to the church in Philadelphia:  “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.”  In these words, pretribulationalists find a specific promise that the Church will be removed before the commencement of the Tribulation.  Reese, however, is quick to point out that the verse has been otherwise rendered, and quotes with approval the liberal Moffatt translation:  “Because you have kept the word of my patient endurance, I will keep you safe through the hour of trial which is coming upon the whole world to test the dwellers on earth.”[26]  Here, then, is the problem:  both sides claim Revelation 3:10 as a proof text.  Lest hasty readers consider this an impasse, the following facts are submitted for consideration:

(1)          This promise is given to the entire Church of Jesus Christ, not merely to one local assembly existing in the days of the Apostle John.  These seven letters to the churches have a manifold significance.  They were addressed first of all to seven existing churches in the western-most province of Asia Minor, and very probably each letter when to all seven (cf. Rev. 2:29, “what the Spirit saith unto the churches”).  The fact that there were seven reveals that the churches were representative, for there were more than seven local assemblies in Asia Minor.  In like manner, the seven golden candlesticks seem to be representative of all the churches (Rev. 1:20).  These early assemblies may well reflect seven different kinds of churches (and also individual Christians) which can be found in any location in any century.  They have been thought to represent also a prophetic foreview of the course of the visible Church down through its long and varied history.  Thiessen has summarized this last view as follows:

The characteristics of these churches fit chronologically into their respective places in the history of the Church.  The Church in Ephesus corresponds to the Apostolic Church.  The Church in Smyrna finds its counterpart in the Martyr Church of the second and third centuries.  The Church in Pergamos represents the State Church, beginning with Constantine and continuing to the end.  The Church in Thyatira has the features of the Papal Church, beginning with Gregory the Great and continuing to the end.  The Church in Sardis pictures the Reformation Church, beginning with the sixteenth century.  The Church in Philadelphia sets forth the characteristics of the Missionary Church, beginning with the rise of modern missions under William Carey.  And the Church of Laodicea portrays the Apostate Church of the last days. … To the one who believes in the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures and studies the detailed descriptions, the correspondences between these churches and the successive periods of church history seem too marked to be merely incidental.  He comes away with the conviction that when a key fits so completely the several wards of a lock as do the details in these Letters, he must have found the right key and the true interpretation.[27]

It is evident that the letter to the church in Philadelphia has more than local application.  If the above interpretation is accepted, it then follows that the message to the Philadelphian church contains important teaching as to the time of the rapture, and that the Laodicean Church speaks of an apostate type of Christendom which will enter the Tribulation after the removal of the true Bride of Christ.

(1)             The trial which is promised is not local, for it is to come “upon the whole world.”  This fact adds to the conviction that the Tribulation is yet future, and is not historical.  The persecutions of the past, although fearful and revolting, were nevertheless limited to one group, and usually to one country or area.  But in the Tribulation to come, all the world will wonder after the Beast (Rev. 13:3), and all who worship him will come under the fierce anger of a righteous God (Rev. 13:8; 14:9-11).

(2)             Upon whom is this hour of trial to fall?  The text says that it will come upon “them that dwell on the earth.”  Concerning these “earth dwellers,” Thiessen points out, “It is significant to note that the word for dwell is not the ordinary oikeo, but the strengthened form of the word, katoikeo, meaning those who have settled down upon the earth, who have identified themselves with it.”[28]  The word conveys the idea of permanency and complete identification with the world.  As such it would hardly be suitable if it described or even included the members of the Church, who upon earth are strangers and pilgrims (Heb. 11:13) and whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).

(3)             It is generally agreed that the Tribulation is in view in Revelation 3:10.  The problem is to determine if the words “from the hour of temptation” denote going through the Tribulation, or being taken out of it?  At this point there is a great division of opinion.  Reese musters three texts to support his view that the preposition έκ permits the translation “through the hour,” whereas Pollock writes as emphatically:

It is remarkable that out of over 890 times the preposition, ek, is found in the New Testament, only once, Galatians iii. 8, is it translated through, and there the sense if evidently by, “God would justify the heathen through or by faith.”  …The word is translated dozens and dozens of times by the word, by, and many times by the two words, out of.  But to be “kept from,” is not being “safe in.”  A child can see the difference between from and in.[29]

Thiessen cites Alford, Buttmann-Thayer and others to the effect that έκ and άπό often serve to denote one and the same relation, and that the term τηρείυ έκ may mean either “successful endurance” or “absolute immunity from.”  Though some may insist on the former connotation, the grammar certainly permits the latter, that the Church is promised to carry the weight of the argument when he concludes:

We should note that the promise is not merely to be kept from the trial, but from the hour of trial, i.e., it holds out exemption from the period of trial, not only from the trial during that period.  And finally, when it would have been so easy to write ευ τη ωρα, if the writer had meant preservation in that hour, why should he write εκ της ωρας, as he did?  Surely, this is no accident.[30]

It may be concluded that the grammar, if not conclusive, at least favors removal from the hour of trial.[31]  This rendering is most in harmony with the context, “the word of my patience,” which suggests patient waiting for Christ.  The “hour of temptation” is to fall on “earth dwellers,” a designation which occurs constantly throughout the Tribulation portion of the book of Revelation but which never suggests a heavenly people (Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:2, 8).  In the words “I come quickly” may be seen the rapture, and the reference to “thy crown” suggests the Bema seat judgment to follow.  “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.”  Here, then, is a promise which clearly indicates the pretribulation rapture of the Church.  When it is added to the promises already considered that the Church will never undergo God’s wrath, a strong Scriptural support for the pretribulational position must be admitted.

As to the claim that the Church will pass through the Tribulation because she has always had tribulation, it has been demonstrated that the purpose, extent, duration, intensity, and source of the tribulation in the period to come differs in almost every particular from the persecution which in this age still falls in varying degrees upon God’s people.  Let the reader judge for himself the strength and the assurance of these conclusions.  Let him rejoice that the Church is promised, not wrath, but rapture.  Let him consider well that the prospect of the church in relation to the Tribulation is accurately expressed by the Biblical phrase, “Kept from the Hour.”

[1] Patrick Fairbairn, Prophecy Viewed in Respect. To its Distinctive Nature, its Special Function, and Proper Interpretation, pp. 1, 2.
[2] Sir Robert Anderson, The Coming Prince.
[3] John F. Walvoord, “Is the Seventieth Week of Daniel Future?”  Bibliotheca Sacra, CI (January-March, 1944), 30-49.
[4] Ibid., p. 36.
[5] Not all agree, however.  George L. Rose, in Tribulation Till Translation, p. 247, is a posttribulationalist who finds it convenient to accept the “historical view.”  Of the pretribulationalists, he says, “Having this supposed seven years on hand they naturally must do something about it, so they join it with the mistaken idea about ‘the great tribulation.’”  Rose holds that “the seventy weeks were fulfilled more than 1500 years ago.”
[6] S. P. Tregelles, The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming, p. 30.
[7] Robert Cameron, Scriptural Truth About the Lord’s Return, p. 18.
[8] Norman S. McPherson, Triumph Through Tribulation, pp. 2, 3.
[9] Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, p. 255.
[10] John J. Scruby, The Great Tribulation:  The Church’s Supreme Test, p. 132.
[11] Ibid., pp. 140, 141.
[12] Reese, op. cit., p. 294.
[13] Scruby, op. cit., pp. 153, 154.
[14] Donald Grey Barnhouse, “Some Questions About Our Lord’s Return,” Revelation, XII (November, 1942), 498, 526-28.
[15] The church, and the “elect” of Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation, will be discussed in the following chapter.
[16] Alexander Fraser, Is There But One Return of Christ?, p. 63.
[17] Scruby, op. cit., p. 152.
[18] Ibid., p. 154.
[19] Fraser, op. cit., p. 63.
[20] Henry W. Frost, Matthew Twenty-four and the Revelation, p. 64.
[21] Reese, op. cit., p. 284.
[22] Reese, op. cit., p. 283.
[23] Fraser, op. cit., p. 65.
[24] Ibid., p. 67.
[25] Rose, op. cit., p. 204.
[26] Reese, op. cit., p. 201, italics his.
[27] Henry C. Thiessen, “Will the Church Pass Through the Tribulation? Bibliotheca Sacra, SCII (April-June, 1935), 199, 200.
[28] Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 479.
[29] A. J. Pollock, Will the Church Go Through the Great Tribulation?, p. 11.
[30] Henry C. Thiessen, Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., XCII, 202, 203.
[31] Note also that the only other use of τηρεω εκ in the Greek New Testament occurs in John 17:15, where Christ prays for the deliverance of His own from the evil one.  The thought is that we shall not be allowed to fall into the clutch of Satan, and not that he shall seize us and cause us to be delivered by force.  Similarly, Revelation 3:10 carries no thought of the believer being wrested from the grip of the Tribulation.