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20 Studies in Bible Prophecy

Study 8 - The Great Tribulation

Having already concentrated on events in heaven following the rapture of the church, we now turn our attention to events on earth following that great day.

This period of unprecedented judgment will immediately precede the arrival of Christ on earth, and will coincide with the reign of the Man of Sin, the Antichrist, This dreadful drama is referred to quite clearly in the Bible, and it is our task to relate this era of divine wrath to God's prophetic programme and discover something of God's design to be accomplished in the day when the earth is completely in the hands of the "devil's messiah".

The Doctrine Of The Tribulation

No series of prophetic studies can claim to be comprehensive and omit looking at this intriguing, though controversial subject.

The period of the Antichrist's dominion forms one of the leading lines of prophecy prevailing in the Old Testament, and colours prophetic truth in the New Testament. Both Major and Minor Prophets refer unmistakably to a time when this world will meet a most tragic end, when all the previous troubles of Israel will be as nothing, and indeed the whole world will groan under the rigours of the devil. Jesus Himself declared that if those days were not shortened, no flesh would be saved (Matt. 24:22).

References from the Old Testament to be consulted are as follows: (Jer. 30:7; Ezek. 30:2, 3; Dan. 9:27, 12:1; Joel 1:15; Amos 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:14-18; Mal. 4:1). Turning to the New Testament we find the teaching continued. Jesus Himself spoke of it as "the great tribulation", while in Luke He referred to it as ... "distress of nations, with perplexity" (Matt. 24:21; Luke 21:25, 26); Paul had this time in view when he wrote his Thessalonian Epistle (1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 2:8-12), while John in (Rev. 3:10) foresaw an epoch of temptation coming upon the world, and from which the believer would be delivered.

These references coincide with the time areas concerning "the day of the Lord", beginning with the period following the rapture of the church and extending through the millennial dispensation. It thus embraces the judgments of the tribulation and the blessings of the earthly reign of Jesus Christ.

The Distress Of The Tribulation

The name attributed to this period suggests that it will be one of severity. If the Scriptures given in the first section of this study are examined, it will be seen that they underline the inescapable character of the period as one of wrath, judgment, indignation, trouble, destruction, darkness, desolation and punishment. If we study the book of the Revelation, chapters 6 through to 16, we get an idea of the awful plight of those who are rushing headlong into the arms of the greatest adversary of the Lord Jesus Christ and truth, to appear among men.

Dr. Billy Graham was surely right when he suggests that the trend of the world events at the present time are but a "psychological preparation for the Antichrist."

This vile personality will have an abundance of messianic charisma when he emerges upon the stage of time, and the things we see happening about us today presage a preconditioning of humanity for the worship of the image of the Beast.

Today there is a curb on the activities of Satan, and Dr. Tatford is most explicit on this point: "The full display of Satan's activities in (2 Thess. 2) is hindered by obstacles described as 'what withholdeth' (v.6) and 'He who now letteth' (v.7), that is, respectively, the church and the Holy Spirit Who indwells it. Both these restraining influences will be removed at the rapture, and Satan will then be at liberty to produce his masterpiece, 'the man of sin'."

Is it unrealistic to ask that if these things are beginning to take shape before our eyes, how near could be the coming of Christ for His people?

The Duration Of The Tribulation

In order to apprehend the chronology of this period ahead of the world, it is necessary to refer again to Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks. We learn from (Daniel 9:27) that this week commences with a covenant being made between "the prince that shall come" (i.e. a future prince who will emerge from a revived Roman empire) and the Jews in Israel. This coming satanic superman will present himself as the champion of Israel, pledging everything that the Jew in his blindness has sought for. Dr. Rene Pache even suggests, "one wonders also if he will not reconstruct the temple and re-establish there the ancient sacrifices".

But (Dan. 9:27) also signifies that the "week" will be divided into two halves, when in the midst of the week. Antichrist will reveal his hand and desecrate the sacred temple. Then will follow the epoch of great persecution by the Antichrist. This coincides with the words of (Dan. 12:7), "a time, and times, and half a time," repeated again in (Rev. 12:14). These in turn agree with the measure of "forty and two months" (Rev. 11:2), and the designation of "a thousand two hundred and threescore days" (Rev. 11:3; 12:6). So it would appear that the reign of the Antichrist synchronises with Daniel's seventieth week. At the close of this reign the Antichrist will be seized alive and cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20).

The Design Of The Tribulation

The interval between the coming of Christ for His Church and His return to reign on the earth, covers at least the seventieth week of Daniel's prophecy. The parenthesis between the 69th and 70th week allows for the church age, and when God's purpose for the church is fulfilled, Jesus will come to take His waiting people home, and then God will resume the interrupted events of Daniel's final week. As we have seen, the last half of the final week will witness the tribulation proper and will concern Israel and the nations of the Gentiles.

Look at the purpose of God in the tribulation, first as it relates to Israel. Some post- tribulationists have missed this very plain fact and argued that the church will endure this great trial in order that she may be purified. Since we look at this point in the next division of this study, suffice it to state here that the hope of the church is translation, not tribulation.

The stress of the tribulation is primarily Jewish. As Prof. Dwight Pentecost writes: "The first great purpose of the tribulation is to prepare the nation of Israel for her Messiah". It is quite clear from the Scriptures that the Jews will return to Israel in spiritual blindness. According to the vision Ezekiel had in chapter 37, the bones came together, with flesh and skin appearing, but no life within them. That is the picture we see now. Zionism with its nationalistic spirit is not a spiritual one; and many Jews returning to Israel no longer hold to the religion of their fathers. In order for God to realise His purpose, Israel will have to be subjected to the judgment of this tribulation (Amos. 3:2).

The end in view will be the conversion of the nation, and this will be brought about by the appearing of their Messiah (Ezek. 20:34-38 ;Zech. 13:6; 14:20, 21). This gives us an insight into the present suffering of the Jew in the day of his suspension - temporarily rejected by God. But this is not to suggest that God has forgotten the unconditional covenant made with Abraham, and later confirmed to Isaac and Jacob. If we read (Rom. 11:1,2, 25) we find that in the mind of Paul that "blindness" imposed upon this people because of their rejection of their Messiah is but "in part", it is not final and will be removed when the Messiah appears on earth (Isa. 6:11, 12; Matt. 23:37-39).

There is a second purpose for the tribulation. This relates to the Gentile nations because of their unbelief and godlessness. Such passage as (Isa. 26:21; Jer. 25:32, 33; 2 Thess. 2:12); and (Rev. 3:10) bear out this point. Indeed says one writer: "The Gentiles have a big part to play as recipients and also dispensers of tribulation."

Since the days of Nebuchadnezzar, Gentiledom has dominated Israel. First the Babylonians, followed by the Medes and Persians, then the Grecians, succeeded by the Romans, Since the disintegration of the Roman Empire various forms of that dominion have governed the Holy Land. Prof. D. Pentecost maintains: "Israel has never been ruled over by any power outside the Roman Empire from the time of the Roman conquest until the present". During the tribulation, domination will again be exercised by the superman who will emerge from the revived Roman Empire. But God will mete out His judgment to those oppressing nations.

The Deliverance Of The Church From The Tribulation

As indicated earlier in this study, post-tribulationists hold that the church will have to endure the trials of this tribulation. If this is so, then we must say with Donald G. Barnhouse: "If the church is to pass through the tribulation, then farewell blessed hope, then welcome the coffin, then thrice welcome the undertaker".

There are four major views held regarding this matter:

(a) Those who believe, as we do, that the rapture will take place before the tribulation and that no Christian will participate in the tribulation. This is the pre-tribulation position.

(b) Those who hold that only the spiritually mature, or the overcomers will be taken when the Lord comes, while others will be left on earth to go through the tribulation in order to prepare them for glory. This is the partial rapture position.

(c) Those who contend that the church will endure the first three and a half years of the period. This is the mid-tribulation rapture position, and is a mediate view between the position of the pretribulationist and the post tribulationist.

(d) Then we have the teaching that the church will suffer the entire period of the tribulation, the rapture taking place at the close of this era of terrible trouble.

We cannot accept that the church, either partially, with a view to its members, or to the duration of the tribulation, will endure this judgment. To contend, as the post-tribulationist does, that the church must anticipate this future trial, is to fail in fully comprehending two things. First, they fail to understand the true nature of the church. To quote Prof. Walvoord,

"If the term church applies only to a certain body of saints, namely, the saints of this present dispensation, then the possibility of the translation of the church before the tribulation is possible and even probable". That translation is presented as the church's blessed hope, and as something which is imminent (Titus 2:13; Jas. 5:8; Heb. 10:37; Rev. 22:20).

Such verses preclude the view that the church's prospect is the tribulation. Secondly, the very nature of the tribulation precludes the idea of church participation. It will be a period of wrath, judgment and destruction, and the Christian has been assured that there is no judgment for those in Christ (Rom. 8:1). If Revelation chapters 6 to 18 are examined carefully, the church is nowhere to be found. In chapter 19 she is seen as the Bride of Christ, descending with Him to earth to subjugate His enemies and inaugurate His millennial kingdom.

Let us leave the final word with Dr. Tatford, who says: "While the church is to experience tribulation in this world (John 15:20; Rom. 5:3), the believer of this age has been delivered from the oncoming wrath and has not been appointed thereto (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9).