Chapter 4

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Will Believers Escape

the Great Tribulation?

 

 

 

Does First Thessalonians 5:9, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath,” teach that the Church is exempt from the Great Tribulation?

 

The Church is exempt from the Day of the Lord, not from the tribulation period. Confusion exists over this verse when verses 4:13 through 5:9 are not viewed as one event. The Bible was first divided into chapters about 1228 A. D. Sometimes a chapter division breaks the continuity of thought, as in this case. We should not forget that this is one complete passage.

The following four proofs show that First Thessalonians 5:9 refers to escaping the Day of the Lord, not the Great Tribulation:

1. First Thessalonians 4:16,17 is the same post–tribulation description of the Second Coming that is given in Matthew 24:30 and 31: the Lord descending from heaven, the clouds, the angels, the trumpet, and the gathering of the saints.

2. Saints who have survived the Great Tribulation will be among those “caught up.” “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds” (1 Thess. 4:17). As stated earlier, the Greek word translated “remain” also means “to survive.” Since Paul says “alive” and also “remain,” he implies that those believers who are alive at the coming of the Lord are those who have survived the persecution of the Great Tribulation.

3. The gathering of the Church occurs on the Day of the Lord, not before the Tribulation. (Compare 4:16,17 with 5:2.)

4. The promise, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath” (5:9), considered in context, is given with reference to the “sudden destruction” that Paul described in verse three, not to the Great Tribulation.

Clearly, then, First Thessalonians 5:9 promises that the saints will be spared the wrath of God that is poured out on the Day of the Lord when Jesus comes to gather the Church and to judge the world. It’s not a promise the Church will escape the Great Tribulation.

 

Is Luke 21:34–36 a promise that the Church will escape the Great Tribulation?

 

No. As we examine these verses in context, we see that God has not promised the Church an escape (a secret rapture) before the Tribulation. “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:34–36).

Is Jesus referring to escaping the Great Tribulation (the events of verses 8 through 24) or escaping His wrath upon the ungodly when He comes to gather His Church on the Day of the Lord (the events of verses 25 and 26)? Since Christ’s coming is after the events of verses 8 through 24, without even the slightest hint of His coming before then, we must conclude that He is referring to escaping the events of verses 25 and 26. In other words, Jesus was not promising an escape from the Great Tribulation but from His wrath when He comes on the Day of the Lord.

It is important to remember that the Day of the Lord, which Jesus commonly called “that day,” is not the time of the Great Tribulation. The Day of the Lord comes “immediately after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29; compare with Acts 2:20). Throughout the Bible, the Day of the Lord is referred to as the great day of His wrath, not the Great Tribulation. See Chapter Ten.

By comparing the events of Luke 21:25–36 with related scriptures (in the following chart), one can see that Jesus referred to an escape from the catastrophic events and the final outpouring of His wrath that will occur at His coming, on the Day of the Lord, not an escape from the Great Tribulation.

   
The Events of Luke 21:25–36 The Events of the Day of the Lord
   
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars—Luke 21:25. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, . . . day of the Lord—Joel 2:31.
   
And upon the earth distress—Luke 21:25.

The great day of the Lord. . . . a day of trouble and distress—Zeph. 1:14–17.

   
The sea and the waves roaring—Luke 21:25.

That great day of God. . . . every island fled away, and the mountains were not found—Rev. 16:14,20.

   
Men’s hearts failing them for fear—Luke 21:26. The day of the Lord. . . . every man’s heart shall melt—Isa. 13:6,7.
   
For the powers of heaven shall be shaken—Luke 21:26. The heavens shall tremble. . . . the day of the Lord—Joel 2:10,11.
   
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory—Luke 21:27. The Lord himself shall descend. . . . in the clouds. . . . the day of the Lord—1 Thess. 4:16,17; 5:2.
   
Your redemption draweth nigh—Luke 21:28. The day of redemption is the Day of the Lord; on that day He will be glorified in His saints—2 Thess. 1:10; Rom. 8:17–23; Eph. 4:30.
   
Heaven and earth shall pass away—Luke 21:33. The day of the Lord . . . the heavens shall pass away . . . the earth also— 2 Pet. 3:10.
   
Lest . . . that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come—Luke 21:34,35. The day of the Lord will come as a thief—2 Pet. 3:10. As a snare, the thief comes suddenly with destruction upon the unprepared.
   
On all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth—Luke 21:35. The day of the Lord’s wrath . . . a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land—Zeph. 1:18.
   
Watch ye therefore, and pray always—Luke 21:36. The day of the Lord. . . . let us watch—1 Thess. 5:2,6.
   
That ye may be accounted worthy—Luke 21:36. That ye may be accounted worthy. . . . in that day—2 Thess. 1:5–10.
   
To escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man—Luke 21:36. The great day of his wrath. . . . A great multitude . . . stood before the throne . . . the Lamb—Rev. 6:16; 7:9.
   

Does Revelation 3:10 teach that the Church will not go through the Great Tribulation?

 

Revelation 3:10, addressed to the Church at Philadelphia, states, “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.” Some believe “the hour of temptation” is the Great Tribulation, and this verse promises the Church deliverance before then if she faithfully serves the Lord. But this belief is inconsistent with Scripture for several reasons:

First, the Great Tribulation is never called “an hour.” The Day of the Lord, however, is called “an hour” at least sixteen times. See Matt. 24:36,42,44,50; 25:13; Mark 13:32; Luke 12:39,40,46; John 5:28; Rev. 3:3; 11:13; 14:7; 18:10,17,19. Also note that Jesus said, “the hour of temptation”—not seven, or three and one half years of temptation as some believe.

Second, the phrase, “which shall come upon all the world,” is used throughout the Bible to describe the Day of the Lord’s wrath. Consider the following verses:

“Behold, the day of the Lord. . . . I will punish the world for their evil” (Isa. 13:9,11).

“The day of the Lord’s wrath . . . The whole land shall be devoured” (Zeph. 1:18).

“That day. . . . As a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Luke 21:34,35).

“The day of the Lord . . . the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10).

Finally, other churches besides the Church at Philadelphia kept the “word of his patience.” No promise of deliverance was given to them other than the Lord’s return after the Great Tribulation—

The Church at Smyrna. “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty. . . . Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:9,10).

 

The Church at Thyatira. “I know . . . thy patience. . . . Hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations” (Rev. 2:19,25,26). Would Jesus expect these saints to overcome and keep His works to the end, while promising the saints at Philadelphia an escape before the end? No.

In fact, Jesus exhorted each of the seven churches in Revelation chapters two and three to overcome. Overcoming includes having victory in suffering, conflict, and even martyrdom. This truth is exemplified by the saints in Revelation 12:11: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” All believers are expected to be overcomers and, with patience, keep the works of Jesus to the end. Consider further examples from the Word of God:

The Church at Thessalonica. “We ourselves glory in you . . . for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure” (2 Thess. 1:4). Since her beginning, this church had been suffering patiently for the sake of the Word of God (1 Thess. 1:6). Although Paul commended these saints for their patience, he didn’t say it would keep them from the Great Tribulation. Instead, he consoled them by telling why God allowed them to suffer, and he exhorted them to rest—not until a secret rapture, but until “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven” (2 Thess. 1:7). In other words, although these saints were suffering and keeping the Word of God patiently, Paul did not give any promise of deliverance from persecution and tribulation

until the Lord would be revealed.

The believers referred to in Hebrews 11:33–35. They are another example of those who kept the “word of his patience.” These heroes of faith “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.” This has been the hope of all saints down through the ages—a better resurrection, not a deliverance before then.

The Church in the end–time. Contrary to promising an escape, Jesus prophesied that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21,22). Patience, according to Jesus, will not exempt the Church from tribulation, but is needed to go through it: “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19).

“He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints” (Rev. 13:10).

“And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image. . . . The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God. . . . Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:9,10,12).

 

What are the implications of the phrase “my patience” (Rev. 3:10)?

 

This phrase speaks of the patience of our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider the following passage: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:7–11).

In the above passage, the word patience is used five times for emphasis. It speaks of our Lord’s patience in waiting for the precious fruit of the earth. It also encourages the Church to be patient for the coming of the Lord. Then, with direct reference to His coming, it links patience with suffering, affliction, and endurance. But how long will the Lord patiently wait for the precious fruit of the earth before He comes again? The answer is clear: “The harvest is the end of the world” (Matt. 13:39).

Peter affirmed this truth: “The Lord . . . is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise” (2 Pet. 3:9,10). Therefore, when the Lord speaks of keeping “the word of my patience,” He is speaking of patience to the end, when He comes on the Day of the Lord.

Revelation 3:10, then, does not promise that the saints will be gathered before the Great Tribulation. But it does promise that on the Day of the Lord when “sudden destruction cometh,” the Church will be kept from that “hour of temptation” because she will first be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:16,17; 5:1–2).

 

Does Revelation 3:11 give further evidence that Revelation 3:10 does not promise deliverance before the Great Tribulation?

 

Yes. Consider the phrase “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast” (Rev. 3:11). How long must we hold fast? Until a supposed secret rapture or until the end? The Bible says to hold fast until the end—until Jesus comes to judge the nations. Let us not forget His words to the Church at Thyatira: “But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations” (Rev. 2:25,26).

Consider also the phrase “That no man take thy crown” (Rev. 3:11). To the Church at Smyrna, the Lord also spoke of a crown (Rev. 2:10). Surely He wouldn’t promise the Church at Smyrna a crown of life for their suffering, imprisonment, tribulation, and even faithfulness unto death and then promise the Church at Philadelphia deliverance from all suffering and tribulation, and give them a crown as well.

James 1:12 states, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” The apostles taught that the saints would be crowned at our Lord’s appearing, not before (2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet. 5:4).

 

Can Isaiah 26:20 be interpreted as God’s promise that the Church will be withdrawn before the Great Tribulation?

 

Isaiah 26:20 states, “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.”

This verse refers to the saints’ escaping the wrath of God that will be poured out when Jesus comes to gather the Church “after the tribulation” on the “day of the Lord,” not to escaping the Great Tribulation itself. The following comparison of the events of Isaiah chapters 24 to 26 with the same events as taught in the gospels and in the epistles shows that they occur after the Tribulation, on the Day of the Lord.

   
The Events of Isaiah
When These Events Will Occur as Taught
chapters 24–26
in the Gospels
in the Epistles
     
The Lord’s coming as a snare—thief Isa. 24:17,18 After the tribulation—Compare Matt. 24:29,30 with 24:43; Luke 21:35. Day of the Lord—1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10.
     
Cataclysmic events Isa. 24:18–23 After the tribulation—Matt. 24:29. Day of the Lord—2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 6:12–17.
     
The resurrection Isa. 26:19 After the tribulation—Matt. 24:29–31. Day of the Lord—1 Thess. 4:16–18; 5:2.
     
Door shut—saints safe from wrath Isa. 26:20 After the tribulation—Compare Matt. 24:29–31 with 25:10,34. Day of the Lord—1 Thess. 4:15–18; 5:2,3.
     
Death swallowed up in victory and tears wiped away Isa. 25:8 After the tribulation—Compare Matt. 24:29; 25:46 with Rev. 20:14; 21:4. Day of the Lord—1 Thess. 4:16; 5:2; 1 Cor. 15:52–55.
     
The wicked burned Isa. 24:6 After the tribulation—Matt. 24:29–31; 25:41. Day of the Lord—2 Pet. 3:7,10.
     
Earth is dissolved Isa. 24:3–6,19 After the tribulation—Matt. 24:29–35. Day of the Lord—2 Pet.3:10–12.
     
The Lord reigns Isa. 24:23 After the tribulation—Matt. 24:29; 25:31. The end—1 Cor. 15:23–25; Rev. 11:15; 19:6.
     

In summary, First Thessalonians 5:9, Luke 21:34–36, Revelation 3:10, and Isaiah 26:20 are not promises that the Church will escape the Great Tribulation. The Church will escape the wrath of God that will be poured out on the whole earth when Jesus comes to gather the Church and to judge the world.

 
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