Tribulation or Wrath?
What does the Bible teach about Christ’s Second Coming and the rapture of believers? Does it teach that the time of Great Tribulation is the time of God’s wrath, as many claim?
Scripture clearly teaches that there is coming a period of intense apostasy (a falling away from one’s faith), the reign of Antichrist, and unprecedented satanic activity on earth known as the Great Tribulation. This truth is seen in many passages of Scripture, including Matthew 24:21-24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Many Christians believe that this time of Great Tribulation is the time of God’s wrath. Therefore, since He promised believers deliverance from wrath, they assume that they will be raptured before the Great Tribulation.
To understand what the Bible says about Christ’s Second
Coming and the rapture of believers,
it is of utmost importance not to confuse
the Great Tribulation with the wrath
of God. Scripture makes a clear distinction between the two. On
one hand, it says, “In
the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33), but, on
the other hand, Jesus has “delivered us from the wrath to
come” (1 Thess. 1:10). Scripture also records that believers “are
appointed” to tribulation” (1 Thess. 3:3,4), but “not
appointed . . . to wrath” (1 Thess. 5:9). This study will
show that the wrath of God from which
believers are exempt occurs at Christ’s single return after
the Tribulation itself.
How can one understand the wrath of God? What is it? John the
Baptist described it as something that we should escape, not by
merely being religious or by being baptized in water, but by repenting
and bringing forth the fruit of a changed life. When he “saw
many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said
unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from
the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt.
John the Baptist also stated that the wrath of God is the opposite of heaven and eternal life and that we escape it by believing on Jesus Christ. He said, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
Scripture further reveals that the wrath of God is the holiness of God manifesting itself in hating and punishing sin. Romans 1:16 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
In connection with His wrath and the day of His fierce anger, God declared, “I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity” (Isa. 13:11,13).
In Ephesians 5:3-7, Paul warned believers not to be deceived—willful sin has no place in God’s kingdom and will merit the wrath of God: He declared, “But fornication [which is sexual immorality among unmarried people], and all uncleanness [which would include unclean speech, unclean thoughts, and unclean habits such as tobacco, alcohol, and drugs] or covetousness [always wanting more, never being satisfied], let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking; nor jesting . . . For this ye know, that no whoremonger; nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”
It has been said that “God would cease to be holy if He ceased to hate sin, and He would cease to hate sin if He ceased to punish it.”
What is the wrath of God? It is something we should flee from. It is the opposite of heaven and eternal life. It is the holiness of God manifesting itself in hating and punishing sin. How can one escape the wrath of God? By true repentance, by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, and by living a life acceptable to God.
John the Baptist warned his hearers to “flee the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7). But when will it come? To be sure, true believers are exempt from the wrath of God. But the matter of when that wrath begins is very important if we are going to know how to escape it.
Notice the words “the wrath to come.” This exact phrase is found only three times in the entire Bible. In this verse, in Luke 3:7, and also in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, which reads: “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
John preached that we escape the wrath to come by repentance. Jesus and the apostles preached repentance in the light of the final Day of Judgment.
According to Matthew 11:20-24 and 12:41, Jesus linked repentance with readiness for the Day of Judgment. Paul preached repentance in the light of God’s appointed day “in the which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:30,31) and “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:4,5).
Likewise, Peter preached “repentance” in the context of “the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:7,9).
Obviously, then, since John the Baptist preached repentance in the light of the wrath to come, and since Jesus and the apostles consistently preached repentance in connection with the Day of Judgment, it would stand to reason that the “wrath to come” is the “day of judgment,” not the Great Tribulation.
This truth is further seen as follows:
In Revelation 6:17 we read that “the great day of His wrath is come.” Some teach that this verse, in context, describes the events of the Great Tribulation. Is that true or false? To prove that they occur after the Tribulation, with Bible in hand, let us first observe five things in this passage: The sun, the moon, the stars, the heaven departed, and the cry of the wicked upon seeing Jesus.
Let’s look at portions from Revelation 6:12-17. “The sun became black as sackcloth of hair . . . the moon became as blood . . . the stars of heaven fell unto the earth . . . the heaven departed as a scroll . . . And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man . . . 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?”
Now let us read Matthew 24:29-31 and look for the same five things—the sun, the moon, the stars, the heaven departed, and the cry of the wicked upon seeing Jesus. He said: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heaven shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
What five events are described here? The sun, the moon, the stars, the heaven, and the cry of the wicked upon seeing Jesus. Clearly, then, both passages (Rev. 6:12-17 and Matt. 24:29,30) describe the same event. What does “the great day of his wrath” come immediately after? According to Matthew 24:29, it comes “immediately after the tribulation.”
Evidently, then, “the great day of his wrath” is the day of Jesus’ coming immediately after the Tribulation, not the days of the Great Tribulation itself.
Will believers be exempt from that wrath? Yes, according to Matthew’s
account, when Jesus appears with power and great glory, “He
shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they
shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end
of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:31).
Do other passages of Scripture connect “the great day of his wrath” with Christ’s single return after the Tribulation? Yes, there are many. Let us examine a few:
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17, we read the most frequently quoted passage of Scripture concerning the rapture. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
Then, in chapter 5:1-6, Paul continued, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.”
Verse 9 says, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” What was Paul referring to when he said, “God hath not appointed us to wrath”? Was he referring to the Great Tribulation? Did he teach that the Day of the Lord is the time of Great Tribulation and that it begins after the Church is raptured? While this may be a very popular view, is it biblical?
Actually, the Day of the Lord is one of the most important terms to understand in a discussion of prophetic truth. Therefore, its usage in the Word of God must be carefully examined. A proper understanding of that day gives abundant proof of the timing of the rapture and makes the truth of the Second Coming and the end of the world come into focus.
By following one of the basic rules of interpretation, that is, by comparing scripture with scripture, we will see that the events of the Day of the Lord and Paul’s description of that day definitely occur “immediately after the tribulation.” Consider the following proofs:
1. On the Day of the Lord, the “dead in Christ” shall rise. Jesus linked the resurrection of all believers with the Last Day (John 6:39,40,44,54).
2. On the Day of the Lord, Jesus will come with the “trump of God” and the Church will be “caught up” to meet Him in the air. According to Matthew 24:29-31, the sounding of the trumpet and the gathering of believers occurs “immediately after the tribulation.”
3. On the Day of the Lord, “sudden destruction” will
come upon the wicked and they shall not escape. According to Matthew
24:37-39, Jesus likened Noah and the flood to the day of His coming.
He said, “For as in the days that were before the flood they
were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until
the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood
came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son
of man be.” Truly, the day Noah entered the ark, the flood
came with sudden destruction and none escaped. Jesus gave this solemn
warning in the context of His coming “immediately after the
tribulation” (v. 29).
4. In connection with the Day of the Lord, Paul admonished believers to “watch and be sober” (5:6), that is, to be spiritually awake and morally alert in readiness for that day. According to Matthew 24:42, Jesus exhorted believers to “watch” with regard to His coming “immediately after the tribulation” (v. 29). See also Mark 13:24,35.
5. Paul stated that “the Day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (5:2). According to 2 Peter 3:7,10, the Day of the Lord is referred to as “the day of judgment” and will come suddenly and unexpectedly as “a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:7,10). These things cannot be said of the Great Tribulation. In fact, at least five other passages of Scripture link the Day of the Lord with a vivid description of the end of the world.
Clearly, then, since Scripture reveals that the events of the Day of the Lord as given in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 occur “immediately after the tribulation,” and since it often describes that day as being the literal end of the world, we can be assured that the Day of the Lord is not the beginning of the Great Tribulation.
The Day of the Lord is the same as “the great day of God’s wrath”—the Day of Judgment—not the beginning of the Great Tribulation. On that Last Day, unbelievers will face God’s eternal “wrath,” but believers will obtain the fullness of their “salvation” by our Lord Jesus Christ and, according to 1 Thessalonians 5:10, “live together with him.”
We see, then, that 1 Thessalonians 5:9 promises believers deliverance from God’s wrath when Jesus returns to rapture His Church on the climactic Day of the Lord, not deliverance from the days of Great Tribulation.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, we see the same scenario. It reads, “The Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel.” When will our Lord take vengeance on His enemies, which speaks to us of His divine wrath? According to verse 10, “when he shall come to be glorified in his saints . . . in that day,” which Paul often referred to as the Day of the Lord. Once again, then, the wrath of God is identified with Christ’s coming on the Day of the Lord, which as we have already seen, occurs after the Great Tribulation.
Another passage to consider is Romans 2:4-11. It speaks of “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds.” When will that day come? According to Matthew 16:27, Jesus “shall reward every man according to his works” when He “shall come in the glory of his Father.” Here we see that Scripture links the day of wrath with the Second Coming and the final judgment, not with the days of Great Tribulation.
Let us also consider Revelation 11:18, which reads, “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and 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.”
This verse plainly associates the coming of God’s “wrath” with the simultaneous resurrection and judgment of all men. In that day, the “saints” will be rewarded and the corrupters of the earth, eternally destroyed. According to verse 15, it occurs when the seventh trumpet sounds.
We have already seen that the sounding of the trumpet and the resurrection of believers occurs “immediately after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29-31).
Let us consider just one more example. In Revelation 19:15 we read: “And he [Jesus Christ] treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” When does this occur? In verse 20, we see that the Antichrist was “cast alive into a lake of fire.” According to 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, this will occur when Jesus returns on the climactic Day of the Lord.
Thus, we have another proof that the “wrath of Almighty God” is identified with the return of Jesus “after the tribulation.”
We have considered six New Testament passages of Scripture that depict the wrath of God. Each of them connects the wrath of God, from which true believers are exempt, with Jesus’ coming after the Tribulation, not with the Tribulation itself. In review they are as follows:
Revelation 6:17: “The great day of his wrath.” According to Matthew 24:29, the five things in this context—the sun, the moon, the stars, the heaven departed, and the cry of the wicked—occur “after the tribulation.”
1 Thessalonians 5:9: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath,” which Paul linked with the Day of the Lord. In context, Paul associated that day with five things, each of which occurs “after the tribulation.” For example, the “dead in Christ” shall rise. Jesus linked the resurrection of all believers with the Last Day.
2 Thessalonians 1:7-10: The Lord “taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel . . . in that day,” which Paul often referred to as the Day of the Lord. Peter identified that day with the literal end of the world. See 2 Peter 3:10.
Romans 2:4-11: “The day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” This speaks of the final judgment day when God “will render to every man according to his deeds.”
Revelation 11:18: “And thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged.” Jesus linked the sounding of the trumpet and the resurrection of believers with His coming “immediately after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29-31).
Revelation 19:15,20: “The wrath of Almighty God” and the Antichrist being “cast alive into a lake of fire,” an event which Paul associated with the climactic Day of the Lord (2 Thess. 2:2,8).
Obviously, then, the Bible teaches that the Church will be present during the Great Tribulation but will be exempt from the wrath to come when Jesus returns with the sound of the Last Trumpet, at the end of the world. In other words, true believers 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.
Radio listener, are you living in the light of the Second Coming of Christ? That day is the great day of His wrath for all those who know not God and obey not the gospel. If you are not ready, repent now and trust Jesus to save you.
This message is available by tape. For your free copy, write to Agnes Macdonald, 2948 Creekwood Drive, Salem, Virginia 24153.
Be sure to tune in tomorrow evening at this same time. Hear scriptural answers to a timely question—Does the Bible teach that the tribulation will last for seven years? Don’t miss this all important subject. We will be examining Daniel’s prophecy of seventy weeks in the light of its context and the New Testament. Invite a friend to listen with you. Until tomorrow, may God bless you and be with you.