THE GREAT TRIBULATION AND THE WRATH OF GOD
Much wrong understanding regarding the end of this present age is caused because the believer does not rightly divide Scripture between the period known as the ‘great tribulation’ and the period of the ‘wrath of God’. Many think that these terms describe the same period of time, but Scripture never uses these terms interchangeably!
The end-time scenario as understood by Christians varies considerably (Note 12: The vast majority of Christians believe in the personal return of Christ. They can be divided into two schools, the ‘Pre-Millennialists,’ who believe that Jesus will return before the Millennium, the thousand year period referred to in Rev.20:1-7, and the ‘Post-Millennialists’ who say He will not come back until after this time.
‘Pre-Millennialists can be divided into ‘Preterist,’ ‘Historicist’ and ‘Futurist’ schools. The ‘Preterist’ school originated in the 17th century and suggests that the book of Revelation refers only to the time of John’s life, ending with the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in AD70. The ‘Historicist’ school, sometimes called the ‘Presentist’ scheme, appeared in the 12th century and suggests the book of Revelation predicts events which will happen from the time of John until the end of time. The ‘Futurist’ school holds that the book of Revelation, from Chapter Four, is yet future and unfulfilled, and the greater part of it describes the events occurring in the last week of ‘Daniel’s Seventy Weeks’. This is the oldest held view and the one which will be found in this book. It concurs with the recorded beliefs of many of the early Church. Some suggest this school was instigated in the 16th century in an attempt to rid the Papacy of being called the "Antichrist" and has fallen into recent disrepute by many ‘Protestants’ for this reason. However, the ‘Apostolic Church’ was ‘Pre-Millennial,’ and it seems that for the first 200 years of the Church no other view predominated.Early Church writings provide much evidence of this fact.
The ‘Pre-Millennialist’ belief concurs with the Old Testament prophets who foretell of an era, or age, of universal righteousness and peace on this earth under the reign of the Messiah. We can see that this was the belief of the first disciples, for when they asked Jesus if He was about to "restore the kingdom to Israel," (Acts 1:6), He did not suggest they were mistaken in their view of there being such a future earthly kingdom, He only told them, "it is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed," (v.7). It can be seen that the whole teaching of the Old Testament, as to the coming of the Messiah, is ‘Pre-Millennial’. Rev.20:1-7 concurs with this Truth and fixes the length of this coming time of Jesus reign, as King upon the earth, to one thousand years.), yet only one scenario can be correct. We know from what was told to Daniel that his prophetic vision was to be sealed UNTIL the time of the end, the time just before the ‘first resurrection’, when "many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake... to everlasting life," (Dan.12:2&9). As we are now entering this time of the end, just before the ‘first resurrection’, we can expect that as "sons of light and sons of day," (1Thess.5:5), we will begin to receive an understanding of these ‘times’ as the Holy Spirit discloses to us "what is to come," (John 16:13). We need to be aware, however, that Satan is doing all he can to frustrate our understanding of this time of the end of this age.
Many Christians seem to want to believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture (Note 123: The term ‘Rapture’, as already stated, is not used in Scripture but has come to be widely used for referring to the event when "we, who are alive and remain, shall be caught up... in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air," (1Thess.4:17). It is also stated by Paul that "we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall not precede those who have fallen asleep," (v.15), being "caught up together with them," (v.17). Thus, we see this wonderful event is concurrent with "the resurrection of the righteous," (Luke 14:14). This is what is usually meant by ‘the Rapture’), or other beliefs which discount the possibility that the present believer has to go through the time of ‘great tribulation’, because they find the scene described in the book of Revelation too undesirable to cope with. This is usually because they confuse the time of ‘great tribulation’ with the separate time of the ‘wrath of God.’ We may hold a wrong belief because of our wrong understanding, or we may choose a particular doctrine due to fear, because we may not fully trust God with our future and are unable to contemplate a scenario we would not like to be involved with. Nevertheless, we should not allow ourselves to hold a view which is contrary to Scripture.
Scripture tells us that when the ‘beast’ (Note 14: The ‘beast’ is a world system described in the book of Revelation as having "seven heads and ten horns," (Rev.12:3 and 13:1), to which Satan, the dragon, (Rev.12:9), gives "his power and his throne and great authority," (Rev.13:2), which is also personified in one man who will be "thrown alive into the lake of fire," (Rev.19:20). Paul refers to him as the "the man of lawlessness... the son of destruction... whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders," (2Thess.2:3,8&9 and Rev.19:11-20).) is seen "those who dwell upon the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life," (Rev.17:8). From this we know that believers will be able to identify the ‘beast’ at that time. It is a second ‘beast,’ the ‘false prophet’ (Note 15: The ‘false prophet’, (Rev.16:13), will perform signs in the presence of the ‘Beast’ by which he deceives those who receive the mark of the ‘Beast’ and those who worship his image, (Rev.19:20), and is also described as a ‘beast’; one coming up out of the earth and having two horns like a lamb and speaking as a dragon, (Rev.13:11), who provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell except the one who has the mark of the first beast, the name of the beast, or the number of his name, (Rev.13:16-18). Those who partake in the "first resurrection" will include those saints who are slain because they "had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand," (Rev.20:4&5). This Scripture confirms that the ‘first resurrection’, that event which includes the ‘catching away of the saints’ and the ‘dead in Christ being raised,’ (1Cor.15:52), will occur AFTER the revealing of the beast, during the time of great tribulation!
Satan has done all he can to prevent Christians understanding the correct make up of the time of the end of this age, the last seven years, and in particular, he seeks to obscure the fact that those who are alive at the second coming of Christ will have gone through the ‘great tribulation’. This is because Satan’s defeat occurs during this time .
The Wrath of God
Many believers have been confused because they have not identified that the time of the "great tribulation," (Matt.24:21 and Rev.7:14), is different from the time of the "wrath of God". Because Paul tells us that "God has not destined us for wrath," (1Thess.5:9), many have mistakenly thought that Christians could not be here during the time of ‘great tribulation’; thinking that the terms, ‘wrath of God’ and ‘great tribulation’, were used for the same future period. As already stated, these terms are not used interchangeably in Scripture.
The ‘wrath of God’ is a 3½ year period during which God’s wrath is poured out upon the earth, before the coming of the Lord to the earth, to the Mount of Olives. This is after the Lord has already come on the clouds to catch away the saints. When God pours forth His wrath "men will seek death and they will long to die," (Rev.9:6), and is a time when many men will be killed. During the time of the sixth trumpet alone, a "third of mankind... is killed," (Rev.9:18)! But despite the awfulness of this time, we read that men will still "not repent," (Rev.9:20&21 and 16:9&11). It is also a time when a company of "bond servants," - "144,000 from every tribe of the sons of Israel" (Note 16: There are two groups of 144,000 mentioned in the book of Revelation, one in Rev.7:4, who are comprised from every tribe of the sons of Israel, and another, a different group, in Rev.14:1, who "follow the Lamb wherever He goes... and have been purchased from among men... purchased from the earth," (Rev.14:3&4), - Christians.) are "sealed on their foreheads" and cannot be "hurt," (Rev.7:3&4 and 9:4).
The ‘wrath of God’ is also referred to as the "great day of the Lord," and is graphically described by the prophet Zephaniah, (Zeph.1:14-2:3), as a "day of the Lord’s anger," (Zeph.2:2&3), when "all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy," (Zeph.1:18).
The Day of the Lord
The phrase, ‘The day of the Lord’ is often used incorrectly by believers because it is not fully understood that it is the ‘day of the Lord’s wrath’ which will usher in the ‘thousand year day of the Lord,’ Christ’s millennial reign on the earth. Satan has tried to prevent us considering the awful judgement of Almighty God, which is being stored up to deal with the abominations perpetrated by man before Jesus will return to the earth to reign as King. The Prophet, Joel, describes this day as "great and very awesome," (Joel 2:11). That God will judge this world according to its ways is a future prophetic certainty, but before this day He will bring forth His mercy, demonstrating His love for all mankind as the good news of His Kingdom is proclaimed to all the nations, with the offer of deliverance from the wrath to come. Joel prophecies of this time of mercy being available: "before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes... it will come about that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved," (Joel 2:31&32). Joel goes on to prophesy that ‘the day’ will usher in that time of peace, [the millennial reign of Christ], when the "Lord will dwell in Zion," and "the Lord will be zealous for His land and will have pity on His people," [Israel], and "will never again make them a reproach among the nations." He "will make up for the years that the swarming locusts have eaten" when He is "in the midst of Israel," (Joel 3:21, 2:18-27).
Like a Thief in the Night
Those who uphold that there will be a Pre-Tribulation Rapture make much of the scriptures which speak of "the day of the Lord" coming "like a thief in the night," (1Thess.5:2), confusing themselves by thinking that this refers to the coming of the separate time of ‘great tribulation’. The coming of the ‘great tribulation’ will not be as a thief - but the time when God pours forth His wrath will!
Paul writes that while "they are saying, ‘Peace and Safety’, destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child and they shall not escape," (v.3). This is speaking of wrath. Paul then tells us that we "are not in darkness, that the day should overtake us like a thief, for we are all sons of light and sons of day", declaring that "God has not destined us for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ," (1Thess.5:4,5&9).
Jesus said, "Be on the alert for you do not know which day your Lord is coming... for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think." This does not prevent us, who are "sons of light," however, from knowing the "times [years] and seasons [months]", which Paul clearly states the Church in Thessalonica knew: "Now as to times and seasons, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you," (1Thess.5:1). Indeed, Jesus exhorts us to know, just like we know when "summer is here," by the fact that the fig tree has "put forth its leaves," (Matt.24:32), that when we "see" all those things which Jesus told us to watch for, we are to "recognise that He is near, right at the door," (Matt.24:33).
The idea of an ‘imminent, sudden, unexpected and secret rapture’ of the saints, which could take place any day, has been a very popular end-time doctrine, and is often upheld by the idea that somehow this expectation makes us behave better. Whilst being the focus of many sermons, this motive, of ever expectant imminent return, is suggested only by those who misunderstand ‘righteousness and sanctification’. The true quality of our ‘walk’ is not reliant upon such a threat of always needing to be in readiness [although we should], but by knowing ‘who we are in Christ’.
The Days of Noah, the Days of Lot, and the Days of the Son of Man
Jesus told us that the coming of the Son of Man will be "just as it happened in the days of Noah... and the days of Lot," (Luke 17:26-36). "Just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all. [This ‘destruction’ again speaks of ‘God’s wrath being poured out’.] Likewise, also as it was in the days of Lot. They were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building, but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all," (v.26-29). This scripture confirms that Jesus’ second coming will be "as a thief" to the world, as it was in Noah and Lot’s day, when life was proceeding as usual, and will initiate the time of ‘God’s wrath,’ a time of destruction. However, both Noah and Lot, types of the present day believer, were aware of the soon coming end [but not the day or hour], yet they could not convince the world of this truth. This scripture is not trying to inform us of the smallness of the number who will be saved on that ‘day’, as some suggest, but rather of its suddenness for the unbeliever, and is, analogous with the normality (Note 17: The coming of the Son of Man will see subcultures like Sodom, where marriage is not mentioned, suggesting sexually perverted societies. A reality that is already upon us.) of the circumstances immediately preceding that ‘day’ and the awesomeness of the day of God’s wrath which will come upon an unbelieving world.
Despite Jesus only giving us these two analogies as precedents for His second coming, some ‘teachers’ have added those of Enoch and Elijah, but these are just that, men’s additions, usually added to uphold the idea that Christians will not partake in the ‘great tribulation’!
During the time of the ‘wrath of God’, which begins to be described in Rev.6:12-17, ("wrath has come and who is able to stand"), we do not read of anyone being saved or anyone repenting, ("they did not repent", Rev.9:20&21 and Rev.16:9&11.) Only those of Israel, that perfect number known only to God, and represented by the 144,000 of Revelation Chapter 7, are "sealed" so as not to be harmed during the wrath being poured out by God upon the earth. The time of God’s wrath being poured out concludes the last half of Daniel’s 70th week, (Dan.9:24-27), the last of the 70 weeks which have been decreed for the people of Israel and Jerusalem "to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place," (v.24). It is also the last 3½ years of this present world order.
The First Resurrection and Catching Away of the Saints
Paul, speaking of God, tells us to "wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead... who delivers us from the wrath to come," (1Thess.1:10). The catching away of the saints, those who are alive when Jesus returns, coincides with the ‘first resurrection’, the raising from the dead, of those who have "fallen asleep." Paul explains to the Church at Thessalonica, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep, for the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we, who are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord," (1Thess.4:13-17). This concurs with what Paul explains to the Church at Corinth, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed," (1Cor.15:51&52).
Explaining that there is a difference between a natural body and a spiritual body, Paul says, "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body... Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood (Note 18: After Jesus’ resurrection He appeared to the disciples and said, "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones [no blood] as you see that I have," (Luke 24:39), for they thought they were seeing a spirit. Jesus, in His immortal body could pass through walls, appear and disappear, (v.36), yet had flesh and bones, not flesh and blood. His life, however, was not in His blood any longer for He had put on the imperishable.) cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable... for this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality," (v.42-58).
The timing of this most amazing event is told to us by Jesus Himself: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days.... He [the Son of Man] will send forth His angels with a great trumpet (Note 19: Both 1Cor.15:52 and 1Thess.4:16 make the same reference to the ‘trumpet of God’, linking these scriptures, for they speak of the same event.) and they will gather together His elect (Note: Gk.’Eklektos’ signifies ‘chosen’ or ‘elect’, and is used of believers, both Jew and Gentile, by Paul in Rom.8:33 and Col.3:12, as well as by Jesus in Matt.24:22,24 & 31, Mark 13:20, 22 and 27 and Luke 18:7. It is not a term which refers only to Jews. Some suggest this, so as to imply this scripture does not refer to the ‘Church’.) from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other," (Matt.24:29&31).
The Two Stages of Jesus’ Second Coming
As we compare references in Scripture to Jesus’ second coming, we can see there are two stages, between which it is important to distinguish. He first comes "on the clouds of the sky" with "His angels," (Matt.24:30&31). This is when "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory," (v.29&30). This is no secret coming, for "just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be," (v.27). "Behold, He is coming with the clouds and every eye shall see Him, even those who pierced Him [Israel]; and all the tribes will mourn for Him," (Rev.1:7). Zechariah prophesies regarding the "House of David" [Israel] that "in that day... they will look on Me whom they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born," (Zech.12:10). The description, ‘All the tribes of the earth’ includes Israel, some of whom are still not ‘saved’ when the Lord returns on the clouds, with only one third of those who then remain, still to make it "through the fire," the wrath of God which is to follow. This is made clear in Zech.13:8: "‘It will come about in all the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘That two parts in it will be cut off and perish, but the third will be left in it, and I will bring the third part through the fire. Refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My Name and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God’". After the ‘wrath of God’ Jesus’ "feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east," (Zech.14:4), when "the Lord, my God, will come, and all the holy ones [saints] with Him," (v.5).
By contrast to His coming on the clouds, which is with the angels, Jesus’ coming to the earth is with the saints, - not with the angels. We have a description of the coming of he Lord to the earth with His saints in Revelation, Chapter 19. We read of "a great multitude [the saints] in heaven... for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride [the saints] has made herself ready; and it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints," (Rev.19:1-10). Then "heaven opened; and behold a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war... and the armies [the saints] which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses," (v.11-14). This is after the time of the ‘wrath of God.’
The Great Tribulation
Before the ‘wrath of God’ is the separate time of ‘great tribulation’. Jesus explains that the "tribulation... immediately" precedes the ‘first resurrection’ and the catching away of the saints, when Jesus comes "on the clouds of the sky," describing this time as "great tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall," (Matt.24:21). Of this "great tribulation," Jesus said, "unless those days had been cut short no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short," (v.22). That "no life would have been saved" is due to the author of this tribulation being Satan, and not God. This time is also one of "false prophets" and "false Christs" showing "great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect," (v.24). This is the last contest of the ‘righteous’ with Satan.
The Beast and False Prophet
During this time of "great tribulation" a man known as the "Beast", (Rev.19:20), the head of a worldly power which is described as a "beast... having ten horns and seven heads," (Rev.13:1), is given "authority to act for forty-two months [3½ years]... and.. to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation," (v.5-7). "All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose name has not been written in the book of life of the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the earth." That is, all will worship the beast except Christians, (v.8).
Another "beast, coming up out of the earth" at that time, will exercise "all the authority of the first beast in his presence" and make "the earth and those who dwell on it to worship the first beast." He "performs great signs.. and he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or upon their forehead... that no one should be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, the name of beast or the number of the name... and his number is 666," (Rev.13:1-18). This second beast is called the "false prophet", (Rev.19:20). "If any one worships the Beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God... Here is the perseverance of the saints, who keep the commandments of God and the faith in Jesus," (Rev.14:9-12). And we are told, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord," during this time, (v.13).
"Underneath the altar" in heaven, John saw the "souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony they had maintained. These martyrs who have died for their faith "cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?’ ...and they were told that they should rest a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed, even as they had been, should be completed," (Rev.6:9-11). These additional and final ‘martyrs’, who ‘complete the number’, come from the remaining time of "great tribulation." They form part of those believers who are caught up to be with the Lord in the air at the "first resurrection", being described as "the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God, and those who had not worshipped the Beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. THIS IS THE FIRST RESURRECTION," [N.B. It is after the rise of the ‘Beast’], (Rev.20:4&5).
The Meaning of ‘Tribulation’
The word for ‘tribulation’ in Greek is ‘thilipsis’ and is sometimes translated as ‘affliction’ or ‘persecution’. During the whole of the last 2000 years the Church has gone through tribulation, affliction and persecution, in varying degrees. Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation," (John 16:33). Paul "strengthened the souls of the disciples" at Antioch, "encouraging them to continue in the faith," explaining that "through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God," (Acts 14:22). Paul was able to say that he gloried in "tribulation, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance," (Rom.5:3), saying, "Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword... separate us from the love of Christ?...But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us," (Rom.8:35&37). To the Church at Thessalonica Paul wrote, "We ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God, for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and tribulations which you endure, a plain token of the just judgement of God so that you may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which, indeed, you are suffering, since it is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to give relief to you who are afflicted, and to us as well, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire dealing out retribution [wrath] to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus... when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day," (2Thess.4:8). This scripture clearly describes the sequence of Jesus coming with His angels - to catch away the saints - after the great tribulation - and before the wrath of God.
The Last Contest of the Righteous
So we see that the last 2000 years of ‘tribulation’ of the saints will culminate in a time of ‘great tribulation’. John records in the book of Revelation that he sees a "great multitude" in heaven "which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." It was explained to John, that "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation," (Rev.7:9&14). After Rev.7:14, when the saints are in heaven, the term, ‘tribulation,’ does not appear again in scripture, but the term, ‘wrath,’ appears thirteen times from Rev.6:16 to 19:15, with the phrase "they did not repent" appearing four times.
This order of events also concurs with the teaching of the early Church Fathers. Ireneas, [c.AD140-202], taught by Polycarp, who had been taught by John, spoke of the ‘great tribulation’ saying, "When in the end, the Church shall be suddenly caught up from the earth, it is said, ‘There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.’ For in this last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome, they are crowned with incorruption. (Note 21: From ‘Ireneas Against Heresies’, Book V, Ch.24, p.558.)" Ireneas synchronised the "first resurrection" of Rev.20:4-6 with the event when the saints are "caught away," teaching that the "resurrection of the just" will take place after the coming of the Antichrist.
Chapter (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10)