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The Doctrine of the Tribulation
in Relation to the Rapture

by Ron Rhodes

Why is this Doctrine Important?

While some posttribulationists like Ladd and Gundry concede that there is a future unfulfilled tribulation, posttribulationists nevertheless often confuse the Great Tribulation with tribulation in general.

The Use of the Word "Tribulation"

The word "tribulation" means "to press" (as grapes), "to press together," "to press hard upon," and refers to "times of oppression, affliction, and distress" (BAG). thlipsis is translated variously as "tribulation," "affliction," "anguish," "persecution," "trouble," and "burden." The word has been used in relation to:

  • Those 'hard pressed' by the calamities of war (Matt. 24:21).
  • A woman giving birth to a child (Jn. 16:21).
  • The afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24).
  • Those 'pressed' by poverty and lack (Phil. 4:14).
  • Great anxiety and burden of heart (2 Cor. 2:4).
  • A period known as the Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:14).

General Tribulation Distinguished from the Great Tribulation

Posttribulationist George Fromow believes that the Church is already passing through 'the Great Tribulation,' according to the sense of Rev. vii, vv. 13, 14, and he 'proves' this by pointing out that the word "saints'" refers to the Church.

Such a view, however, illustrates two leading characteristics upon which the conclusions of posttribulationism are built: (1) confusion of the Great Tribulation with tribulation in general; (2) confusion of the church with saints as a whole.

It is true that the church may expect general tribulation. Christ said to the disciples, "In the world ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33). Paul and Barnabas warned that "through much tribulation" we must "enter in the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). But are we to assume that in every instance the word "tribulation" refers to such general tribulation?

That the Great Tribulation is to be distinguished from tribulation in general is established by the following facts:

  • Scripture refers to a definite period of time at the end of the age (Matt. 24:29-35).
  • This period is called "the great tribulation" in Rev. 7:14.
  • It will be of such severity that no period in history past or future will equal it (Matt. 24:21).
  • It will be shortened for the elect's sake (Matt. 24:22), as no flesh could survive it.
  • It is called the time of Jacob's trouble, for it is a judgment on Messiah-rejecting Israel (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1-4).
  • The nations will be judged for their sin and rejection of Christ during this tribulation (Isa. 26:21; Rev. 6:15-17).
  • It is seven years in length (Dan. 9:24, 27).

The Nature of the Tribulation

A central problem for posttribulationists is that they must get the church through the tribulation relatively unscathed. But the only way they can do this is to ignore the plain teachings of the book of Revelation on this subject. Gundry is an example of one who attempts to bring the church through the Great Tribulation without experiencing great tribulation (cf. The Church and the Tribulation).

However, the nature of the Tribulation forbids such an interpretation. This period is characterized by wrath (Zeph. 1:15, 18), judgment (Rev. 14:7), indignation (Isa. 26:20-21), trial (Rev. 3:10), trouble (Jer. 30:7), destruction (Joel 1:15), darkness (Amos 5:18), desolation (Dan. 9:27), overturning (Isa. 24:1-4), and punishment (Isa. 24:20-21). Simply put, no passage can be found to alleviate to any degree whatsoever the severity of this time that shall come upon the earth.

The Scope of the Tribulation

Gundry's argument is further weakened by the fact that the Tribulation will come upon the whole world. Revelation 3:10 describes this period as ".. . that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell (not 'some who dwell') upon the earth" (insert mine). Isaiah writes: "Behold, the Lord lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface, and scatters its inhabitants" ((Isa. 24:1). He continues along the same line in verse 17: "Terror and pit and snare confront you, O inhabitant of the earth." Obviously, it seems impossible that the church could avoid experiencing tribulation if she indeed goes through the Great Tribulation.

The Source of the Tribulation

Scripture makes it clear that the Great Tribulation is a time of both divine wrath and satanic wrath. However, Gundry attempts to lessen the severity of this period in relation to believers by making it a period of satanic wrath, and not a time of divine wrath. A brief survey of Scripture shows this view to be incorrect. The Great Tribulation is a ". . . day of the Lord's wrath" (Zeph. 1:18). The earth will experience ". . . the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6:16-17). "The Lord maketh the earth empty. . ." (Isa. 24:1), and ". . . the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity" (Isa. 26:21).

The Purpose of the Tribulation

There seems to be a twofold purpose for the time of the Great Tribulation: (1) to bring to conclusion 'the times of the Gentiles' (Luke 21:24); and (2) to prepare for the restoration and the regathering of Israel in the millennial reign of Christ following the Second Coming. Thus, the purpose of the Tribulation has nothing to do with purging the church or the discipline of believers. This supports the argument that the church will not go through the Tribulation.

Conclusions of this study as to why the church will not go through the Tribulation.

  • The nature of the Tribulation relates to Israel and Gentiles, not the Church.
  • No O.T. passage on the Tribulation mentions the Church.
  • No N.T. passage on the Tribulation mentions the Church.
  • The church is not appointed to wrath. It is promised salvation from the wrath to come.
  • The church of Philadelphia was promised deliverance form "the hour of trial."
  • It is characteristic of God to deliver believers before divine wrath and judgment.
  • The rapture of the church is never mentioned in any passage dealing with the Second Coming after the Tribulation.
  • Pretribulationism does not confuse terms like "saints" (general) with terms like "Church" (specific).
  • The godly remnant of the Tribulation are pictured as Israelites, not members of the Church.
  • Pretribulationism distinguishes between general tribulation and the Great Tribulation.
  • Pretribulationism is the only view that uses a literal interpretation of all N.T. and O.T. passages on the Great Tribulation.
  • If the Church is raptured at the end of the Tribulation, there will be no mortals left to populate the Millennial Kingdom.
  • At the rapture, the church goes to the Father's house (John 14:3), not back to earth again as posttribulationists hold. Since the first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel were subject to literal fulfillment, the final (seventieth) week will have a similar fulfillment. All seventy weeks of Daniel are totally in reference to Israel and her relation to Gentile powers and the rejection of Israel's Messiah, (i.e., no reference to the church).
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