Some of the most terrifying words to ever fall from the lips of Jesus are those found in Matthew 24:21.
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.
The Lord Jesus Christ is truth incarnate, not given to exaggeration. Yet He speaks of a time so terrifying, so horrible, that nothing compares to it. He is not speaking of those general “trials and tribulations” all of us have. This is a unique time, seven years of hell on earth. There is nothing like it in all history—secular or biblical. Revelation chapters 6-19 describe that terrible time.
What is its purpose? Why would there be such a thing as a “great tribulation”? And will the Church (believers alive on earth at that time) be made to go through it?
God has more than one purpose for the period we know as the “Great Tribulation.”
1. It is the last seven years of God's dealing with the nation of Israel before they are brought to a final crisis—and prepared for receiving their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. We know this because of many Scriptures connecting the Great Tribulation to the nation of Israel.
- In Deuteronomy 4:39, the dawn of God's history with Israel, Moses prophesies that in the latter days, because of this tribulation, the Jews will turn to Him and seek Him with all their heart.
- Jeremiah 30, describing this period, says: “Alas, for that day is great so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob's trouble” (v. 7). This chapter makes it clear that the Tribulation is a time to prepare the Jewish people to receive the Lord Jesus Christ and that God will save Israel out of it.
When the Bible uses the word “Jacob,” it always refers to fleshly Israel, natural Israel, the Jews as we know them. It is not speaking of “spiritual Israel”—the Church—the Body of Christ.
10 ‘Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,’ says the Lord,
‘Nor be dismayed, O Israel;
For behold, I will save you from afar,
And your seed from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet,
And no one shall make him afraid.
11 For I am with you,’ says the Lord, ‘to save you;
Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you,
Yet I will not make a complete end of you.
But I will correct you in justice,
And will not let you go altogether unpunished.’
- Daniel 12:1 says, “At that time Michael shall stand up,
The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people;
And there shall be a time of trouble,
Such as never was since there was a nation,
Even to that time.
And at that time your people shall be delivered,
Everyone who is found written in the book.”
Whose people? Daniel's people, the Jews. God is speaking of the elect among the Jews who will be delivered from the Great Tribulation. This is what Jesus meant when He said,
22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. Matthew 24:22
So, will the Church—the Body of Christ—go through the Tribulation too? Let’s look further.
2. Another purpose of the Tribulation is to punish the Gentiles for their arrogance, rebellion and godlessness. Isaiah 24 and Jeremiah 25 beginning with verse 30 describe the Great Tribulation coming upon the Gentiles.
God will pour out His wrath upon a world that has spurned Him, that has laughed at and ridiculed His precepts and principles and said, “We don't want any God to rule over us” (Psalm 2:3).
So who will be going through this great tribulation?
- Clearly, Israel, for it is “the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.”
- And the unsaved.
But notice in all of the scriptures that deal with the Great Tribulation, not one scripture mentions the Church—the Body of Christ—as being present during that time, not even the book of Revelation.
The Key to Revelation
To better understand the book of Revelation, you first need the key to the book. There is a key, and it’s hanging right by the front door.
In chapter one, the apostle John was in prayer when he heard a voice behind him. The Voice identifies Himself as “the Alpha and Omega,” the resurrected Christ. He instructs John in verse 19 to write those things “which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.”
There is the key. In my estimation, if you do not understand this one verse, you will not understand Revelation or that it is divided into three sections: past, present, and future—the things John has seen, the things which currently are, and what will happen in the future.
What had John seen? John had a vision of Jesus Christ coming in power and great glory, and he wrote that. So the first division is complete.
In chapters 2 and 3, John moves to the second division, things which are, and John brings seven messages to seven churches. These were seven literal, actual churches, but they represent all churches of all time. Chapters 2 and 3 say “church” over and over again. This is the second division: the Church Age. We are living in the church age.
Now notice something remarkable, beginning in Revelation 4:1.
And after this, behold a door was opened in heaven and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me which said come up hither and I will show thee the things which must be hereafter.
From Revelation 4:1 through to the end of the book, we have entered into “the things which must be hereafter.” John, our brother in the Church Age, is symbolically lifted out of this earth, taken up to heaven, and then his description of “the things which must be hereafter” begins.
In Revelation chapters 4-19, we see the horrors of the Great Tribulation. And while the Church is mentioned over and over again in the early chapters, from this point on, you do not hear the Church—the Body of Christ— mentioned again.
Someone says, “But it mentions the saints.” Yes, but remember in the Old Testament, the Jewish people are called “saints.” That word simply means “holy ones.” Old Testament Jews were saints also. But you will not find a mention of the Church in all of the book of Revelation during that time known as the Great Tribulation.
On the contrary, God gave a promise to the Church—one which I believe indicates that the Lord has specifically promised to keep the Church from the Great Tribulation.
For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you and how ye turn to God from idols to serve the living and the true God and to wait for His Son from Heaven, who He raised from the dead, even Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
What is “the wrath to come”? It is not hell. As Revelation chapter 6 unfolds and the seals begin to be opened, the Tribulation horrors are poured out upon the world.
We are in the middle of answering this question, “Will the Church go through the Great Tribulation?” So far we’ve determined that the Tribulation is for (1.) the correction and preparation of the nation of Israel and (2.) the punishment of rebellious nations who have rejected God.
Now we are about to determine if the Church is mentioned anywhere else in Great Tribulation scriptures. We must pause here due to space limitations, but we’ll complete the quest for our answer in Part Two of “Will the Church Go Through the Tribulation?” which will be posted here beginning October 16.
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