By Pastor Kevin E. Johnson
I have entitled this post, “Tribulation in the life of a Christian.” When you read that title you may be thinking, “Has Brother Kevin changed his views concerning the timing of the rapture?” The answer is, absolutely not! I have had a number of spirited exchanges with brethren who hold to several different positions with respect to the rapture. While I disagree with my mid-trib, post-trib, pre-wrarth, and amillennial brethren on matters of eschatology; I remain equally steadfast in my commitment not to divide with genuine and sincere brethren over these matters. Frankly, we have enough cultists and heretics to deal with without fighting among ourselves over non-essential doctrine.
One dear brother with whom I have had several exchanges concerning the matter of the pre-tribulation rapture theory contends that those of us who hold to this position: A) Don’t believe that God is powerful enough to bring us safely through the Great Tribulation, or B) We are afraid of persecution and suffering. While I respect this brother and his research, he is dead wrong on both counts.
First, my faith in a pre-tribulation rapture has absolutely nothing to do with doubting God’s ability to protect me in the midst of any situation. Certainly the God who spoke the vast expanse of the universe into being, suspended the earth on nothing, and upholds it with the Word of His power has the power to care for His own in whatever circumstance or situation we may face. The Prophet Isaiah wrote concerning our God,
Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: [Isa. 59:1] Jeremiah the Prophet echoes a similar sentiment in Jeremiah 32:17, Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee: We absolutely do not call into doubt or question God’s absolute sovereignty and ability or power. I have had said for years that the same God who preserved His people during the plagues of Egypt in the land of Goshen certainly could do the same during the future Great Tribulation if He so chose.
Secondly, we are not merely trying to avoid persecution or suffering. No generation of Christians have ever avoided their share of persecution and suffering. In fact, persecution, in one form or another, is the lot of those who wish to live godly lives. [See 2 Tim. 3:12] The Psalmist wrote that many are the afflictions of the righteous, although the LORD delivers them out of them all. [See Ps. 34:19] Jesus said, These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. [John 16:33] “Tribulation” here is the Greek, thlipsis. It is translated, “tribulation” in the KJV 18 times (tribulations, 3 times). It can also be pressure, affliction, afflictions, anguish, or trouble.
The point is, we certainly understand that because of living in a world still under the affects of sin we will have trouble, we will experience times of anguish, sorrow, pressure, and yes, tribulation. Any teaching that tells you that by developing a certain level of faith, or by a right “confession” you can avoid these things is unscriptural. It is a false teaching. I can’t make it any clearer than that.
Let me also state right here that I sincerely believe that in Christ’s redemptive work at Calvary He made provision not only for our soul’s salvation, but also for our healing physically and emotionally. In other words, every need for the sinner, and every need for the saint was addressed at the Cross. With that said, I know there are many dear saints of God suffering with a variety of sicknesses and ailments for which they have not received healing. I don’t believe that we can just make blanket statements like, “You don’t have enough faith.” Or, “You must have unconfessed sin in your life.” Or, “Your confession must be wrong.” It is wrong to label people like this and assume that we have all of the answers. We simply do not know this side of eternity exactly why some things happen or why certain things are like they are, or why everyone doesn’t receive their healing. It is time that the Body of Christ was honest enough to admit we don’t know. We have to trust the love and wisdom of God. He always does that which is right. He is infinite, we are finite.
OK, to get back to the matter at hand, if we believe that God is powerful enough to take us as His children through the Great Tribulation, and if we really aren’t afraid of persecution and suffering, why then do we believe that the Lord will catch us away to meet Him in the air prior to the events of the Great Tribulation? There are several reasons that I could list, I will share two of those here. 1) Jesus said we could escape the events of the Great Tribulation – 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 21:36] This passage appears in the context of Luke’s account of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse where he sets forth the events of the Great Tribulation, a time that, according to our Lord, will be like no time before it or after it. “Escape” is ekpheugo, and literally means to, “escape, or flee out of.” Those of us who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture are often accused of having an, “escapist mentality.” I say, “Guilty as charged!” Jesus said I could escape, and that is good enough for me.
Then, 2) In the revelation given to the Apostle Paul he tells us that God has not appointed us to wrath, but rather to obtain deliverance – For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. [1 Thess. 5:9] There are a few salient words here that I would like to call your attention to. First, appointed. It is from the Greek, tithemi. It appears a total of 98 times in the KJV. It is variously translated, but in this passage carries the idea of, “purposed”, “made” or, “ordained.” The second salient word is, “wrath.” It is the Greek, orge, and is translated, “wrath” 31 of the 36 times it appears in the KJV. It is also translated, “anger” (3 times), “indignation” (1 time), and “vengeance” (1 time). [See also in connection with, “wrath” Rev. 6:17] The third word is, “salvation.” It is the Greek, soteria. C.I. Scofield referred to this word as the, “all-inclusive word of the gospel.” It really takes in all that Christ Jesus purchased for us at the Cross. In this passage it carries the idea of, “rescue”, or, “safety.” Putting these together we get a vivid picture of that which awaits the believer in relationship to the outpouring of God’s wrath at the Great Tribulation. Our Lord has not made, or ordained us to be objects of His wrath, indignation, or vengance; but rather to be rescued and carried to a place of safety by our Lord Jesus Christ. That is exactly what Paul pictures in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 17.
Kenneth Wuest, who was one of the greatest Greek scholars of the 20th Century, prepared a New Testament translation entitled, New Testament, an Expanded Translation; he renders 1 Thessalonians 5:9, because as for us, God did not appoint us to wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thess. 5:9, New Testament, an Expanded Translation by Kenneth S. Wuest]
Based on these and many other scripture passages we could examine, I am thoroughly convinced that Jesus will return in the clouds to catch away (rapture) His Church prior to any events associated either with the first or second half of the Great Tribulation. As stated earlier, I know there are brethren who disagree, however this is where I stand on the subject.
All of that being said, I want all of my readers to understand that just because I believe that Jesus will rapture His Church before the Great Tribulation, does not mean that believers alive at this hour will not experience trouble and persecution, for I am convinced that we will. Conditions in the world are not going to get better and better, in fact the Bible makes it clear that just the opposite is true. Paul writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. [2 Tim. 3:13] Paul wrote at the beginning of the chapter, But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. [2 Tim. 3:1 – 5 NASB] Paul is really describing what a good portion of the Church will be like in the closing days and hours of the Age.
Times of great persecution are coming in the very near future to our shores, and in fact have already begun. World Net Daily published a report recently that shows a very disturbing trend, namely rapidly increasing persecution against Christians, in America! You can find the story here, http://www.wnd.com/2012/09/persecution-of-christians-on-rise-in-u-s/. I encourage you to take a look at it.
Tough days lie just ahead. The good news is that all of this points to the soon return of our Lord!
Keep looking up saints!