Over the past several months I’ve come across increasing references to the end times. At least one man, Lance Wallnau, says we are in the end times now. Is he correct? If not, I do not think he is far off. Then there’s tribulation. Will Christians today suffer from the prophesied tribulation or will we escape it via the Gathering Together – the Rapture? Ooooh! Good question!
When the topic turns to tribulation, it seems to send shivers down the spines of many a Christian. It’s scary, don’t you think? Could it be it is so scary because we are ignorant? Don’t get mad, ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge as opposed to stupidity – the inability to understand knowledge, or bullheadedness – the refusal to even look at new knowledge. When it comes to scripture, it is always preferable to seek knowledge and understanding. This is not to say, we can always understand everything in scripture. After over 40 years of reading, studying, and praying, I can honestly say there is a lot I still do not understand. Hopefully it is not because I am stupid or bullheaded (about scripture).
So… tribulation. I daresay when most of us hear this word, our thoughts immediately go to the “great tribulation”. That phrase “great tribulation” only occurs three times in the King James…
Matthew 24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
Revelation 2:22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
Revelation 7:14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
These three verses seem to indicate a definite period of time. What did Jesus say about it?
“such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
Well now, this tells me this is a very special period of time. We can also find what seems to be a reference to the same period in Mark.
Mark 13:24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,
Take note, this verse talks about after “that tribulation”, again referring to a specific period of time.
Now let us consider the context of this verse:
Mark 13:14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:
15 And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house:
16 And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.
17 But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
18 And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.
19 For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.
20 And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.
21 And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not:
22 For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
23 But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.
In this passage Jesus marks the beginning of the period “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet”, at least it sure looks like the beginning act to me. Jesus also reiterates his statement in Matthew in verse 19: “For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.”
Now I won’t delve into any debate as to whether these passages in Matthew and Mark are versions of something Jesus said once or whether Jesus essentially said the same thing twice and each disciple quoted a different occurrence. Neither view invalidates anything.
One thing is clear to me – Jesus spoke of a “great tribulation” that was to occur after the “abomination of the desolation spoken of by Daniel” and it ain’t pretty. I am also confident this great tribulation is again prophesied in the Revelation of Jesus Christ – the last book of our bible.
Now for the good news – we ain’t there yet. I’m still thinkin’ today’s Christians will be caught up in the Rapture by then. Now some who contend this rapture won’t happen until some time in the Revelation period also will call Christians like me cowardly for not wanting to live through all that. Or, for some reason, my belief in the Rapture is some sort of wrangling to avoid stressing out about it or something. I don’t fear the “great tribulation”. If I am correct about the Rapture and Jesus were to ask for volunteers to hang back on earth, I expect to raise my hand. I’m sure I’d regret such a decision more than once but if I can serve my Lord and Savior in such a manner, I am willing to do so.
All this speculation aside, my understanding for the time being is this great tribulation does not apply to us. We’ll be gone.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
What is this “wrath to come” if not this period spoken of by Jesus? It and other verses state we are specifically saved from this wrath. Hallelujah! I’m all for that. (I stand by my previous statement but I’m not fool enough NOT to breathe a sigh of relief if Jesus doesn’t ask for volunteers.) So that means we’re clear of tribulation… right? Well, not exactly.
Nowhere in scripture are we promised that we will never experience tribulation. In fact, we are told we absolutely will see tribulation.
Romans 5:3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
Paul not only speaks of tribulations, plural, but says tribulation works patience. Now, according to the version of the bible you are reading, the word “tribulation” could be rendered “suffering” or “trouble”. Either one could easily apply. In other words, we are not out of the woods yet! In fact, the verse above offers a clue as to how such tribulations or sufferings or troubles can actually work in our favor.
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Here is says “all things work together for good”. Should “all” include troubles? Of course it should, if if you rather… why not? Imagine a life without troubles, never having to face a challenge. What would such a life be like? The word that comes to my mind is “complacent”, or maybe the phrase “fat and happy” evokes a more accurate picture.
There is a saying bandied about these days a quote attributed to G. Michael Hopf that fits well here:
“Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.”
In fact, this principle is seen throughout scripture. We often see this as “cause and effect”, God blesses men who then turn away from God and God gets angry and punishes men. These now suffering men turn to God who then blesses them. It seems all we ever see is an angry God dispensing wrath. Is this really the way things are? I don’t think so.
Granted some passages in scripture seem entirely brutal. One of the examples I point to is the story of King Saul and the Amalekites. Saul was the first king of Israel. Saul was instructed to wipe them out entirely.
1 Samuel 15:1 Samuel said to Saul, Yahweh sent me to anoint you to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore listen you to the voice of the words of Yahweh.
2 Thus says Yahweh of Armies, I have marked that which Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him in the way, when he came up out of Egypt.
3 Now go and strike Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and don’t spare them; but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. (WEB)
Saul did not listen.
1 Samuel 15:9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and wouldn’t utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.
God did not take lightly the annihilation of the Amalekites. It wasn’t punishment. His intent was to spare Israel trouble in the future. Saul got greedy and saved out the best of the livestock for himself. He also showed compassion on the Amalekite king, Agag. His disobedience caused him his position. Why? Why was an act of compassion reason to remove Saul as king? Again, the word is disobedience.
1 Samuel 13:14 But now your kingdom shall not continue: Yahweh has sought him a man after his own heart, and Yahweh has appointed him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept that which Yahweh commanded you.
As a practical matter, God was not “angry” with the Amalekites. Certainly they rejected the One True God and sought to worship other gods, as did every nation on earth… including Israel. Time and time again Israel turned away from God unto false gods, even after God delivered them from the Egyptians by parting the Red Sea. Yet God forgave them again and again. He still forgives them. Consider what God says about Israel in the New Testament. This after Israel rejected the Messiah and still rejects him. While God in no way condones humans worshiping false gods, he has shown mercy time and time again on even those who reject him, as well as his only begotten son Jesus the Messiah. This, if nothing else, should demonstrate God’s mercy.
Why then tribulation? Or as so many non-believers have put it: “if there is a god, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?”. If I may first point out… nothing happening in the world today is a mistake. While I am certain I do not understand these things entirely, I do believe I have some idea. First, let me ask you… what would fiction look like without conflict?
We all know the common tropes in fiction. Man is lonely, man finds girl, man loses girl, man wins girl back, and they live happily every after. Of course these days we are likely to see every possible variation of this theme but the basics remain the same. Every story centers around one or more conflicts. Also, the protagonist is flawed somehow and this causes problems. What would one of these stories look like with these issues?
Woman is lonely, woman finds man, they live happily ever after. Wow. That was a nail-biter. You get the idea. Now I’m not saying we experience tragedy in our lives just to spice things up, but just as conflict in fiction serves a purpose, tribulation and troubles in real life does likewise.
While I’m near this topic and before we dig in, I want to address something that often seems to make no sense and that is untimely and seemingly pointless deaths. To use a real-life example, there was a young couple who lived across the street from us years ago. They had a big house and a big family. We didn’t know them well but they seemed to be decent God-fearing people. One of their children contracted leukemia and died at age two. If ever a death seemed senseless, this one was a top contender. Instead of asking why this child died, might it not be better to wonder, what was this child spared? We don’t know. I’m sure that today, nearly thirty years later, the loss of this child still causes pangs for the parents and others close to this child. What we won’t know until we begin our journey in eternity is what the alternative might have been. I have no doubt both the parents and the child would have suffered more had he lived. So it is with all such tragedies. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Back to the topic of tribulations aside from the “Great Tribulation” mentioned above. We are told on no uncertain terms we will experience them. In the King James Version, the Greek word “thlipsis” is rendered “tribulation” 21 times and “affliction” 17 times. In other places it is rendered trouble (3x), anguish, persecution, burdened and “to be afflicted”. These last four renderings are once each.
The meaning is described as “pressing together, pressed or oppressed” and so forth. One can ascertain the sense is to feel pressure from outside. While I get the sense that the “Great Tribulation” will entail more than mere “pressure”. I’m still working out this aspect in a bible study on the “end times”, but my sense about this period sometime in the future is the intent is to get the attention of the remaining population as those who are never going to accept God are systematically removed. What about the rest of us?
Certainly you’ve come across some dramatic depiction where someone, usually a man but not always, finds himself in very deep doo doo. There he sits, alone and talking – seemingly to the air. His words are generally along the lines of “God, if you exist, I’m not a praying man but if you can hear me, I need your help.” Such is a prayer of desperation if I ever heard one! Let’s take a closer look.
First, the man directly addresses “God”. Does he even know whom his is talking to? The fact is the word “god” can refer to any number of beings real, or imagined. It is as non-specific as one can get. And yet this man expects “something” or “someone” being able hear him. Some talk about this mysterious being as “the man it the sky” or will scoff at the idea of something they cannot see, hear, or touch – preferring to believe in something tangible. Then, this “being” he speaks directly to is not supposed to be instantly insulted by questioning its existence. Hmph. After which he admits he’s a stranger. “You don’t know me but…” right before again talking to some mysterious being even while he admits he has no idea if anyone is on the other end. Finally, he asks for help in a situation where he has nowhere else to turn.
Yet we see this scenario played out again and again. No doubt it has happened on more than one occasion and, again with no doubt, God, Almighty God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, has often answered with some sort of helping hand. That is all fine and good but it is not where I’m going with this.
Where I am going is, for some reason most people can accept the idea of a supreme being when we are at our wits end. It is not unnatural to reach out to God… as a last resort. In other words tribulation or trouble tend to drive people towards rather than away from God – at least those who might be inclined to turn to God. Those determined to reject him will do so anyway. For the rest of us, you know the old saying… you never miss something until you don’t have it.
Let’s face it, when our lives are surrounded by peace and comfort, we tend to let those things distract us. Even strong Christians are known to get “too busy” to focus on God or maybe we just let spiritual things slip from our minds. “Maybe later, for now I just want to enjoy the ocean breeze. God’s there too… right?” It’s not until the storm becomes threatening that we suddenly remember God.
For too long, our nation has settled in with the comforts of life. We’ve been blessed. We enjoy a high standard of living. At the same time, we’re stressed – as a nation we tend to be “aholics” – workaholics, alcoholics, sexaholics – you name it. Far too often we are too busy for our own families – much less godly things. It is beginning to show. Rather, we are neck deep in our sinful ways and they are devouring us. It’s not God doing this, it is God allowing us to experience the lives we chose when we turned our backs on him.
This is not to say the godly never experience tribulation. Again, we are promised tribulation (or warned if you will) in scripture. Nothing there even suggests it is avoidable. In fact, we are directly told we will likely get more tribulation if we stand faithful. However, that’s not the point.
The point is we all face trials and troubles, in other words tribulations. While we may well escape the “Great Tribulation”, it does not mean we should expect some fairy tale life of total bliss. Those choices we’ve made individually, taking full advantage of the blessings God has bestowed upon our nation while at the same time turning us away from the God who bestows these blessings are now coming back to bite us. Hard.
This nation is a mess not because God has turned his back on us but because we have turned away from HIM! As a nation we may already have passed the point of redemption. But it’s not all “bad” news.
God already knows what choices we will make and the result of those choices, including the troubles we get into. For each one of us and all of us he knows how things turn out. It’s all good. God said so.
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
All things means exactly that – ALL things – even those pesky tribulations. What we need to do, and by “we” I mean those of us Christians who are paying attention, is turn back to God, ask forgiveness for our sinful acts and turn to him once again.
As far as the “Great Tribulation” is concerned, I have no definitive understanding as of yet. Every time I am convinced there will be a rapture, I see things that make me wonder.
1 Corinthians 15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 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:
17 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.
What is meant by “the last trump”? Does this refer to the last trump in a certain event or THE last trump?
The main problem I have with reconciling revelation times is it appears salvation in the revelation period will revert to works rather than grace. What then signals the end of grace? For me the obvious marker would be the Rapture.
Whether or not certain Christians will endure the Great Tribulation may be the object of debate until either Christ raptures his body of believers or the world is embroiled in the Great Tribulation. Either way, we cannot escape tribulations nor should we desire to do so. In fact, considering those situations where we can expect even more tribulation, we should welcome, even embrace them. Consider the early apostles:
Acts 5:40 b …when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
They were bold to speak the gospel and rejoiced that they were counted worth to suffer. Should we not be of the same mindset?
Tribulation is something we are not going to escape nor should we desire to. If the price for serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father is being despised and abused by the world, should we not embrace it?
1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you.
13 But because you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also you may rejoice with exceeding joy.
14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you; because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. On their part he is blasphemed, but on your part he is glorified.
15 For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil doer, or as a meddler in other men’s matters.
16 But if one of you suffers for being a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this matter.
17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God. If it begins first with us, what will happen to those who don’t obey the Gospel of God?
18 “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will happen to the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 Therefore let them also who suffer according to the will of God in doing good entrust their souls to him, as to a faithful Creator.
God bless you in the name of Jesus Christ.