Brethren Archive

Will the Church Enter the Great Tribulation?

by H.A. Ironside

    A reply to a pamphlet by Rev. John Henry Troy, entitled:
("The Church and the Great Tribulation")

It is not to be wondered at that many Christians at the present time of crises [WWI] in the world's history are examining anew some questions which many of us had supposed were definitely settled for careful students of the Word of God years ago.  One of the questions that will not go down, is that which I have chosen as a heading for this paper.  It is not the old inquiry exactly, "Will the Church go through the Great Tribulation?" but rather "Will the Church enter the Great Tribulation?"  Perhaps it should rather be, is it rightly to express what is in the hearts of many, ''Has the Church entered the Great Tribulation?"  In other words, has the Great Tribulation already begun, and are we even now living in the days of the predicted breaking of the seals, and possibly even the sounding of the angelic trumpets of doom?
Among many who incline to this latter view is the author of a little pamphlet entitled "The Church and the Great Tribulation.''  Upon reading it over carefully, one rejoices to recognize in the author, a brother who undoubtedly looks for the Savior and who feels that he has a special message to the people of God today.   But a careful comparison of his paper with the Word of God makes it necessary to take issue with him on a number of interpretations. His viewpoint is that, "The Scriptures teach that the Church on earth will pass through stages of the Great Tribulation, and that the promise of escape therefrom refers only to the last stage of world-judgment."  And in support of this, he presses certain things which seem to the present writer a rather determined effort to establish a theory, than willingness to let Scripture speak for itself.
Ere attempting to note his special interpretations seriatum, I desire to remind the inquiring reader of certain clear, definite teachings of the Word of God in regard to both the Church and the Great Tribulation, as also to the special parenthetical character of the dispensation in which we live.
The truth of the Church was unrevealed in Old Testament times.  There is not a line in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms which anywhere intimates the union of Jew and Gentile in one body, which is the special work of the Holy Spirit in the present age.  The "Scriptures of the prophets" referred to as making known this mystery in Rom, xvi. 25, 26, are the prophetic writings of the New Testament, not of the Old.
Secondly, the rapture of the church is also unrevealed in the Old Testament.  This mystery is but part of the great mystery referred to above and shows us how the church's history on earth will be closed.
Thirdly, to the Philadelphian assembly, the definite promise is given: "I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth"  (Rev. iii. 10).   In this, all true believers share, for it cannot be that the body of Christ shall be divided, and part of His members go through the hour of trial which the rest escape.
The last point I desire to especially press upon my reader's attention is this; the tribulation period cannot begin in any sense until the Lamb breaks the seals of the seven-sealed book, as recorded in Rev. v.   But be it carefully observed, the Lamb does not take the book until after the 24 elders are crowned in Heaven.  No one will be crowned until after the manifestation before the Judgment-Seat of Christ.  The judgment seat will not be set up until after the rapture.  Therefore, the rapture must take place before a single seal is broken or the tribulation in any sense begun.  For proof, note that the Lord says "Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me (Rev. xxii. 12).   The crowns are victor-wreaths, not diadems, and the elders are seen crowned.  These are clearly rewards, and Paul says, "there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge shall give me in that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" (II Tim. iv. 8).   It is clear from this, that all rewards, or crowns will be given at one time and that time is at the rapture.  No one will get a crown before Paul gets his.  All will be given at that day.  Therefore, the tribulation cannot begin till the saints of the present dispensation, and of past ages, are resurrected or changed, and manifested before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Now to look at Mr. Troy's pamphlet: 
In Argument I, he endeavors to show that "the hour of trial" of Rev. iii. 10, is not the tribulation period, but only the end of it—"the hour of his judgment" (Rev. xiv. 6, 7).  This he holds the Church will escape but not the preliminary judgments.  He is misled by the use of the word "hour" in each passage, as also in Rev. xviii. 10.  But surely this is slim evidence indeed, in face of what we have already noticed.  The present hour is the hour when God in grace is sending out the gospel (see John v. 25).  The hour of the gospel will soon end.   Then the hour of trial will come for all who have rejected it.
Argument II deals with the "trumpet question," and the writer endeavors to show that the seventh trumpet of Rev. xi. 15 is identical with "the last trumpet'' of I Cor. xv: 51-53 and "the trump of God" of I Thess. iv. 13-18.  Again, he is misled by similarity in words.  The last trumpet of l Cor. xv is the trump of God of I Thess. iv. 16.  Of that, there can be no question. But the seventh trumpet is distinctly the seventh angel's trumpet.  It is not the trump of God at all, but a trumpet committed to one of His exalted messengers.  The last trumpet is, I think we have reason to believe, a military figure.  It was the signal to march.  For us, it will be the signal to leave this scene.
The seventh trumpet does not introduce the "hour of judgment" in the Revelation.  On the contrary, it closes that hour by ushering in the Kingdom, and carries us on to another hour of judgment at the end, when the dead will be judged as in Rev. xx.  Therefore, to identify the "trump of God" of the rapture with the "seventh angel's trumpet" is to carry the church clear through the tribulation and identify the rapture with the appearing.
Argument III confounds "the mystery of God" which will be finished at the sounding of the seventh trumpet with the great mystery of Christ and the Church, which is now made known, and is not waiting to be "finished."  The mystery to be finished is the secret of God's long toleration of evil throughout the ages since the fall.  This will be clearly unfolded when the Kingdom is established.
The Fourth Argument is that of proportion.  Mr. Troy thinks the teaching of the rapture prior to the tribulation an "attempt to pour the Atlantic of I Thess. iv: 13-18 into the thimble of Rev. iv: 1."  But we see no such difficulty when we remember that the Book of Revelation is a book. of judgment.  The Son of Man judging in the midst of the assemblies as long as they are here, in chapters i to iii;  judgment on apostate Christendom and apostate Judaism in chapters iv to xix; the world judged by the same Son of Man during His glorious reign in the first part of chapter xx, and the final issues in the balance of the book.  The rapture, as such, has no place here, for it is all blessing—not judgment at all; and the judgment seat that follows has to do only with the heavenly people, not with anything of an earthly order.
And as to proportion, what about the ocean of truth elsewhere revealed as to the appearing, compared with the "thimble" of the vision of chapter xix?  But this, too, is all perfect as is every part of God's WordWho shall dictate to the Holy One how He is to present His truth?  He has said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways."
It would seem that Mr. Troy overlooks the fact altogether that the book he is dealing with is a Revelation, not a Reiteration.  Therefore, we need not be surprised if some great truths already revealed are not particularly dwelt upon in this closing book, but rather that it consists of an additional revelation supplying prophetic details hitherto unrevealed.
He tells us that "Rev. xiv. 1-5, is the only passage in Revelation which even approximates the fulfilment of I Thess. iv. 13-18," but he overlooks the fact that the 144,000 is evidently the same company which had been sealed in Rev. vii.  They were sealed ere the great tribulation began.  They are seen with the Lamb on Mt. Zion, triumphant and rejoicing just as it is about to close.  Why assume this to be a different company?  Why suppose it to be "symbolical of the church in its completed form?"
Why imagine that ''the Zion referred to is not on earth," but that it is a spiritual Zion in heaven?  It is all unwarranted guesswork.  We know from Scripture, that the remnant of Israel are to be sealed prior to the tribulation and that they will be gathered to Zion and will there surround the Lamb at His appearing.  Why then torture the 14th of Revelation into teaching something different, when it perfectly fits in with the general testimony as to Israel?
Nor is ''the company mentioned in the second half of Rev. vii, "the church gathering in heaven out of the Great Tribulation".   It is an innumerable throng out of all nations saved for the earth, which becomes the nucleus with the 144,000 of Israel of the millennial kingdom.  They are not said to be in Heaven.  If they were, there would be need for the Lamb to spread His tabernacle over them.
The reference on the same page [10] and the one following to the Song of Songs is all confusion and shows how little the author has himself apprehended the new song.  It is the song of redemption—not a bridal song—and can certainly be entered into by the redeemed remnant as well as by the glorified heavenly saints.  The rest of the argument is but special pleading and would never have been written were the truth as to the church understood.
The Fifth Argument is hardly worth considering.  It is based on the assumption that the everlasting Gospel is a "gospel of fear and bondage"—what nonsense!—and that it succeeds the present gospel of grace, which will be preached only as long as the church is here.  This "gospel of grace," he tells us, "will accompany the gospel of the kingdom right up to the hour of trial."  Then the church will leave the scene and the everlasting gospel be preached.  The "hour of trial" is, for him, only the final phase of the great tribulation.
This is all badly mixed.  The gospel of grace, as such, ceases to be preached when the gospel of the kingdom, in its proper full sense begins again to go forth.  The everlasting gospel is the announcement that the judge is about to appear to set all right.  This is not a gospel of fear and bondage, but good news indeed to a war-torn earth, declaring that all is about to be set right and calling on men, for the last time, to "fear God and give glory to Him."
Argument Sixth—"The closed temple" is altogether fanciful and misleading.  No sober reading of Rev. xv. 8 would give any hint of the theory it is used to uphold.  The church is not the ark.  Christ is the ark.  Therefore, Mr. Troy's theory falls at once to the ground.
The Seventh and last argument has already been anticipated, but requires some further consideration, owing to the author's effort to show that the twenty-four elders do not represent saints at all, but "signify the process of Law and Grace, both of which are ordained of God and proceed from God" (page 22).
This is an arbitrary statement absolutely unsupported by any Scriptural proof.  The elders are persons.  They are robed as priests, enthroned as kings and crowned as victors.  In what sense do they symbolize any process whatsoever?  It is a wild dream of a mind unsubject to Scripture.  None but saints will be priests, kings and crowned victors in Heaven.  They cannot be angels, for angels hold no such offices.  Angels are never crowned. Crowns or victor's wreaths are for triumphant saints who have fought the good fight here on earth.
Mr. Troy's theory is fanciful, unscriptural and illogical.  It is a subtle way of teaching "My Lord delayeth His coming."  Therefore, it is to be refused as contrary to sound doctrine and certainly subversive of that blessed hope.
The rest of the paper is unnecessary to notice.  It is a strange jumble of queer interpretations and special pleading and has no claim upon the time of one who desires to be taught by Scripture.
The church's sojourn on earth will soon close at "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him."  Then, and not till then, will the Lamb take the seven-sealed book, and the judgment hour begin.
"Our Hope" 25 (1918-1919)

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