The Church and the Great Tribulation.
The Substance of an Address Given in Merrion Hall, Dublin.
MY purpose is to bring to your notice several scriptures that, in my judgment, amply justify my contention, viz., that the Church (i.e., the aggregate of redeemed sinners between the day of Pentecost, on which the Holy Spirit was poured out, of which we read in Acts ii., and that still future moment when Christ will descend into the air for His people, 1 Thess. iv. 15-17) will not pass through that period of unparalleled sorrow and trouble which is yet to come upon this world, and which is described in the Word of God as "the great tribulation." Let us read:
I. Daniel xii. 1, "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time, thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book."
This is a prediction concerning Daniel's people, i.e., the Jews, and it is manifest from it that they have to do with the great tribulation. On the other hand, there is no prophecy connecting the Church with it, and therefore we should not expect it to go through it, and it should not be required from us to give a scripture in which this is distinctly declared.
II. Daniel ix. 27, "And he shall confirm a covenant with the many for one week; and in the midst of the week, he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations, he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined, shall be poured upon the desolator."
This scripture shows us when the great tribulation shall take place, viz., "in the midst of the week." In verse 24, seventy weeks (of years) are mentioned; seven and sixty-two of these are spoken of in verses 25 and 26; consequently, the week referred to in verse 27 is evidently the one required to make up the whole predicted period. The expression "in the midst" occurs repeatedly in Holy Writ, and does not necessarily mean exactly in the middle. A reference to such passages as Psalm cii. 24; Jeremiah xvii. 11, and Habakkuk iii. 2, will make this perfectly manifest. Consequently, "in the midst of the week" may be a moment, several months, or even a year, prior to the end of the first three and a half years. In this case, as the great tribulation is to last three and a half years, it would end some considerable time before the seventieth week closes with our Lord's return to earth at the end of the present age of Gentile dominion. Again, we learn that "those days shall be shortened" (Matt. xxiv. 22), which shows that, even if the great tribulation begins exactly at the end of the first three and a half years, it will be brought to a conclusion before the week ends, as the appointed period of three and a half years is to be shortened.
I draw attention to this for the following reason. Some who differ from me with regard to the Church and the great tribulation base their opinion largely on the supposed fact that Jacob's trouble and the day of the Lord do not begin until the great tribulation has been brought to a termination. If what I have stated above were recognized, it would be apparent to them that, even if what they contend for, can be scripturally established, there would be ample time for Jacob's trouble and the judgments from God to take place before the seventieth week terminates, and thus its end and that of the age would be seen to synchronize, and consequently the six things specified in verse 24 would all take place inside the seventy weeks.
III. Daniel ix. 24-26, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy, city to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make atonement for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem, unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks, shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself, and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war, desolations are determined."
This is a prediction concerning Daniel's people and city (i.e., the Jews and Jerusalem), and does not refer to the Church in the slightest degree. It distinctly states that from the issue of a commandment to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be 483 years. The time of the “going forth of the commandment" is given in Nehemiah ii.; consequently, the conclusion of the 483 years can be calculated. What does the expression "unto Messiah the Prince" mean? It cannot refer to Christ's birth, for that took place in Bethlehem, and the prediction concerns Jerusalem; neither can it mean His baptism, for that took place in Jordan, and since it cannot refer to His death—which did take place outside Jerusalem—because that is mentioned in verse 26 as occurring after the 483 years are ended, it must be an allusion to the event described in Matthew xxi., i.e., to His entrance into Jerusalem riding upon an ass, and acclaimed as the Son of David by the multitude in fulfilment of the prophecy contained in Zechariah ix. 9. Sir Robert Anderson in "The Coming Prince," goes very minutely into this question, and shows that the 483 years ended on that day commonly known as Palm Sunday.
As a matter of fact, the Church had no existence during those 483 years, for it did not begin until the day of Pentecost, described in Acts ii. Consequently, since those 490 years (seventy weeks) are predicted of the Jews and Jerusalem, and not of the Church, and since the Church was not on earth during the first 483 of these years, the natural conclusion one would draw would be that the Church would not be here during the remaining seven. Again, since there is manifestly a break between the end of the 483rd year and the beginning of the 484th (verse 26), during which two events were predicted to occur, namely, the crucifixion of our Lord and the destruction of Jerusalem with its temple; and since the Church commenced its existence on earth soon after this break began, eight weeks after, the natural conclusion would be that it will be completed and taken from earth to Heaven, for which it is destined, ere the break terminates. But since the great tribulation occurs during the seventieth week, it consequently follows that the Church will not pass through it. The Church was as truly hidden to Daniel in this interval of undefined length between the end of the 483rd year and the beginning of the 484th as it was hidden in types and shadows in other parts of the Old Testament.
IV. Again, comparing Ezra vi. 15 with Nehemiah ii. 1-8, we will see that the temple in Jerusalem had been in existence for about seventy years before the 483 years of Daniel ix. commenced their course. It was also in Jerusalem throughout that entire period, and is owned as God's temple (vide Ezra vi. 17-22; Mal. iii. 10; Luke i. 9; John ii. 16; Matt. xxi. 12), but soon after its termination, it is called "your [the Jews] house" (Matt, xxiii. 38), and is never afterwards called God's temple in Scripture, though it was not destroyed for about forty years. Further (2 Thess. ii. 4), we know that God will acknowledge a temple as His in Jerusalem during the future seven years of Daniel ix. Accordingly, we learn that there is a temple owned by God as His during the whole period of 490 years, predicted of the Jews and Jerusalem, but there is none acknowledged by Him during the break. From 1 Corinthians iii. 16, 17; 2 Corinthians vi. 16; and Ephesians ii. 21, we discover that in this interval, God has a spiritual temple here—that is, the Church. Since, after the literal temple is disowned, God begins to construct the spiritual temple, the conclusion is forced upon one that He will not own a material temple on earth again until the spiritual one is completed and removed to Heaven. Therefore, since the spiritual temple, i.e., the Church, is to be removed from earth ere a literal temple is again built and acknowledged by Him, which will be true during the seventieth week, the Church will be caught up ere that week commences, and therefore before the great tribulation begins.*
* Since my transcription of the above address and submission to a well-known servant of Christ with a view to its publication, my attention has been drawn by him to the following remarks of the late Mr. P. C. Bland in his "Twenty-One Prophetic Papers" pp. 148-160 (Pickering & Inglis, 1/6, post free), which, while containing an additional proof of the Church's translation to Heaven ere the great tribulation begins, also add weight to this argument:
"THE TEMPLE REBUILT. The first thing that strikes us here (i.e. Rev. xi. 1, 2), is that there are worshippers in the temple at Jerusalem; and, moreover, that they are inside worshippers, not worshippers of the outer court, and are recognized as such by God. This leads us definitely to the conclusion that the temple will have been rebuilt in Jerusalem and used for Jewish worship. It is called 'the temple of God' in four different classes or divisions of Scripture—1st, In the Old Testament prophets (Mal. iii. 1); 2nd, In the Gospels (Matt. xxiv. 15—and here the holy place is named); 3rd, In the Epistles (2 Thess. ii. 4); and 4th, in this book of the Revelation (chap. xi. 1). Different characters of worship. In John iv., the Lord says that the hour was coming, nay, had then come, when neither in Jerusalem nor in the mountains of Samaria should men worship the Father. It is plain, therefore, that this is not the worship of the present time, nor can it be the worship of apostates. It is therefore the time when worship will be again restored in Jerusalem and accepted by God from those Jews gathered there as Jews. These two modes of worship are totally different, and could not exist on earth at the same time; and this is one of the strongest arguments to show that the Church with its worship in spirit, must be taken out of the way to make room for that which is according to form and ritual."
V. Shortly before our Lord's crucifixion, we have His disciples (Matt. xxiv. 3), who were all Jews, asking Him questions concerning a matter in which they as Jews were specially interested, viz., "What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?" i.e., "When wilt Thou return to earth to occupy David's throne, bringing the time of Gentile dominion to a termination and securing Israel's national redemption?" They do not ask about the rapture of the Church, a matter they had no previous knowledge of, and therefore the Lord's answer should not be expected to contain any reference to it. Indeed, it is a mere assertion to say that this event is alluded to in this chapter (Matt, xxiv.), and one which should not be accepted without the most conclusive evidence in support of it. The Lord in His answer alludes to the great tribulation and speaks of the elect going through it (verses 21-26). Some doubtless would say that the elect are part of the Church, but the language of the passage entirely precludes this. Our Lord warns them not to believe it if anyone shall say to them, "Lo, here is Christ,” or, "There," "Behold, He is in the desert;" "Behold, He is in the secret chambers."
Now, since it is positively stated in 1 Thessalonians iv. 17 that the Church is to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, it could not possibly be deceived by such statements, and therefore could not require such a warning. On the other hand, the elect on earth after the Church's rapture will be looking for our Lord's return to earth, and they could easily be deceived by such words; hence the necessity for the warning in their case. Consequently, the elect that shall go through the great tribulation are not part of the Church, but people who shall be saved after the Church is taken to its destined sphere.
Verse 27. Our Lord speaks of His coming as that of the Son of Man, and wherever He uses this language, it refers to His coming to earth in judgment on His enemies, and for the deliverance of the saved ones who shall be His witnesses here after the Church is gone.
In the Gospel by John, which brings the Lord before us specially as the Son of God, the coming of the Son of Man is not once mentioned. Our Lord, entirely unsolicited (John xiv. 1-3), gives His disciples information about the Church's rapture. He tells them that He is going to His Father's House, "to prepare a place" for them there, and that "He will come again and receive them unto Himself, that where He is, they may be also.” But it is very remarkable that our Lord, who, in answering His questioners concerning matters in which they, as Jews, were thoroughly interested, spoke most distinctly concerning the great tribulation, does not make the smallest reference to it when revealing to them the Church's rapture. Why is there this silence about it in the one case, and the plain reference to it in the other? The only reasonable answer that can be given is that the Church has nothing to do with it, but disciples who will be on earth after the Church is gone, Jews and others reached by the preaching of the Gospel of the kingdom, have to encounter it.
In the first three Gospels, there is no definite statement concerning the Church's rapture; in them it is the coming of the Son of Man to earth. But in John's Gospel, written at a much later date, after the temple had been destroyed and the Jews scattered amongst the nations, whilst the Church was being gathered out from among the nations, and after all the special truth about it had been given to Paul and recorded by him in his epistles for our instruction, we find the rapture definitely mentioned, and no allusion whatever to the coming of the Son of Man. The Gospels that speak about His coming to earth, and that are silent about the rapture of the Church, do mention the great tribulation; the one that does not describe the return to earth, but does depict the rapture of the Church, completely ignores it. What are we to learn from this? Undoubtedly, that the Church does not undergo the great tribulation, but that the saints of a subsequent period of time, who are looking for the kingdom to be established in power here, shall go through it.
VI. Again (Rev. i. 19); the Book of the Revelation is divided into three sections—the things John had seen (chap. i.); the things which are, i.e., the Church's sojourn on earth, symbolically outlined by the seven Churches of Asia (chapters ii., iii.); and the things which shall be after these things, i.e., after the Church has been completely gathered out from the nations and taken to Heaven (chap, iv., and those following it). But since the great tribulation is described in the third section (e.g., chap, xiii.), the Church will be removed before it begins.
VII. John is called up into Heaven (Rev. iv. 1) to see the things that must occur after those that are now taking place are finished, and amongst the number, he sees the great tribulation. One might naturally ask, "Why was this?" and the only reasonable answer would be, "John, being a member of the Church which is Christ's Body, was called up to Heaven to see those future events from the position that the Church would occupy when they were actually occurring." Consequently, the Church will be in Heaven when the great tribulation is raging on earth.
VIII. In Revelation i-iii., the Lord is described as in the midst of the Churches on earth. From chapter v. 6, until He returns to earth, as described in Revelation xix., He is seen in Heaven in the midst of the throne and the heavenly worshippers. Why is this? Has the Lord deserted His Church? No, that would be impossible; but He has taken the Church to Heaven, and He is there in its midst. Again, we arrive at the same conclusion, viz., while the great tribulation occurs on earth, the Church is with Christ in Heaven.
"Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from [i.e., out of] the hour of temptation [or trial] which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. iii. 10). Here Christ promises to keep the Church out of the hour of trial, which, I believe, is the great tribulation. It will try the earth-dwellers, a class frequently alluded to in this book, and who are those left in Christendom when the Church is removed, I am convinced, and they will be proved unable to stand the test, i.e., they will worship the first beast (Rev. xiii. 12). It will try the saints of those days, but they will be true to the Lord (Rev. xiii. 8). It will not test the Church, because it is removed from this scene before the hour arrives.
It has been stated that it is not legitimate to put "out of" instead of "from" in this verse, and "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil or evil one [i.e., Satan]"; (John xvii. 15) is quoted in support of this. But there is no force in this objection, for to be kept out of the evil one is exactly what the Lord prayed for them. They had once been in Satan's power (1 John v. 19), but Christ had delivered them out of it, and now He prays that they may be kept out of it. The Church is kept out of the hour of trial by being taken away before it arrives; believers are kept out of the evil one's hold by being preserved from getting into it.
IX. From the commencement of Revelation iv. until chapter xix., when the Lord returns to earth, there is no mention of the Church being down here. Saints are indeed spoken of, and though it may be asserted that they are in the Church, such statements cannot be accepted without proof, and of this, there is not a scintilla. Why is this since the Church is frequently mentioned in the first three chapters? There can be only one reply, because the Church is in Heaven, while the events recorded in those chapters occur on earth, and consequently, it entirely escapes the great tribulation.
X. From Revelation iv., to the end of chapter xix., God is not once addressed as Father. He is called God, Lord, Almighty, names by which He was known in Old Testament days; but the name Father, by which He has been known to the Church, is entirely absent, and this is the more remarkable when we remember that the writer of the book was John, who has specially dwelt upon the Father's name and character. Surely this indicates that the present things, namely, the Church's presence here and witnessing for Christ are past, and the things that occur after the Church's removal are in progress (Rev. iv. 1).
XI. We learn from Hebrews iv. 16 that during this Church dispensation, the throne is a throne of grace, but we are informed (Rev. iv. 5), that out of the throne of those days will proceed thunderings and lightnings, i.e., it will be one of judgment (vide, Exod. xix. 16; xx. 18; Rev. viii. 5). Consequently, the Church period must end before that scene occurs, and therefore the Church is in Heaven before the great tribulation, which is subsequent to this, begins.
XII. "After this, I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, and cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb’ . . . And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, ‘Who are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they?’ And I said unto him, ‘Sir, thou knowest.’ And he said to me, “These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple, and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Rev. vii. 9-17).
If verses 16 and 17 are compared with Isaiah xlix. 10, the language will be seen to be very similar, and one would be inclined to conclude that this vast multitude is composed of a godly Israelite remnant and Gentiles, who have been converted through their testimony in the days immediately preceding the setting up of Christ's kingdom in power.
Furthermore, this multitude cannot be the Church for two reasons. (1) Each member of it stands before the throne (and this is in no other passage predicated of the Church), is clothed with a white robe, and has a palm; on the other hand, each member of the Church will be seated with Christ on His throne (Rev. iii. 21) and will be clothed with a white robe (Rev. iii. 5), and will be crowned (James i. 12), and therefore the people symbolized by the twenty-four elders (Rev. iv. 4), seem to include the Church, for they are seated on twenty-four thrones (while they wait to sit with Christ on His throne, and, no doubt, by their position indicating this also as their glorious destiny), clothed in white raiment, and crowned. (2) All the multitude are said to come out of the great tribulation. This could not be said of the Church, when we remember that the great tribulation is still future, because a very large proportion of its members are already with Christ and have therefore entirely escaped it.
XIII. The Church is told to pray for the powers that be (1 Tim. ii. 1, 2) because they are ordained of God (Rom. xiii. 1). With regard to this matter, it would be well to ponder Daniel ii. 37; Jeremiah xxix. 7; Ezra vi. 10. When antichrist is manifested, the great ruler of that day will be ordained by Satan (Rev. xiii. 2-4), and the Church could not possibly pray for him. Therefore, as the Church is to pray for rulers during her sojourn on earth, it must be raptured before the enthronement of that coming prince, during whose rule, the great tribulation takes place.
XIV. In the early days of the Church, there were prophets in it. These prophets were God's mouthpieces, speaking the very words God put upon their lips. They were required until the canon of the New Testament was complete, and then they ceased, their raison d’étre no longer existing. We are told that they are in the foundation of the Church (Eph. ii. 20), but we still have them as permanent gifts in their writings. However, there will be prophets in the future (Joel ii. 28; Rev. xi. 3-6), and during that period in which the great tribulation occurs. Consequently, the Church's pilgrimage down here must come to an end before then, and its heavenly country be reached. *
* In this age, it is predicted not that there will be false prophets (for that would imply the existence of true prophets) but "false teachers," as contrasted with God-given teachers (2 Peter ii. 1).—Ed.
XV. "For we wrestle "not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness, or wicked spirits, in the heavenlies" (Eph. vi. 12). That is to say, during the Church's militant days (i.e., during its stay on earth), Satan and his host are in the heavenlies; but he and his angels will be cast out of the heavens, and sent down to the earth before the great tribulation begins (Rev. xii. 7-17) Consequently, the Church is no longer here when that awful persecution breaks out, and therefore is entirely immune from it.
From these considerations, I can only arrive at one conclusion, namely, the Church will not pass through the great tribulation.
In conclusion, I would say that I believe that each true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is eternally saved and cannot under any circumstances perish. The Scripture makes this exceedingly clear. If an Arminian should bring to my notice one or more verses that I could not thoroughly reconcile with this belief, my failure in doing so would in no wise alter my conviction or invalidate this truth of God. I believe in justification by faith on the authority of the Word of God; but should one who denied this, draw my attention to certain passages that seemed to conflict with this doctrine, and I found myself unable to show that there was no real contradiction, my inability to do so would in no wise warrant me in questioning for a single moment that glorious truth. Similarly, if one should bring to my knowledge difficulties which I could not explain in the way of accepting the truth we have been looking at this morning, namely, that the Church will not go through the great tribulation, my failure to do so would never cause me to give up what God has shown me to be His truth from the various passages we have been considering.
"The Witness" 1912