The Future Tribulation: Part 1

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It is as clear to the Christian that he is to expect suffering, scorn, injury, persecution, and in short tribulation of every sort in and from the world, as that grace has given him the richest privileges in Christ. “These things I have spoken to you,” says our Lord, “that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye have (not merely “ye shall have,” as in inferior witnesses) tribulation; but be of good courage: I have overcome the world” (John 16:3333These 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)). Also in Acts 14:2222Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22) in establishing the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to abide in the faith, the word is that “through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.” So the great apostle could say on the one hand, “I ask that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory” (Eph. 3:1313Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Ephesians 3:13)), and, on the other, “to you it was granted in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake, having the same conflict which ye saw in me and now hear of in me” (Phil. 1:29, 3029For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; 30Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (Philippians 1:29‑30)). “Faithful the word [is]; for if we died with [him], we shall also live together; if we endure, we shall also reign together” (2 Tim. 2:11, 1211It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: 12If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: (2 Timothy 2:11‑12)). We may not all he called to suffer for Him, but if we suffer not with Him, can we look to be glorified together? Rom. 8:1717And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:17). It is here that we differ essentially from the saints born in the millennial age, who therefore are reigned over, instead of reigning with Christ.
But it is quite another question, Who are the saints that pass through and come out of the great tribulation? The answer cannot be given by human feeling, nor by good men undertaking to prophesy, but by the light God has given us in the prophetic word. Vehement accusation of wresting the scriptures, of claims to infallibility, of a self-elected minority who are too privileged to be subjects of persecution, of the madness of exaggerated self-conceit, nay even of “seducing spirits,” only betrays extreme party spirit, and ignorance of the true inquiry, “What saith the scripture?”
The answer is plain not only on the positive side, but even on the negative.
First, and chiefly, the O.T. is explicit that “at the time of the end,” when “Michael shall stand up, the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people,” “there shall be a time of trouble (or, tribulation) such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time.” It will far exceed even what accompanied the idolatrous effort of Antiochus Epiphanes, of which Dan. 11:31, 3231And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate. 32And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. (Daniel 11:31‑32) speaks. We do hear of an “abomination that maketh desolate” then set up, but not of the tribulation without parallel which Dan. 12 predicts for the end, when the abomination that maketh desolate will be set up again and for the last time. Here it is incontestable that we hear only of Daniel's people, the Jews, who “at that time shall be delivered, everyone that shall be found written in the book,” that is, the future elect and godly remnant.1
It is no less indisputable that our Lord refers to this very abomination standing in a holy place for those in Judea to flee to the mountains, and to the great trouble that is to follow in even stronger terms than Daniel was given to employ. The context is just as plain and certain as that of the prophet of the captivity, that He too contemplates Jewish disciples, at that time, whom He will deliver by appearing in glory as the Son of man to the discomfiture of their enemies, but also to the discriminating judgment of Israel. For the elect, not merely of the Jews (22) but of the entire people Israel (31) shall be gathered together from the four winds (where these are still scattered of the ten tribes undiscerned), from one end of the heavens to the other. The Lord addresses His disciples here in a personal way, which does not apply to the intermediate part, still less to what He tells us of “all the nations.”
The same fact is no less observable in Mark 13 which gives in substance the first section of our Lord's prophecy as in Matthew's Gospel, but with those characteristic additions of his on the service of His name. See vers. 9-12, and 34. But there is no difference in the relevant intimation that in the future crisis only “those in Judea” are concerned, and that it is a question here of “flesh being saved,” and of “this generation,” etc., not of resurrection and rapture on high. Jewish disciples only are in question, and deliverance coming down to the earth in displayed power and glory, instead of saints caught up by and to be with the Lord as in 1 Thess. 4.
But in Luke 21:20-2420And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. 21Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. 22For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. 24And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:20‑24) there is, what we have in neither Matthew nor Mark (tradition notwithstanding), an explicit prediction of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, and great distress upon the land and upon this people. Their being led captive into all the nations only he mentions, as also the remarkable and still continued sentence of Jerusalem to be trodden down by Gentiles until their proper times be fulfilled He speaks of “days of vengeance,” as indeed such they were then; and he leaves room for more at the close where in fact he speaks of distress of nations, and men fainting for fear. This is quite in character with the design of the third Gospel, which entirely omits the abomination of desolation and the unequaled tribulation, so prominent in the two preceding Gospels. Those who have (and they are legion from ancients to moderns) attempted to identify his special part with theirs, destroy their true bearing. It is from ver. 25 that Luke coalesces with his predecessors in what evidently belongs to the time of the end.
Secondly, Rev. 7:9-179After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. 13And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14And 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. 15Therefore 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. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17For 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. (Revelation 7:9‑17) presents the vision of a great crowd which none could number (distinguished from the 144,000 sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel), as that was out of every nation, and of tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They have a wholly different position from the crowned and enthroned elders and the four living creatures; so much so that one of the elders explains to the prophet who they are, and whence they came. “And he said to me, These are they that come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Here then we have clear evidence that grace will deliver a vast crowd of believing Gentiles out of “the great tribulation” at the time of the end. The traditional notion that it figures the church is refuted by the very phrase which limits them to Gentiles saved out of that great tribulation which is to come. They are therefore, as a special gathering out at the close, quite distinct from those heavenly saints of all times symbolized in the same scene. It would seem that the extreme severity of the future tribulation will fall in and round Jerusalem, for the Lord declares it unparalleled; but there is no reason to doubt that it then awaits all nations, if in lesser measure. It is “the great tribulation,” perhaps implied in Luke's description of “distress of nations” at that very time. There are Gentile saints, as well as Jews, to emerge from it in that day, not forming one body as now in the church, but expressly distinct from it and from one another, as Rev. 7 also plainly attests.
Thirdly, there is the promise, most appropriate to the overcomers of the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:1010Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, 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. (Revelation 3:10)), though surely not for them exclusively, “Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee (not during, but) out of the hour of trial that is about to come upon the whole habitable earth, to try those that dwell upon the earth.” That hour may include more than “the great tribulation “; but one knows no intelligent Christian who thinks it covers less. The faithful, the Christian saints, are here then promised to be kept out of that hour. Any geographical refuge, as was taught by B. W. N. and others, is vain; for it will befall the whole habitable world. The heavenly saints (1 Cor. 15:4343It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: (1 Corinthians 15:43)) will be caught up before that crisis comes, which is retributive for the lawlessness of the Jews and the Gentiles—a wholly different kind of trouble from what is our portion as Christians.