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20 July 2019

The Church is Appointed for Tribulation

Paul Arrested - clipart.christiansunite.com
Proponents of the Rapture claim that one of its purposes is to prevent the Church from enduring God’s “wrath” during the Tribulation. A passage by Paul to the Thessalonians is cited to validate the proposition: “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to the acquiring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
As a leading champion of the Rapture doctrine explains: “1 Thessalonians 5:9 makes clear that God did not ‘appoint us to wrath’ (the Tribulation) but to ‘obtain salvation’ or deliverance from it” (Timothy LaHaye, The Rapture: Who will Face the Tribulation? [Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2002], p. 53.).
The assumption underlying this argument is that “tribulation” and “wrath” are synonymous and both refer to the final Tribulation.
A serious problem with this understanding is that in the very same letter the Apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonians “not to shrink back in these tribulations. For you yourselves know that we are appointed for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3). Either Paul contradicts himself or he did not equate “tribulation” with “wrath.”
Paul reminded the Thessalonians how they “became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much tribulation with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1:6).
Jesus taught his disciples to expect tribulation and persecution in this world (Matthew 13:21, Mark 4:17, Luke 21:12). The disciples would have tribulation but should be of “good cheer because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Opponents would deliver up disciples “for tribulation and kill them: and they will be hated by all the nations” (Matthew 24:9). Before the return of the Son of Man, there will be “great tribulation” but, rather than remove his disciples from the earth, God instead will “shorten” that period (“for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” [Matthew 24:21-22]).
Jesus pronounced those persecuted for his sake “blessed!” The Kingdom of God belongs to such ones. “Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice! Be exceeding glad! For great is your reward in heaven!” It is a great honor to be found worthy to suffer for the Kingdom (Matthew 5:10-12).
Jesus even exhorted disciples to love and do good to those who persecuted them (Matthew 5:44). He called believers to follow the same path of self-sacrificial service that he did. “A servant is not greater than his lord. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
The Apostle Peter wrote that it is thankworthy if a man endures suffering and grief for the sake of his conscience toward God. There is no glory or honor if one suffers for doing wrong (1 Peter 2:19-20, 4:15), but if one patiently endures suffering for obedience to God, it is praiseworthy. Moreover, believers “have been called for this” very thing.
To faithfully endure suffering for the Gospel is to “follow in the footsteps” of Jesus who “left us an example” (1 Peter 2:19-23, 3:17-18). Christians found worthy to “suffer for righteousness' sake” are blessed (1 Peter 3:14). To suffer for the Gospel is in “accord with the will of God” (1 Peter 4:19).
In his other letters, Paul encouraged Christians to rejoice in suffering. Believers are to “exult in our tribulations because they bring about endurance, and our endurance a testing, and our testing hope” (Romans 5:3, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 1:4).
Rather than seek escape from tribulation, the Apostle boasts how neither “tribulation nor anguish nor persecution nor famine nor nakedness nor peril nor sword” can separate believers from Jesus; “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-39). In tribulation, Christians must remain patient and “continue steadfastly in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
It is God who “comforts us in every tribulation, so that we ourselves may be able to comfort those who are in any tribulation” (2 Corinthians 1:4). The tribulations of this life “prepare for us an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul boasted about their steadfastness, for they faithfully endured through “all their persecutions and tribulations” (2 Thessalonians 1:4). All occurred so they “might be counted worthy of the kingdom of God in behalf of which there were suffering, if, at least, it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you.”
Believers and non-believers are both present when Jesus arrives; it results in vindication for some and condemnation for others.
Wrath” in Paul’s letters is treated as something different than “tribulation”; it is, ultimately, linked with the end of the age and the judgment. The impenitent man stores up for himself “wrath” and “fury” for the “day of wrath” (Romans 2:5-8). Because of sin, the “wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6-8). Because Christians have been set right by Christ’s blood, they shall “be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).
God’s coming “wrath” is connected to the day of Christ’s return (1 Thessalonians 1:10). God has not appointed the church to experience that wrath but, instead, the acquisition of salvation through Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Salvation means believers do not experience God’s wrath at the end of the age.
When John addressed the seven churches of Asia, he identified himself with their situation; “I, John, your brother and fellow-participant in the tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). “Tribulation” has a definite article or “the tribulation,” signifying something known and identifiable.
In the seven “letters” to the churches of Asia, only Smyrna and Philadelphia receive no rebuke or correction; both are praised for faithfulness. Yet to Smyrna, Jesus declares: “I know your tribulation and things you are going to suffer.” Rather than escape, he encourages them “not to fear what you are about to suffer” and promises they will “have tribulation for ten days” (2:8-11). It seems the healthiest churches undergo persecution and tribulation.
Jesus calls Christians at Smyrna to “be faithful unto death,” even if it means a martyr’s death. In this way, believers “overcome” and escape something far worse than tribulation – “the Second Death.”
In one vision John saw a great innumerable multitude of redeemed saints from every nation standing before the throne and the Lamb, men and women he saw “coming out of the great tribulation” (Revelation 7:9-17). This refers to the same tribulation mentioned previously by John (1:9).
Wrath” first appears in Revelation 6:12-17 when the Sixth Seal is opened. This results in a final day characterized by celestial and terrestrial upheaval, and the wrath of the Lamb and God. This is not an extended period of tribulation but the final day of wrath. Unredeemed men from every walk of life attempt to “hide from the face of him who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come!”
Wrath” occurs next in when the seventh trumpet sounds (Revelation 11:15-19). God begins His final reign and it is the time for “the dead to be vindicated and to give their reward to God’s servants the prophets and to the saints,” but also for God’s “wrath and the time for the dead to be judged.” This is a picture of final judgment when the righteous are vindicated and the wicked condemned.
The final hour to reap the harvest of the earth is declared in Revelation 14:14-20. Those who rebelled “drink the wine of God's wrath poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence…of the Lamb.” This portrays the same event as that described when the Rider on a White Horse “treads the wine-press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” following the final battle with the Beast and the armies of the earth.
In the book of Revelation, “wrath” refers to God’s final judgment against His enemies at the end of the age.  The Dragon persecutes the Son by waging war against the “seed of the woman,” identified as “those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus” (12:17). The victims of Satan’s persecuting activity are “saints,” men and women who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
The Beast ascends out of the Abyss to wage war with the Two Witnesses, to “overcome and kill them.” The Witnesses “are two lampstands,” a symbol that represents churches (1:20, 11:4-7).
The Beast that ascends out of the sea is authorized to “wage war with the saints and to overcome them.” Some are destined for captivity, others for violent death (13:7-10). The “saints” are none other than they “who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (14:12). In his final assault against the Lamb, the Devil raises his forces from the four corners of the earth to attack the “camp of the saints” (20:7-10).
Paul wrote that “God did not appoint us to wrath” in the same epistle in which he also stated that “we are appointed for tribulation.” There is no contradiction. For Paul, the two terms refer to two different things. “Wrath” is God’s retributive judgment upon the wicked; “tribulation” is what the world inflicts on Christians for the Gospel’s sake.
Tribulation is something disciples of Jesus experience; it is a part of the Church’s life. Jesus predicted that those who follow him would undergo persecution. Suffering for the sake of the Gospel is not punishment or aberration but grounds for rejoicing. Being found “worthy” to suffer for the Gospel is a great honor and even a blessing. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
In contrast, the unrepentant undergo Divine “wrath” and judgment at the end of the age. “Wrath” is a dreadful thing reserved for the unrepentant, something to be avoided at all costs and not a blessing for anyone. The New Testament does not equate “tribulation” with “wrath”; they are not synonymous.

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