Where Will God's People Be During Biblical Tribulations?
by James Duffee
The doctrine of the rapture of Christians has become increasingly popular as more and more people begin to predict the "end of the world". The Y2K bug [has] sparked an enormous interest in survivalism among some, while others take it as an indication that they will soon be raptured to be with the Lord.
But is this rapture a Biblical teaching, or is it yet another fable that was added and taught by those who prefer their own way of thinking over God's? The only way to answer this question beyond a doubt is by turning to Scripture. The foundation of the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine is found in the Gospels, where Christ is teaching His disciples:
Matthew 24:38) For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39) And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 40) Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41) Two [women shall be] grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 42) Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. (also found in Luke 17)
The basic teaching is that these verses indicate the Lord will take His people and the others will be left behind, which obviously is true. The rapture doctrine asserts that this means those left behind will be those that endure tribulation, though Scripture does not say this. Due to a misinterpretation of Revelation prophecy, this doctrine teaches that those left behind will suffer three and a half years of tribulation (the final plagues) before Christ returns a third time to destroy the wicked.
Unfortunately, there is no mention of a third coming of Christ in Scripture. While the above passage in Matthew can be used to create a "secret rapture" doctrine, Luke teaches something altogether different:
Luke 17:28) Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; 29) But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed [them] all. 30) Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. 31) In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. 32) Remember Lot's wife. 33) Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. 34) I tell you, in that night there shall be two in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 35) Two [women] shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 36) Two [men] shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
In the above passage, Christ compares the day of His coming with the day Lot was led out of Sodom and Gomhorra. He says in the same day that Lot was led out the cities were destroyed. Then He states that it will be "even thus", or in the same manner, when He returns. In other words, His people will be brought out, and in the same day the cities of the world will be destroyed. This in itself disputes the idea that those left will suffer tribulation; there simply won't be time.
Understanding the tribulation period requires a complete study of "End Times" prophecy - an endeavor that few are willing to pursue. Understanding when Christ will return in relation to the tribulations, though, requires only a brief study of New Testament prophecies.
1 Corinthians 15:51) Behold, I shew you a mystery We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 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. 53) For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal [must] put on immortality.
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.
The passage in 1 Corinthians teaches that the time of the "rapture" will be "at the last trump". Revelation prophecy speaks of seven angels sounding seven trumpets. Obviously, the last trump would be the seventh. The passage in 1 Thessalonians confirms that Christ's return will be heralded by the sounding of the trump. Keeping this in mind, let's see what Revelation says about the tribulation period and the coming of our Lord. First we'll take a look at the plagues of Revelation - the final tribulations.
Revelation 15:1) And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.
Here we see that the seven last plagues are poured out by seven angels, and they are "the wrath of God".
Revelation 16:1) And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth. 2) And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and [upon] them which worshipped his image.
The first plague is a "noisome and grievous sore" - like boils. Notice this plague only falls on those who have accepted the "mark of the beast" and those who worshipped the image of the beast.
Revelation 16:3) And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead [man]: and every living soul died in the sea.
The second plague will affect the waters of the sea, which would include oceans, gulfs, large inland seas (like the great lakes), etc. All of this water will become like the blood of a dead man. In other words, it will be so contaminated that all of the fish and other sea creatures will die, and it certainly could not be used for drinking water.
Revelation 16:4) And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. 5) And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. 6) For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.
The third plague turns the rivers and springs (fountains of waters) into blood, just like the oceans. There will not be a single pure water source available to those who have accepted the mark of the beast. In verse 6 we see why God has given people blood to drink; they have shed the blood of the saints and prophets. These people certainly had no part in shedding blood during Biblical times, so this reveals that Christians will be persecuted and killed by the ungodly at the time of the last plagues.
Revelation 16:8) And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. 9) And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.
The fourth plague strikes the sun, causing it to scorch men with great heat. This could indicate a complete elimination of the ozone layer, allowing the full power of the sun to reach the earth. Ungodly people will not see this as a sign from God and will not recognize it as a plague. They will simply curse God for allowing it to happen.
Revelation 16:10) And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, 11) And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.
After suffering through intense heat, the fifth plague now plunges the world into darkness, like a full solar eclipse. The sun suddenly gives no warmth at all. Going from unbearable heat to extreme cold will cause such pain that people will blaspheme God and gnaw their tongues. Notice that verse 11 indicates the sores of the first plague are still affecting people.
Revelation 16:12) And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. 13) And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs [come] out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14) For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, [which] go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. 15) Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed [is] he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. 16) And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
The sixth plague involves the battle of Armageddon. The three unclean spirits will persuade the leaders of the earth to wage war against God's people. "Armageddon" is a transliteration of a Hebrew word (Har-Meggido) which means "the mountain of Meggido". The battle of Meggido (Joshua chapter 12) symbolized complete destruction, so this is not telling of a specific place, but the time of complete destruction.
Revelation 16:17) And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. 18) And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, [and] so great. 19) And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. 20) And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. 21) And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, [every stone] about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.
When the seventh angel pours out his vial, a voice proclaims "it is done". This final plague of God's wrath includes an earthquake greater in magnitude than any that has ever occurred, as well as enormous hailstones (a talent is equivalent to approximately seventy pounds). Now let's take a look at that seventh trumpet.
Revelation 10:7) But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.
Revelation 11:15) And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become [the kingdoms] of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. 16) And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, 17) Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.18) And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth. 19) And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.
At the sounding of this final trumpet, the "mystery of God" is finished. Or, as the voice from heaven proclaimed at the time of the seventh plague, "it is done". The kingdom of Christ begins (verse 15 above) and the plagues - the wrath of God - have come (verse 18). The dead are judged and the living in Christ receive their reward. This coincides precisely with Paul's descriptions in 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians. Verse 19 reveals that when this seventh trumpet sounds, there will be lightning, voices, thunder, an earthquake and great hail - exactly the same events that occur under the seventh plague.
So we see that Christians will, indeed, be present during the tribulation period. The plagues will strike, the wicked will unite to wage war against God's people, then Christ will return in great glory to destroy the wicked and gather His people from every corner of the earth. Christians need not fear these final plagues, though. Just as God protected the Israelites during the plagues of Egypt, so He will protect His people during the final plagues. God went to great lengths to assure us that His arm would protect us at this time.
Psalms 91:1) He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2) I will say of the LORD, [He is] my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. 3) Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, [and] from the noisome pestilence. 4) He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth [shall be thy] shield and buckler. 5) Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; [nor] for the arrow [that] flieth by day; 6) [Nor] for the pestilence [that] walketh in darkness; [nor] for the destruction [that] wasteth at noonday. 7) A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; [but] it shall not come nigh thee. 8) Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. 9) Because thou hast made the LORD, [which is] my refuge, [even] the most High, thy habitation; 10) There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
In this one passage, God has promised to protect us from the grievous and noisome sores (vs. 3), the terror of the darkness (vs. 5), the scorching sun (vs. 6), and from Christ's destruction of the wicked (vs. 7-8).
Isaiah 33:15) He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly;he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes,that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil; 16) He shall dwell on high: his place of defence [shall be] the munitions of rocks:bread shall be given him; his waters [shall be] sure.17) Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.
Here we are shown that the righteous people (those who follow God) will live in the rocks (mountains), and we are promised that we will have food and pure waters. Who are these promises made to? Verse 17 indicates that it is those who will see the King in His beauty - those who see Christ come in all His glory - and who will see the land that is far off (New Jerusalem).
God has promised to protect His people from all of the final plagues, as well as provide them with food, shelter and pure water. How will this promise be fulfilled?
Revelation 18:1) And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory 2) And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. 3) For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. 4) And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
Christians should be waiting to hear that voice in their own lives - the voice calling them to come out of Babylon, which symbolizes the "normal" world that we live in. When that voice is heard, it is time to leave - time to find the "munitions of the rocks" for our defense, and rely on God to provide for our needs. This is the very essence of survivalism. Going into the wilderness and living off of the land is precisely what God has intended for His people in the "end times".
Here we should take a lesson from David. When he went to face Goliath, David had great faith that God would win the battle for him. But David did not rely only on God - that would have been testing God. Instead, David prepared himself for a fight by gathering up five good stones to use in his sling (1 Samuel 17:40). He knew God wouldn't need five tries to get it right, but David made sure he did his part before counting on God to do His. In the same manner, Christians must prepare for what lies ahead, and rely on God to do what they can't.
Next in this series: "Should Christians Fight Back?"