THE TRIBULATION - WHAT IF . . . ?
by Rev. Arnold Reimer
The first coming of Jesus was a truly momentous event. For God to take on the form of man boggles the mind. More incomprehensible still is that He humbled Himself to die on a cross. There He took our judgment to give us a standing before a holy God and a place in His family. For two thousand years the power and product of that event has transformed countless lives and impacted societies across the globe.
In spite of clear prophesies, desperate need and hopeful anticipation almost everyone missed that first coming, save a couple of old saints. In a spiritually dark and sterile time, Simeon and Anna maintained a consistent anticipation for the Messiah's coming. Luke said of Simeon that "the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ." (Lu. 2)
Surely, the blindness of most to the first coming of Jesus is in the biblical record for a greater purpose than to provide information confined to the occasion. Could it be a warning lest at His coming again we miss some vital truth essential to our preparation for that crucial event? It would be foolish, indeed, not to consider this.
Since the 1800's evangelicals have been taught increasingly that the Rapture will occur before the Great Tribulation. In these troubled times in which we live we are dogmatically told by godly men and in popular books, that the Church will be out of here. The implication is the saints have little reason to think seriously about the Tribulation. Perhaps it could be said that no one would want it otherwise, considering what the Scriptures teach about that awful time. But, that is not the issue!
The second coming of Jesus is so clear in Scripture that it is beyond question. We anticipate it with joy and longing; it motivates faithful living and serving.
The important question is: does the revelation of God in Scripture tell us clearly the Church will not go through the Great Tribulation? In fact, one is hard pressed to find Scripture validating such teaching! Are we so influenced by a longing to escape persecution and suffering in this "feel good" North American society that we refuse to consider any other interpretation than a pre-tribulation rapture? Do we force Scripture into a paradigm of wishful thinking and imposed interpretation? I think so.
The implications of such a charge are so huge that we dare not reject it out of hand or cast it aside without careful study and prayerful consideration. Surely, the tragic blindness and rejection by the religious elite of the first coming of Jesus must not be discounted as lessons inapplicable to us as we wait for His second coming. That would be folly.
The Bible irrefutably proclaims Jesus is coming again to receive His own. Matthew 24-25 is Jesus' description of conditions prior to that event. It contains the Bible's clearest, most orderly and succinct statements on events leading up to His coming. To infer, as some do, that it does not apply to Gentile believers belittles important teaching essential to our knowledge and well-being. Jesus gives an overview that protects us from deception and misguided actions. A key word in Matthew 24, enlightening our perception and cautioning our reactions, is "deceive" (NIV, NKJ) or "mislead". (NASB)
We cannot read these warnings with no reference to our removal from earth and not prepare ourselves for the devastating developments described in Matthew and in the Revelation. The point is that the last days will be a time of deception and suffering - to the extent that if that time is not shortened even the elect might yield to deception! To pretend this does not apply to us nullifies the warning and makes us susceptible to the behaviour of the deceived.
Biblical authority for a pre-tribulation rapture is hard to find. On the other hand, Jesus' words in Matthew 24-25 are an important basis to understand Paul's words to the Thessalonians, Peter's letters, Jude's instructions and John's Revelation. The history of Israel's judgments and the strong appeals of numerous prophets have much to say about the "day of the Lord". They provide critical insights to end-times' teaching. Such Scriptures are not to be taken lightly. They are saying something important, which is that we must prepare ourselves "to stand, and having done everything to still stand". None of the Scriptural warnings about suffering or persecution have the addendum, "Don't worry, you will gone!"
The worldliness and superficiality of the modern church tell us we have lost our way. Our confidence in untested security and a quick escape has left us anaemic spiritual weaklings. A holy God does not wink at the decadence and apathy running rampant in our midst. Much correction needs to happen before Jesus can "present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless." (Eph. 5) Right now there is plenty of reason to believe the "love of many is waxing cold".
This is part of an important scenario that warns us to prepare for suffering. In the comforting context of God's powerful protection whatever the circumstances, Peter warns of fiery trials preparing us for praise, glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1)
Jesus warned that misguided attraction to false "saviours" will abound. Why? Perhaps because many believe they should be raptured before the tribulation. That misconception makes us dangerously susceptible to the deception of false messiahs. If biblical teaching counts (and how does it not?) then we had better look again at end-time teaching without forcing it into the popular paradigm of a pre-tribulation rapture.
If we are faced with the possibility of a post-tribulation rapture, and I believe we are, then we have a great deal of work to do. We must prepare ourselves and others for serious suffering; which might be one reason the Scriptures, and much of Church history, speak so much about it. The essential work of the Holy Spirit will be crucial, for He equips and enables us to be overcomers. The present and ultimate victory of Christ over evil will be vital to our endurance and daily encouragement in the face of persecution and martyrdom. The whole armour of God, the very nature and character of Christ in us (in a word, holiness), will be paramount to sustained faith. Hebrews 11 and 12 will take on important new life.
Our Lord's descent with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God will proclaim our release and ultimate victory. His coming is our blessed hope and reward - not for having escaped but for our endurance. Such understanding gives us the framework of wisdom and holiness, caution and insight necessary to save us from the false attractions and deceptions that do, and will, abound. Our passionate longing will be, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
Arnold Reimer has served as a pastor/missionary with the Christian and Missionary Alliance for 50 years. He began his ministry in Rosetown, Sk. after which he served with his wife, Frances, in Colombia, S.A. After one term they pastored the Woodward Ave. Alliance Church, now Rosewood, in Regina. In 1969 they moved to the Avenue Road/Bayview Glen Church where they remained until 1991. Returning to Regina he served as the District Superintendent for one term. Since 1995 he has been a Minister-at-Large in both the Eastern and Central Canadian Districts.