13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
14 And 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.
15 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.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
17 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.
When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Corrie Ten Boom and her family became active in the Dutch resistance. Ten Boom was able to rescue many Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazi SS, but the Nazis arrested the entire ten Boom family in 1944. Corrie and her sister Betsy were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where Betsy died. Corrie was released in December 1944. In the movie The Hiding Place, Corrie herself narrates the section on her release from camp, saying that her release was a clerical error. The women prisoners her age in the camp were killed in the week following her release.
After the war, Corrie became an itinerant preacher and missionary and wrote many books. She told the story of her family and their work during World War II in her most famous book, The Hiding Place (published 1971), made into a movie in 1975.
Corrie ten Boom vehemently rejected any kind of Pre-Tribulation Rapture. I would like to read you part of a letter that she wrote 1974.
“There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution. In China, the Christians were told, ‘Don't worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.’ Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly, ‘We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes – to stand and not faint.’”
Last Sabbath I talked about the Rapture, the belief that the next thing on God’s agenda is to secretly snatch his people off the face of the earth and leave the rest of the sinners to die by the billions in an orgy of fire and destruction. Technically this is called a pre-Tribulation Rapture.
Rapture theory teaches that after the Rapture the earth enters the period known as the Tribulation. They cite Matthew 24:21 ("For then shall be great tribulation") and other passages. This is also called the Futurist view of Christian eschatology. (Eschatology just means Study of the Last Times or the end of the age.) In Futurist Eschatology, the Tribulation is a relatively short period of time during which the antichrist seizes power, and evil reigns and much of the world is destroyed.
This is largely based upon interpreting Matthew chapter 24 as occurring at the end of time, but there are other ways to interpret this chapter.
For example, in the Preterist view, the Tribulation took place in the past when Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in A.D. 70 AD. All that was left of the temple was one part of one wall, which we today call the Wailing Wall. In the Preterist view, the events of A.D. 70 were the tribulation referred to by Jesus in Matthew 24.
The Historicist interpretation is a variant on the Preterist view. Historicists say that the Tribulation is of the Jews only, and the Tribulation continues until Christ returns. A historicist approach was taken by Martin Luther and John Calvin, and prevailed among Protestants from the Reformation until the middle of the 1800’s when John Nelson Darby started teaching a Futurist approach. A Historicist would see the Tribulation as continuing upon the Jews through the centuries, and including events like the Holocaust.
So I am offering you a smorgasbord of possibilities. You can be a futurist and believe that you do not have to worry about the Tribulation because the church is going to be raptured out of here before the Tribulation begins. Or you can by a Preterist and believe that the events of Matthew 24 describe the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70; hence, you do not have to worry about that, because it happened a long time ago. Again, you can be a historicist, and believe that the Tribulation only applies to the Jews, in which case you still do not need to worry about it. But I have not finished listing possibilities.
Matthew 24 is not the only passage of scripture that talks about a great tribulation.
For example, we have Revelation, chapter 7. In v9 of chapter 7, John begins a new vision. He says, “After 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.” John sees this huge crowd of folks in heaven. And they worshipping God and singing, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”
Then in v13 one of the Elders of the heavenly court asks John, Who are these guys? These people clothed in white, how did they come to be here?
John replies, I do not know.
The elder explains: “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Now it seems weird to say that you can wash your clothes in blood and they become white, but this is all symbolic language. It means that they believed in Jesus and Jesus gave them victory over sin and death. The color white symbolizes victory. Their victory is that they are in heaven. V15 says “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.”
What is John trying to tell us? First, notice that this is a multitude of folks that comes from literally everywhere. We are not talking about any local persecution of the Jews. This is a multiethnic, multiracial group of folks. Secondly, they are Christians. Their song before the heavenly throne makes that plain. Thirdly, they are dead. They are in heaven with God, they are no longer on this earth.
Further, they are martyrs. They have died for Christ. They came out of a great ordeal. They washed their clothes in the blood of the Lamb, and they are now in heaven. The implication of this language is that they were persecuted for their belief in Christ and remained true even unto death.
Now, let us get to the hard part. When will this Tribulation occur? If we look at the placement of the vision in Revelation, it is in the midst of chapters that describe unparalleled destruction and evil upon the earth. It looks a lot like the period described by the Futurists as the Great Tribulation at the end of time, but note there is one huge difference. The church is not raptured out before the Tribulation. The church goes through the Tribulation. The church faces the beast and the antichrist and dies by the millions in the resulting persecution.
And the great trap here, is that if you believe in the Rapture, you will not see the Tribulation coming. If you believe that the Rapture is the next thing on God’s agenda, you do not believe that God would let his people go through a tribulation, consequently, when the tribulation comes you are meat for the antichrist. .
We have already seen the consequences of belief in a pre-tribulation Rapture. The People's Republic of China was formed in 1949 under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong. The persecution of Christians began immediately and continues to this day.
The only legal churches in China are those controlled by the state. The government controls what is said and who says it in these churches, and most Christians in China refuse to join these official churches. We have no reliable statistics, but it is estimated that 90% of Chinese Christians do not attend State churches.
They meet in houses, they operate outside government control. Instead of offering their allegiance to the Communist Party, they give their first allegiance to Jesus Christ.
Attending house churches is illegal in China, and the government has a long history of arresting, torturing, imprisoning and murdering Christian dissidents—that is to say Christians who refuse to follow the Communist Party line. This is what Corrie Ten Boom was talking about in her letter.
The point she made is that Chinese Christians believed in the rapture. They were unprepared for the Tribulation. In fact, the Chinese Bishop she quoted said that Chinese Christian leaders had failed their people by teaching a pre-Tribulation Rapture.
So let us conclude all of this. As we talk about different theories of the end of time—Preterists and Historicists and Futurists—you might say, well all of these theories are interesting, but what do you believe?
When people ask me questions I tend to respond with the answers the church has developed over the last two thousand years. And then sometimes that person will say to me, I do not care about that. What do you believe?
That is a fair question. What do I believe about the Tribulation? I pretty much follow Corrie Ten Boom. Do you know that more Christians were killed for their faith in Christ in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. There were more martyrs in the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries. That is what Ten Boom is saying, the church is in tribulation now. The American church is not suffering now. But African Christians are being killed as we speak. Chinese Christians are still persecuted. In Indonesia, churches are being burned and Christians killed. There is no rapture. The tribulation is now.
And we should not suppose that we will always escape. So what should we do? How do we prepare for Tribulation? Study the Bible. Digest it. Make the bible part of your life. Memorize verses that are important to you. In modern times, every persecutor of the church has always tried to take the Bible away from the people.
Second thing. Take a long hard look at your relationship with Jesus Christ. Are you willing to go to jail for Jesus? Are you willing to die for Jesus?
Now, I know that it is easier to believe in the Rapture than it is to believe that the church will go through the Tribulation. Nobody wants to talk about suffering. We do not want to even think about persecution and ordeal.
But that does not mean that it will not happen. Corrie Ten Boom said that as a middle-aged woman she did not want to think about being thrown into a Nazi concentration camp, but she was.
Tribulation has already come to many Christians. We should not be surprised when it comes to us.
But let me close on a note of happiness. You might not think that there is much to be happy about in tribulation, but look at the song of the martyrs in Revelation chapter 7. It is a song of adoration and joy, because whatever happens in this life, it is nothing compared to living in the presence of God in heaven. All suffering, all pain, all tribulation, is trivial compared to life in Christ.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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