By far the most popular end-times belief is one of a pre-tribulation rapture in which “the church” will be taken out of harm’s way before seven years of tribulation begins. This belief is often defended by the following verse:
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Thessalonians 5:9)
The problem with using this verse to prove a pre-trib rapture is that it doesn’t acknowledge that the saints have suffered tribulation at the hands of heretics and unbelievers throughout history. Further, the pre-trib rapture theory is a core element in dispensationalism which teaches that “the church” and “the Jews” are separate and that God has different plans for each. Conveniently for “the church” God’s plan is apparently to whisk away all believers before the tribulation rubber meets the road.
Prophets, Apostles, Disciples and Believers Persecuted
Throughout the Bible, there are stories of those of faith enduring tribulation. Many of the Old Testament prophets were persecuted because they spoke God’s word against the people, shining a light on the dark deeds of men and the wickedness of their hearts, warning them of the consequences to come. Hebrews 11, the great faith chapter, confirms the persecution and tribulation that many of the faithful suffered.
And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:36-38)
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, both apostles and disciples were unjustly persecuted and killed for their testimony of Christ. The persecution of Christians didn’t stop there as true followers of Christ have been persecuted throughout the centuries with many millions of believers having been tortured and/or martyred for Christ since his death 2,000 years ago. This persecution continues right through to today with believers around the world being persecuted and/or killed by their family, their community, their government, and so on.
In the Gospel of John, this is what Jesus says about persecution and tribulation — persecution being a fundamental cause of tribulation:
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. (John 15:20)
These 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)
Given that Jesus said explicitly that we should expect persecution, why would God give those of us in the end times a get-out-of-tribulation-free card when he has allowed so many believers before us to die terrible deaths at the hands of antichrists?
Further, Jesus tells us to rejoice when we are persecuted:
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
God Delivers His People through Not from Tribulation
Here are three examples of God choosing to not deliver (save) people from tribulation but to protect them as they go through trying situations:
Noah: God didn’t remove Noah to a safe haven during the flood but gave him instructions to build and prepare an ark so that he could survive through the flood.
Daniel: God didn’t prevent Daniel from being thrown into the lion’s den but kept him from being killed by the lion when he was in the den.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: God didn’t save Daniel’s companions from being thrown into the fiery furnace but protected them from harm whilst in the midst of the flames.
God does not change (Malachi 3:6) and just as He protected Noah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, He will protect many true believers during tribulation, even feeding them during the last days’ famine.
They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. (Psalms 37:19)
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. (Revelation 12:14).
If we are alive during this coming famine, we must all remember this and have faith that God will feed us, just as God commanded the ravens to feed Ezekiel at the brook Cherith.
Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. (1 Kings 17:3-6)
Further, God also protects us from poison, plagues and pestilence.
Poison: God can and does protect his people from the effects of poison, such as with Elisha and the deadly stew (4:38-41), Paul when he was bitten by the viper on Malta (Acts 28:3-6), as well as all of us who believe in Christ Jesus (Mark 16:18, Luke 10:19).
And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god. (Acts 28:3-6)
Plagues: When we are surrounded by plagues, God can protect us from being affected by them. The Israelites were protected from the ten plagues that God sent upon Egypt (Exodus 7-12), the last of which was the death of every firstborn in the land of Egypt (Exodus 13:12). The Israelites were protected from this last plague by the blood of the lamb that they put on their houses (Exodus 12:13). As we know, Christ is our passover (1 Corinthians 5:7) and his blood can protect us not only from plagues but from all things, if it be God’s will.
Pestilence: God can deliver us from pestilence without having to remove us from the place of pestilence.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. (Psalms 91:3-7)
God Gives His People Courage and Strength in Tribulation
The story of Samson is a great example of God giving courage and strength in a time of persecution and tribulation. God didn’t stop Delilah from cutting Samson’s hair in order to remove the source of his great strength, nor did he protect him from having his eyes put out, but He blessed him with the courage and strength to bring down the house of Dagon in his final act of slaying thousands of Philistines, while also killing himself.
And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life. (Judges 16:28-30)
Not all believers will be protected from torture and death during tribulation, just as God has allowed a vast multitude to suffer and die for their faith since Jesus’ torturous death on the cross, he will allow many to be tortured and killed for their testimony of Christ. And, through his love and mercy, just as He gave these martyrs the courage and strength to endure, so will he give the same to those of us who are appointed to suffer and die during the tribulation.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
But what does this courage and strength look like in a regular human being? Here’s just one of countless stories of past martyrs who displayed incredible courage and supernatural strength in the face of death:
Thomas Haukes was martyred during the 16th-century persecutions in England under the reign of Queen Mary. This account of his death is from Actes and Monuments, popularly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
Mr. Haukes was led away to the place appointed for slaughter by Lord Rich, and being come to the stake, mildly and patiently prepared himself for the fire, having a strong chain cast about his middle, with a multitude of people on every side compassing him about, unto whom after he had spoken many things, and poured out his soul unto God, the fire was kindled.
When he had continued long in it, and his speech was taken away by violence of the flame, his skin drawn together, and his fingers consumed with the fire, so that it was thought that he was gone, suddenly and contrary to all expectation, this good man being mindful of his promise, reached up his hands burning in flames over his head to the living God, and with great rejoicings as it seemed, struck or clapped them three times together. A great shout followed this wonderful circumstance, and then this blessed martyr of Christ, sinking down in the fire, gave up his spirit, June 10, 1555.
Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who was tortured and imprisoned for his faith (1947-1956 and 1959-1964) under the communist regime, is a more recent example of God giving courage and strength during extreme persecution and tribulation. Here is Wurmbrand’s testimony, which you can read in more detail in his book, Tortured for Christ.
Wurmbrand’s testimony, along with many of the stories contained in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, is perfectly encapsulated in the following verses in Paul’s epistles to the Romans and to the Corinthians:
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
The Body of Christ Grows During Tribulation
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)
Today, Christian persecution is rapidly increasing around the world. The Open Doors’ World Watch List is an “annual report on the global persecution of Christians, ranking the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith. Released at the beginning of each year, the list uses data from Open Doors field workers and external experts to quantify and analyze persecution worldwide.”
North Korea has been #1 on the World Watch List for a number of years, yet many continue to come to Christ despite the extreme levels of persecution.
If North Korean Christians are discovered, they are deported to labor camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot. Driven by the state, Christian persecution in North Korea is extreme and meeting other Christians to worship is nearly impossible unless it’s done in complete secrecy. A recent increase in diplomatic activity, starting with the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, has not changed anything for Christians in the country. (Open Doors World Watch List 2020)
Likewise, there are many new believers in Iran — #9 on the World Watch List — who came to Christ in recent years despite the increase in Christian persecution. As with North Koreans, new believers understand that their decision to follow Jesus might very well lead to persecution.
Iranian society is governed by Islamic law, which means the rights and professional possibilities for Christians are heavily restricted. Christians are forbidden from sharing their faith with non-Christians in Iran, and it is illegal to produce Christian literature or hold church services in Farsi. Converts from Islam face persecution from the government. If Christians attend an underground house church, they face the constant threat of arrest. (Open Doors World Watch List 2020)
The growth in the body of Christ in persecuted countries today is not a new phenomenon as, historically, persecution and tribulation have the opposite effect than that intended by the oppressors and persecutors — the gospel spreads because those who put their lives on the line for the sake of the gospel recognize the urgency of reaching the lost. Further, those who share the gospel in the face of persecution and death do so having counted the cost (Luke 14:28) and knowing that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Amen. Let us all prepare ourselves for the coming tribulation.
Paul and Silas Photo Credit: Lumo Project