2. GOD IS DEALING WITH THE JEWS – NOT THE CHURCH.
God established an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 17:7:
“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you”.
God not only promises to be the God of Abraham and His descendants, He also promises to give the land of Canaan to the Jews. The Tribulation period is a time when God will re-establish His relationship with the Jews, in preparation for the fulfilment of His promise to give the Jews all the land between the Euphrates and the river of Egypt (Gen. 15:18). God uses the Tribulation period to focus His attention primarily on the Jews, restoring them to relationship with Him, and having them continue to populate Israel during the Millennium.
2.1. The Time of Jacob’s Trouble
Evidence that the Tribulation is a time when God’s focus is on the nation of Israel and the Jews is found in Jeremiah 30:7, where Jeremiah refers to the Tribulation as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (KJV). Jacob’s name was changed to Israel by God (Gen. 32:28), therefore the time of Jacob’s trouble can be translated as the time of Israel’s trouble, indicating the seven-year Tribulation is a time of God dealing with the Jews. The Church period has been completed and “the Day of the Lord” has begun. The phrase “Day of the Lord” refers to a time when God will intervene in the affairs of men. This will include both judgement (Tribulation) and blessing (Millennium Kingdom) of mankind. The “Day of the Lord” will begin with the translation of the Church at the rapture and will conclude with the cleansing of the earth by fire at the end of the Millennium. The “Day of the Lord” is then followed by the restoration of the earth and there being a New Heaven and a New Earth (2 Pet. 3:10-13). So, the “Day of the Lord” includes the time of Jacob’s trouble, a time where God’s dealing with mankind is more akin to the Old Testament period, indicating that the period of the Church age has ended.
2.2 Seventy Weeks Decreed for the Jews
Other strong evidence that the Tribulation period is a time of God’s dealing with the Jews comes from Daniel 9:24:
“Seventy ‘sevens’ (weeks) are decreed for your people (the Jews) and your holy city” (Jerusalem; emphasis added).
Through this prophecy Daniel is indicating that the 70 weeks of prophetic time relate to the nation Israel. Since Jesus links the “abomination that causes desolation, spoken of through the prophet Daniel” with the time of Tribulation (Matt. 24:15-21; Mark 13:14-19), He is indicating that the Tribulation period is to be connected with the 70th (last) week of Daniel’s prophecy (Dan. 9:27). Therefore, this is a time set by God to deal with the nation Israel. The Tribulation starts with the signing of the seven-year covenant which allows the Jews to start building the Third Temple and reinstitute temple sacrifice.
God is going to use the last week of Daniel’s prophesied 70 weeks of years to deal with the Jews and restore His relationship with them. The last seven years as described in the book of Revelation also match Old Testament scripture. Examples are the two witnesses of Revelation 11, who have fire coming from their mouths to devour their enemies (11:5), they have power to “shut up the sky so that it will not rain” (11:6); they turn water into blood and “strike the earth with every type of plague (11:6)”. Hardly a picture of the Church period, but it fits well with the Old Testament. Elijah brought fire down from heaven to consume the soldiers of the king of Samaria (2 Kings 1:10). He also prayed that it would not rain for three years in Israel (1 Kings 17:1). Moses was able to turn water into blood (Ex. 7:14-24) and bring plagues upon the earth (Exodus 8-11).
2.3. Jews, Gentiles and Believers
The New Testament refers to three different groups of people: Jews, Gentiles and the Church (believers). Romans 10:12, Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11 make it clear that Scripture makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile believers in Jesus. 1 Corinthians 12:13 states “for we were all baptised by one spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks…” If there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile and all believers are “one spirit,” why do we have in Revelation 7:4-8 and again in 14:1-5 a distinction being made of 144 000 Jewish believers? Unless the Church is no longer present.
A closer look must also be taken at the three separate judgements to clarify the distinction made in Scripture between Jew, Gentile and believer in the last days:
- The first judgement will be the judgement of the righteous. Under the definition of the Church there is no separate Judgement of condemnation for the righteous (Rom. 8:1). Whether Jew or Gentile, the Church goes before the Bema judgement seat of Christ to receive rewards for works done on earth in obedience to Jesus (2 Cor. 5:10). There is no judgement of salvation for the Church as they are saved by grace. The distinction made indicates the rapture takes place at the end of the Church period, and a time of God’s dealing with the Jews begins.
- The second judgement takes place on the return of Jesus at the end of the Tribulation. Jesus judges the Gentiles who have managed to live through the devastation of the world’s population during the Great Tribulation (Matt. 25:31-46). Jews, whether believers or non-believers, are not included. The purpose of this judgement is to see who will inherit the Kingdom – the sheep (Matt. 25:34) – and who will not – the goats (Matt. 25:41). While the sheep go on to live during the Millennia, the goats will go to Hades to wait for the White Throne of Judgement.
- The third judgement, the Great White Throne judgement takes place 1 000 years after the sheep and goat judgement. Here, both unbelieving Jew and Gentile are judged for the sins they have committed during their lives (Rev. 20:11-15). With no advocate for their defence each individual, no matter how “good” a person they were during their lives, will be shown that their “righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). When their names are not found to be in the Book of Life the individual will be cast into the Lake of Fire.
So, in the second judgement of the sheep and goats, recorded in Matthew 25, the Gentiles are judged according to their treatment of the Jews during the Tribulation period. Jesus clarifies this by using the term “brothers of mine” in verse 40. Jesus is a Jewish Messiah, He is a Jew, and therefore his brothers – whom he still greatly cares for – are Jews. Ezekiel confirms this writing: “I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” (20:37), which refers to the Jews being judged during the Tribulation and eventually becoming part of the New Covenant. This theme is repeated in Malachi 3:2-3 and Psalm 50:4-7. They are prophecies of the future judgements of Israel, regathered from the nations at the time of the Messiah’s coming.
The seven years of Tribulation will culminate with the return of Jesus to earth to begin His Millennial rule. The Jews who have been restored in relationship with Jesus go on to populate the Millennial Kingdom. The Jews will be joined in the Millennial Kingdom by those Gentiles (the sheep) who were kind to the Jews, and supported them during the Tribulation. The Church is not part of this narrative, as the Bride of Christ will rule with Jesus during the Millennia and is waiting for the completion of this judgement to begin their task. The rewards they received at the Bema judgement seat will very likely determine their position of authority during the Millennial Kingdom.
2.4. Matthew 24:15-20, a Warning for the Jews
In Matthew 24:15-20 the focus is on Israel, not the Church. Jesus speaks in verse 15 of the start of the Great Tribulation, with the image of the Antichrist being erected in the Temple (see also Rev. 13:15). The act of the Antichrist erecting a statue of himself in the Temple clearly distinguishes this prophecy as being related to the Great Tribulation, the last three and a half years before Jesus returns. This prophecy does not relate to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, as no statue was erected in the Temple by the Romans. On the contrary, the Romans completely destroyed the Temple. The focus of the warning is on the Jews, not the Church, as Jesus refers in verse 16 to “those in Judea (in other words, Jews)” and then in verse 20 Jesus emphasises that they should “pray that your flight will not take place in the winter or on the Sabbath”. Only Jews would be keeping the Sabbath-day journey laws, which would restrict their ability to flee. As the focus of Jesus’ warning is directed at the Jews, it is logical to assume that the focus of the Tribulation is on God dealing with the Jews at this time.
2.5. Separate Judgements for Jews and Gentiles
In the Matthew 25:31-46 sheep and goat judgement, Jesus judges the Gentile nations. Jews, whether believers or non-believers, are not included, while in Ezekiel 20:37, Malachi 3:2-3 and Psalm. 50:4-7, there are prophecies of the future judgement of Israel, regathered from the nations at the time of the Messiah’s coming.
As discussed earlier, the time prior to the return of the Lord to set up His Kingdom is called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7 [KJV]). It is a time set aside by God to determine who among the Jews will enter the Kingdom blessing. In Ezekiel 20:37 God says to Israel “I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of covenant”. The metaphor of the sheep passing under the shepherd’s rod is a reference to the Jewish shepherds who had their sheep pass under their rods when counting them. By God using this analogy He is indicating that He will bring the Jews under His authority, the rod of His discipline, holding them accountable and restoring them to a covenant relationship with Him. The scripture in Malachi 3:2-3 warns of the trial by fire that will take place during the Tribulation, “But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launder’s soap”. Those who prove worthy during the time of refining will be the Jews who survive the Tribulation and go on to live with Jesus and establish the millennial Israel. It is these Jews Paul is referring to in Romans 11:26, when he says “and so all Israel will be saved”. Just as Joseph tested His brothers during the seven years of drought to see if they had changed from the jealous, self-centred men who had sold him into slavery, so will Jesus test the Jews during the Tribulation. Then, just as Joseph revealed his circumcision (the covenant wound) to his brothers (revealing his identity to them and restoring his relationship with them), so will Jesus on His return to earth reveal the nail wounds in His hands and feet (Zech. 13:6). The wounds He received on the cross are the wounds of the New Covenant, and through this Jesus will restore His relationship with the Jews.
Under the definition of the Church there is no separate judgement for righteous Jews or Gentiles. The judgement of believers is for service to the Lord, a judgement of rewards for works done in obedience to Christ’s calling (2 Cor. 5:10). The distinction made indicates the end of the Church period and a time of God dealing with the Jews.
3. GOD’S JUDGEMENTS UPON THE WICKED DOES NOT INCLUDE THE INNOCENT
3.1. Delivered from the Wrath to Come
Scripture gives clear evidence that believers are delivered from God’s wrath. Paul emphasises this in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 when he says that believers should “wait for [God’s] Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath”. This is a wonderful promise from the Lord that the Church will not go through the judgements of the Tribulation. There are three other scriptures in the Bible that confirm that the Church will not experience the wrath of God during the Tribulation:
- 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”.
- Romans 5:9, “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!”
- Ephesians 5:6 “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient”.
The fact that God does not judge the righteous, and therefore will rapture the Church prior to the Tribulation, is confirmed by Noah being delivered out of the flood, and Lot being delivered from the judgement on Sodom. In both cases, God is bringing a judgement on to the world and in both cases, God delivers the righteous from the judgement. Clearly this emphasises the fact that God in His Grace does not include the righteous in His judgements.
Those who believe in a post-Tribulation rapture do not agree that the stories of Noah and Lot represent God removing them out of the way of His pending judgement. So, we need to examine the validity of their argument. A Pastor I met in Jerusalem, who was a staunch post-Tribulationist, believes that Noah was delivered through the flood – not out of it. The reason he gives is that the conditions and life on the ark with all those animals, birds, reptiles and insects would have been harsh, and living on the ark for a year would have been hell. He fails to consider that God was the designer of the ark, and was the size of a Second World War Casablanca class aircraft carrier. It was a floating city; the ventilation would have been perfect, there would have been room to exercise the animals, and God’s hand would have been on all within that ark. The relationship between man and animal would have been as in the time of Adam. On certain nature reserves in Africa people pay for the privilege of looking after the animals on that reserve. What a special privilege it would have been for Noah and his family to look after those animals. Noah went from dry ground to dry ground. He and his family were taken out of the flood, which was the judgement on the whole earth at that time. 2 Peter 2:4-10 confirms the use of Lot and Noah as examples where God judges the ungodly but spares the righteous, confirming that God will spare the righteous from the judgement of the Tribulation.
The post-Tribulationists will also point to the fact that Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt, so she was clearly not delivered from the judgement on Sodom. Here we need to note that she disobeyed God by turning back to look at Sodom. She did this because her heart was still in Sodom and her desire was to return to the city, so she was judged with the city. Lot and his daughters were kept safe from that judgement.
We must also note that, at Abraham’s request, God agreed to not Judge the city of Sodom if there were 10 righteous people living in the city. Surely it is then logical to assume that God will not judge the world with the Church still present!
Post-Tribulation rapture supporters will use the example of the 10 plagues at the time of Moses (Ex. 7-11), being used as a judgement on the Egyptians (Egypt being a symbol for the world in scripture). The Jews being delivered through the plagues is seen as evidence of the Church being present on earth during the Tribulation and being delivered through God’s many judgements. In answer to this belief, we must firstly remember that God gives power to the Antichrist to “make war against the saints and to conquer them” (Rev. 13:7). The mass martyrdom of believers during the Great Tribulation is hardly a picture of deliverance. These believers who are martyred will be those who have made a decision after the rapture to follow the Lord Jesus. Secondly, the 144 000 Jews chosen by God to be a witness for Him to the world at this time do receive God’s seal of protection before the start of God’s plagues (Rev. 7:1-4). So, the symbolism of the plagues at the time of Moses is only accurate if Egypt (being the world) receives God’s judgements, while the Jews (represented by the 144 000) are sealed and protected from God’s plagues. The Church is not represented because they are not there!
The principles of God’s judgements in the Bible are threefold:
- Prophetic warning.
- The righteous are removed to a place of safety.
- God’s wrath is released in judgement on the unrighteous.
Therefore, this principle must stand for the rapture, with the righteous (the Church) being taken to be with the Lord in heaven prior to the start of the Tribulation.
3.2. God Gives the World Over to Their Rebellion
The bone of contention between the pre-Tribulation and pre-wrath theories is when the wrath of God actually begins. The Pre-Wrath theory has the rapture only taking place in the middle of the Great Tribulation, just prior to the Trumpet Judgements. The Church will, therefore, according to the Pre-Wrath theory, experience the persecutions of the mark of the beast, where those who reject the mark will be executed. However, the Church will be mercifully removed from the earth at the rapture just prior to God unleashing his wrath judgements (the Trumpet and Bowl Judgements).
The Pre-Wrath theorists do not believe the wrath of God is expressed in the rise of the Antichrist. However, Paul in his letter to the Romans warns that, “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men, who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18). Paul is emphasizing that an attribute of God is his wrath against sinful man, and is warning the Romans of God’s righteous anger towards man for his rejection of Him. Man has refused God’s love, rejected God’s grace, rebelled against God’s law and has sought a life apart from God, where man is only responsible to man. Mankind has reached a stage in his sinful rebellion where he does not withhold anything from himself that he desires. God is a Holy God, and therefore He must hold ungodliness and unrighteousness accountable.
Paul’s account in Romans 1:18-32 reflects the degenerate society that Rome had become and gets to the root of how the wrath of God is directed against a sinful people. In rapid succession Paul repeats one of the most tragic statements in the Bible – “God gave (man) over” to do what he wanted to do!
- “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” (Rom. 1:24-25; emphasis added).
- “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with woman and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committing indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (Rom. 1:26-27; emphasis added).
- “Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom. 1:28; emphasis added).
To understand the full extent of the consequence of God handing man over to his own rebellious desires, one needs to comprehend that God is ceasing His efforts to bring mankind to salvation, and by giving them over to a depraved mind condemns them to an eternity in hell. The apostle John warns of the great tragedy that faces all those who succumb to the seduction of the Antichrist and bear his mark on their body, recording that they will “drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb” (Rev. 14:10). The first seal, which reveals the Antichrist (Rev. 6:1-2), will result in the destruction of both body and soul in hell for those foolish enough to worship him, a fate far worse than death. Therefore the rapture cannot be, as the Pre-Wrath theorists believe, in the middle of the Great Tribulation. The Antichrist is most definitely an expression of the wrath of God, so the rapture must take place before the opening of the first seal – the rise of the Antichrist.
The Tribulation period is then clearly a time of judgement on the people of the world. God will not include the Church in this judgement as He is a righteous God. The judgement on the world is for unrighteousness. God does not judge those who have been made righteous through the atoning blood of Jesus with the unrighteous. The Church, therefore, must be raptured before the Tribulation period. Paul writes that during the Tribulation, God will send the world a powerful delusion (2 Thess. 2:11). This “delusion” will be the false messiah, the Antichrist. His appearance on the world stage as a world leader will be cemented by his confirming a covenant with many for seven years (Dan. 9:27), the signing of a peace treaty which will allow the Jews to rebuild their temple, and will raise the Antichrist from a position of a world leader to a position of the world leader. This is the powerful delusion sent by God which Paul warns of in 2 Thessalonians 2:11. The delusion will consist of:
- The rejection of the Truth – Jesus, will result in the world accepting the lie – the Antichrist.
- God will allow Satan to deceive the world with counterfeit miracles being performed by the Antichrist and the False Prophet.
- The final result will be that the world will be open to every sort of evil and “delight in wickedness” (2 Thess. 2:12).
Because mankind will have rejected the Truth – Jesus, God will give the world over to their rebellion and allow the false messiah, the Antichrist, to rise to power. So, the start of the wrath of God against mankind is the appearance of the Antichrist on the world stage as a great peacemaker. This introduces the start of the seven years of Tribulation, “the time of Jacob’s trouble”. Therefore, the rapture must happen prior to the start of the seven years of the peace, inaugurated and orchestrated by the Antichrist. The Antichrist, and the delusion that he is the messiah, will be the start of God’s judgement on mankind.
An interesting figure in the Bible is a man called Enoch. He was the seventh generation from Adam, and seven is God’s perfect number so there is a sense of completion. He is commended in the book of Hebrews (11:5) as being a man of great faith, who pleased God. It seems that it is because Enoch “walked with God” that God “took him away” (Gen. 5:24). What a wonderful testimony to have, that your life so pleases God, that He takes you to be with Him. There is, however, a very significant reason for this translation of Enoch to heaven. Enoch is given a vision of the last days and prophesies of the return of Jesus with His saints to judge the earth (Jude 14-15). Enoch is taken up as part of the rapture, because God is not limited by time as we know it. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, is taken up in the rapture that is still to occur! Here is evidence to the Church that there is going to be a rapture, because Enoch has already been taken up as part of it. This is further evidence that we serve a truly remarkable God who lives outside of our time constraints.
The translation of Enoch took place 669 years before the Great Flood. There are no “accidents” in the Bible. The number 6 in Bible numerics is symbolic for man in sin, with the repetition of the number underlining the fact. And nine is symbolic of finality, an end. God raptures the Church because man’s sin has reached such a state of rebellion against God that He is required to act, just as He did at the time of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah.
A last point of interest is that according to Jewish tradition Enoch was born on the day God would ordain for the feast of Pentecost. The Feast of Pentecost is the day on which Moses received the law from God, and also the day on which the Holy Spirit is poured out on believers in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus. This is no coincidence. On the day the Jews were brought into relationship with God through the law, the Church is brought into union with God through the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the name Enoch in Hebrew is translated according to Young’s Concordance as “tuition” or “teacher,” which is the instruction given by Jesus to the disciples as part of the “great commission” in Matthew 28:20: “Teaching them to obey all I have commanded you”. The significant relationship between Enoch and the Church is striking.