“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
[Jesus Christ — Matthew 24:6-8]
Among the most bizarre of medical phenomenons, a surprise child birth has to be at the top of the list. It is difficult to believe that a mother can conceive, carry a child to term, and give birth without any knowledge that she was pregnant to begin with. As rare as it may be, however, it does happen.
Putting those rare exceptions aside, the normal maternal process is consistent and predictable. Following the formation of new life at conception, there typically is a 40 week gestational period marked by significant changes to the mother’s body. At full term, the mother will begin to experience labor pains, which is the primary sign that the baby’s arrival is imminent. The increased frequency and intensity of the mother’s contractions become the final key indicators before delivery.
In others words, a family typically has plenty of time to prepare and at least some warning after labor begins that the baby is coming. That is why we say that a mother is expecting. It is a progressive process marked by clear signs that normally cannot be missed.
Interestingly enough, labor is one of the most common analogies found in the Scriptures to describe the visible signs leading up to the glorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the end of the age. Jesus compares specific, observable signs in the last days to the beginning of birth pains, which can only mean one thing.
Jesus wants his followers to live in expectation and anticipation of His coming, and He graciously has told us in advance what to look for so that we won’t miss the most important day in history!
Over the next few weeks, my goal is to unpack these signs of the times — these labor pains — to determine what we should expect to see in the last days before the return of Jesus. I will attempt to answer the following questions …
For whom are the signs meant?
Why should believers be paying attention?
How can we know we are living in the last days?
Have the beginning of birth pains already begun?
What is the sign of the end of the age?
What is the sign of the coming of Jesus?
How should we interpret current events in light of these signs?
What is the great tribulation?
Who will be alive on the earth during the great tribulation?
What should be our primary objective in these last days?
As we navigate key passages in both the Old and New Testament, we will see the importance of being observant, vigilant, and expectant in these last days.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. “
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
[The Lord Jesus — John 17:15]
Having studied the different views on the timing of rapture for years, I would like to address one of the most common defenses for the pre-tribulation rapture of the church.
The pre-tribulation position proposes the following …
the Bible clearly says that believers in Christ are no longer condemned and are not appointed to suffer God’s wrath. [Romans 8:1, 1 Thess. 5:9]
The great tribulation is the ultimate outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth.
Therefore, believers in Christ cannot be present during the great tribulation.
But does this logic hold up under closer examination?
I say NO. And here is why.
Confusing God’s Wrath with Satan’s Persecution
I am in 100% agreement that believers in Christ Jesus will never suffer God’s wrath. The Lord Jesus absorbed the full measure of God’s wrath upon Himself on the cross, taking the punishment and suffering the penalty for the sins of the whole world. All who have trusted in Jesus Christ and His substitutionary death on the cross are forgiven, justified, and forever free from condemnation and the fury of God’s wrath.
But the issue I have with the pre-tribulation position of the rapture is the common misunderstanding concerning the nature of the tribulation period. Nearly every pre-tribulation teaching on the rapture that I have ever heard confuses the wrath of God with the persecution of the saints.
The pre-trib position mistakenly teaches that God’s wrath is being poured out during the entire tribulation period (likely 7 years) or at least during the last half of the tribulation period — aka the great tribulation (3.5 years).
But a careful reading of the great tribulation passages teach no such thing. Instead, the Scriptures describe the great tribulation as a time of immense satanic deception, demonic activity, unrelenting evil, unparalleled suffering and even martyrdom for God’s people — both Jews and Christians.
As we begin to examine some of these key passages of Scripture, we can agree that no believer in Christ Jesus will ever suffer the wrath of God, but all believers are promised the be persecuted, attacked, taken captive, or martyred at the wrathful hand of the Antichrist and the devil Himself.
The Great Tribulation
There are several key passages in both the Old and New Testament that refer to the time knowns as the Great Tribulation. This is a time of unprecedented evil, demonic deception, and persecution of God’s people. Let’s review the Scriptures.
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.”
Daniel is warning believers about the state of the world in the last days, or the time of the end. He provides one of the clearest descriptions of the Antichrist in chapter 11 and then says the great tribulation will happen “at that time.”
Jesus connects the Great Tribulation with the revealing of the Antichrist and the satanic activity on the earth in the last days. He says in Matthew 24:9 … “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake,” and then later in the same chapter, Jesus warns that the great tribulation will take place after the revealing of the Antichrist and the abomination of desolation.
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
Jesus, like Daniel, says that at that time God’s chosen people — whose names are written in the book of life — will be delivered out of the great tribulation when the Lord returns in all His glory! The great tribulation is cut short BECAUSE God’s people –Jews and Christians — are still on the earth.
The Apostle John is also given a glimpse of the Lord Jesus sitting on His glorious earthly throne in the millennial kingdom, as King and Shepherd of His people. Consider what John describes ….
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands … Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.”
[Revelation 7:9, 13-14]
There will be a multitude of believers who were persecuted, captured or killed during the great tribulation. Not only that, but Satan and his Antichrist will be given authority to make war with the saints — Christians alive on the earth during the great tribulation.
“Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
“Also it (the Beast) was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.”
“As I looked, this horn (Antichrist) made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom … He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.
[Daniel 7:21-22, 25]
The saints in these passages are the true believers alive during the great tribulation — the church of God — those who hold to the testimony of Jesus Christ. It is clear that the Antichrist will have authority to pour out persecution and satanic wrath on God’s people for 3.5 years — which is the duration of the great tribulation.
There are so many other passages that confirm the church being present on the earth to face the Antichrist and suffer persecution during the great tribulation, but for sake of time, I need to move along. There is one more important truth to consider.
God is Able to Protect His People from Wrath
Many have said it is impossible for God’s people to be present at the same time He is unleashing His fury and righteous indignation on the earth in judgment. But is this true? Consider the following Biblical examples.
God saved and preserved Noah and his family through the flood.
God saved and protected Lot and his family by removing him out of Sodom, not by taking him out of the world.
God saved and protected the Hebrews from the Plagues in Egypt while they were in the midst of the land.
God kept safe many Jews with the mark on their forehead when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 9:4)
God saved and protected the three faithful Jewish servants in the midst of the fiery furnace.
God saved Daniel through the lion’s den.
Jesus prayed for all disciples in His high priestly prayer … “I am not asking that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one.” [John 17:15]
My point is that the LORD, when He comes on that DAY to judge the nations and pour out His wrath on the earth, He will preserve and protect His people and direct His anger specifically on the Antichrist and his evil armies.
Besides that, it is apparent that all the saints will receive resurrected, glorified bodies at the coming of the Lord, during the first resurrection. This means that as Jesus comes in all His glory to the earth to tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God (Rev. 19), all of God’s people will have been transformed — having received resurrected bodies, which cannot be hurt or die in any way.
Followers of Jesus Christ are promised persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).
Jesus warned us that in this life we will have tribulation (John 16:33), and that the world will hate us for His name’s sake.
The Bible clearly states that the church will be on the earth to endure the great tribulation, but that time will be cut short at the coming of Jesus when we will delivered and saved once and for all.
Don’t confuse persecution and suffering for Christ with the wrath of God. God has preserved his wrath for the devil, his angels, and God’s enemies alone. The Apostle Paul could not have stated it any plainer. Our relief comes when Jesus comes. Jesus comes at the end of the tribulation to deliver us and rescue us once and for all.
“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.”