Will the church escape the tribulation?
As for passages that seem to indicate that the church is spared the tribulation. Let's look at the "escape the wrath" genre:
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! (Rom. 5:9)
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Th 5:9)
and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Th 1:10)
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Rev. 3:10)
Rom. 5:9 surely says those who are justified by his blood are saved from God's wrath. But there is no reason to conclude it is his finite seven year tribulational wrath that is withheld from the justified, but rather his eternal wrath reserved for the damned.
Similarly regarding 1 Th. 5:9. The simplest interpretation is that we are saved from eternal damnation, not merely a seven year tribulation, by the finished work of Christ.
1 Th 1:10 is more problematic. But not in a way that helps dispensationalism. It has a certain "near term" aspect to it. One interpretation notes that the subject of the wrath is identified in the next chapter:
in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (1 Th. 2:16)
That is, it is the Jews that are under wrath, a wrath that will climax very soon in the utter destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and the scattering of those Jews who survive. Like the Hebrews during the plagues of Egypt, Paul is assuring believers that they will escape this wrath. We will look at this much more in a few lessons.
Rev. 3:10 is perhaps the most important verse, according to dispensationalists, that supports a pretribulation rapture.
Mathison argues116 that there are several questions dispensationalists need to answer regarding this interpretation:
- Where in this verse does Christ promise to remove the entire church from the earth?
- Where does it say that this verse refers to the end of the world?
- Doesn’t it describe a period of testing that, according to other verses in Revelation, was about to come? For example:
Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Rev 1:3)
10Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. 11I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. (Rev 3:10-11)
- If it does refer to the Great Tribulation at the end of the world, why is the 1st Century Philadelphia church promised to be kept from it? They would be long dead by the time it happened.
- If this promise to the 1st century Philadelphia church applies to the church in general, why doesn’t the promise to the church in Smyrna (that they would be tossed in prison) apply to the church in general?
Mathison also points out117 that the Greek used in Rev. 3:10 for "keep [protect from]" is the same as in John 17:15
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (John 17:15)
Where (John 17:15) it is made explicit that God does not have to remove the church to protect it. The Greek for "take" in John 17:15 is not used in Rev. 3:10.
116 Mathison, Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God?, pp. 118-119.
117 Ibid., p. 119.